Dancing is your passion, but does that mean you should do it for free?

I heard an interesting story the other day about a dancer who was apprenticing for a company and rehearsing for an upcoming concert.  Said dancer was promised and expecting a paycheck of some sort post performance (I didn’t get the details about the amount). The dance concert comes and goes, and the director says, no check. Not enough money.  Granted, the dancer in question had no written contract, but I was told they aren’t overly upset about how things turned out, and  still seem open to working with this company in the future.

Dancing for nothing

staying here ’til I get paid

This kind of thing makes me feel as if there’s a parallel dance universe out there somewhere.  I don’t want to set my big toe in this universe unless some beneficent organization is paying my rent, food and cable bill.  If you truly love someone’s work, want to work with them, and are willing to forgo a check ,  I suppose you could say that the experience is your payment.  But are there any other careers where people who aren’t students doing an internship are willing to work for free?  Not that I know of.  If you are a certain age, or at a certain skill level, you do qualify as an intern in the dance world (at least in my book).  But after this point, why is it acceptable to rehearse and/or perform for nothing but the experience?  Do dancers feel this way because we are, in a way, perennial students, in class throughout our careers?  Or is the field so overloaded with folks dying to dance that they’ll do it for nothing?    This can be a slippery slope past a certain point if you are striving for a professional career on any level.  What does working for free say about how you  value your time?  And your worth as a dancer?

Name your price, and write it down too

So maybe you’ve moved on, and will only do your dancing for pay.  If money is involved, write it down.  No matter how much (or how little) you’re earning, it’s a good idea to write everything down, from both sides.  How much rehearsal time are you committing to?  Paid or unpaid?

this won’t end well, they need a contract

How many performances? Are you providing your own shoes and tights, or is this considered part of your costume?  Do you have any other tasks that you are responsible for?  Get it all in writing.  That way expectations are clear, and you don’t start out counting on cash and end up with a commemorative t-shirt advertising the show (which, no matter how lovely, will not be accepted as payment as Starbucks).  Having things written down isn’t an iron clad guarantee and most dancers (and a lot of companies) don’t have the money or resources to have someone make sure their contract is legally binding.  But having things in writing tends to make people stick to what they’ve agreed to much better than words and/or a handshake.  Sad but true.

So is working for no pay ok?  That’s up to you-but give it serious thought and look before you start leaping (or turning, or partnering) for free.