Reality Checks

November 9, 2008

Ever wonder how much money you’ll really make if you go pro? A dancer’s income can vary depending on the kind of job, its location and duration, and whether or not it’s unionized—not to mention your status in the dance world. For instance, a corps dancer in a non-union regional company will probably make less than a corps dancer in a top-tier unionized company in a major metropolitan area. To help you plan your professional future, DS went to the experts. Note that these dollar amounts offer a general idea of each gig’s rate and may not be the precise wage rate for every job listed.

1. Music Video

If you’re hired for a music video, expect to be paid for rehearsal time and for the shoot. Rehearsals run from $175 for four hours to $250 for eight hours. A full, 12-hour day of shooting will be about $550. If the gig is non-union, you may also get a buyout—a one-time fee for the use of your likeness in the future, like when the video you’re in airs on MTV 20 times a day for the next six months. Buyouts can pay you up to $1,000.

2. Movies, TV Shows and Commercials

A union called the Screen Actors Guild stipulates certain rates for dancers appearing in movies, on television shows and in commercials. Rehearsal fees are typically $446 a day, with each day of shooting compensating around $581–$759. (Commercials pay $303–$567.) If you’re needed longer, you’ll earn a weekly rate of $2,034–$2,440. You may also earn extra income from residuals, which are royalties based on the success and run of the production. Residuals are paid periodically over time as the production makes money, re-airs or is purchased for other markets.

3. Awards Ceremonies

Awards ceremonies like the Oscars and the MTV Music Video Awards often hire dancers. Depending on the length of the show, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists requires compensation of $986–$1,673.

4. Music Artist Tour

Going on tour with an up-and-coming artist means you’ll make anywhere from $1,000–$1,500 per week. Hitting the road with an established, chart-topping artist will bring you more money, usually $1,500–$2,000 per week. While on tour, you’ll receive a per diem (a daily cash contribution for miscellaneous expenditures) of around $45–$75. Your weekly pay will be broken into various daily rates depending on what the schedule is. For instance, a travel day pays less than a rehearsal day or a show day.

5. Industrials

An industrial is a show put on by a company (like Nike or Coke) to promote its products or services. These productions are usually private events, not for the general public. Expect to make similar rates as you would in a music video—typically $300–$400 a day.

6. Dance Company

Many companies belong to a union called the American Guild of Musical Artists, which negotiates contracts for the artists. These companies are required to pay no less than what AGMA stipulates as a minimum amount; however, dancers can negotiate for additional pay. (You can read member companies’ contracts on the AGMA website, Salary ranges depend on the company’s size and location. At a medium-sized company like Atlanta Ballet, a first-year apprentice can make $365 a week, plus extra pay for various tasks, such as giving a lecture demonstration or working overtime. At a large, international company, dancers make more. For example, a new dancer in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater makes at least $775 a week during rehearsal and performance periods. By his or her fourth year in the company, that wage rises to $1,026.

7. Broadway Show

Actors’ Equity Association is the union that represents actors and stage managers. For dancers on a production contract, the minimum is $1,509/week, but you’ll make different amounts depending on if you’re an understudy, a dance captain, a swing or an ensemble dancer. Log on to to get an idea of how Broadway salaries work.

8. Opera

Opera companies are a good source of supplemental income for dancers, although dancers probably won’t be needed for every production in a given season. In the 2005–2006 season, San Francisco Opera paid its solo dancers a minimum of $689 per performance. The weekly rate was $1,435. Keep in mind that, like dance companies, these rates may differ greatly among opera companies and between non-union and union companies.

9. Guesting Gigs

Working as a guest artist is a great way for professionals to earn extra income. Many local and regional studios and companies, for instance, hire guests to dance the lead roles in their Nutcracker productions, as well as any classics. Compensation varies widely depending on your rank in the professional world (apprentice versus principal), the number of performances and the length of the show. A principal dancer from a small to mid-level professional company could earn up to $1,000 per show for a full-length or $700 for a one-act, plus $200 for rehearsals and $30 per diem. A college dancer, on the other hand, might earn $150 for a one-act, $150 for rehearsals, and the same $30 per diem. If you have to travel, you’ll likely be compensated in addition to your fee. Some schools will hire their alums in exchange for a plane ticket home.

10. Pick-Up Work

Non-union pick-up gigs are a great way to get performance experience and widen your dance network, but it’s difficult to predict how much money you’ll actually make. Some pick-up companies can compensate dancers for rehearsals and performances, while others may only pay for performance. Of course, if you’re with a truly fledgling company, your pay might be dinner after the show! So choose your projects wisely, enjoy the work that you’re doing and use pick-up work to network, network, network.