All the Legal Terms You Need to Know Before You Sign a Dance Contract

The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.

Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.


1. Credit. This clause is about how your name, image and biographical information appear in programs, photographs, videos and other marketing material. Because this information likely will make its way to the internet, make sure that you have the opportunity to approve any photograph or biographical material before it is published.

2. Non-Compete Clauses. These usually prohibit you from engaging in certain activity for a period of time. For example, a non-compete clause might keep you from dancing for another company or prohibit you from reusing creative work you contributed to a production. If you see a non-compete clause that makes you uncomfortable, it might be worth consulting a lawyer to fully understand the consequences of it before you sign.

3. Copyright Ownership. Many dance contracts will explicitly state who owns the copyrights to the choreography or the production as a whole. This owner has the right to perform the work, to allow others to perform the work and to create new works based on the original. While dance contracts often assume that choreographers will own the relevant copyrights, if you expect to make significant creative contributions, it might be time to advocate for rights of your own.

4. Independent Contractor. Being hired as an independent contractor generally means that you will not be considered an employee of the company and so will not be eligible for benefits (such as health care or overtime pay). It also has implications for how taxes are paid.

5. Representations and Warranties. These are essentially promises you make. A common "rep & warranty" is that you have the ability to perform the services outlined in the contract. For example, if you sign a contract to be an acro-dancer, you guarantee that you have the skills to be an acro-dancer, that you do not currently have any injuries that would prevent you from acro-dancing and that you have not promised anyone else that you would not acro-dance. If you are choreographing a work, you might see a rep & warranty that all of the material you provide will be wholly original to you. You should review reps & warranties carefully to confirm that they are accurate. If they aren't, you may be responsible for breaching the contract.

6. Mandatory Arbitration & Mediation. Contracts frequently contain clauses that require you and your employer to engage in mandatory arbitration or mediation if you have a disagreement you cannot resolve. A mandatory arbitration clause generally means that you must have the dispute decided by a panel of lawyers instead of filing a lawsuit. A mandatory mediation clause usually requires you to try to resolve any issues through a conference with a neutral party before you file a lawsuit.

7. Indemnification. This clause is basically an agreement to cover costs if you breach the contract and cause your employer to incur additional expenses. This might mean that if you don't show up for performances, you have to reimburse your employer for the cost of hiring and teaching a new dancer your part.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021