Thank you for the information on the length of NYCB dancer’s contract. It is quite a concern that the NY Times and the Bloomberg articles could give the idea to anyone not familiar with the dance world that this is a common level of salary in ballet companies across the United States. Yes, Nevada Ballet Theater would have been a good subject. And maybe our discussion should shift to a different topic title such as “the financial reality of being a professional ballet dancer”.
I think it should be required from not for profit organizations in the United States to make salaries public knowledge. What is there to hide?
I would say that the majority of the dance profession was shocked at the numbers revealed in the Bloomberg article and I am sure that, even considering the cost of living in New York City and the short span of a performing career, these numbers seem too high. But compared to Hollywood actors, athletes or even lawyers salaries, these numbers seem low. This becomes a question for our society at large. What amount of money should someone make and why is the disparity so enormous, even within the same profession? We are not here to fix the whole system but to discuss if professional dancers should make a decent living and how to insure it happens.
As I said earlier, it seems to me that the majority of dancers always live in the downturn economic mode, no matter how great the economy is doing. No or little health, vacation or pension benefits. Dancers in union companies fare better but the length of their contract still averages 30 weeks a year. And yes, some companies might disappear due to a lack of good management from board of directors and senior artistic and administrative staff. This might be a natural way of weeding weak organizations. But it also happens that despite good management, the support of foundations and individual donors has decreased tremendously, threatening the life of performing arts organizations across the United States.
Should the American government support the arts as it does in Canada, Europe and other parts of the world? Should this support be equal to a certain percentage of the organization’s budget and depending on a yearly proof of sound fiscal management by the organization? The NEA is mostly defunct as far as helping arts organizations. Money in State Arts Councils is scarce and its distribution is so random that applying for money is similar to playing the lottery. Local private foundations that have a vested interest in the presence of arts organizations in their community seem to be the most reliable source of funding so far.
Dancers are young and their main goal is to perform as much as they can while they can. Generation after generation, dancers seem to be more aware of the need of reconversion at the end of their performing career and many obtain an education while performing. Once again the discipline of ballet serves them well since it is not an easy task. But dancers, due partly to their youth, have lacked the will and the organizational skills to demand more job and financial security. Musicians, singers and actors who perform until much later in life have much better financial conditions and benefits.
Don’t we all, who love and work in dance, have a duty to talk about this and work for a better future for the arts?