Dancer Diary: I Joined the Union!

January 19, 2024

You guys, I did it: I joined the Actors’ Equity Association! This has been a goal of mine for quite a long time. In June I wrote a column on when/why dancers should join the union, and decided to hold off for just a bit longer.

Well, six months later, I’ve officially made the plunge! Read on to discover why I decided now was the right time, details on the timeline/process for joining, and what my first ever Equity chorus call (ECC) as a union member was like.

Why Now?

There was one week this past fall in which there were five separate Equity chorus calls that I was dying to attend. I had previously sworn off ECCs—auditions that can be grueling and discouraging for nonunion dancers—but because these were dream shows, I made an exception. Nearly every time, my hopes of being seen were dashed. Three of the auditions chose not to see any nonunion performers at all. I was seen for one singer ECC, but when they asked me to come back later for the dance call, they opted not to see nonunion dancers.

The frustrating week of (non-) auditions made me reconsider my plans. I recognize that attending ECCs isn’t the primary reason to get your Equity card—the ultimate function of the AEA is to negotiate wages and secure working protections—but it’s a major benefit I was missing out on. And it was becoming apparent that my personal circumstances aren’t conducive to most nonunion opportunities. For example, many nonunion gigs would require me to quit or pare back my “day jobs,” like teaching and writing, while often not paying enough to offset the lost income. As wonderful as these jobs can be, I’m just not in a good position to take them.

So, after a lot of conversations with friends who are both in and out of the union, I decided to take the plunge. I contacted my agent and told her what I was thinking. She responded with support and told me to trust my gut.

The Process

On November 29, after I made my decision, I logged onto the Equity website and filled out a questionnaire to inquire about joining. On December 12, I received an email requesting proof of previous professional experience. My former director sent over an employment verification letter, and two days later I was sent an official membership application to fill out.

On December 20, I got an email requesting my first payment of $600. I was told that it would take a couple of weeks to officially be processed, but by January 2, I got the confirmation that I was indeed a member. The whole thing took just over a month from start to finish.

My First ECC as a Union Member

After that, things moved fast. I looked up upcoming casting calls, saw three within a week that I wanted to attend, and registered. Two days later, I went to an ECC for The Great Gatsby and had a positive experience. I had a good night’s sleep the night before, woke up at a reasonable hour, and got to the audition space just 30 minutes before the audition began. They read off a list of names, and when mine was called, I showed the monitor my newly minted Equity card. I danced in the third group of the day, and was able to finish the whole audition by 12:15 pm. I was so relieved! What’s more, I didn’t have to stress about my odds of being seen, and I felt confident knowing the casting team was expecting me there.

The truth is, there is no right way to navigate this journey. So many dancers feel really great about staying nonunion for a long time. It’s always possible there will be moments I will regret my decision, but at this point in time, I’m happy and relieved. I’m a proud new member of the Actors’ Equity Association!

If you’d like to see more of my journey, or hear the details about my experience at this particular ECC, check out my latest video on Dance Magazine’s YouTube channel.