Professional dance performers in Canada in 2016

Activities, incomes, health, and career development

This survey of 532 Canadian dance performers examines “their dance work, their demographic and family situation, their working lives and incomes, their health and well-being, as well as their career development and transitions”. The survey results cover a broad range of the dance milieu, with only one-half of respondents (49%) being members of the Dancer Transition Resource Centre.

Regarding their dance work, the survey found that a majority of respondents (57%) are involved in contemporary / modern dance. In 2015, dancers typically spent just under 20 weeks in their dance performance work, performed in 10 professional works, and “worked with about 3 dance engagers” (defined as “anyone who hired dancers to dance, be they a company, independent choreographer, collective, dancers themselves (as their own engager), etc.)”. The survey also determined that many dancers perform in various regions of the country, and 30% performed outside of Canada in 2015.

The survey revealed that “two-thirds of dancers have had a performance gap of at least six months during their career”. Most commonly, these gaps were due to “lack of performance work / contracts” or injuries. One in nine respondents (11%) did not dance professionally in 2015, largely due to a lack of performance work.

On the demographic side, the survey found that 80% of responding dancers are women and 67% have completed post-secondary studies. Dancers’ average age is 34, and they have, “on average, 14 years of professional dance experience”.

The report indicates that “many dancers’ working lives are a delicate balance of dance performance, other dance work, and non-dance work.” For example, 81% of dance performers reported income from “non-dance related employment or self-employment” in 2015. The median earnings of dance performers are reported in three ways in the report:

  • Median earnings from dance performance were $7,000 in 2015.
  • Median earnings from all dance-related activities were $15,000 (21% lower, after inflation, than in 2003/04, when a similar survey was conducted).
  • Median earnings from all sources were $20,000 (13% lower, after inflation, than in 2003/04 and 39% lower than for all Canadian workers).

Concerning their health and well-being, the survey found that dance performers tend to have better overall health but poorer mental health and lower overall satisfaction with life than other Canadians. In addition, only 35% of dancers reported having extended health coverage.

Dancers’ satisfaction with their performing careers is quite high, with 77% “either somewhat or very satisfied with their dance performance career”. The report provides an analysis of the single-word responses offered by dancers to complete the phrase “Thinking about my professional future makes me feel …”. “Negative words represented 58% of all keywords counted”, but “the most common word was a positive one (‘excited’).” The next most common words were negative (“uncertain”, “anxious”, and “nervous”).

Regarding dance transitions, the survey found that “the median expected age of transition away from professional dance performance is 45, which is higher than the median of 40 in 2005”. In terms of what might motivate them to pursue a second career (defined as “a career after dance performance has ceased to be your major career focus”), “the need to earn more money” was cited by 32% of respondents, more than twice as commonly selected than the next-most common motivation: “the desire to explore new challenges” (15%).

Summary: 

This survey of 532 Canadian dance performers examines “their dance work, their demographic and family situation, their working lives and incomes, their health and well-being, as well as their career development and transitions”.