I have to speak out for myself, and fellow dancers. We Deserve More. Period. Working almost 15 years as a professional dancer, I find it incredible how devalued we are compared to other artists. If you were to line dancers up in order of pay grade in a production show, they are at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to payment yet put in the most work. Grueling hours of rehearsing, pushing through injuries, and exhausting our bodies above and beyond, all to be showcased as “Decoration” for Singers or “Fancy Backdrops” for Cirque Acts and Magicians. So, I’m sure you may ask, “Why do you do it?” Why do we accept the pay? Because it’s who we are. Every second on stage is worth more than money. If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life, right? Oh, we love what we do, but let me tell you, we work, and we work hard. It is programmed deep down within us that with every job opportunity, could possibly derive something bigger, something better. Therefore, we will always accept, no matter the accommodation, the conditions, or pay. From our first ballet class, dedication and discipline has been instilled in us, making it our duty to carry out every opportunity that presents itself. So, why can’t the same diligence that goes into our work ethic go into our payment?
I’ll never forget when I found out what my singer friend was making weekly on a previous contract. Dancers were making 450.00/week and Singers were making 1,000.00/week. Now, before I indulge, I am a Singer, and I have experienced the luxury of that paycheck, which is why I can speak out right now. It’s not fair. From the hours of rehearsing put in, to the special treatment given, I’ve been on both sides, and hands down, dancers get the short end of the stick, tenfold. Through all my Dancer Contracts, all artists are entitled to their own bedroom, except dancers. We get a roommate, always. I don’t know how many times I have slept on a twin-size mattress, hard as a rock, only inches away from someone else. I think the worst I’ve experienced was living in a 7x10 square foot room where my roommate and I had to buy twin air mattresses to sleep on. (out of our own pocket, of course) But, to be honest, dancers are engineered to adjust to any living situation, so the fact of living in a tiny room never bothered me as much as the no privacy aspect. We don’t have a normal lifestyle. We don’t get to go home after an 8-hour workday and detoxify from “a long day of work.” We can’t just get naked and do all the weird things we would normally do. There is a constant self-awareness of other people’s needs. Making sure you aren't disturbing your roommate. Making sure you wake up early enough to use the bathroom. (so you can finally take a relaxing shit with plenty of time for the smell to air out) Making sure you prepare food in time, so you don’t get in the way of someone else. Think about it. There is a constant thinking of others, and next to No thinking for yourself, which is so crucial to our mental help. We spend all day exerting energy and meeting the demands of other people because we fear failure. Dancers are the most committed, passionate, and sedulous workers you will ever meet.
One instance that provoked this writing was when my ballroom shoe broke and nearly snapped in half during my performance. Having knowledge of quality shoe brands in the dance industry, these particular shoes were of low quality and cheaply made. Completely unsatisfactory to the caliber of dancing expected. Performing 9-12 shows/week, it was only a matter of When these shoes would give out. Not to mention when I received them, they were already Used. So, when I addressed the issue, I was told my only option was to pick amongst the other spares that were Used as well, with very little to no sizes left. I looked and there were none of my size. What’s funny is that the spares were in worst condition than the pair I had been performing in. Imagine that. So, I asked if I could have my size ordered, and the answer was, “Can you just squeeze in a size down or wear a size up?” In absolute shock, it took every inch of me not to respond, “Bitch, hold my weave...” So, my only option was to purchase my own. A brand-new pair, out of my own pocket. In that moment, I was done. I could not fathom what the logic was in this. Looking down at my feet full of blisters, calluses, and toe tape filled with blood, all I wanted was to break my other shoe in half. I didn’t deserve this. We don’t deserve this.
From the age of 3 years old, dancing is all I’ve ever known. It has always been my release. My outlet. My freedom. Forever, it is something I will always give gratitude to for allowing my passions and dreams to collide all at once. Think about all the battles dancers are constantly faced with. Rejection, failure, body image, disappointment, etc. The list goes on. But always, we persevere and move forward, someway, somehow. We are pretty damn indestructible when you think about it. So, what am I saying? Although my words may not resonate volume with the industry we work in, maybe they can give a small voice to all the incredible performers that are not given back nearly enough what they put in. We live in a world that prides itself on equality. Equal work. Equal pay. Therefore, we need to start compartmentalizing our passion from our making a living. Yes, we are fortunate enough to make money doing what we love, but we also need to set boundaries between the two. Because at the end of the day, this is our livelihood. It is what brings food to the table. It is what pays our bills. We didn’t train our entire lives for someone to tell us, “You should be grateful for this opportunity.” Absolutely not. It should be them, telling us, “I am grateful for you.”
We Deserve More.