Many young dancers dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. As they mature, they are soon told that dancing professionally isn’t always the most lucrative career choice. This leads to many questions, by dancers and non-dancers alike, about how much a professional ballet dancer actually makes.
Professional ballet dancers’ income varies depending on company, ranking, geographic location, and other income sources, but the average salary for company dancers in the United States sits at $43,938 per year.
The average salary is around $43k a year in the United States, but many factors, such as rank or location, can affect a dancer’s salary. Many professional dancers have multiple dance-related sources of income as well that need to be considered when looking at an annual income.
What Is the Salary of a Professional Ballet Dancer?
The salary of a professional ballet dancer with a company depends greatly on the dancer’s ranking. Apprentices can make up to $800/week or about $32k/year at the highest paying companies, whereas corps de ballet members can make up to $1500/week or about $60k/year. Most companies, though, only pay an average of $40-$60k/year across the board.
Principal dancers make the most money. Their salaries can range from $53k/year up to over $150k/year depending on the company and the experience of the dancer. One of the highest paid dancers, Nina Ananiashvili, got paid $30k per performance.
Dancers typically only get paid for the season, which can range from 38 to 42 weeks, with a break in the summer. This means that there is a gap in their earnings for up to 3 months out of the year. Many dancers supplement their income during this time with teaching, modeling, choreographing, and more.
Other dance related jobs often pay more than a company will pay their dancers, especially corps members. The United States national average salary for ballet dancers (including jobs outside of a company) is $68,949 per year as of May 2022. This is $20k a year more than an average dancer makes from their company alone.
How Much Do Famous Ballet Dancers Make?
- Misty Copeland is expected to make around $185,000 in 2022. She has many lucrative brand deals, movies, and other sources of income in addition to her principal role at American Ballet Theatre (ABT).
- Isabella Boylston, also a principal with ABT, has an estimated net worth of $1-5 million. She has numerous sources of income and is active on very successful on social media.
- Svetlana Zakharova has a net worth of around $1 million. She is a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet and is regarded as one of the greatest ballet dancers to have ever lived, making countless guest appearances on stages and screens around the world.
- Mikhail Baryshnikov, known as one of the richest ballet dancers in the world, has a net worth of $45 million. He makes an estimated $400,000 per year through choreography and other sources of income.
- Roberto Boole has an estimated network or $1-5 million. He is a well-known Italian dancer and is currently a principal with ABT.
What Costs Are Associated With Being a Professional Ballet Dancer?
Ballet is expensive. Pointe shoes, leotards, tights, hair products, and other miscellaneous items can add up quickly. Some dancers in the United States will spend up to $100,000 on ballet classes, dancewear, and other dance related expenses before graduating high school.
Thankfully, most ballet companies supply pointe shoes (often custom made) to their dancers free of charge. This is a good thing since professional dancers can go through upwards of 1 pair a day. Some companies offer discounted dancewear and/or other equipment to their dancers. This varies depending on the company.
Another significant cost to consider is physical therapy. Dancers need to pay constant attention to their bodies in order to stay injury-free. This means regular physical therapy is a must. Most companies and conservatories have a physical therapist on-staff. However, some dancers elect to go to other specialists outside of the company, which would cost the dancer out of pocket.
What Other Sources of Income Are Common for Professional Ballet Dancers?
Many professional dancers have additional sources of income related to dance. One common side-hustle is modeling. There are a myriad of dance brands, and even some non-dance related brands, that need ballet dancers to model their products. This is a great opportunity for professional dancers to make some extra cash using their hard-earned dance skills.
Some dancers even choose to start modeling in a more traditional sense. After all, dancers keep their bodies in peak physical condition because of their athletically demanding jobs and know how to hold themselves in a flattering way. This makes them perfect candidates for modeling.
Movies, commercials, and music videos are also common side-gigs for professional ballet dancers. For example, Sarah Lane, a soloist with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) at the time, was Natalie Portman’s dance double in the movie Black Swan. Isabella Boylston, a current principal with ABT, starred in a Calzedonia advertisement.
