Protect Your Pockets: How to Make Sure Your Dance Job Pays You

Ever work a project only to find that the payment you agreed upon is suddenly nowhere to be found?  To make matters worse, you were likely depending on that payment because as a freelancer, you're living project-to-project as it is. Sound familiar?

If you've been through a situation like this before where you weren't paid for your work (like many of us have), the bad news is that you lost out on money that you were counting on and, in fact, earned.  The good news, however, is that you learned a valuable lesson on how brutal the business can be.

Whether you've experienced this or not, continue reading to discover 5 ways you can protect your pockets from this type of misfortune.

1.  Do Your Research.

Protecting yourself from a loss like this is largely a preventive effort.  Meaning, you'll need to do most of the work up front to ensure things go as planned.

Start by thoroughly researching the company or individual that's hiring you.  Search reviews and business ratings, and ask around to see if anyone you know has ever worked with them.  Doing your research will go a long way in helping you to make an informed decision from the start.

2.  Get EVERYTHING in writing.

Contracts are important because they protect all parties involved in an agreement.  Skipping this step could really hurt you down the line should the hiring party fall through on their end of the deal.

Once you've done your research, make sure every part of your arrangement is written into the contract.  This includes dates, times, the work you'll be doing, payment amount, when you'll be paid, and how.  Once it's written down, and this key, be sure to get a signed copy for your records.  It's not enough to have a copy of the contract with only your signature on it.  You also need proof that the hiring company has agreed to the terms.

3.  Get a deposit.

This step isn't always an option for most projects, but when it is, it's definitely worth adding to the contract.  If you're working as an instructor or performer for a one-time show or event, you'll likely receive payment whenever the studio does payroll or when the show wraps, which is a standard practice in the industry.

In any other situation, especially those where you're asked what your rates are or those where you're not as familiar with the hiring party, add a deposit agreement into the contract.  Getting a percentage up front is an act of good faith and accountability for everyone involved, and it increases the likelihood for you to be paid for all of your work.

4.  Hold them to the contract.

As you can clearly see, the contract is your saving grace.  It's legally binding, and having a signed copy that includes all aspects of your agreement is the only way you can legally enforce it.

If you notice the hiring party not maintaining their end of the deal, bring it to their attention early on.  If this makes you uncomfortable, have your manager, agent, or lawyer do it on your behalf.  If you're acting alone, you'll have to "man/woman up" and address it yourself.  

It's best to address concerns early on instead of letting them fester until the situation is out of control or hostile.  Communicate your concerns, and document when you've done so.  

Note: If you're in an ongoing work agreement and haven't been paid for past work, do not continue to work without getting what's owed to you.  Communicate with the company rather than just walking away, but do so sooner than later.  

5.  Follow up.

This step is also key because as you know, your fortune is in your follow up.  Once the project ends, be clear on when you'll be paid before parting ways.  If the company hasn't mentioned it before you leave the venue or studio, be the one to bring it up first.

Continue to follow up, within reason, until payment has been resolved.  If the other party is unresponsive to your follow up, your signed contract gives you leverage to escalate the issue.  Sometimes leaving a bad review on their website or social media platforms is enough to get the issue resolved.  You also have the option to report them to an organization like the Better Business Bureau (BBB).  If all else fails, small claims court is also an option, but only go this route if what you're owed is more than the cost of court fees.

The takeaway:  Remember that as a professional dancer, you are a business.  So be smart when soliciting work, and do your best to cover all your bases. 

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