Ask Amy: Supplementing an Unpaid Apprenticeship

Is it possible to balance an unpaid apprenticeship with a side job? I don't want to pass up a great opportunity, but I need to support myself. —Caroline


It is possible, as long as you choose the right type of job and maintain a very frugal lifestyle. You don't want to pass up your apprenticeship, especially since offers don't come every day. But a busy rehearsal schedule can make finding the time and energy for a side job tricky. If you accept the apprentice position, go in with both eyes open—expect to make some challenging financial sacrifices and live with family or several roommates to save on rent.

Because of your time constraints, look for a flexible job that allows you to make a decent amount of money in a short amount of time. One of the best options for dancers, of course, is teaching. In a city's metropolitan area, you can expect to be paid at least $20 an hour (often a lot more, depending on the region), and work at night and on the weekends. Private lessons, master classes and choreographing for competitions can also be a great way to earn extra cash. (Do not turn up your nose at jazz competition studios—they need ballet teachers and often pay very well.) Plus, it's important to learn how to lead a class, as you'll likely come across teaching opportunities throughout your dance career.

Many dancers opt to work in restaurants. Waitressing can be financially lucrative, especially since you have cash tips in hand at the end of the night. (I worked as a hostess and cocktail waitress at an upscale restaurant when I was an apprentice and early corps member.) And I know one dancer who used to work the early-morning shift at Starbucks (5 am–9 am), just in time to make morning class. Catering companies also hire wait staff for banquets and events at substantial hourly rates. Although restaurant work can pay well, it's physically exhausting and quite stressful—it's definitely not for everybody.

If you like kids, consider babysitting. Trust me, word of a good babysitter will spread fast, and you can develop a devoted clientele and consistent schedule in no time. And if you have a non-dance skill or a crafty side, try letting it work for you. I know one dancer who started her own custom leotard business; another colleague with a knack for drawing started up her own design company. She sold ballet-themed greeting cards, T-shirts and other products online and in local dance stores.

Young dancers often have to hustle with side jobs for a few years. You'll feel overwhelmed and exhausted at times. Just remember that you're working towards your long-term dance goal—you won't have this type of schedule forever.

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