Dollars and Sense

New York City Ballet corps member Gwyneth Muller admits that when she signed on as a company apprentice, she didn’t even glance at her contract. Then reality set in. She had to move from the School of American Ballet dorms to an apartment and juggle living expenses, healthcare costs and the notoriously high NYC rent.

 

Beneath ballet’s tulle and tiaras lies a profession. Dancers can be so excited when they get their first job that they overlook critical points of the contract.

 

Understanding the fine print is key to making the art of ballet into a career. “It’s funny—when you start you’re not even concerned with wages,” says Muller, who now serves as NYCB’s American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) delegate, acting as a liaison between company members and the union. She notes that any dancer who gets an offer—be it from NYCB or elsewhere—should look closely at the number of weeks the company spends in season, keeping in mind that they only get paid when they work. Dancers need to consider whether they can afford to live on what they will earn.

 

A beginner has little leverage in terms of salary. But each company offers different benefits, and it pays to take a look at what dancers will—and won’t—be expected to cover themselves. While virtually every company has a shoe allowance, some do not cover off-site physical therapy, and many offer only partial dental or healthcare.

 

Dancers at most of the larger ballet companies are represented by unions like AGMA. “They give dancers a voice,” says James Fayette, a former NYCB principal who now works as AGMA’s New York area dance executive. Collective bargaining agreements usually mandate regular breaks and a maximum amount of rehearsal time, which can make a real difference in a dancer’s worklife. Union membership is usually required at unionized companies, and dancers must pay fees to the union out of their salaries. Since the contract covers dancers of all ranks and seniority, examining the terms means a new dancer can get a sense of what lies ahead. “It’s a way,” Fayette says, “to understand what the position can grow into.”

 

Jesse Tyler, an Atlanta Ballet company artist and AGMA delegate, is glad that his current company is unionized. “At my previous company, we were supposed to get a five-minute break every hour,” he says. “They were good about it, but if they hadn’t been, I couldn’t have done anything. At Atlanta Ballet, I can say ‘It’s time for a break,’ and there’s no question of it being an issue.”

 

Muller notes that as a dancer’s career evolves, priorities change. “As you get older, you realize this is your life,” she says. “Maybe you have rehearsal issues. You haven’t been getting your breaks and you feel that you’ve been working too many hours. Suddenly, you find yourself asking, ‘What does the contract say?’ ”

Kristin Schwab, a New York dancer, is a Pointe intern.

Latest Posts


Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Coppélia" (1976)

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov share the unique experience of having danced at both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet during their careers. The two overlapped at ABT in the mid-'70s, where they developed one of the best-known partnerships in ballet. They were both celebrated for their dynamism onstage; however, in this 1976 clip of the pas de deux from Coppélia, Kirkland and Baryshnikov prove they are also masters of control.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Natalia Voronova, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Is Back Onstage: We Went Inside Bryan Arias' Latest Work

This summer, when parts of the world were slowly emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown, all live performing arts events having been canceled or postponed, choreographer Bryan Arias found himself in Moscow creating a brand-new work for the Bolshoi Ballet.

Arias, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New York City's Spanish Harlem, and danced with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater 2 and Kidd Pivot, had been invited by Bolshoi artistic director Makhar Vaziev to be part of an impromptu program of contemporary choreography titled Four Characters in Search of a Plot. Three other international choreographers—Martin Chaix (France), Dimo Milev (Bulgaria) and Simone Valastro (Italy)—had also been asked to participate. This program, unusual by all standards for Russia's esteemed classical ballet company, opened the Bolshoi's 245th ballet season on September 10. Eager to resume live events, the theater introduced a number of safety regulations for audience members, including limited and spaced-out seating, temperature checks upon entry and audio messages reminding patrons to wear masks and maintain social distance.

Below, Arias talks about his trip to Russia and his experience of creating his new piece, The Ninth Wave, on the Bolshoi Ballet dancers.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks