I have been wanting to write a blog about salary for some time. Then, recently, I talked with a friend about negotiating salary as an artist and expectations of salary for certain types of “gigs” and decided that now is the time. We both agreed that we need more specific and nuanced data for this field.
There are so many categories in this discussion. It is super complicated! I do think it is very important for us all to be informed and aware of the whole system and to share salary information so we are informed when entering a negotiation.
I often hear the idea of “valuing” ourselves as artists. A statement of “getting paid what we are worth,” darn it! I think if the arts were supported by the government the way it is in other countries, this approach would be more relevant here in the U.S. However, with such fragile funding for the arts (both institutions and individuals), I think people and orgs do their best – with a margin of error of course. Lack of awareness of the inner workings of the industry as a whole can cause resentment and frustrations for everyone.
What I know in my different experiences as a dancer, choreographer, administrator, and director in the arts is that funding is scarce and, when you get it, it doesn’t always come in the way, or with the speed, that you hope it will. Administrating grant money and reporting on grant money requires a certain amount of work and cost. Revenues in the arts are tricky, as institutions subsidize services to serve the artist community and ticket sales for the arts only provide a fraction of total revenues. Grant money can go away. Donors can go away. Dance, for many academic institutions, are comprised of small corridors shoved in the basements of Student Union buildings.
I have not found this discussion to be simple . . .at all! Off the top of my head, here are some categories in this conversation:
Staff Adult Professional
Independent Contract Adult Professional
Conferences, Special events, Etc.
Academic positions and their subdivisions
Urban or Rural
Academic (Then revisit the above academic criteria breakdown)
Smaller dance city
Smaller vs. Larger company
Major Union Show
So those are some of the positions. Now, how do you value yourself and how might others value you?
Professional experience and what type
Extensive - major freelance work in major cities with known names
Awards and accolades – local grants versus national grants, programs and fellowships
Social capital and other bargaining chips, i.e. what else do you bring to the table
Other degree of talent, technology, Pilates, BMC, etc.
Professional high school or summer work in major programs
What type – BA/BS or BFA
MEd, MFA, or PhD
Are you in a city where there are a million other people who can probably do the same role as you equally well or better
Are you a good talent and/or personality fit for the company, i.e. is this the right job match for you or is the match a little off in one direction or another, but one of you is taking a chance
Are you unqualified for the job, but are looking for opportunities to learn. There is a long history of younger or less experienced artists working with mentors or master artists to gain skills sets. When you don’t have all of the skills that an organization or choreographer needs, there is a real cost in developing skills. Just having a body in a room, who might not have the necessary technical ability, personality, confidence, or maturity for the work can use additional resources for the employee.
Are organizations and individuals getting funding to care for themselves so that they can then care for others?
Do you possess the required talent to move the work forward in terms of support for the work or organization
Overall, I think sharing data in these areas would help artists and organizations. Sometimes you can find information on 990s, if the position is one of the top paid in an organization. However, even when those positions are listed it might not be the full picture of the compensation package. For instance, if a person is taking a Director role with an accompanying salary but also teaches special classes, youth classes, or beyond the scope of their Director contract. There may also be professional development packages or other perks that add value beyond dollars.
When I was younger, I used to think that salary was out of my control completely. And, honestly, I was grateful just to be getting paid to dance. My confidence was so low coming from the immense pool of young ballet talent, that I would have accepted anything and any job just to have a job dancing. Then I would have gone home and been miserable about it. I never asked about the salary. I would let ‘them’ tell me the fee and then my reaction would be like, “ok:-)” “ok:-|” or “ok:-(” I felt powerless and a bit of a victim. This position made me angry when I would receive an amount that made my life more difficult than I could handle at that time. Then I turned it into a value judgment against me. Let’s face it, dance life can be a stressful life financially for both the employer, who is probably a non-profit person or institution, and the employee who is probably working way below poverty level and has no benefits.
However, now, I approach salary completely differently. Before even discussing a job, I know what my minimum negotiating amount is. As a parent, this number is now based on my childcare costs, plus transportation costs and time, plus a reasonable hourly rate above that. “Reasonable” is personal to me because, sometimes I do work for “free.” If I have a Saturday or Sunday available and the job sounds social, fun, or I will learn something and my husband can watch the kids – I am like why not . . .I will sweat and make some friends. Administratively, when I have been flexible with my financial needs I have been hired for other jobs. I now also try to communicate about nonfinancial needs too . . .like how I can organize my work environment to suit my artistic and parenting life, if I am not being paid enough to hire appropriate childcare. Even small things like, how the person or organization is communicating with and thanking me can make a big difference.
Ultimately, I make sure that I want to be a part of the work that is happening. This is a VERY important factor. . . do I actually want this job?? If I cannot commit, for real and passionately to the work that is being done then I will always be frustrated about the salary AND I will waste another artists or non-profits resources and probably burn a relationship. For example, when I was 22, I took a job with a dance company based on meditative movement. That was the LAST thing I wanted to be doing at that point in my life. I wanted to jump and sweat and move. I snuck out of the company and I assume messed up the choreographer’s process and wasted a ton of her time.
