On Sunday I attended Dance/NYC’s State of NYC Dance Symposium. It was a packed day of reports, classes, and discussions. Dance/NYC programmed the event with the intention of bringing together artists, advocates, funders, policy-makers, scholars and audiences to discover what the current NYC dance world looks like. A lot of data and ideas were shared and discussed, and I came away with a good sense of what the NYC dance world currently looks like and the challenges it faces.
I was particularly excited to attend Dance/NYC’s Junior Committee’s presentation on their “Dance Workforce Census: Earnings Among Individuals, Ages 21-35.” Here at FABnyc, I run our rehearsal space program Dance Block. Dance Block makes affordable dance rehearsal space available by centralizing staffing and renting out several spaces during underutilized and understaffed times at $10 per hour. The available times are not ‘prime times,’ but the price is quite affordable, so a lot of our renters are young dancers and emerging choreographers.
I was hoping the census could help these artists, and me as well, to understand their needs and situation and show how important it is to provide affordable rehearsal space and other services. What the “21-35 Report” shows is how true the stereotype of the young, broke, overextended dancer really is. The report uses responses from over 1200 individuals on 1,870 dance jobs. Here are some facts that really stand out:
- The average dance worker profiled in the study is 28 years old, single, white, and female, with no children.
- These individuals primarily are freelance, hold four jobs in the dance sector, and have at least one non-dance survival job—many have more than one.
- They earn $28,000/year, but only 55% of this comes from dance jobs. However, more than 40% of participants earned less than $5,000 from their industry work in 2010, and more than two-thirds made less than $20,000/year.
- 26.2% of the 1,870 jobs reported are unpaid or barter relationships (where a worker may trade their skills for rehearsal space or training)
What does this tell us, and why does it matter? It shows us that dance workers must utilize all possible avenues for finding paid work, and that many must perform unpaid work that benefits the community. They must cobble together positions as artists, administrators, freelancers, and producers to create a livelihood. They commit a lot of time to their craft but earn the majority of their money from other sectors. The report summarizes, “In this data we can also see opportunities to strengthen this workforce: to consider how subsidized artist housing, healthcare programs, and even discounted ticket programs—models for which already exist—could be adapted to assist this population.”
My hope is that this report will open up dialogue on how to bolster the dance community in NYC, so that there is an increase in services and funding to enable young dancers to make more of a living from their art. Lane Harwell, Director of DanceNYC, told Crain’s New York Business, “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.”
- Written by Phoebe Stern, Director of Operations at FABnyc