Getting Straight to the Pointe: Ballerinas Leap Forward But Continue To Fall Short Of Adequate Pay

By: Victoria Massimino

While it may be simple to write off ballet dance as a dying art, there is still much this unique pastime has to offer the fast-paced society we live in today.[1] Admittedly, classical ballets don’t attract the crowds that say, Hollywood blockbusters do, however, visiting the ballet remains a valued cultural experience.[2] Setting aside artistic fulfillments, ballerinas have consistently been faced with the obstacle of being undercompensated for their talents.[3]

After training for the majority of their life, a ballet dancer auditions for a company, at which point, if accepted, they sign a contract as a full-time employee and are considered a professional dancer.[4] Dancers generally contract for a year at a time,[5] and are paid weekly, for only those weeks they work.[6] The various tiers of a ballet company –corp de ballet, demi-soloist, soloist, and principal dancer – ascend with experience and skill.[7] The “corp” is comprised of the general body of dancers that make up a company, and “principal” is the most supreme title a ballerina can achieve.[8]

Not surprisingly, the largest and most well renowned dance companies flourish in New York, Boston, and San Francisco.[9]  And while these cities might be ideal for making it big in the dance world, they are also among areas with the highest costs of living.[10] This places a dancer’s chances for success directly at odds with their earning potential. A member of a New York company, for example, averages about $829 a week for a thirty-eight week season,[11] while the average rent for a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment totals $3,150 per month.[12] The Bureau of Labor Statistics, similarly, listed the hourly wage of a performing arts company at roughly twenty dollars an hour.[13] The problem stems from the enormous budget it takes to put on a classical ballet and failure to fill the theatre.[14] As a result, musicians, costume designers, stage crew, and administrative staff earn higher wages than dancers featured in the show.[15]

Disparities in a performer’s salary are not so easily remedied. Between May 2011 and October 2013, dance company executives negotiated their ballet contracts with the American Guild of Musical Artists (“AGMA”).[16] The AGMA represents musical performing artists, opera and chorus singers, and professional ballet dancers.[17] The New York City Ballet (“NYCB”) and San Francisco Ballet, two of the top ballet companies, engaged in these negotiations.[18] Although they received a 2.5% increase in 2011, that contract ended in 2012, and the NYCB dancers were forced to renegotiate again in 2014.[19]  In the same year, San Francisco Ballet dancers made a small triumph, with a one percent increase and one additional workweek for the year.[20]

As a group, ballerinas are characteristically underpaid. This is especially true when compared to professional sports. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated salary for spectator sports is $93,000 a year.[21] But while an athlete’s yearly revenue far outweighs a dancer’s, the time and effort a dancer dedicates to their training certainly amounts to the level of an athlete.[22] The demands on these two professions are undeniably similar; both practice for countless hours a week, are held to exceptionally strict standards, and are required to maintain physical stamina and accuracy. [23] Furthermore, although sporting events require the same type of behind the scenes support as a creative performance, the players are the ones who get paid the big bucks – unlike a ballet dancer, whose wages rank below their stage crew and managerial staff.[24] This difference appears widely unfair, considering that ballerinas and athletes alike, are the ones who hold the spotlight and draw in the audience to begin with.

[1] Flora Zhang, Why fall in love with ballet?, CNN (Sept. 22, 2014, 7:15 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/19/opinion/zhang-ballet-future/.

[2] Id.

[3] Think Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet? Wage Issues in the Dance World, dlreporter (Apr. 14, 2014), http://dlreporter.com/2014/04/14/ballet-wage-issues/.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Alice Stuart, The Average Salary of a Corps de Ballet, Our Everyday Life, http://dlreporter.com/2014/04/14/ballet-wage-issues/ (last visited Oct. 7, 2016).

[7] Kay Bosworth, The Salaries of Ballet Dancers, Work, http://work.chron.com/salaries-ballet-dancers-5128.html (last visited Oct. 7, 2016).

[8] Think Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet? Wage Issues in the Dance World, supra note 3.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Bosworth, supra note 7.

[12] Think Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet? Wage Issues in the Dance World, supra note 3.

[13] Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes272031.htm (last modified Mar. 30, 2016).

[14] Think Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet? Wage Issues in the Dance World, supra note 3.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Lab. Stat., http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes272021.htm#(4) (last modified Mar. 30, 2016).

[22] Stuart, supra note 6.

[23] See Siddharth Suchde, A professional athlete’s fitness regime: An insider’s guide, The Health Site, http://www.thehealthsite.com/fitness/a-professional-athletes-fitness-regime-an-insiders-guide/ (last updated Feb. 28, 2014, 6:27 PM); See also Zhang, supra note 1.

[24] Think Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet? Wage Issues in the Dance World, supra note 3.

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Getting Straight to the Pointe: Ballerinas Leap Forward But Continue To Fall Short Of Adequate Pay

  1. Malcolm McKinsey says:

    This is very nicely laid out. Your arguments are solid and, though the result is a bit depressing, you have pinpointed one part of the problem. The other consideration: most spectator sports are male-dominated, while most ballet dancers are female. Inequality may be gender-based.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: