Instagram tags don't pay the bills. Photo by Andrei Lazarev/Unsplash

Please Stop Asking Dance Artists to Perform "in Exchange for Exposure"

Earlier this week, a friend of a friend reached out to me seeking recommendations for a dancer/choreographer to hire. She wanted someone who could perform a solo and talk about their process for an arts-appreciation club. After a few emails back and forth, as I was trying to find out exactly what kind of choreographer she was looking for, it eventually emerged that she was not looking to pay this person.

"We are hoping to find someone who would be willing to participate in exchange for the exposure," she wrote.

Why do people think this is an okay thing to ask for?


I ran this all-too-common situation by a close friend, Jennifer Roit, who edits the Dance Magazine College Guide in addition to being a dancer/choreographer herself. I thought, Maybe I'm overreacting and a dance artist trying to build their brand would genuinely be interested in this sort of opportunity.

She disabused me of that notion:

"The dancers who get the most exposure dance for Beyoncé, yet Beyoncé pays them because landlords don't take exposure checks," she pointed out, ever so bluntly. "Doing anything for exposure is a lie, because if it's truly good exposure, it generally means there is a budget, and it won't be done for free."

If you have enough money to rent a space for the performance, you have enough money to pay the performers. Photo by Ahmad Odeh/Unsplash

She's right. Any job that's worth taking for the resumé boost will most likely come from an organization that's big enough to have the money to pay everyone involved.

Asking someone to work "for the exposure" is not only insulting, it's false advertising. If you can't even offer a small stipend or a fair exchange of goods or services, you should be clear about exactly what you're looking for: a donation.

Of course, there are some gigs that are so personally gratifying that dancers will choose to make that donation.

But producers—or whoever is calling the shots—need to be clear right from the start about compensation. And to stop perpetuating the lie of "exposure." Tagging someone on Instagram won't pay their bills. And let's not kid ourselves that offering someone a gig you can't even pay them for will be the opportunity they need to launch a sustainable career.

If you're producing a fundraiser or honestly have no budget, asking for a donation won't feel weird—there's no need to cloak it in the guise of "exposure." But if that's not the case, it's time to show dancers and choreographers the same respect you give everyone else that you hire: Pay them.

For my part, I told the woman I couldn't recommend a choreographer unless she was going to offer them some form of compensation. Within hours, she found enough wiggle room to come up with both a small stipend and a few meaningful perks. It may not be much, but it's a start.

Latest Posts


Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS

Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest