Why Negotiating Your Salary Matters—Even if You Don't Get a Raise
There's always that fateful day each year, usually in February or March, when ballet contracts are renewed. Dancers file into an office one by one, grab an envelope and sign their name on a nearby sheet of paper to signify the receipt of their fate. Inside that envelope is a contract for next season or a letter stating that their artistic contribution will no longer be needed. This yearly ritual is filled with anxiety and is usually followed by either celebratory frolicking or resumé writing.
Whenever I received my contract, I would throw up my hands joyfully knowing that I would get to spend one more year dancing. In 14 years at Boston Ballet, I never once looked at my pay rate when signing a contract. The thought of assessing my work through my salary never crossed my mind.
I am not alone in that financial oblivion. Talking about money and negotiating salaries is heavily criticized within most ballet company cultures. Somehow artists, especially females, consider negotiating higher pay taboo. This fear is only heightened by the piles of resumés our potential replacements submit each year.
Contract renewals are rarely delivered in personal meetings at ballet companies. Photo by StockSnap.
Rarely, if ever, are contract renewals delivered in personal meetings. Across the country, dancers receive a piece of paper stating their rank—sometimes their pay rate is not even listed—and then they're essentially told to take it or leave it.
I was very lucky to dance in a union company with financial security and virtually no gender pay gap. But some nonunion troupes pay men almost twice as much as women just to secure the harder-to-find male dancer. One such nonunion company's website actually listed the male dancer pay as $200 more per week than that of females. Throughout the dance world, there are countless stories of men being frequently late, not wearing appropriate attire or missing rehearsals without penalty, whereas women committing the same offences can find themselves docked pay or even fired.
When I negotiated three AGMA contracts as a union rep at Boston Ballet, I noticed that the women often championed for the greatest improvements to the workplace environment. If they can advocate for themselves there, then why can't they do it for their own salaries? If women take that proactivity to the paycheck, the whole industry might become more aware of its inclination towards inequality.
I remember once being shocked to hear that a principal woman at Boston Ballet had negotiated a two-year contract for herself. The sense of surprise and awe we all felt from this rumor should have never existed. Why shouldn't we negotiate if we have the talent and commitment to back it up?
Writer Sarah Wroth nows shares her professional dance experiences with her students at Indiana University. Photo courtesy Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University.
I now serve as the chair of Indiana University's ballet department and on the Diversity and Equity Committee at IU's Jacobs School of Music. I have negotiated once for higher pay and am trying to set an example of how demonstrating my own value doesn't mean I don't love what I do. I realize I am sending my graduating students into an imperfect world. But it will be their job to make it better, and it is my job to prepare them for that task. They must not only work hard every day to hone their artistic skills, but they must learn how to respectfully advocate for themselves.
If you feel like you are in an unbalanced situation, make an appointment with your artistic director. Be sure your feelings are founded in rational thought, give yourself time to prepare your statements, feel composed and confident, and consider the needs of everyone involved. Someone once advised me that I am the CEO of my own company. When you know what makes your individual craft special and successful, you can better articulate your worth to others, and you'll be more likely to negotiate when necessary. What makes talking about pay so scary is starting that difficult conversation. Once you are inside it, both parties are on the road to greater understanding. Be the exception, and eventually that exception will become what is expected.
- How Much Money Does a Principal Ballet Dancer Make? | Bizfluent ›
- The Salaries of Ballet Dancers | Chron.com ›
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.