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.

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Photo by Rob Becker, courtesy DePrince.

In January, a commercial for Chase's QuickPay Mobile App starring Michaela DePrince aired on national television. In March, it was announced that Madonna would be directing the movie version of DePrince's autobiography. And in April, she graced the cover of Harper's Bazarre Netherlands. With all the buzz, it's easy to forget that the Dutch National Ballet soloist has been sidelined since August 2017 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Pointe checked in with DePrince to see how her recovery is going.

Last fall, you ruptured your Achilles tendon. How did that happen?

It was the first of August. I was in Sicily doing an event with Google. We had dinner at a temple and it was just absolutely incredible. I'm kind of clumsy outside of ballet, so I thought it would be safer if I took my shoes off. Then Lenny Kravitz starts to sing a song and he dedicates it to me. I got up and went to go sit next to him on the stage. When I got up from sitting, I stepped in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew right away that I ruptured my Achilles. They brought me to an ambulance and took me to the hospital. I flew back to the Netherlands the next day and had an appointment with the doctors here in Amsterdam. They said, "Yeah, you ruptured three quarters of your Achilles." And then on August 14, I had surgery.

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I was offered a company contract (my first!) starting this fall. What should I do in the meantime to make sure I'm as prepared as possible? —Melissa

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Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

This is Pointe's April/May 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

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Gillian Murphy, American Ballet Theatre

Murphy gets ready for her role as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Photo courtesy Gillian Murphy.

"This photo was taken by my mom when I was 11, waiting in the dressing room (the band room of West Florence High School in South Carolina) before I went onstage as 'Mary' for a recital piece featuring 3-year-olds as little lambs.I had so much fun being the teacher's assistant in the baby ballet class each week, particularly because my little sister Tessa [pictured below] was one of the 3-year-olds. I remember feeling quite grown up at the time because I was dancing in the older kids' recital piece later in the program, but in this moment I was just looking forward to leading my little lambs onstage in their number."

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From the latest launches to forever favorites, these stretch-canvas flats will (comfortably) keep you on your toes:


Bloch Inc. Infinity


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