Apryl's Musings

Advocate for yourself


Wow this is my first blog in 4 years!  Since, I’ve started to update my web presence, I’ve been thinking about my first blog entry.  What to write?!  What to write?! 

Well it fell into my lap this afternoon.  I’ve been giving a young woman some advice as she embarks on her career beyond graduate school.  As she asked me questions, one thing has become so apparent. Our education has not prepared us for advocating for ourselves in the work place.  Especially if you are a female dancer and instructor.  Even more so if you are a woman of color. 

Disclaimer:  I am directing this particular blog towards women in the dance world.  Men in dance, I do love and care about you too.  However, you have an advantage many of your female counterparts do not enjoy.  By general rule, you are born with a sense of entitlement.  You feel entitled to more and better over and above your female colleagues. 

University dance programs are keen to recruit us.  They are keen to engage us in philosophy, dance technique, composition, history but they often fall short on the practical stuff.  You know the nuts and bolts of negotiating fair pay. 

My initial reasons for going to graduate school, I wanted to be a professor.  Meaning, I was striving for a full-time tenure track position. No one was upfront with me about the realities of landing a university position.  No one told me that I would get stuck in adjunct purgatory.  I went deeper into debt for an MFA to basically pay someone else’s tenure line salary.

When I was learning how to develop curriculum, programming and lesson plans, no one told about negotiating fair pay for my work.  No one talked about things like commute, health care, public and civil liability insurance.  No one told me about all the unpaid time I would spend planning outside of the dance studio. 

When I was an MFA candidate at ASU, I met Yacov Sharir, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin.  Actually, I had just graduated a month before meeting him.  Our department sponsored a weeklong workshop in dance and technology and Yacov was a guest professor.  I worked as an assistant before and during the workshop.  The opportunity to work with him was amazing. 

After one long day of the workshop, Yacov and I went out for a beer.  During our chat he said, “Don’t work for free anymore!  It’s time to get paid for your work!”  All I could think was shit!  (excuse my language) After 3 years of graduate school, the best advice I receive happened in 2 hours with a visiting professor. 

Well, I struggled with this advice.  How the hell do you do this?  Seriously, how do you do this as a female dance/teacher?  After 14 going on 15 years, I’m starting to figure this out.  Let me tell you, I’ve learned it by becoming a labor activist.  So I want to share what I’m learning.   I want to share with young women getting their feet wet.  I want to share with women like me.  Women fighting for their self-worth.  We are the very women who allow more privileged women the ability to lean in.  So here it goes.

  1. Think about your ideal pay.  Hourly rate.  Annual salary.  Per project rate. 
  2. Think about your base salary.  What is the minimum amount you are willing to work for?  Take into consideration:
    1. Your commute time
    2. Car expenses (eg.  Gas and maintenance)
    3. Health care
    4. Civil and Public Liability insurance (if you a freelancer)
    5. Dance wear
    6. Dance training
    7. Prep time (for classes or developing an entire curriculum)
    8. Music and props
    9. Your geographic location.  More affluent places you might be able to charge more.  
  3. What are the prospective employer’s expectation?  Do they have a curriculum and lesson plans set in place?  If they do you will spend less time preparing for your classes.  If you are expected to come up with your own curriculum and lesson plans, you will spend more time.  This is development and you should be paid for it!  Period! Many dance studios only pay you for the time you teach.  Don’t volunteer your prep time!  Get compensated.  You are worth it. 
  4. Don’t work without a contract!
    1. Make sure you have a contract.
    2. Make sure you understand it and are comfortable with the terms and conditions.
    3. If not, ask for time to review it.  Ask for a deadline to have it signed and turned in.
      1. Get a trusted person to go over it with you.  Even better if they understand legalese and contract language.
      2. If you feel there are terms and conditions that need to be removed or added, take it to the employer and negotiate with them.
      3. Once you are happy with the contract, sign off on it and make sure you get a copy.  Digital (PDF) or hard copy.  Keep it in a safe place for your reference. 

With all this being said there are other things one might consider whether it is job with a dance studio, a performing arts school or a project etc.  There are certain things that I will give away for free.  I will let colleagues pick my brains.  I will offer my students advice and feedback outside of school.  Often times, I will pursuit my own creative projects at my own expense. 

I will not teach for free!  This is my bread and butter.  This is how I pay my bills; however, I will consider working with a particular studio, organization or agency for my base pay rate.  If their mission and vision are in line with my beliefs and values, I am willing to negotiate.  I currently work at two studios that align with my personal philosophy.  They are ethical.  They want to make dance accessible to their community.  There are not many studios that value this in my area so I want to support these studios.

For me this is about supporting my community.  Our community is too small and resources scarce.  As a result, we can often descend into a type of Mean Girls tribalism/territorialism.  This just upholds what I consider to be an exclusive system in the arts.  Privileging the haves over the have nots.  It’s a system that mirrors our increasingly neoliberal world that excludes many of us from participation.  Equally it exploits a good majority of us (especially women in our myriad diversity). 

I’ll sum up.  Here’s to my sisters. 

  • Be generous within reason!
  • Never undersell yourself!
  • Be your own best advocate!

I know how hard you work.  I know your stories.  I hear your stories.  Trust me you are worth way more than you think!