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The Average Salary of a Corps de Ballet
Ballet dancers train for years, and their careers are often short, as dancers can't maintain the physical demands of their art forever. The pay that dancers receive is substantially less than many other jobs that require years of physical training, professional sports being a prime example. Given the low salaries provided for dancers, especially those in the corps de ballet, it's clear that most of them work for the love of their art instead of for financial security.
Trainee, Apprentice, Corps de Ballet
Although many people think of the corps de ballet as the entry level for a ballet dancer, this isn't true. In many ballets, especially smaller companies, the background dancers are actually trainee dancers or apprentice dancers. Trainees are often still students at the company's school and frequently aren't paid at all, merely having their shoes paid for. The next step up, the apprentice, is paid, but generally not as much as a corps de ballet dancer. Finally, if you're hired as a corps de ballet member, you are a part of the company and receive a weekly salary. At this point, your training is considered complete and you are a professional dancer.
Pay for a corps de ballet dancer can vary greatly by region. For example, expect to make more in areas with a higher cost of living, like New York. During the 2004 to 2005 season, the New York City Ballet paid their corps de ballet dancers $956 a week, while the Houston ballet paid $714 a week.
Performers who have a union tend to get better compensation than those without, but the compensation may not translate to higher pay. Instead, these dancers may get better insurance benefits and longer contracts. Considering the high risk of injury for dancers, insurance benefits are crucial. Dancers also have a short career, most retiring in their 30s, which makes any employer-based retirement plan important as well. Some companies require union membership, like the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet, while in other cases, dancers will join a performer's union and negotiate their compensation with each company as they go.
In U.S ballet companies, pay is on a per-week basis and the dancers are only paid for the weeks they work. They are paid for only part of the year. The amount of weeks they are paid for varies, and during the time that they aren't paid, many dancers either go on unemployment or try to find other jobs, either as dance teachers or in an unrelated field. As an aspiring dancer, it's important to keep the amount of weeks paid in mind when calculating the overall pay.
Dancers that work in ballet companies in Europe get better salaries and benefits than dancers in the United States. At the Royal Ballet in London, for example, a second year corps de ballet dancer makes 22,000 pounds a year, with an increase of 1000 pounds every year after that. Bear in mind that Western European jobs pay better than Eastern European jobs. However, the competition for international ballet jobs is fierce, and of course a dancer must be prepared to live and work overseas.