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.