This blog is intended to be the beginning of a series of entries breaking down the various departments and jobs within a nonprofit dance organization. (And yes there are for profit dance organizations out there! Momix and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet just to name a few).
I find the position of dancer the easiest job to relate. But what, in this economic time, is the job description of such a title? Honestly I have never been provided a job description, have you? Then, there is the competition within the field to consider. When auditions roll around, not only do we willingly provide discriminatory information such as age and weight, but we have little idea of salary range or job description for the employment which we strive. In my experience, the label "dancer" has been redefined as I have sought to help the organization in whatever means possible. Unless you are employed in a large company- by Dance USA data defined as a budget of $5 million or greater- time spent in the studio, or on stage, is just the beginning of the duties of "dancer". (Check back here later this year or with Dance USA for exciting research on salary and other employment comparisons).
Ballet dancers have always been responsible for sewing their own pointe shoes. I consider it a bond that is formed with the primary tool of the genre. Of course reviewing new choreography is always the "homework" of the dancer. I have spent countless hours pushing aside furniture to review choreographic material or writing counts or intentions in a journal.
Anja Gallagher-Syfrig currently a director of a small company in Switzerland notes... "Dancing for "someone else" usually just involved rehearsing and sewing costumes, maybe doing some research on a certain topic that a piece was focusing on, or teaching in a little outreach project in a nearby school." Anja was a member of Ballet of the Dolls in Minneapolis. The "dolls" as they are lovingly referred to are an "all hands on deck" kind of organization where dancers regularly sew costumes, build sets, help each other rehearse. Recently they acquired and renovated their own theater; the dancers did much of the work themselves.
I have previously worked for a company where I handled the daily schedule (I didn't create the schedule, but rather gathered the information and noted it in a public space for the company members), I ordered and distributed shoes, and I transported and laundered costumes. It was very rewarding to have responsibility beyond dancing. I saw great benefits to fellow co-workers and in the stress levels of my boss! I have also served as a company representative mediating issues between the dancers and the staff or board.
A university database that provides job descriptions summarizes,
"Dancing is very difficult, strenuous work, and the hours of rehearsal can be tedious and exhausting. Most dancers remain in the field only because they love to dance and would not be happy in any other occupation. Dancers often work nights and weekends, which is when performances are generally scheduled. They also travel frequently because large dance companies usually take their shows on tour.
Many professional dancers are members of one of several unions, depending on the type of dancing they do and in what medium they perform. Generally dancers work thirty hours per week, including rehearsals, matinees, and evening performances; however, individual dancers often negotiate separate contracts with producers in order to receive higher salaries or shorter working hours.According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly income for dancers is $8.54. Because dancers often hold short-term jobs that range in length from one day to three months, employment can be characterized as irregular at best. Salary varies widely. Dancers who work with performing arts companies earn a median income of $14.82 per hour.
Competition for employment as a dancer is expected to remain very keen through the year 2014. The number of dancers who seek professional careers will continue to exceed the number of job openings. Only the most talented dancers will find regular employment.
Approximately 20 percent of dancers are self-employed, meaning they receive no benefits. Unionized dancers receive some paid sick leave and vacations, as well as health insurance benefits."
Dancing is definitely a lifestyle choice. One must always serve the art first and foremost. Putting in six-hour rehearsal days doesn't sound like much, but the work truly exceeds the tally of hours. (Interestingly note- I just learned of dancers who only spend three hours per day rehearsing in the studio. While that may be all the work they need, it is not typical of the workload in mid-sized companies).
PS- another resource for information about the dancer- The American Dance Guild.