The Money Talk That Parents and Dancers Need to Have

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Dear Parents, 

I don’t mean to cause alarm, but your financial support for your young adult might not end when they sign a contract. 

The harsh reality is that the dancer has “succeeded” but success doesn’t necessarily mean a living wage. Here are some examples of employment that a dancer may be offered: 

A second company position that is unpaid. 

A trainee position that offers shoes for performances but nothing else. 

An apprentice position that offers workers’ compensation and a small stipend. 

Payment per performance

Payment for rehearsals and performance for the duration of the period leading to the performance

A short-term contract

For some there are full-time contracts with living wages. Please don’t take this as a reflection on a dancer’s (or your own) ability if they (you) do not have this right away or at all!  It can have more to do with who you know and being at the right place at the right time than ability level. It can take time! Most schools, colleges and conservatories prioritize training for a performing career. Other abilities take a backseat to that training. If a dancer has reached the end of formal training without a full-time contract, it is time have a frank conversation about additional, incoming-earning skills. (It might actually turn into something really great!)

Some dancers just starting out know that they will have no additional support and find a way to hustle for their needs. I both applaud and admire them. On the other side, I have recently learned of a company that asked that dancers not take on outside work while working for them as a trainee or second company member. Therefore, the company is basically looking for your parental support or for a trust fund to kick in to provide for what they cannot/will not. For many, this would not be a practical “job” offer.

My Performing Employment Highlights

In my first company position, I was paid $283 per week in NYC. I was fortunate to find an apartment for $300/ month with a roommate. It was 2002, and it was a miracle to find such a deal in Manhattan. Everything was tight but with $25/week from my parents and a nice social network, my needs both physical and social were met. I never felt trapped at home unable to have fun. We also did a bit of touring and had our expenses and per diem covered.

A year later, I was offered an unpaid second company position. The first company met during the day, the second in the evening. As a result, we were free to pursue daytime work. A fellow dancer connected me to a job at an insurance agency and for most of the next two years, I could support myself 100%. The business owner was a friend to the company so he was flexible with our hours. He was also a former collegiate basketball player that understood the brevity of our careers and the need to gain other work experience. I managed to learn a lot about business while living my dreams. Concurrently, I was enrolled in an online university in pursuit of a degree in Business Administration. My parents sacrificed to pay for my one year in a dance conservatory (less small scholarship) so I paid for this, one course at a time. I was also able to afford transportation to auditions. I lived alone in a studio apartment for $460 per month.

My last major company position was with a theatre company (2006). This job changed everything for me, financially. I was paid around $700 weekly when I began and with earning additional titles and responsibilities I made anywhere from $800-$1000 weekly in my last season. I had full health benefits, dental, vision, vacation, and employee perks. I can honestly say that it ruined me from ever taking on a concert dance performing job again. The dancing was nowhere near as difficult as I was accustomed to, but I had fun, gained new, marketable experience and I could actually build a future.

My Advice

Everyone’s path will be unique. Finances can be an obstacle, but as my father always taught me, “You can always get more [money].”  Parents, to the best of your ability, be clear about the extent of your financial contributions. I can’t tell you that you should support. Just know that as artists we will always be grateful for your support. Your investment in your young adult’s career expenses is as valid as any donation that you would make to a non-profit organization, as odd as that may sound.

For the dancers who are reading this and facing these decisions, prayerfully consider your options. Seek advice, but listen to that quiet voice inside. Don’t be ashamed to exercise your other gifts and talents that bring in more income than dance— while you dance. So many students are graduating with high levels of debt. It is OK to say no for dancing “for exposure” rather than pay. At the same time, if it is an emerging company, for a friend, or just a project you really want to do (and you can afford to do it) there is nothing wrong with choosing to dance for free.

I’m sure this isn’t our final conversation on finances. In fact, I’m quite passionate about informing and educating dancers about finding their best options in the dance world. Stay tuned for more!

If this has been helpful to you, it would mean the world to me if you’d share it with a friend!

Do you have comments? Have you been helped financially while dancing? Share below! 

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