The synchronized steps, glamorous costumes and proximity to stars make a career as a backup dancer seem like a dream come true for many. While the finished product may seem polished and desirable, however, the long hours and physical strain make dancing one of the most demanding careers today. Depending on the type of job, its length and other factors such as skill and experience, dancers’ salaries can vary from modest to lucrative.
Backup dancers learn movement and choreography that they perform at different venues including award shows, live concerts, musicals and tours. Backup dancers also perform in music videos, commercials and on television shows and movies. Dancers must regularly attend rehearsals, costume fittings, tapings and concert dates as part of their job.
While it's not necessary to have a college degree in dance, many universities do offer academic degrees and certifications in dance. Dancers typically should have years of experience in a variety of styles, which can include ballet, tap, modern and hip-hop or even more specialized forms like ballroom or folk dancing. Dancers can gain experience either through a school dance program, at a studio or in college or at a conservatory or academy. Even after dancers begin working, many still take classes and cross train regularly at studios and gyms to condition, refine and even improve their skills. In fact, gym memberships are sometimes part of dancers' compensation for longer-term jobs.
Backup dancers appear in music videos, commercials, movies and television shows. Jobs are also available in Broadway musicals, stage productions, live concerts, award shows and tours. Dancers must typically audition for roles or places in show casts and to book individual gigs.
Pay for dancing varies by job, but there are some standards in place to ensure dancers are not underpaid. Although dancers do not have an official union (some dancers may be part of Actors Equity or another theater union), certain standards do exist to govern the working conditions of dance jobs. For gigs including live performances, music videos and industry engagements, the pay should start at $175 for a one-to-four-hour commitment and $250 for working four-to-eight hours. Longer gigs exceeding these parameters receive time-and-a-half compensation.
Dancers are typically paid by the gig and pay-per-gig can reach over $1,000. Outside of money, compensation also comes in the form of lodging, exposure and/or costumes. It’s important to remember, however, that pay can be contingent upon other factors including ticket sales. Because of the gig-to-gig nature of dancer income, dancers also find other ways to bring in money between performances; this can be through teaching, food service or arts administration, among other day jobs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the hourly wage of a dancer at $13.16 as of 2016. The salary for working dancers in companies and on Broadway can range from $665 to as much as $2,000 a week. Depending on the gig, your dance job may also come with benefits including health insurance, dancewear (shoes, sweatpants, etc.), and access to massage or physical therapists. For top-earning hip-hop dancers, hourly pay can reach as much as $26 per hour.
Dancing on a tour is great for dancers not only because of the exposure but also because of the income and job security. In addition to making a weekly salary, dancers may also receive a per diem, which is a daily stipend for food and incidentals. While dancers on tours may be compensated for their work and time, dancers may have to absorb some expenses. Depending on the artist, dancers may have to pay for their own costumes or styling. Beyoncé’s dancers, for example, are required to do their own hair and makeup. Ashley Everett, Beyoncé’s dance captain says this is in an effort to make sure everyone is on stage at their own personal "sexiest."
Years of Experience
Pay can sometimes be commensurate with experience in dance jobs. Dancers who are just starting out may have to work for no pay, but over time annual salary can increase:
- 0-5 years: $34,000
- 5-10 years: $40,000
- 10-20 years: $37,000
- 20+ years: $80,000
Networking is an excellent way to meet other dancers and have access to jobs so that a dancer can gain experience. Dancers can interact with other dancers at workshops, conventions, jobs and even in class.
Job Growth Trend
The dance world is notoriously competitive. The BLS anticipates that over the next ten years, growth in employment in the dance industry will grow 4 percent, which is slow and ensures that supply of dancers will far exceed industry demand. However, if a dancer is up for the challenge and able to stand out from the crowd, their career can lead to travel, income and notoriety.