If I feel passionate, respected, and that I am a part of something that is important and bigger than me, then money usually doesn’t matter as much. I am not saying that I am OK not getting paid, what I am saying is that I am passionate and, if something is important enough to me OR if I feel it is a step to another place on my path of goals, I will try to find a way to participate. In this same breath, I have definitely started in a passion place and after a time, where not enough progress or impact was made to fulfill my personal needs, I found myself in a frustrated place where money did become a factor. Love, respect, and care can feel much better than money at times when our souls are fulfilled.
On a very practical level, we do need specific market data to help us best negotiate the dollars, so we are asking for an amount that is fair to us and doesn’t destroy the opportunity for employment, i.e. price yourself out. If we make up an imaginary number it might look like we are not well versed in the industry.
Overall, I think sharing data in these areas would help artists and organizations. There is a bit of published data, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the field is so complicated that these never help me very much, e.g. is that annual total just dance or supplementary jobs. Or, if it is just dance, how many dance jobs are you working and is it only performance or is it performance, teaching dance, and teaching Pilates, etc.
Now here is a little collection of MY PERSONAL DATA to share. It should give a nice starting place, if you are just developing your range. I did not reveal names of institutions here because it didn't feel appropriate, however I have created an anonymous survey and attached it below. I will populate the survey with these examples and include names and locations for more relevance. Think of this as Glass Door for Dance. Please provide any salary data that you would like to share. You can take the survey multiple times. SURVEY
Adjunct Faculty (Note: I did not yet have my MFA) at a private institution with a BA program/dance major that was really developed and professional. About $2,500 a course or about $83 a class (twice a week class for 15 weeks) Class size ranged from 12-26 students max. Suburb of a major city.
Adjunct Faculty (Note: I did not yet have my MFA) at a private institution with a BA program/dance major that had a ton of students. About $2,000 a course or about $66 a class (twice a week class for 15 weeks). Class size ranged from 20 to 48 students!! Suburb of a major city.
Adjunct Faculty (Note: I did have my MFA) at a private institution with a modest BA program/dance minor. About $4,200 a course or about $140 a class (twice a week class for 15 weeks). Class size ranged from 6 to 22 students!! Suburb of a major city.
Full-time Faculty/One-year Contract (MFA & Major Company Experience) at a private institution with a BA program/dance major that was really developed and professional. About $55,000 and benefits. This data was from about 10 years ago and from a friend. Suburb of a major city.
Full-time Faculty/One-year Contract (MFA) at a private institution with a BFA program/dance major that was really developed and professional in a major city. About $55,000 and benefits. This data was from about 1 year ago and from a friend.
Department Chair/Director of Program (MFA) at a private institution with a BA program/dance major that was really developed and professional. I heard the salary was around $80K.
Youth and Professional Teaching
For small mainly recreational studios, the rate seems to be consistently $25-$45/hr. If the classes are really popular, then studios sometimes offer a percentage of profit for students over a certain number.
For pre-professional studios, the rate tends to be higher $35-$65/hr. However there is a ceiling here, i.e. Parents can and will only pay so much for their kids’ activities. And the more they pay the more they probably want the perks to match the payment. So beyond the qualifications of the teacher(s) they probably want a beautiful space, smaller classes, supplementary activities, and a metropolitan location (if appropriate). All of these items drive up multiple costs: rent, administrative costs, and related materials.
My experience here is in personal training and Pilates. I do use this pricing or “expectations” scale for dance too.
For privates working for another institution: I would make between $45-$60. This seems to be pretty standard. The customer would be charged $60-80 for the 1-hr private. Master Pilates teachers could charge $100 to upwards of $200, but that was for major cities. My data was from NYC and PA, but I am sure some can charge more in NYC or LA, but you have to have a market of people who will consistently pay that much money. Who cares if you get someone to pay you $200 for one session and they never come back or they only come back twice a year. Additionally, with bodywork, I feel like there is some responsibility to work for the health of the population. A friend of mine and a Rolfer, who is also a physician, would only charge $80 for a 2+ hours Rolfing session. If you have been Rolfed you know that is an absurdly low price. And he would not accept tips. He wanted people to come back and benefit from his work. There is another local-to-me acupuncturist who gives discounts for dancers, making the treatment way below market so that dancers can afford the treatment.
For general group classes, like mat, I was usually paid a flat rate of about $35 and then received a percentage of profit for groups over a certain number
For group apparatus, I received a higher base, assuming two students, of about $45 and then more if additional people joined.
I usually get a mix of clients with a large amount of disposable income and those who want the healing effects but the cost is significant for them. Pricing for both groups to be able to afford usually balances itself out. I would often receiving pretty amazing and significant gifts and bonuses from this work during holiday seasons.
