Working Conditions of Dancers
Dance with Me!

Sasha Walz & Guests “Métamophoses”
Sasha Walz & Guests “Métamophoses” | Photo (detail): © Sebastian Bolesch

For some, it is a European dance El Dorado, for others, the headquarters of self-exploitation. Germany’s dance scene is as varied as the efforts to create structures and security for performers.

Milosz Andrzejczak, for example, a dancer who trained at the Warsaw State Ballet Academy, sees Germany as a paradise for people like himself. “Theatres in nearly every medium-sized city have three sections, and have their own ballet ensembles. Many of them work to a very high standard, not to mention the working conditions, which are collectively negotiated.“

Good conditions in permanent ensembles?

And it is really true that any dancer who makes it into a German ballet ensemble works under conditions that are unusually secure for the profession, with regular working and resting time, holidays, days off, occupational disability insurance and retirement provision. For soloists, the minimum gross salary is set at € 1,600, with members of dance ensembles being paid according to a salary table, and actual salaries often being even higher. For this reason, group contracts have increasingly been changed into solo contracts, says Jörg Löwer of the Genossenschaft Deutscher Bühnenangehöriger, the Union of German Stage Workers. Increasingly, members of dance groups and ensembles are being forced into less insecure and less well-paid solo contracts by the administrative directors of theatres under pressure to economise. A dance theatre’s artistic achievement that “everyone is a soloist“ is thus used against the dancers in terms of their salaries.

Beyond a minimum wage

For dancers working in the independent dance scene, precarious employment contracts are the rule and minimum wages are no more than a pipe dream. Things have been changing in the independent dance scene too since 2007, when a German Bundestag committee of inquiry dealt with the social situation of dancers in Germany and declared it to be in need of improvement. Since then, there have been efforts to set a minimum wage for members of the independent dance scene, too, based on the € 1,600 of the standard stage contract (special provision for soloists). The Künstlersozialkasse (Artists’ Social Fund – KSK) has set € 3,900 a year as the threshold for being required to take out insurance. Only individuals who earn that amount from their performances can join a social security system for freelance artists, such as the KSK. Anyone no longer able to meet this condition, even after the KSK has determined that they are required to take out insurance, is excluded from the social security system again. Certain professional groups, such as executive producers, have not even been recognised by the KSK to date.

A secure retirement rather than loss of social status

“Anyone who lets themselves in for this profession needs to have an exit strategy in place right from the outset,“ says classical ballet dancer Milosz Andrzejczak. That is because people cannot work as dancers until the statutory retirement age. Dancers are in the same situation as professional sportsmen and women, who also have to make a mid-life career change. That is also the guiding principle of the supplementary insurance of the Bayerische Versorgungskammer (Bavarian Pension Chamber), which offers services to performers employed by state or municipal theatres, including additional insurance protection against occupational disability. For dancers, however, such insurance ends when they are 35 years old. Anyone becoming unable to work after that age is no longer insured. At the end of one’s dancing career, one can have the premiums paid out with interest. In 2011, however, this so-called “Tänzerabfindung“ (dancers’ pay-out), was made purpose-tied and may only be disbursed if the individual concerned provides evidence that the money is being used for retraining, i.e. for the “transition“ to a new profession. Stiftung Tanz’s Berlin-based Transition Centre Germany has been offering advisory services since 2009. Milosz Andrzejczak, most recently a solo dancer at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, invested his “dancers’ payout” in training to become a physiotherapist and is now successfully running his own practice in Berlin.

The Transition Centre Germany was set up as part of the funding concept of the Federal Cultural Foundation, which provided a total of € 12.5 million in funding for the German dance scene between 2005 and 2010. The non-profit organisation Tanzplan Deutschland (Dance Plan Germany) was set up at that time to implement projects. Its mission is to create and strengthen regional dance infrastructures and to develop artistic networks and social security systems.

Much remains to be done

Much remains to be done, in spite of the measurable increase in attention that dance has since received. That was attested to by the Report on the Performing Arts by the Fonds Darstellende Künste (Performing Arts Fund) in 2010, the most comprehensive survey made in recent years of the economic, social and labour law situation of people working in theatre and dance in Germany. One of the aims of the report was to draw attention to the fact that structural changes can produce greater artistic diversity and sustainability. That means that intelligently developing the funding system could lead ultimately to the scene’s artistic richness one day having a positive effect on individual dancers’ incomes.