The Artist Pay Project is a series exploring how artists in the U.S. survive and thrive amid a cost of living crisis.
This Artist $napshot tells the story of a 27-year-old dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer who makes $78,000 a year.
Art Practice: Dancer, dance teacher, choreographer
Location: Austin, TX
I made $78,601 in 2022.
How much of your income is from your art practice?
Less than 1.2%
Where does the rest of your income come from?
Day job as a proposal writer earning $72,000 annually plus bonuses
How much did you make from recent art-related gig work?
- Taught, performed, and choreographed dance for a local company: $912 in 2022
- 2018 wages through freelance dance and choreography: ~$400
I live with three other housemates. I pay $500 a month in rent and $100 a month for housing utilities and bills.
What are your major monthly expenses?
Health insurance: $70 a month
Do you have any expenses related to your art practice?
Larger financial picture
Do you have any financial support from outside sources?
Have you received any grants to support your art?
Do you have health insurance?
Do you have any debt?
Do you have any savings?
- 401K: $4,000
- Savings: ~$28,000
- Roth IRA: ~$11,000
Did you pursue higher education?
Yes, MA in Sociology/ International Communications and Development
Responses edited lightly for length and clarity.
How do you feel about your financial security?
My case is less common. I have a salary that covers my needs full time. So the dance projects I do with mostly with [an Austin-based dance company] and then with some other folks around are more for fun and for myself. It's less of a budgetary need and more of a, I need to carve out the time from my full time job in order to do that. But I know that I really need to [dance]. And so I prioritize it.
Did you grow up thinking that you wanted to be a dancer, or is it something that you found a little bit later?
I've danced for most of my life. I honestly probably didn't even think about [pursuing it professionally]. I went to a college prep high school. That wasn't really an option. But my dad is a professional musician. He taught music and performed, and so I knew that it was quite possible.
I didn't really know if I should even take this survey initially, because I didn't know how to qualify myself as a dancer or not, or as an artist more broadly.
Do you identify as a dancer?
I definitely think about it, because when people think of an artist, they assume that most of their income comes from it and most of their time is spent in pursuit of it. And I don't do that. But at my core, it's something I really like to do. And I've been doing more with a local dance company, teaching of community classes, which I hadn't had the opportunity to do. But I really love it and so the body and the spirit are there, I think it's just the logistics around it.
Do you do you plan to continue working full time and dancing when you can? Or do you ever think about making a switch where more of your income comes from dance?
I like having a balance of more physical and artistic and choreographic pursuits. The job that I'm doing currently, I like having that balance and having the ability to do both. Maybe this is pessimistic, or something you've heard before, but I don't think that I could make a full income from just dance. I don't think there's enough opportunities where I am for my skill level. So I hadn't really considered it. I like the balance that I have so far.
Among your dancer or artist friends, do any of them pursue their art more full time?
Honestly, I don't think I know any artists that don't have even a part time job that's not art based. Everybody's got a side hustle.
Could you speak more broadly about the dance landscape in Austin? Whats the scene like?
It's pretty robust. There's a significant number of auditions and companies that even if you may not have a consistent contract, you could audition for a show. There's good opportunities for teaching as well at studios and then also at UT Austin, and Austin Community College has a really great dance program as well. I know people that teach dance there, at those two main schools. I've worked on a couple of projects based in Austin. I partner with somebody I went to high school with and now lives in western Massachusetts to do different projects. And we'll just apply for festivals, and whoever says yes, we will go to and it's either been in Boston or Austin in the past.
It's really all connected. Like if I go to a dance performance, I recognize between 20% and 50% of the people in the audience and the people dancing, just because in Austin, although it's a big city and is really growing quickly, the dance scene is pretty intimate.
Has it been difficult to juggle your nine to five with dance work?
It is when I have upcoming classes teaching seniors and elderly citizens at a resource center and that's in the middle of the day, like 10am on Wednesdays. And so those — I just block out my calendar so it's fine. But I never want to be in a position where I'm stressed in one job about another job. Unfortunately, that happens. But once you start moving, once you kind of get in the mood teaching a dance class, I tend to forget about my other work, my full time job stresses.
Do you have any thoughts about how pay transparency can help artists?
Especially when you're starting out, you really don't know what to ask for. This is true for dancers, and potentially other artists as well — your rates can be different for teaching, versus performing, versus choreographing, and they should be. I think artists may not know that. And they may not know the specific rates that they could go for. A lot of the pay transparency, a lot of the networking, it's based on who you know. The industry secrets could be more transparent and it makes for a more even playing ground.
Read more about the Artist Pay Project.