The Nagging Question…Dance or Money?

July 12, 2016
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“A Mark, A Yen, A Buck, or a Pound…Money Makes the World Go ‘Round…” – Cabaret, Kander & Ebb

Money…it is a necessity, but I did not become a professional dancer with the expectation of bathing in champagne and diamonds. If I did, then I must be delusional in thinking that this career path is a prance away from getting rich! The truth is that most dancers have to sweat…in and out of the studio!

One of my dance professors at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities encouraged us to consider our lifestyle, while deciding on our major. This seems like common sense, but if you find yourself unhappy with your hair tossed in a bun, damp in your leotard after ballet class, running from class-to-class, then perhaps you might consider what is making you miserable. If you must dress up on the daily, wear heals and suits, and sit in air conditioning, then you may be better off attending Carlson School of Business or another department. Ironically, Carlson was right next door to the Barbara Barker Center for Dance on the West Bank of the U of M campus. There stood a stark juxtaposition. We got to roll around on the floor, fly through the air, and share vulnerable, physical moments with our peers. They had a very contrasting experience.

Still, with dance as my major, I felt like a sweatier, stickier, version of my collegiate peers, snacking in the back of my academic lecture halls, because I had no time to eat between ballet, jazz, and modern. On top of that, I had rehearsals to attend at night. This experience was not unique to me. This track takes sacrifices and commitment. I know all too well; I earned a double major in Dance and Psychology. Obviously, I loved it, in order to dedicate all that time and energy!

Now that I’ve briefly explored Dance major life during the collegiate years, I’ll take a glimpse into the real world (post-graduation). There have been noticeable differences between my contemporaries and myself through my brief, yet valid, life experience as a professional dancer.

The last 5 years, I have freelanced with different companies and choreographers, and there is a spectrum of stability. A lot of my friends have full-time jobs now. They are embarking on their individualized career paths and making major strides in tangible ways, including greater salaries with benefits. These are desirable, quantitative perks. Sometimes it makes me wonder why I chose a career with far less assurance. I know that I am capable of applying my talents and skill sets in ways that could potentially lead to a full-time position with benefits. Still, I am not ready for that idyllic lifestyle. Will I ever be? It is hard to fathom.

I’ve had teachers that have warned us about “dancing waiter syndrome.” They have said that some people move to a major dance mecca, like NYC, and they start out taking classes and serving at restaurants on the side. This is no surprise, due to the appeal and necessity of money. These dancers often stop coming to classes, auditions, and dance events, in order to take on more shifts at the restaurant. Of course, this concept can be applied to other part-time jobs, such as bartending, brand ambassador work, retail, etc. It is easy to see how this could become a reality for any dancer. It is ironic, though, because dance is the reason why they moved to the big city!

Overall, funding for the arts is hard to come by, and it is extremely rare to make a solid living on dance alone. Freelancers have multiple jobs, and we are constantly hunting. I joke that I am a “hustler for life.” The days of being signed on to a full-time company contract with benefits, are sadly, phasing out. There are exceptions to the rule, but most dancers need to be strategic on the financial front. We need money to survive in the world. We need money and inspiration to survive in the dance world.

Why do it if it doesn’t feed your soul? It is too difficult a career choice to embark on for any other reason than love.

– Nika Antuanette
Former SSNYC student
Freelance Dancer

photo: courtesy of dancingmoney.org

The Nagging Question…Dance or Money?