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Workin' Hard for the Money: Dancers on the Poverty Line

A new study points out that 40 percent of New York City's dancers work three to five jobs to get by, and a quarter of them are working in restaurants or hospitality to make ends meet.

February 27, 2012

The average professional dancer in New York City earns only $28,000 a year, according to a study released Feb. 27 by Dance NYC. The amount is just above the nation's poverty line.

Of that income, just 55 percent comes from dance jobs, on average. More than 40 percent of the dancers surveyed earned less than $5,000 from the dance industry, according to the report, "Dance Workforce Census: Earnings Among Individuals 21-35." Two-thirds made less than $20,000 from dancing.

The study, which surveyed 1,231 dancers, is the first to focus on this age group, arguably the time when dancers are in their prime. This group also represents the future of the dance industry.

Just like struggling actors who have to work many jobs to make ends meet, it may come as little surprise that dancers are struggling as well. But dance advocates said they hoped that by releasing real data, more private and state funding would be given to the field.

"The value of this study is its presentation of the first concrete research relating to the untenable economic plight of young dancers, choreographers and administrators working within the dance field in New York City," Beverly D'Anne, former director of the dance program at the New York State Council on the Arts, said in a statement. "If the passion, discipline and creativity of these individuals is not to be wasted, it must be allowed to flourish in a way that confirms that dance is, indeed, a respected profession."

Indeed, more than 40 percent of the dancers surveyed work three to five jobs to make ends meet. Though 90 percent of the respondents have at least a college degree, a quarter of them reported working in restaurants or hospitality, while 22 percent said they had administrative jobs.

Nearly half of the group said they live in Brooklyn, while 94 percent perform in Manhattan. The majority of respondents, 73 percent, are so busy and strapped for cash that they only attend two or fewer dance performances a month.

"The reality of insufficient resources in dance and evidence that dance workers ages 21-35 somehow get by, even thrive, despite the odds, provide little comfort," said Lane Harwell, director of Dance NYC. "For the future of the art form, we need to invest and think creatively about how to improve the lives of our workers, establish viable career paths, and nourish future leaders."

Miriam Kreinin Souccar writes for Crain's New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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