Ballet Shoes Feeling Extra Painful

Already set upon by nature, time, gravity, ballet dancers are hit extra-hard by the economy.

While many industries are feeling the pinch, ballet dancers are taking the recession especially hard. Says the Washington Post,

Among the larger companies, New York City Ballet has let 11 dancers go, Miami City Ballet has laid off seven dancers in addition to getting rid of live music, and San Francisco Ballet has laid off six dancers. American Ballet Theatre is not laying off dancers; instead, its dancers union agreed to substantial contract concessions.

Of course, cultural institutions across the country are suffering, largely because donations are down, with many big spenders presumably in extremis. The Metropolitan Opera's once-healthy endowment is down by two thirds, and the company's cutting salaries and productions. The New York City Opera, meanwhile, is operating on a shoestring budget and a skeletal schedule. Opera companies and orchestras around the world are employing new tactics and cuts to keep their heads above water in a time when entertainment is often one of the first luxuries people cut.

Ballet dancers are at even greater risk, however, because the windows of their careers are shorter to begin with. It's a youth-oriented profession in which dancers are recruited right out of their teens and a young performer can't afford to lose the most fruitful years of a career in which she and her family have invested thousands of hours and dollars. Like professional athletes, dancers are at the whims of health and luck, and must balance a single-minded focus with the ever-present knowledge of the profession's precarious nature. Unlike athletes, though, professional dancers don't pull down an enormous salary, and except in the case of real stars, don't have the same kind of economic safety net.

But the jobs just aren't there. Unless one's at an institution like the School of American Ballet, the job market is as bleak as in any profession going, leading many of them, as the article states, to turn to whatever freelance dance work they can pick up - or another career path altogether. One imagines that along with physical discipline, dancers are tacitly taught to accept the pain, rejection and vagaries of the job. But usually there's an expectation that this will at least come from dancing. It is either heartening or depressing, then, to know that a ballerina just won Australia's So You Think You Can Dance.

Dancers Face A Tough Time to Land On Their Feet [Washington Post]
Board Eats Endowment, Gloom Deepens At City Opera [Bloomberg]
Royal Opera Recruits Domingo To Ride Out Recession [Reuters]
Metropolitan Opera Faces Cuts, Its Leader Says [NY Times]
Talia Fowler Wins So You Think You Can Dance Australia [News.com.au]