Follow the Money

Young dance artists confront the discouraging logistics of working in New York now

While many companies claim their artists are paid, one dancer comments, "It depends on what you mean by 'paid.' " Choreographers sometimes pay dancers only if they bring in ticket buyers. One inventive mid-career artist, who teaches at studios across the city, will leave town in the fall to complete his education and qualify for a university teaching job. He wonders, "How can I pay my dancers when I can't pay myself?"

If Beckett's character in The Unnamablewere a dancer, he'd be racing down lower Broadway, carrying heavy bags and muttering into a cell phone, "I can't go on, I'll go on." Despite the impossible economic situation, dancers here are committed to the form.

Alyssa Alpine, a 26-year-old Columbia grad who's been dancing for free in her friends' work and supporting herself as a grant writer, asks, "Why do I choose a poorly paid, physically demanding profession without health insurance?" She cites the rewards of classes, rehearsals, and performances, as well as the benefits of collaboration. Frustration at the plight of dancers in New York has led her and Megan Metcalf to develop ArtistStaffing, "a subsidized employment agency that matches skilled, part-time administrators with understaffed arts organizations." Kari Hoaas also proposes new solutions, including a type of union based on one in her native Norway, to improve the working conditions of downtown dancers.

illustration: Ryan Sanchez

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Related:
The Etiquette of Dancing for Free
by Josephine Lee and Kimberly Bartosik

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Metcalf makes mostly solos now so she doesn't have to pay anyone else. For her, dance is "an art, a sport, a way of thinking. It infects your body—you can't leave it behind, even if you want to."


Resources: Dance/NYC dancenyc.org Dance Theater Workshop dtw.org Family Health Plus health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/fhplus/index.htm Artist Health Source artisthealthsource.org NYC Dance Places nycdanceplaces.org

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