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Ballet dancers appear to effortlessly glide across the stage, fly through the air and spin to the delight of audiences around the world. They work at an intense physical level year-round to develop and maintain their craft so they can perform as many years as possible. The career life of a ballet dancer is short and challenging to maintain, and the pay for most is at the low- to mid-range of salaries.
Dancer Ranks and Company Location
Actual pay varies depending on a dancer’s level as well as the prestige and location of company. Professional ballet dancers can expect to earn from $8.52 per hour to more than $34.44 per hour, according to 2015 salary figures provided by the United States Department of Labor. Median pay averages $14.31 per hour.
Corps de Ballet
Corps de ballet translates to the “body of the ballet." More dancers perform at this level than any other. For example, during the 2014-15 season, the Pennsylvania Ballet company had 26 corps de ballet members, six soloists and six principal dancers. Members of the corps de ballet dance as a group, and this level is generally the entry point for most dancers into a company. It is also often the lowest paying rank.
In 2014, corps de ballet members of the New York City Ballet were paid approximately $1,500 per week, with the average contract 38 weeks in length. The NYCB is one of the highest paying ballet companies in the United States.
Dancers promoted to soloists get supporting roles and a leap in pay. Soloists are not the stars of the company, but this rank is the stepping stone for those working toward achieving the level of principal dancer. At the New York City Ballet, soloists earn $1,000 to $2,000 more per week than corps de ballet members. In some companies, a ranking system for soloists also impacts an individual's salary.
The stars of a company, principal dancers are paid the most. They perform lead roles and have achieved a level of artistry that has allowed them to shine on stage. Some will become famous within the ballet world and perform as guest artists for companies they do not belong to.
Considered a great honor and recognition of exceptional artistry and talent, guest artists are the highest paid professional ballet dancers throughout the world. The pay of a ballet star varies as greatly as the pay for movie stars. Nina Ananiashvili, who performed during the 1980s and 1990s, earned $30,000 per performance at the peak of her career. International superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov has a net worth of $45 million.