After putting in years of hard work and training, you have decided that you want to be a professional ballet dancer. Sounds like every little girls dream, right?
It definitely is everyone’s dream to do what they love for a living and to be able to get paid for it, but with so many companies only offering unpaid trainee and apprentice positions dancing can sometimes turn into a dreaded job. With the economy going into a recession a few years ago, funding for the arts definitely suffered more than it was already suffering…and it obviously isn’t going to bounce back as quickly as the rest of the working world.
So what can you do?
This is where the young dancer needs to be economically smart. Dancing is still a job no matter how much we love the self-fulfillment that we get from artistic expression. And when you do a job, especially on a long-term or contractual basis, you should receive payment.
A lot of these unpaid offers that you may get from companies may sound very attractive. They may give you pointe shoes and free chiropractic/ massage therapy visits, but make sure that this is the right deal for you. It may sound like an awesome idea to move away from home and go live out your dream, but please consider how you will be able to fund your passion. Will Mom and Dad help out? How much money are they willing to contribute? Will you have to get another part-time job? Will you have to get two other part-time jobs? Even more importantly- Will you have time to work a part time job?
The other thing that you need to consider is whether or not you will actually get time dancing with the company. A lot of apprentice programs these days sell you on the fact that you are joining the apprentice or trainee group of a company, however there is very little interaction with the actual company. (company class, rehearsals, etc) A lot of apprentice and trainee programs have their own seperate classes, rehearsals, and sometimes don’t even get a chance to perform with the company. You can look at it as an extra year of schooling.
I don’t want to tell you not to take an unpaid apprenticeship, as there is definitely a value to the learning experience, but be very picky as to which program you choose. Companies are able to “try it before they buy it” so to speak with these ever growing second companies and apprentice programs. I have been fortunate enough in my career to always have secure paid ballet employment, but it pains me to see young dancers who aren’t being paid struggle. When I say struggling I mean working 2 part time jobs in addition to dancing to pay the bills or put food on the table.
My advice to you is to be smart. Listen to your parents. Make wise choices or you may find yourself in a position where you’ll really find out what it is to be a “starving artist.”