Being a professional dancer is not just a job, it truly is a lifestyle. And since most dancers are freelancers, it’s different from dancer to dancer how much you make when you’re are dancing in a music video, in a show or when you’re teaching.
BUT – the average wage of a dancer in the United States is $20 an hour, so yes, you’re right, it’s not like being a dancer itself will make you the new Elon Musk, but I promise you, making a living out of a passion is ten times better.
It’s physically hard, the competition now-a-days is through the roof, but when you fall in love, you fall in love. And as you know, love makes you want to do stupid things like getting mad underpaid because you’re “just happy to be here”.
Well, that’s amazing and I love your enthusiasm, but let’s talk rates today, because we need to be able to pay rent and you can’t pay that with likes on your Instagram.
Let’s get down to what you’re here for. How much are dancers making? The amazing organization Dancers Alliance can tell you all about how things should be right here, but let me break it down for you too.
Remember this is the MINIMUM. M-i-n-i-m-u-m:
$175 in total for 1-4 hour rehearsal.
$250 in total for a 4-8 hour rehearsal.
Sometimes they try to send you a video of a choreography and ask you to learn it before a rehearsal so they don’t have to pay you for your rehearsal time. But remember, if you’re standing in your apartment, learning a choreography for a job – you’re already in a rehearsal, you’re working and they definitely have to pay you for that time.
Show day or shoot day
Minimum $500 per day.
$150 minimum per travel day.
If it’s not included in a rehearsal, they have to pay you $50 an hour for fittings.
If you’re asked to “bring your own costume”, they have to pay you $25 extra for bringing your own outfit and $15 on top of that if you’re wearing your own shoes for the show.
If the next rehearsal is less than 12 hours after the first rehearsal
..you must get paid double time for each hour worked before the 12 hour period. Let’s say you go home and sleep but have to show up at the next rehearsal only 6 hours after the last one ended, the first 6 hours they have to pay you double time.
Per Diem – and what does it mean?
Per Diem is an amount you get paid a day when you’re traveling for instance. It covers your living expenses like food. Because in reality, if you’re traveling 4 hours to a shoot, you’re already on the job – the job doesn’t start when you get to the destination.
The standard Per Diem rate is $65 per day if you travel in the States and $75 if you travel internationally.
“Hazard pay” – and what does that mean?
If you are doing ANY activity on a job that has the potential to hurt you like:
- Knee work, spinning, rolling and falling on your knees
- If they ask you to do complex aerial acrobatics
- If you dance on other surfaces than a normal dance floor, like if you’re asked to dance on a surface with water, rocks, concrete etc. which makes it more dangerous for your physical well-being.
- If you’re supporting more than one person in a choreography and you’re in charge of somebody else’s safety.
- If you’re dancing in a space with fog, smoke or fire, and you can’t breathe properly. (Yes, that’s a thing).
Remember: you ALWAYS have the right to refuse to do what they’re asking you to do. Your well-being is your entire career and a job is not worth you getting hurt. If you’re injured, you don’t have an income. This is important.
Usage fees etc.
Let’s say you’re dancing in a video, and that video (or a part of that video) is used for a commercial, television, film or used on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. where it will live for a long long long time, there will be other fees too.
An example could be Ariana Grande’s “Excuse me, i love you” concert documentary on Netflix – (I LOVE that documentary, go watch it!). They basically filmed the concert and put it on Netflix, so when it comes to the dancers, they are not only getting paid for the tour they did, but now also for their appearance on Netflix.
The amount of money people are getting from this is so different and it depends on the budget too. I’d assume that appearing on Netflix will pay you more than Youtube for instance.
Everything you just read is a lot. I know. And this is why we have agents and agencies.
Agents and agencies
You can read ALL about the agencies and how to get signed here.
But to keep it short – once you’re signed to an agency, your agent’s job is to get you auditions and jobs. When you book a job, the agency makes money, because whoever is hiring you will pay your salary plus a 10 – 20 % “agency fee” on top of that for your agents work.
Other times you’ll get a contract with a salary that says “no agency fee”, which means that the agents will take 10-20% cut of your paycheck.
It’s nice for you to have an agent though because first of all they’re getting you into audition rooms, they negotiate your contracts and also you can call them at ANY time during a job if there are any conflicts. Your agent has your back always, pretty much.
