Determining Rates for Teaching

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Dance/USA and offered a press pass to attend their annual convention in Austin, Texas. It was super exciting to hear that they consider me an influencer throughout the dance community and wanted me to report on conversations and happenings taking place at this great organization's convention. While I was unable to attend due to my previous commitment running my summer intensive in Anchorage, Alaska, I was greatly honored by the offer. Especially, by their consideration that I have an authoritative and recognizable voice in my community through my work on this blog and on my podcast on the Premier Dance Network. With this honorable endorsement and respect from my community for my work, I look forward to continuing the art of sharing my knowledge and experiences with the world of dance.

With all of this said, in this post I want to share some information with you that I offered an acquaintance I recently met in class at Steps on Broadway. After hitting it off in a friendly locker room conversation, this gentleman reached out to me on Facebook asking for my advice in an area that most freelance dance artists will explore at some point in their performance or post-performance careers. This guy had recently been offered the opportunity to teach a few master classes in the Denver metropolitan area. Having never had to negotiate his own rates for his services, he was at a bit of a loss about the best approach to determining his rates and how to present them to this employer. I'd like to share this information with you, as I think it is valuable to many of us in our field.

Teaching Contemporary Technique
There is often a great deal of confusion when it comes to how much one should get paid to teach, whether giving a general class or offering a master class experience. There are so many factors that go into choosing a rate; from performance experience to teaching experience, to travel and organizational budget. Honestly, there is no exact science to determining and/or negotiating your pay for sharing your art form. But there are a few tips I am happy to offer you, which you can read below. 

The first thing to consider is your base rate. This fee is the absolute minimum that you are willing to work for. Generally, most of the classes I teach are paid for at an hourly rate. So, we can start there. Honestly, I don't think anybody should be accepting work to teach for a rate any less than $25/hour. If an institution isn't willing to pay you at this rate or above, then I feel they don't really respect the value that an instructor can bring into a studio. One would be better off working a restaurant, bar, barista, or office job than accepting a rate lower than this. A dance instructor can't work 40 hours a week in the studio without severely burning themselves out. So, this is a practical place to start. A $25/hour rate is still quite low. Generally, I would only say that an instructor with little to no professional performance credits or teaching experience should be accepting this minimum teaching wage rate. If you look at your resume and only have minor, local performance credits or are looking to begin your teaching career, this is a good place to start. Otherwise, it is my opinion that an instructor with quality professional performance credits should charge no less than $40/hour for instruction.

Depending on your experience, you may want to consider sliding your value up the scale. For instance, when I began teaching back in 2011, I started charging a rate of $50/hour. Considering that I had danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Houston Ballet, and had a stint at American Ballet Theatre, I felt that my performance experience made up for my general lack of time working in the studio. Most teaching jobs are looking for instructors who have some degree of studio time with students. But impressive company credits can help increase your value and the interest of institutions to bring you in at a higher rate. While I started my teaching career charging this fee, if I felt that an opportunity was worthwhile and a school couldn't pay my rate, I was willing to work at my absolute minimum rate of $40/hour. This was my true base rate, as I wasn't willing to accept a valuation lower than that. No matter the opportunity offered, I felt that any level of pay below that rate was disrespectful to the skill set that I brought to the table. Finding a reasonable and respectful base for yourself is the most valuable piece of information I have to share with you.

Once I gained more studio time and added local, regional, and national experience to my resume, I felt that I could begin to improve my rates. While a few of my staple schools that helped me start my career have only received minor rate increases, my overall value has increased greatly since those first years passing on my craft. Each year that I teach, I assess my achievements and new experiences and decide whether an increase is justified and/or reasonable. Now that I have been teaching for 5 years, have taught for professional companies like Eugene Ballet and Koresh Dance Company, have taught at national schools like Peridance Capezio Center, and have successfully coached students to place at Youth America Grand Prix, I am comfortable asking for increasingly respectful wages.

Teaching Contemporary Choreography
The major determining factors for me in accepting work and negotiating a fee is whether or not I want to do a job. If I am really interested in working with an organization or feel that I will gain much out of an experience, I generally accept any fee that doesn't drop below my base rate. The fulfillment from these jobs is well worth getting paid a little less. If I feel that a job might be a little more work or is less fulfilling, I will charge a higher rate than my minimum. Additionally, if I have to travel a great deal or I may potentially have a greater opportunity during the period of time asked to teach, I will tag on a higher fee. It can be easy to burn out if you are constantly accepting work that doesn't fulfill or is overwhelmingly far to travel. Getting paid a little more can help relieve these burdens. But be aware that getting paid well doesn't prevent burn out. Be sure to use caution when accepting uninspiring work or positions that require you to travel for extended periods of time on a regular basis.

One area of the teaching realm that is a bit different when it comes to charging fees is when one is asked to teach master classes. Today, generally, a master class differs from regular classes only in marketing. Back in my training days, master classes were only taught by instructors that had a great deal of experience and a proven track record of greatness in performance and/or instruction in our field. These days, most anyone can market their instruction as a master class. All it takes is offering your services outside of a school's regularly scheduled class offerings. As for these special types of workshops, I sometimes change my rates dependent on how much a school is planning on charging their students. Some schools have a pool of cash that they have already collected from students at the beginning of their season for these types of classes. When this happens, I generally charge the higher end of my class fee and my transportation costs. Again, this is only if I feel that it is fulfilling enough to go out of my way and help bring something new and exciting to an institution. If the school is charging a per head fee for the master class, I'll generally ask them to pay my top rate, plus a fee per head after, say, 8-10 students. That way, the more they make, the more I make. I feel this is especially important because if you are the main draw of bringing in more students and making the school more money, you should benefit just as much (if not more) as the school is from bringing in your unique brand.

I've discussed the art of negotiating in previous blogs on Life of a Freelance Dancer, so I don't want to get too detailed in my opinions and tips on negotiating. But just a reminder for those of my new readers. One should always negotiate in good faith, trying to be fair while gaining your true worth. I always find it best to ask what the pay is from the beginning. If a school offers you a lower rate than you would take into consideration, tell them what you feel you are worth. In the event that a school wants you to tell them your fees, be sure to let them know that your rates are open to discussion if you are concerned that they will be scared or turned off by your ask. Most everybody is trying to provide the highest quality services for their school, while running their business as effectively as possible. So, it is uncommon for most institutions to be unwilling to have an open discussion about rates if they are truly interested in bringing you in. Be sure to have at least one communication via email that clearly states the rate that you will be paid for your gig. It is rare that an organization will purposefully shaft an artist on fees, but I know a few dancers that have had to deal with this unfortunate experience. It is always best to get terms in writing, whether contractual or via a time-stamped e-communication.

Teaching is one of my passions
As you can see, determining your rates as an instructor isn't an exact science. Just as there is no formal basis to license or verify quality of training at any particular dance school, there is no perfect system that helps guide freelance dance instructors on how to charge organizations for their services. Take some time to evaluate your experience and determine a justified value that you feel is fair and respectful. Much of this art is trial-and-error and fine tuning from experience to experience. I hope that this helps set you on your path to career success and a fruitful financial future.

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