Dance teachers are some of the most generous and compassionate human beings on the planet. Let me remind you, that your time is worth something, all the time.
We give of ourselves in ways that we can never record on a timesheet.
We make the recommendation to Katie’s mom that we would love to see her in musical theatre class, because her attention span and wild imagination is not something we should be punishing her for in ballet class, but something to be celebrated in an expressive and creative environment. That takes time, effort, and thought.
We search for music that motivates, inspires, and carries messages to our students that empower them. This goes far beyond playing radio pop just because it’s something our students love right now. It takes time, effort, and thought.
We see and feel the world differently, and we feel an obligation to heal those around us all the time. At our core, we are artists. Artists take what they see and hear and create a response to how that makes them feel.
The time, effort, and thought we invest in creating that response is worth something. We deserve to be compensated for it.
The financial situation of dance professionals varies by time, place, and the individual choices we make. I don’t know many dance professionals that truly make what they are worth, and acknowledging that is very important to our professional as a whole right now.
I’m not going to yell at you for not asking for what you are worth. I’m not going to chastise you for volunteering a little too often, or for feeling guilty when you do ask to be paid more than you think your studio owner or private lesson student can afford.
As I did with last week’s installment, I’m simply going to offer some perspective that may cause you to make some new choices in your career. Because I am you, and I need reminders of my worth all the time. Here, I pay it forward, because I believe what you do for the communities you serve is important. Necessary. And valuable.
Charge for the longevity of your career
How many times in our lives have we stated that we don’t have the money for a massage? A chiropractor visit? Orthotic shoes?
I know I have put this out into the universe for 15 years. It has been ingrained in me that these things are “extras”. Treats. Luxuries.
Massage, chiropractor, acupuncture, personal training, physical therapy, vitamins and supplements, orthotics, high quality dance shoes, and comfortable and sweat-wicking athletic wear are necessities for the longevity of our career. Perhaps some of these line items resonate more than others, but implementing them into our lives is necessary to sustain a healthy and working instrument for performance and teaching.
They are not extras.
They are not luxuries.
They are requirements to maintain a body free of tension, pain, and irritation as we dance throughout our lives.
Massage is not always a relaxing treatment surrounded by calming music at a resort; it can be a painful experience as a therapist uses deep tissue work and trigger points to release tension in our legs, glutes, and shoulders. It is painful, because it is necessary. It is necessary, because we dance for a living.
Personal training is not about weight loss and punishment for what we eat, contrary to what the fitness industry has advertised it to be since the dawn of time. It is cross training to make sure our bodies are supported and strengthened in additional ways, not to mention, a time for us to tune in to our bodies in a new and different way. It is additional time to add to our schedule, but it is necessary. It is necessary, because we dance for a living.
Comfortable, sweat-wicking athletic wear is not about being a clothing snob or exclusively wearing a popular brand; it is about the way we feel after an eight hour rehearsal or a night of teaching ballet classes in the middle of July. If we are so uncomfortable in the very clothes we need to move our bodies in for hours at a time, we cannot be fully engaged in our dancing, which not only leads to a miserable rehearsal but has the potential to cause injury because we are not present. We also spend hours in front of a mirror every day. If we want to wear clothing that we love to dance in, no one gets to shame us for that. No. One. It may cost us more, but it is necessary. It is necessary, because we dance for a living. Check out this list of athletic brands that offer discounts for fitness professionals and take advantage - dance professionals are fitness professionals!
We need to work the cost of these line items into our paychecks. You may be thinking, but I don’t make the class rates and write the paychecks, or I work for a small studio and my teaching is a labor of love.
I hear you. I have been you. I understand.
I still challenge you to begin to state your worth and what you need to sustain a dance career.
You may not be able to change your income overnight. However, when you know what you need to deposit each week in order to fund the longevity of your career, which benefits all of your students and the dancers around you, you will begin to attract it. Clarity must come first. Allow perspective to shift as you begin to view massage, chiropractic, and naturopathic doctor visits as necessity. Allow yourself to browse high quality athletic wear brands and read the reviews so that you can begin to picture what you’d like to be wearing as you dance. The first step, is allowing yourself to go there and deciding that you deserve these things. They are not luxuries. They are a necessary part of your job.
We would never tell a CEO of a major company that her traveling, business dinners with clients, and business attire are a luxury. We would never expect her to cut back on these necessities, because they extend the longevity of her career.
Our necessities as dance professionals may look slightly different. They may be a sweat-wicking sports bra lined with silver to control odor and two personal training sessions a week, but they relate to our career as closely as that CEO’s business suit and briefcase.
Work the costs of these necessities into your budget first. Look at the additional funds that you will need to bring in to add these necessities into your career and still thrive.
