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How much do ballet dancers earn?

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I've read a few articles recently that have commented on how poor the pay is for professional ballet dancers. I'm quite new to ballet, but I had always assumed that somebody as well known as Darcey Bussell would have been making huge amounts of money per year, and per performance, but I understand from a recent interview that she was struggling to get by even when at the height of her career. I find that pretty shocking. Does anyone know what the general pay is for a professional company dancer?

 

I guess the RB and ENB would probably be able to pay the most in the UK, and pay would increase as a dancer makes their way from artist to soloist to principal etc? Is the pay generally a steady monthly salary, or does it vary depending on the number of performances/ roles in any given month?

 

Sorry if this has already been discussed, but I would be interested to know.

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There are many varied answers to your questions.

 

In regional/local companies dancers usually do not dance through the year but only for a contracted number of weeks. The rest of the time they either get other jobs or collect unemployment compensation.

 

In the major companies which usually are in the big cities where the expense of living is usually higher, the number of weeks they dance is generally longer. Generally speaking the corps de ballet dancers make a barely sufficient wage - they often group up sharing living expenses.

 

Everyone signs a contract which usually states the number of weeks of work, number of performances per week and/or in total. It may also state things such as how many pairs of shoes will be supplied. In addition, for soloist and principal dancers the contract might include (and usually does for principals), what roles they will dance, touring arrangements, guesting with other companies, etc. The contract will also include - usually for the principals - other items of individual importance - a certain dressing room, coaching, teaching classes, etc.

 

The dancers who are international stars often make quite a deal of money but most everyone else struggles or has other support. Whatever the compensation it barely makes up for the years and years of hard work, emotional investment, and almost complete denial of other activities.

 

The above is a general statement - I am sure there are lots of exceptions.

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In the 2011 television programme The Agony and the Ecstasy, which featured ENB, I recollect that a figure of £23,000 per annum was mentioned. It was not clear whether the most junior dancers (ie those in the corps) earned this or whether you had to be more senior, say a soloist or a first artist, to earn this. I also seem to remember a figure of £60,000 per annum being mentioned as the sum which a principal could earn, but I may have imagined this. People on this forum will have different views on how generous those salaries are. Certainly they are poor compared to the salaries of, say, footballers who also train for years and have relatively short, often injury-prone careers. Principals can make money guesting and dancing at galas but I have no idea how much they would be paid for these performances. Darcey Bussell seems to have a bit of a bee in her bonnet about how hard and poorly paid a ballet dancer's job is. She may, of course, be comparing the pay of a dancer to that of a banker, as she is married to one. I can't believe that Darcey didn't earn quite a lot of money from advertising, special appearances etc. She has written an autobiography, as well as some ballet-themed children's books I believe. She also has her own (fairly limited) range of children's balletwear. I think that it is only household names like Darcey who would be able to sell her own merchandise like this.

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This article is in French but it does indicate how much a dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet earns. POB is known to be one of the best paid companies in the world.

 

http://www.lesechos.fr/journal20130102/lec2_industrie_et_services/0202472281076-le-ballet-de-l-opera-de-paris-fait-salle-pleine-a-300-ans-524885.php

 

Youngsters earn 2.655 euro a month and Etoiles earn 7000 euro or more.

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I think the dancers in the main UK companies have full annual contracts although apprentice dancers may be contracted for shorter periods.

 

Naomi, do the lady dancers get paid in Japan these days?

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Well back in the 1980`s when I was still a member of Equity,I used to receive an Equity newspaper,and once a year it listed the pay [increase,usually],for the Royal Ballet. It stated that dancers in "other companies" were paid less. Don`t remember the exact details of everything,but I DO remember the pay of a Senior Principal at the Royal was £600 a week.The pay of a 1st year Corps De Ballet member was I think,about £250 a week. I was earning this [£250 PW] at the Moulin Rouge,only we were having rehearsals just once a week and only working for 2 1/2 hours,6 nights a week. I felt then that I had made the correct decision to not try and persue ballet as a career.Nothing has changed my mind since,I`m afraid. Ballet may be lovely, but people need to be making a decent amount of money in this day and age,especially now ,with the cost of living. I don`t know how people in London based companies who are not soloists or principals survive. And all the thousands it took to get them there. Jeez,that`s some dedication that`s needed.!!!

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I also recall the ENB Documentary quoting the figures given above and am aware that ENB pay levels are generally much lower than the RB's. In the Annual Accounts for the ROH (2010/11), 6 performers are shown as being paid over £100k per annum with a further 50 or so receiving over £60k, the figure which is rumoured to be the starting point for an RB Principal. Although no distinction is made in the accounts between ballet and opera, given that most operatic stars are guests, not employees, most of the artistes at this pay level seem likely to be in the RB. And, when Tamara got her job at ENB, she did mention that she was giving up a "fantastic salary" for the £100k or so she is now receiving as Artistic Director. In both companies, it appears that there are deductions for time spent away guesting.

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For anyone interested in historical comparisons, the basic dancer's rate at the ROH in 1957 was £7-10 shillings/week, making £390/year. This rate applied under the 'Esher Standard Contract for Ballet, approved by the London and Provincial Theatre Councils,' and the contract was between each dancer and David Webster, the then Chief Exec.

 

In 1963, the minimum rates were:

 

Corps 1st Year - £9/week rising to £12/week

Corps 2nd Year - £14/week

Corps 3rd Year - £16/week

 

Coryphee - £16-10s/week

 

Soloists - £18/week

 

Principals - £25/week

 

Touring allowances in the UK and Eire: essentially £5/week.

 

The period of engagement was to not more than 48 weeks, but with 4 weeks paid holiday for those with more than 3 years' service. (2 weeks for those with less than 3 years or leaving of their own volition.)

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"For anyone interested in historical comparisons, the basic dancer's rate at the ROH in 1957 was £7-10 shillings/week, making £390/year. This rate applied under the 'Esher Standard Contract for Ballet, approved by the London and Provincial Theatre Councils,' and the contract was between each dancer and David Webster, the then Chief Exec."

 

I began my career in the NHS at around the same time. I think I made the wrong choice!!!!!

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Janet, the few ballet companies that pay regular salary to dancers are K-Ballet Company (but to dancers above soloists) and National Ballet of Japan (but I think you are not paid if you are not cast in performance). The situation in Japan is pathetic, so many dancers who want to hold a living by ballet engage with overseas companies.

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Tony: Your observation noted - but have you any idea of whether your career progression might have been better, and I take it that you were able to continue beyond, say, age 35 or so?

 

Naomi: Your remarks go along way towards explaining why we see so many Japanese dancers here and in Europe.

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Thanks for the replies. That's really interesting.

 

A salary of around £60,000 a year seems huge to me, but I can imagine if you are pushing your body to the maximum every day and dealing with the pressure of live performances, especially as a principal, I can understand that it wouldn't seem so much, particularly when you compare it to footballers or tennis players.

 

I forgot about galas, which must add quite a bit for the high profile dancers. I remember reading an interview with Tamara Rojo and she said she lives in Bloomsbury, which is one of my favourite parts of London but phenomenally expensive, to both rent and buy. You can't live there unless you are earning a pretty decent wage.

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I recall reading an article a while ago that said corps dancers at RB were on about £23,000 which for a youngster is not bad money as. As for banking an average bank clerk earns about £14000-£15000 in the provinces.

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In reply to message 11. Ian you are quite right. My comment was meant to be light hearted. I was finally put out to pasture after 50 years. We should also remember that only a select few achieve the higher salaries mentioned in these postings.

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Also those who take jobs abroad vary in salary hugely. Some of the smaller company pay very very little. I do know that as an apprentice with Vienna State Ballet my son earned as much as those on full corps salaries in Estonia and Slovakia. Now in Munich pay is good enough but living in Germany so expensive. Also those new to some companies need to check their contracts very carefully as in some Eastern European it is common to expect the dancers to also do hostess/host duties i.e meet and greet. Apprentice contracts need care. Not all companies pay. Some pay per performance etc. It really is a minefield.

 

It is certainly true though noone in their right mind would do it for the money.:-)

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Don Q, I wasn't comparing dancers' salaries to those of bank clerks. By "bankers" I was meaning merchant bankers, people working in corporate finance, and similar, who can earn very large sums of money at a young age.

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By coincidence was dipping into my biog of Markova yesterday and found this letter from Lilian Baylis dated May 1934 discussing pay for the next season - she says "I hope you will feel you can do so (ie return to the Vic Wells) for the weekly salary of £12.0.0 with an additional fiver to cover extra performances in the week." Sounds all very easy going - as a comparison my parent's newly built semi in Bristol cost £455 only 2 years later and they required a 25 year mortgage to be able to pay for it.

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I think she had to pay for her own shoes out of that princely sum, and these cost around 6s 6p a pair. Not to mention a taxi home after the show. Rambert paid her 10s 6p a performance which just covered those expenses.

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Another thought - tangential - but....

 

Sometimes it matters how the dancer is paid.

 

If I recall correctly, Fonteyn mentioned in her autobiography that getting paid when she danced in Spain was a problem. She was paid one half before the performance and then the balance during the final intermission/interval. She was paid in cash. This was a problem for a ballerina who now had a choice to leave the cash in her dressingroom or try to hide it inside her tutu.:)

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A salary of around £60,000 a year seems huge to me, but I can imagine if you are pushing your body to the maximum every day and dealing with the pressure of live performances, especially as a principal, I can understand that it wouldn't seem so much, particularly when you compare it to footballers or tennis players.

 

Don't forget, though, that, like footballers, dancers are technically allowed to retire and draw a pension at 35. I'm not sure dancers in this country would be able to survive on that, unlike top footballers. And I should point out that tennis players don't get a salary: they win prize money through tournaments, and if they're good enough (or just lucky, sometimes) they make enough or more than enough to cover their travel and accommodation costs (I was reading only today that prize money at Futures tournaments, which I think is one of the lowest-ranked sets of tournaments, hasn't gone up since the 80s, crazy though that may seem). Of course, some of them are highly ranked enough to get appearance money, or even famous enough to have lucrative advertising contracts with clothing and shoe manufacturers, racket manufacturers, Moet et Chandon and so on, but I suppose technically they must be self-employed. And, of course, most of them would have retired well before 35.

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frankly, I don't think its any of my business but I'd have to say - whatever it is, its nothing like what they deserve!

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Being 'technically' allowed to retire and draw a pension is one thing - being able to afford to pay enough into a pension in order to retire at 35 is quite another!!!!

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Taxpayer funded business is our business and to be a professional ballet dancer requires a great commitment so they deserve high pay especially to help them set up in a new business when they retire. Yes annuity rates are very low so none can live off whatever they have saved by the age of 35- unlike many sports persons.

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In reply to a new enquiry on this topic started today my ds (like JulieW ds) also gets paid very little but its enough to get by and he has even started to build up savings. And he is certainly getting job satisfaction. He is now fully independent of his parents which is why we can afford a holiday!

 

Its a hard life, not for the faint hearted but great fun while it lasts.

 

I've been in the business all my working like and have never been well off financially. But I have no regrets.

Edited by hfbrew
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Some years ago - 2005 to be precise - an article on this subject appeared in Dance Europe magazine, giving pay rates for dancers not only in UK but around the world. Here are the rates as they were then for ENB, RB and Rambert respectively. Obviously, these rates will have had to be adjusted upwards to allow for inflation and cost-of-living increases in the intervening period, but they may serve as a guideline to current rates of dancers' earnings. All figures are weekly rates in GBP.

 

ENB

 

Principal 624

First Soloist 536

Soloist 477

First Artist 422

Artist Year 8 396

7 392

6 388

5 385

4 367

3 349

2 336

1 311

 

Stage Manager 604

 

RB

 

Principal Negotiable

First Soloist 792

First Artist 558

Corps Year 5 506

4 487

3 467

1 446

 

Rambert

 

Grade 3 460

2 442

1 409

Senior apprentice 316

Apprentice 284

 

At the time of the article's publication most of the Rambert dancers were on grade 3 salaries. Also there were bonuses for long service. £500 for 5 years, £700 after 7 years and £900 after 9 years.

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I am wondering if Bussell's comments were based on a comparison between her own salary as a permanent member of the company, and that of Guillem who was a Guest Principal.  I have no specific knowledge of these things, but would Guillem have been able to negotiate a higher rate of pay because she was not on a fixed pay scale? 

 

Only a suggestion, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that the two ladies did not always hit it off, and the idea that someone is being paid more for doing the same job might be one of the reasons for that.

Edited by Fonteyn22

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I would guess that their contracts were very different.  Sylvie Guillem was probably contracted for a certain number of performances whereas, presumably, Darcey Bussell would have been contracted annually.  I would guess that guest artists would be paid more per performance (obviously by negotiation) because they may have periods when they are not earning and would negotiate accordingly.

 

Given the comparitively short careers that dancers have and in comparison to top flight footballers they seem woefully underpaid.

 

Do dancers in big West End shows get better paid?

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When I worked in the professional theatre many years ago all company members were on a basic salary PLUS a fee for each performance. The performance fee varied of course, according to status, with big names like Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier getting what seemed liked a fortune to me at the time.  I'd be very surprised if the current Equity contract for members of regular companies like the ENB and RB has changed that much and I do remember Darcey Bussell saying her basic salary as a professional was over £30K (that was in the late 80s).  So it's probable that a top principal at the RB would earn around £100K.

 

But, as Dave says, when you factor in the long training and the dedication required it's nowhere near enough!

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lbeard

all company members were on a basic salary PLUS a fee for each performance. The performance fee varied of course, according to status

 

Ryo : Dancers of Bolshoi Ballet are on the same system. On a basic salary + a fee for each performance.

          The performance fee varied of according to status

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Also to be considered is an allowance for shoes (no small expense). 

 

A per diem when touring. 

 

Casting for  first nights and new ballets.

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