The Truth Behind Reality Television Dancers

Although many children are enrolled in ballet classes at a young age, few are able to make it to professional dance careers. With a multitude of careers available in the dance industry, it would seem simple to succeed in one, but in reality: it requires blood, sweat, tears, and incredible talent. As shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars gain ratings, many dancers turn to reality television for their big break, something to feed their passion of dance, and a wad of cash. However, with low wages, long rehearsals, and little protection, dancers hoping to be in the limelight, may just end up regretting it. The amount of talent on both series is incredible.

Unlike most jobs, no formal education is necessary. Nevertheless, their casting directors are extremely selective. Dancers may work their entire lives up to their audition in order to show the directors that they deserve a spot on the series. So You Think You Can Dance auditions are held across the country during the winter, allowing the series to premiere in the summer. Applicants are required to complete an application form and read all regulations, one of which includes an age requirement between 18 and 30 years. The show, its producers, and network are also signed off as not being responsible for any injuries sustained during the competition. Applicants send in video submissions and wait for a casting director to let them know they are able to audition in their city. At their audition, a panel of judges watches applicants closely to choose those who interest them most. Those chosen then move forward to a callback round where they work with incredible choreographers to perform in front of judges who then choose a top 20. The Dancing With The Stars audition process is quite different. As it seems, dancers must be world renowned for their ballroom dance in order to gain a spot on the show. After winning numerous competitions, only then will a dancer really have a chance at auditions. While sources are quite unclear, dancers on both shows are seemingly protected under SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild?American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), a labor union representing a variety of media professionals around the world. SAG-AFTRA contracts protect workers from workplace harassment, allow for increases in wages and overtime pay, and sets a maximum rehearsal time in the interest of contestants. However, the low wages and long hours contestants face makes it seem as though they either are not protected or the union does not actually do as much as it should. Quite like many other reality tv shows, dancers on So You Think You Can Dance do not get a fixated wage but rather just barely enough money to live off of.

Although the winner receives $250,000, a 2010 article published by The Miami Herald states that the show’s contestants receive roughly $500 a week. Adjusted for inflation, that is closer to $600 today, but still not nearly enough compensation for their daily 16 hour rehearsals. When the top 10 finalists are offered to tour, they are offered over $1000 which is now about $1,160. On Dancing With The Stars, the professional dancer salary is quite secret. Working for up to 10 weeks of airtime, and pre-season rehearsals, the show’s professional dancers give up their lives for the show but are still paid much less than their celebrity counterparts. In early seasons, it was reported that they had a salary of $1,600, but it is now up to about $5,200, depending on their admiration. The veteran professionals are able to negotiate their salaries because they are favored by the public. They are able to make a lot more than newcomers because of their seniority. The average professional dancer’s salary is close to $100,000 for the full season and practice time. Many dancers have gigs during the off-seasons of the show, including dance studios. So You Think You Dance contestants and their choreographers must put together their routines in about 6 hours. After selecting their partners and genres post-show on Tuesday, dancers only have until 5 pm the following Tuesday to make their dances competitive for the live show. The day of the show dancers are able to run through their routines 2 or 3 times on stage, receive notes from their choreographers between trips to hair and makeup, and a dance rehearsal later in the day. The dancers rehearse on camera, off camera, and on their own throughout the week in order to perform well on stage. Although it is a strenuous process each week, their hard work pays off during each and every live show.

On Dancing With The Stars, rehearsals usually last about four hours, many times twice a day, in public dance facilities around Hollywood. Contestants commonly lose weight due to their constant dancing. Any given week will usually include media interviews, makeup application, costume fittings, and camera blocking. It is important to make note that much of what goes on behind the cameras, in a place viewers will never see, is just as important as what airs each week. Dancers on reality television series such as Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance face pressure, long rehearsals, and low wages in order to get their opportunity at their big break. However, while many of them learn a lot from their incredible journey on the show, others may look back at their experience with great regret.

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