How Much Money Does a Principal Ballet Dancer Make?

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A prima ballerina's salary can certainly exceed expectations, but passion is the driving force behind this creative career. Many of us dream of making a living from our creative callings, but principal dancers have transformed that dream into a reality. You've seen them on stages across the world – from esteemed, long-running companies like the New York Ballet to traveling troupes like Eugene Ballet. They've been featured in award-winning films like "Black Swan_,"_ which took home an Oscar, and "Save the Last Dance," which was a fan favorite among teen award shows.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dancers make a median hourly wage of $16.96 with the top 10 percent of dancers making around $30.95 per hour. Still, principal dancers can command much higher paydays such as $3,000-to-$5,000 per performance as guest stars with major companies. The top ballet dancers can pull in an upwards of $190,000 a year at the highest-paying ballet companies.

In reality, the life of a dancer is only a fraction as glamorous as the movies show. From jet-lagged performances and physically draining rehearsals to the cut-throat auditions and injuries, this career is as difficult as it is rewarding. So, how much do ballerinas make for their endlessly difficult work?

Job Description

Principal dancers, often referred to as prima ballerinas, are the highest-ranking dancer in every ballet company. These stars of the show may perform in stationary productions or in traveling troupes across the world. Though many principal dancers are committed to a single company for a whole season, which can be between 28-to-40 weeks including rehearsals. some principal dancers guest star in productions and command a high per-performance fee. On days dancers aren't performing, they typically take classes and have hours of back-to-back rehearsals with breaks for costume fittings. They also must budget time for physical therapy, an important part of a physically demanding industry with such a high injury rate.

Education Requirements

Ballerinas have different ranks based on their experience and ability. This is one of the few careers where you don't advance with age. In 1990, the average age for ballerina retirement was 29, over 20 years younger than a decade prior. For this reason, ballerinas start training at a very young age. Their education comes mostly from classes and the experience of working their way up through the ranks of their companies before moving to more renowned productions. Some ballerinas study the craft in a college or conservatory atmosphere before joining a company.

Industry

Principal dancers work in ballet companies performing for audiences around the world. A ballet dancer's earnings vary greatly based on the company and their ranks within it. Salaries are higher on weeks where they perform in front of an audience versus weeks where they rehearse. Dancers in unions like the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) command much higher salaries at every level and overtime wages.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dancers make a median hourly wage of $16.96 with the top 10 percent of dancers making around $30.95 per hour. Still, principal dancers can command much higher paydays such as $3,000-to-$5,000 per performance as guest stars with major companies. The top ballet dancers can pull in an upwards of $190,000 a year at the highest-paying ballet companies.

Years of Experience

Many ballerinas have been training for most of their lives to become a principal dancer, usually starting classes around the age of seven. Dance students can train between eight to 10 years before landing professional work.

Professionally, dancers start out as apprentices before moving to the lowest level of their company, the corps de ballet. There, they can be promoted to coryphées, where they may be given small solos. The next step is becoming a soloist, who often learns principal parts as an understudy should the principal have to miss a show. Principal dancers or senior principals are the highest-ranking in every company – the stars of the show. How much do ballerinas make throughout this process? It varies greatly but generally sticks to the following range:

  • Apprentice (New Dancer): $125 – $800 per week
  • Corps de Ballet dancer: $325 - $1,500 per week
  • Principal Dancer: $53,000 - $150,000+ a year for the top companies

Job Growth Trend

Though the entertainment industry is often volatile, the demand for dancers is expected to slowly grow. Between 2016 and 2026, employment of dancers is projected to grow by 4 percent. In addition, dancers who don't become principals may look towards choreography or teaching, where the median salary is slightly higher at $25.81 and $17.76 per hour, respectively. The median is the mid-point with half earning more, and half earning less.

References

About the Author

Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.