Then, begin to look at how you can bring these funds in. The most direct route to funding the longevity of your career is to ask for what you need. A raise. A benefits package that includes covers massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture visits. (Check your state’s laws on employers offering healthcare; even if you are an independent contractor, if you are working over 19 hours a week in some states, you can ask for employment to receive benefits.) A promotion to Teacher Mentor or head of a program at the studio; you’re probably already doing this work but not being compensated for it. Create a proposal and take it to the studio owner to explain the work you have invested up until this point and how your continued work, if compensated, can grow the program and benefit the studio both artistically and financially. Chances are, the work you’re planning to do in the future is something you would have already done, so you’re not creating extra work for yourself. You’re creating income out of work you would have already done.
If you’re not ready to go the direct route just yet, I understand. There are more options! A little bit here and there adds up. Raise your private lesson rate five dollars a week. If you teach seven lessons a week, that’s an additional $35 a week, which could add up to a massage every two weeks.
Ask a teacher in the studio who has a busy schedule if you can sub for him once a month in an effort to introduce his students to a different way of teaching or a different genre. Suggest to your studio owner that you write a blog post for the studio newsletter once a month to give tips to parents and students, charging for your time and the longevity of your career. Often, this is not an hourly rate - this is a sum that you come up with that accounts for your expertise, time, effort, and the necessities in your life.
The above suggestions are adding additional work to your plate. But you may find passion for trying new things that bring in extra funds, such as writing, or a method you like to share with students that are not your own. Your extra time will not only bring in additional compensation to fund the longevity of your career, but open new doors within it.
Be a part of the change
When we make the leap to stating our worth, guilt may arise. You may feel like you’re cheating the system. Like the arts are important, and you’re passionate about it, so asking for additional compensation feels wrong.
This is an ideal that artists have adapted to over centuries, for the love of art, and it stops with us. Today.
We do not have to follow that ideal. It is not a realistic ideal.
Let’s set an example for our students. Our female-identifying dancers need to see empowered leaders asking for what they deserve. Our male-identifying dancers need to grow up around artists who express what they are worth without hesitation.
Let that soothe your guilt next time you feel like you’re asking for too much.
Stating your worth not only benefits you, but everyone around you. Your partner, your family, your children, your studio, your students.
And, perhaps most importantly, let us not forget that we have the power to break the cycle that artists work for free.
Break the cycle
If you receive feedback that your rates are too high, feel free to explain all of the work that a parent might not see in the classroom that allows your class to be so well-rounded and educational. If you’re asked to perform at a community event, ask what their entertainment budget is. You can still donate your time if you wish to, but begin to train your community that entertainment costs. Prompt them to think about an entertainment budget next time they plan an event. Art is work. Creation takes time. You deserve to be compensated for it, and so do all the artists in your community.
When you state your worth, you allow everyone in your community to state it too. Is it your responsibility to open up those doors for the other artists around you? Maybe. If you are able to, it is your responsibility. It is my responsibility. We are teachers. It is our responsibility to open doors for those around us. It comes with the job.
It is, without a doubt, our responsibility to teach our communities the true worth of art and the people who create it. Even if you love to volunteer. Even if you run a nonprofit. Even if you love it. It is our responsibility to educate the people with the money why they have to budget for us too.
You are allowed to do what you love and make a living doing it.
In fact, if the world were filled with more people who believe this, we’d most definitely be living in a more peaceful, educated, and healthy climate.
So break the cycle. Be the example. Charge for the longevity of your career. Budget differently. Try it. Ask for it. Ask for what you want. What you need. What you deserve. When you ask, you impact so many people around you - including the person you ask for the compensation from. Even if they say no, you have asked them to see you in a new way. Even if they fire you for asking for a raise (rare scenario and definitely illegal), you have asked them to see you in a new way and to think about your work’s worth, and probably closed a detrimental door in your life. If you ask for what you deserve and you are not receiving it, you are allowed to move on to those who appreciate and compensate you in the appropriate way. You are.
As I stated in the beginning, the financial situation of dance professionals varies by time, place, and the individual choices we make. Truly, the individual choices we make has the most impact on our situation even if it doesn’t always feel that way. I don’t know many dance professionals that truly make what they are worth, but acknowledging that is very important to our professional as a whole right now. And it starts today, with you and me.
Know your worth. State your worth. Demand your worth.
I’ll be back next week for the fifth and final installment in our series. Share this post to reach not just other dance professionals, but the families and students you work with so they have a better understanding of your career. Feedback and questions? Leave them in the comments!
Amanda Trusty currently serves as the Artistic Director for Kona Dance and Performing Arts, a nonprofit performing arts center on Hawai'i Island. She studied musical theatre at Shenandoah University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and currently studies tap dance under Gregory Hines' protégé Andrew Nemr. With a decade of professional performance and choreography credits from theaters both inside and outside of New York City, Amanda is passionate about using her artistry as a vehicle for change, with a sharp focus on empowering the next generation. As a freelance writer and activist, Amanda was recognized in 2015 by the Huffington Post as one of nine women bringing body positivity to dance. Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram