You Want To Pay Me How Much? Dance, Teaching, Finances, Opinion
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
Ah, The Dance Teacher Network on FB. Many are the hours I have spent delving into your depths and emerging covered in a murky mirepoix of shame, spite and sassy dance memes - known as the holy trinity. I always have a romping good time joining other adults ripping on dance competitions, debating about how much or how little children should dress, complaining about annoying parents, and cringing at terrible technique.
And Job Postings. Let us not forget those. Often they read something like this:
ATTENTION! We are looking for a professional dance instructor with 10+yrs exp. who can do acro, tap, ballet, jazz, and hip hop. Each class runs once a week and is 30 minutes long. We are offering $12.50/hr, plus free parking and a one time raid on the supply closet.
Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration. No one has ever let me anywhere near their supply closet because they know I would clean them out of their 90's butterfly clips and obsolete stereo equipment - the heart and sole of any established dance studio.
My questions are these:
What is the quality of instructor that you are looking for with these ads? I hope the answer is not "good to great" because that is not what you are going to get.
Why run a dance studio/dance program without doing any research on what a reasonable rate is? If it is a program you run for free out of the goodness of your own heart, then bless your soul, but that's not the job you posted about when seeking experienced professionals for a low rate.
Why is this being posted in an international FB page? If you are tech savvy enough to join a social media group and post on FB then you already know the evil that lurks in the hearts of human kind. Turn the comments off if you have a thin skin.
Then the defenders speak up, in all of their righteous indignation:
"Well, when I started teaching, I worked for $12.50/hr."
- I checked your profile, Karen. You're, like, 53 now. $12.50/hr is a little different now then it was in 1972. Just block me, Karen.
"Well, what if it is for a program in a low-income neighborhood?"
- Well, why doesn't it say that? There is nothing wrong with programs geared towards a low-income constituency, but beginning the ad by weeding out less experienced teachers kind of sets a different tone. I get they want to sound super professional, but asking for the heights of professionalism while their studio/program is still working its shit out is going to blow up on them. Just be honest.
"This is probably for a young college student, or something. Why are you so mean?"
- Dammit, Karen, did you even you read the fucking post?! BLOCK ME!!!
Don't make people assume. Give us a detailed description of who you are and what you really need. You may not get a principal dancer from ABT to apply, but one might see your ad and know someone who is skilled and looking for side work. Be up front about your class sizes, attendance and budget. Don't give us the sob story after there have already been 193 negative comments. You tried sounding like a big shot and now you're being treated like one. Emphasis on being treated.
There is also the act of the devaluation of skills to think about. If everyone in a skill set agrees on a rate per a scale of experience then we create a solid metric. But when someone decides to actually take one of these low paying jobs and no one says anything, then devaluation occurs. Don't take my word for it. Take my wife (please, take her!) and her experience with devaluation in the professional nanny industry.
As a professional nanny with 7 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree, and several childcare-specific certifications, my hourly rate is competitive. However, there are many nannies with similar qualifications who accept jobs for far less than I charge, sometimes as low as $8/hour. It quite literally diminishes my value when another nanny with similar qualifications accepts a job that pays much less, and it makes the job hunt that much harder.
Not only am I forced to explain why I have to be paid legally (because being a nanny IS, in fact, an actual profession), but I have to endure the quip from a potential employer who scoffs in disbelief when I list my hourly rate and benefit requirements —“Well, my neighbor has a nanny with a degree, but she does 45 hours of childcare PLUS housework for $250 a week under the table. Why should I pay you so much more and offer you benefits when you're just taking care of my kids?” News flash: “Just taking care of your kids” is so much more than you think. I provide a professional service—high quality, individualized child care in the privacy of your home.
I act as an extension of the parenting team in your absence, carrying out your child rearing philosophy, observing your child’s development, and offering my professional opinion if an issue arises. THAT is why you should pay me what I’m worth for “just” taking care of your kids. If you disagree, then I don’t want to work for you, anyway.
- Katy O'Hanlon Bruns, Professional Nanny, Director, Modern Marvels Dance Co.
In the parents defense, the only other option besides paying a fair wage is to actually take care of their own children. You would condemn them to that? You monster! (Love you, honey.)
Back to dance.
Everyone deserves the right to an arts education. It creates and maintains well-rounded human beings. But working in the arts is hard. We hear the words, "Ha Ha! You're gonna be a starving artist when you grow up, eh?" And we laughed then, but now that's exactly what we are. We are starving artists and you are offering us bread crumbs for our dinner. Asking for professional employees when the program/studio in question is not ready to be professionally competitive is a hypocrisy that will be called out time and time again. Just be honest and someone will throw you a bone. T
The old adage remains true - you get what you pay for. If you post these low paying gigs on Facebook in a forum of professionals then you're gonna pay, all right. On the other hand, make it $13.75/hr and throw in a couple velvet scrunchies, some Al Gilbert '45s and that vintage turntable and I may be interested.
Tristan Bruns is a Chicago Hoofer, founding member of Chicago Human Rhythm Project's BAM!/Stone Soup Rhythms, professional company member of M.A.D.D. Rhythms and director of Tapman Productions.
Katy O'Hanlon Bruns is a Chicago modern dancer, director of The Modern Marvels dance company and one damn good nanny.