Has ranged from $700-$1500. Usually, has taken place over an intense 5 day period or short rehearsals over 8 weeks.
Hidden perks – my last academic piece sparked movement for my new company piece that led to $5K in private funding and is being presented at a major city venue.
*Enormous range depending on so many criteria
Free/exchange (setting work on a company in order to access their audience and possibly patron base or to work with a large cast or dancer, which would be expensive for an individual choreographer to manage)
Lower range $100-$1,000 for lesser established choreographers and working in genres that aren’t as well funded
$10-30K and up for international and/or highly sought after choreographers.
Corporate Gigs (these all range extensively, but here are a few data points that I have)
I was told that one really established company was paid $50K by Hermes for a corporate gig
Another friend told me that they were paid $20K (if I remember correctly) for choreographing a Victoria’s Secret gig
I choreographed for a Berklee musician’s video and received $200 for me and $200 for my dancer (this was for about 2 hours of work total
*Enormous range depending on so many criteria
I have performed a lot for free. Sometimes it as worth it and sometimes it was not. As I have matured and have knowledge in more areas of the dance industry, I do try to make sure that when I commit I stay committed until there is a way to gracefully exit.
Last year I performed in a Pilobolus event for MIT’s centennial. My friend and I totally thought we were dancing for free. Then we received an email saying we were getting $250. I believe she texted me saying, “BONUS!” It was a blast and we got to see how Pilobolus works with dancers, nondancers, musicians, and technology
For work with small to mid modern/contemporary companies (pick-up basis). I usually got paid performance stipends that ranged from $50-$100. Or I would receive an honorarium ($200-300) for a few weeks of rehearsals (3 ours a week tops). I also got to travel and that was paid for. Sometimes, I would receive a rehearsal fee of $7-10 and hour but that was rare.
When I got my first Union job in Musical Theatre, I nearly fell on the floor when I received the contract! This is over 10 years ago, but it was about $1, 500 a week and I received housing, a rental car, health insurance, and a gym membership. There were also perks like hazard pay and overtime (what?!?!).
Cedar Lake Ensemble was famous for providing annual contracts with dancers making $50K and up.
You can find some info on Union salaries by visiting the Union websites.
Executive Director/Artistic Director
Well, this is a funny category . . .
As Artistic Director of my own company, I have never paid myself and I usually put at least $1,000 (but usually more like $5,000) into my company each year.
As Executive Director of an Organization the range is broad. This is where you can sometimes find info on an Organization’s 990 form. For community level ED’s and or AD’s, if that is relevant, the range seems to be anywhere from $18K to $100K. This may or may not include insurance. For the most part, people probably fall in the middle of the range unless you are speaking about a ballet organization, a larger city or a larger organization, etc.
When I was the Director of an Administrative Department for a Medium Level Research University, I was paid $72K, plus I had insurance and received an annual bonus. I also learned about all of the complicated operations at a University . . .see quirks below.
The title of Director means different things in different places and environments. There are different levels based on your responsibilities, your number of direct reports, and whether or not you are playing a maintenance role or strategic role in the organization.
Quirks and notes:
When evaluating pay (and simply whether or not it is the right fit) for academic positions, I make sure to ask about class size and writing requirements. I once taught 3 classes back to back with a combined total student responsibility of over 100 students. The workload was unbearable. I felt there was no way to possibly give each student my absolute best both physically teaching in the class and in disseminating knowledge through their writing work.
Full-time academic positions may only be for one year at a time. Then tenure track positions may be for 3 years and then a tenure evaluation.
Job creation at Universities is so complicated. Departments just can’t hire at will. They have to make a request in a budget cycle and that has to be approved, which takes a while (committees, committees, committees), then once approval happens there has to be a search using very specific criteria. Also, when someone leaves a position, sometimes the position has to be reapproved before the department can rehire. After the bubble burst, my institution was cracking down and all empty positions needed to be reevaluated before they could be refilled. You had to schedule a committee meeting and then go argue your case and hope for the best.
Regarding negotiations in Universities, positions are usually graded. Sometimes you can find the grading criteria online. Once you have your level established, you are put in a salary range. Your initial offer might be a little lower than you can get, but it won’t be way off. To move to a higher portion of the range you probably have to check some boxes in the qualifications area. For my Director position at the Research University, I was initially offered $65K. I asked if they could do any higher. My boss was a scientist, not a negotiator, he said let me look . . .the highest I can offer is $69K. I said great! The following year I received an increase which brought me to $72K
There is a huge difference in academic salaries across fields. If you are a business professional or a scientist who brings in hundreds of thousands of research dollars, you will be paid much differently than an artist will.
Care to share info? Take this survey! Submit one survey per position. Survey data will be reported to you in a quarterly effort. You can find survey data on the Dance Entrepreneurs Funding Think Tank and on other sites TBA.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!