A dancers salary has a very broad spectrum. On one hand we have the commercial, celebrity backing dancers and prestigious ‘Principal dancer’ of dance companies such as the Royal ballet. There are different types of dance, and these disciplines fall into different categories on the popularity chart. My attention was grabbed by friends of mine who have studied dance, and while it is exceptional to see them do what they love, they are tilting into the domain of full time dancers and how they now must make a living from it.
Of course many people will argue that dance is not a true career and not one to be maintained, therefore not entitled to the status of a high salary job. Yet certain things are not taken into account. Firstly, the initial cost of training. Ireland has relatively low college fees, and the majority of people would assume fees for a dance college or school are equal, but the mere mention of ‘studying dance’ by a young Irish person instantly translates to ‘high fees and living abroad’. Ireland on an international scale is unequipped to provide the third level training necessary to produce full time dancers. We have produced great schools and stepping stones to third level training, yet we are only beginning to scratch the surface with regards to third level (the University of Limerick will have the first ever BA in contemporary dance in Ireland, beginning in September 2017).
The most common move is to the UK, where fees begin around the £9,000, surely to increase again for prospective Irish students due to Brexit. Dance schools in central Europe carry the same sort of fees. Arts grants are available but very rare, so this is the beginning of a road to debt in order to obtain a dream career. Freelance dancers are common in Ireland, particularly from a contemporary background. These artists rehearse for at least eight hours a day, and it is rarely if ever paid. Indeed there is the security of a dance company, but wages aren’t much better unless it is a prestigious, international company. Dancers provide a service, a release from the mundane in everyday life. They provide performances for the public, and although their work and talent is undoubtedly appreciated, should we consider showing our appreciation in other ways, such as a justifiable wage? It is unnerving to hear that those who have put years of training and thousands of euro into their work to live below the poverty line (many estimated to earn about €10,000 a year).
Can we blame these poor wages on the evolution of dance in the latter part of the 20th century? The more liberal people became the more freedom they had with dance, such as in nightclubs and even street performers. Have people lost the realisation of the talent and training needed? Although in the dance world contemporary dance has exploded in popularity, many people are unaware of the whole style. Styles such as ballet and Irish dancing have been glamorized and are known for their intense training, and this association seems to have followed it through to recognition and payment. Funding is made available to these artists but it may be time for more analysis on the wages they truly deserve.
Holly Lloyd | Arts & Events Editor