If a choreographer/production-company makes you stay for 3 more hours in rehearsal, you call your agent and make sure that you’ll get paid more.
When are dancers getting paid?
This usually depends if you’re union or non-union. We can talk about the difference between the two another time, for this not to get too long.
I think the longest I’ve waited to get paid for a job was 90 days after the job which is a long long time, but you should get paid within 30 days after the job ends- at least if you’re union. If you’re non-union it might take a little longer – somewhere between 45-60 days.
You might wanna read “24 Easy Ways To Save Money As A Dancer” right here!
Remember: you’re an expert in your field
Is it fair that someone is trying to pay you $150 for a whole day of shooting, when you’ve dedicated your entire life to your profession? No.
Is it fair when you’ve invested thousands and thousands of dollars in training and perfecting your craft? No.
If I go to med school for 8 years, I get paid a whole lot of money afterwards because I am now an expert in that field. If I train for over 15 years, I am also an expert in my field. Like your favorite hockey players and basketball players who get paid millions. I am not asking for a million dollars, I’m just asking for people to stop being so extremely disrespectful when it comes to paying dancers.
The phrase: “The starving artist life” is a thing and it would be nice if it wasn’t.
You will meet many people who will try to underpay you like: “well, it’s just dance”, “we only need you to dance for a quick hour”, or singers contacting you like: “can you just make up a quick choreography to my 3 minute song for free?”. Can you i-m-a-g-i-n-e if I reached out to a singer: “Hi, can you make up a quick 3 minute song to a dance choreography I made?”. No, right? And why? Because wth.
If you can’t afford dancers, then don’t hire dancers. If you can’t afford an experienced teacher, then get someone with less experience to teach. It’s very simple. You are not doing dancers a favor by putting us on a stage, dancers are elevating your show, making you and your brand look better and in the end making you more money. Be respectful.
Payment: Meal, Copy, Credit & IG shout out
The amount of castings that state the above instead of paying with actual money. F*ck off. At least say “hey, it’s unpaid, but come join us if you want”. We can’t pay rent with an IG shout out… yet. lol.
Do people actually underpay in the dance industry?
Ohhh my gosh – ALL the time.
You’d think it’s just the small companies with small budgets, but it’s actually ALSO your favorite A-list pop and RnB-celebrities too who don’t follow the standard rates that I listed above.
The big general issue is that if you as a dancer have a problem with a rate, they can find approximately 7000 other dancers who would die to do the job instead of you. You can’t negotiate a contract if you’re not willing to walk away.
You’ll very often be asked to do a job where they literally break down all the days of rehearsals, what to wear, when to shoot – just not the rates. Do NOT feel bad about asking for the rate before you make up your mind. It’s disrespectful of them not tell you in the first place.
If you were an accountant and a company wanted to hire you, do you think the company just wouldn’t tell you what your salary is? Uhm, no. Well, same should apply here.
Don’t ever feel bad about respecting yourself enough to call people out when they’re trying to underpay you. You’re doing yourself and all other dancers a favor.
How do we change it?
Okay so this is actually hard, because the ideal is that all dancers say no to jobs that aren’t paid well, so the companies have no choice than paying us what we’re supposed to get paid.
But first of all I don’t think you can tell a new, unexperienced dancer who just want to stand on a stage to say no to the small and low-paid gigs, when they need the small jobs and the experience they gain to eventually book the big jobs. It’s hard to be picky and stand up for what’s right when you don’t have a voice in the industry like that and rent is due.
Secondly, if you’re not an actual professional yet, it’s also hard to ask anyone to pay you a bunch of money for your talent and years of experience if you don’t have a lot of experience. Years of experience matters. As it should! The more experience, knowledge and credibility you have the more you’re getting paid. Like other athletes: the more goals a soccer player is scoring the more he’s getting paid. Daniel Radcliffe probably got paid more after his 900 Harry Potter movies too.
But I do think that the choreographers, the top dancers and the agencies are the ones who can really make a big difference when it comes to rates. They are the loudest voices in the industry, they are at the top of the pyramid. But we all have to do our part and what we can to make things better. That’s why Dancers Alliance is so amazing – go read all about them here.
And hey, if you’re a foreign dancer who wants to move to the States, read the How-To guide to make your dream come true here!