Awards season in L.A. wouldn't be the same without backup dancers. Music videos and concerts would be boring, and Bollywood-style films incomplete. Backup dancers add dimension to music and stage performances, with thousands of contenders for a few choice spots each year. Backup dancing is irregular work, with a median pay rate of around $13 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keep in mind that this high-intensity, physical job doesn't often include benefits like sick time or health insurance.
National Average Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median hourly rate for a dancer as $13.16, as of May 2010. Most earned between $8.83 and $21.48 an hour, with the top 10 percent making $30.43 or more. Yearly salary wasn't quoted, since most backup dancer gigs last for a shorter period than one year. This pay does not include any sort of per diem pay, board or compensation for lessons.
Union backup dancers make more money than non-union dancers. At the very least, a union dancer will make "scale," or a minimum amount, for a work day. AFTRA, the union that governs TV programs such as the Grammy Awards, required a rate of $1,469 for a 91- to 120-minute show, as of November 2010, with an overtime rate of $37.50 per hour. The rate for Actor's Equity, the predominate union on Broadway, was $1,653 per week for musical backup dancers, with an additional payment for other roles, as of August 2010. Union dancers also receive pay or reimbursement for travel expenses, extraordinary risk and pension.
When thinking about the job of backup dancing, forget about any sort of conventional benefits package including paid sick leave or vacation time. Often, backup dancers go without, only earning a wage when at work. Instead, the entertainment industry offers many chances to travel, meet interesting people and work in an active, stimulating environment. The physical work helps to maintain health, and some productions furnish free massage and physical therapy for participants. Other perks include clips and other promotional items that are useful for portfolios, as well as education and opportunities to work with prominent choreographers in the music and theater world.
The life of a backup dancer holds challenges. Work is irregular; a production that seems a sure thing can fall through with little to no warning. Dancers also find that another job is necessary to cover living expenses, and the intense competition and high level of training can prove stressful. A dancer may use backup work to springboard into choreography, teaching or another field altogether, using support dancing as a change from more mundane occupations that earn more stable cash.