If you’re a dance artist, please don’t work for free. When choreographers don’t pay their dancers it feeds the entire broken system under which we are forced to operate. When dancers work for free it undermines his or her value to the fullest extent. As a dancer, I know that money is tight. As a choreographer, it’s even tighter. How can I afford to pay my dancers for performance let alone rehearsals too? (sidebar: Im a solo artist, but you get what I’m saying). There is something so deseprate about working for literally no money, and it sends a simple message loud and clear to the world: we’re not worth it, and neither is our art. And yet, if you were to ask a choreographer or dancer if he or she felt that way about their dance, they could most likely find its value and share that in a somewhat articulate way.
Just the othe day I received an email from a choreographer holding auditions for her upcoming season. She’s looking for experienced movers, with strong technique, who specialize in improvisation, and spoken word. Dancers must commit to rehearsals for 4 months and 4 performances. “Unfortunately”, she writes, “this is an unpaid gig”. NOTHING? REALLY? Can you not cover even a metrocard for the dancers, at the very least? As someone who loves to dance and has extensive training (which my parents largely paid for, I might add) am I being asked to give you a 4 month rehearsal commitment and 4 shows of my ultimate professionalism and sheer talent for absolutely no money whatsoever? And I’ll do this all because I love to dance? Is it a crime to love what I do even after having trained for it my entire childhood and adult life? (I started dancing when I was 3). Does any trained professional, in any other profession, do what they do for free? The answer is no. And yet, dancers agree to these terms day in and day out, simply because they love to dance, and on the small chance that maybe someone else will see them dance, and want to hire them AND pay them. How novel.
The whole thing is pathetic and must stop. It’s no-one’s fault but our own. The choreographer needs to come-up with something and the dancer needs to say no to nothing. It’s that simple. The more dance artists work for free, the more we feed the broken system and tell the world that it simply doesn’t deserve to be funded. How can we make a case for people, outside the dance world, to donate to dance when we’re not even paying ourselves?
As a choreographer, I know you’re thinking, “but I can’t afford it?”. My response to that is that you need to find a way to afford your art and that includes valuing every stake-holder in it. Maybe you pay your dancers $5/hour, maybe you give them $100 for all 4 performances, maybe you give them an unlimited metro-card for a month- it really doesn’t so much matter, what matters is that you pay them something. What matters is that you say, “this work is important to our planet, and to our daily lives, and to you, and you, and you. Here’s a token of my appreciation for helping to make my art reach others.” If you’re still confused about how to pay for it, I’m happy to give you one free (ironic, I know) 30 minute consultation to tell you how fundraising works, so you can begin or further your fundraising efforts.
As a dancer, I know you want to dance, so go dance. Dance in the park for free, dance in a club at night, take class, rent a studio with a few friends and mess around with creative energy abound, but please, don’t dance formally for another choreographer for free. And when asked to do so (and you will be asked) simply say, “Sorry, I can’t. I need to be paid something.”
Let’s try and get a little more money flowing through our veins. Let’s value each other from inside the dance world. Perhaps then, it will be a little easier to make our case to value the work we do from outside the dance world.