Dance/NYC, a nonprofit that promotes knowledge and appreciation for dance in New York City, is on a mission to count every dance worker—from choreographers to ballet teachers to Colombian folkloric dancers—in New York City and the surrounding areas. The count will be one of the largest ventures of its kind in the performing arts, the organization said.
The project, which will start on July 20, aims to understand who makes up the dance population and what social and financial problems these workers face. The data will help identify economic gaps and opportunities for fair wage standards and other policies across the industry.
Alejandra Duque Cifuentes, executive director of the organization, said that in order to address economic inequality and measure the health of the industry, “we need to look at it from the point of view of individuals, because helping employees create healthy, thriving businesses.” healthy, thriving industries.”
The goal, she added, is to “create tools that are systemic and can address industry inequalities.”
Duque Cifuentes said she hoped the research would get into the hands of every dance worker, pointing to the ubiquitous Shen Yun ads in New York City as an example of the kind of visibility Dance/NYC hopes to achieve.
As with the US census, the approach to outreach is complex and multifaceted: the organizers plan to distribute prints throughout the city with QR codes linking to the survey; set up kiosks at dance events and festivals; working with civil society organizations and trade unions; advertising on social media; and, as with the federal census, hiring staff to make old-fashioned phone calls and knock on doors to reach as many dance workers as possible. Data will be collected through October 31, and the study will be made public in June 2023.
The organization chose the term “dance worker” to encompass all labor within the “economy of dance,” Duque Cifuentes said. That definition includes designers of lighting, costumes and sets, along with teaching artists, facilitators and dance managers, fundraisers and researchers.
The idea for the initiative was born in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when employers in the arts struggled to make the payroll and dancers were out of work within weeks. Duque Cifuentes said seeing people’s livelihoods collapse as they question the future of the dance industry provided an immediate case study for why labor protection was “needed more than ever.”
In a 2021 study that surveyed more than 1,000 dance workers about the impact of the coronavirus on the industry, Dance/NYC found that 72 percent said they needed money for housing and 75 percent had filed for unemployment as of March 2020.
“What came up during the pandemic was, ‘We need health and we need quality of life,'” she said, noting that Indigenous people and people of color suffered the largest income loss in the sector. “This initiative is the reflection of individual dance workers who say: enough is enough.”
In addition to setting wage standards and worker protections, Duque Cifuentes said the data would help provide grants and advocacy.
“Our desire is with our findings to directly address some of those systemic inequalities and really tear the veil apart,” she said. “We want to have the data that supports the stories we’ve been hearing for decades.”