Dancers also take on teaching gigs, from masterclasses to summer intensives, since professional dancers often make outstanding teachers. This can also help fill the annual summer income gap that can happen when dancing for a traditional ballet company.
There are many other income sources that dancers choose, ranging from social media, brand deals, YouTube, blogs, and more. Well-known dancers also can land lucrative guest dancing opportunities in full-length ballets or TV or on-stage features.
What Is the Job Growth Trend for Dancers?
The dance industry is growing slowly due to a lack of funding. That’s not to say that dance is declining, though. In fact, dance jobs are projected to grow by 3% by 2026. That may be slow, but that comes out to be 600 additional jobs.
However, the growth of choreography jobs is much faster than average. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, choreography jobs are projected to increase by 32% between 2020 and 2030.
How Do You Become a Professional Ballet Dancer?
Only 10% of dancers actually become professional dancers in any capacity. Within a company, the average percentage of dancers that are principals is a mere 15%. This means that being highly successful in this career path can be a long and difficult road.
Most dancers start young, often between the ages of 3 and 6, but there are also many successful dancers that started in their early to mid teens. Dancers train hard throughout high school, usually going to summer intensives in the summer. Some dancers even leave home to go to a pre-professional school or conservatory that allows them to train more while still getting their high school education.
During high school, dancers begin auditioning for companies. Most start as an apprentice with a company right out of school, if they are lucky enough to land a coveted spot. From there, they advance through the ranks, starting with the corps de ballet.
It takes an average of 7-8 years of dancing for a company to be promoted to principal. Sometimes it can take even longer, or possibly not at all. This means that there is a long road ahead for dancers striving for a principal ranking.
When Do Ballet Dancers Retire?
Ballet dancers have a relatively short career. Because of the physical demands of the job, most ballet dancers retire in their late 30s to early 40s. However, a few dancers are fortunate enough to have longer careers like Sylvie Guillem, who didn’t retire until she was 50 years old.
A dance career can get cut short due to various physical issues. Injuries can put a stop to a dancer’s ability to perform or even force an early retirement from an already short career. In order to prevent this, dancers see physical therapists regularly, often provided by the company.
Since dancers retire so early, retirement benefits can be scarce. Due to the low income and early retirement, many dancers have little to live off of after their dancing days are over. Additionally, dancers often skip college to start dancing professionally, so many don’t have any higher education to their name.
This means that many dancers turn to other dance related jobs after their retirement including, but not limited to, teaching or choreographing. Some dancers will go on to become ballet masters or artistic directors at a company or start their own studio.
What Kinds of Benefits Do Ballet Dancers Get?
Most companies offer their dancers health insurance. However, the early retirement age means that dancers often miss out on retirement packages. Professional ballet dancers usually have access to free or significantly discounted pointe shoes as well, which is great because most professionals go through 1 pair a day.
There are some non-monetary benefits to being a dancer as well. Many companies tour, so domestic and sometimes international travel is a benefit of dancing professionally. Dancers get to enjoy fully paid for travel on a semi-regular basis if they are with a bigger touring company.
Finally, dancers tend to be healthier than the rest of the population. This is a tremendous benefit of dancing professionally that shouldn’t be overlooked. Most dancers eat well and their demanding schedules keep their bodies in peak condition.
Things to Remember
Becoming a professional ballet dancer isn’t easy. Dancers put in countless hours of work, in and out of the studio, to reach the level of skill required for a career. With the steep competition, only 10% of dancers become professional. Even fewer reach the coveted principal ranking.
Once professional, dancers make an average of around $40k per year, depending on the company, location, and their current ranking. Dancers often supplement their income with other, often dance related, jobs. During the summer off-season, many dancers take on more serious temporary jobs such as teaching, choreographing, or commercial dance work.
Despite the sometimes difficult road leading to a professional ballet career, it is a beautiful and fulfilling job. It is a wonderful way to earn a living and there are always ways to supplement income, especially when you are first starting out as an apprentice. In the end, the benefits of travel, health, and fulfillment make up for the hard work to get there.