In December I attended Ballet West's Nutcracker in Salt Lake City. The show started about 15 minutes late, and during intermission one of the company's PR reps came to apologize. He let me know that the backstage/stage area was too cold, based on the union's rights, and that it had to warm up before the dancers could perform.
This idea really struck me. I hadn't thought much about the rights dancers had to a backstage that was warm. Having spent most of my life as a comp kid performing on concrete floors, it never occurred to me that I should protect my body from an environment that might be harmful to it. We just danced wherever we were told to.
Ever since that performance last month, I haven't been able to get the idea of union rights and studio kids out of my head. Every dancer, professional or not, deserves a safe space to perform. I reviewed union benefits for the Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the Actors' Equity Association (AEA), and determined a list of five rights I believe studio kids should be entitled to. I'm not advocating that they unionize, but, dance teachers, make sure you're taking care of your kiddos!!
Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page what you think about union rights and studio kids!
1. Safe workplaces
Do your due diligence to make sure your studio is a safe place for your dancers. Be vigilant about hiring teachers who are responsible and caring, and who won't bring physical or emotional harm to your kids.
2. Reasonable working conditions
I know there isn't much we can do about the fact that conventions are held on the concrete floors of hotel ballrooms, but do your best to create reasonable conditions for your dancers. Fix the bubbles in your marley floors so that nobody breaks an ankle, keep the space clean and void of mold, and don't ask your dancers to do work that will obviously cause physical harm (even if it will look cool onstage).
3. Guaranteed breaks
While there is certainly a lot to get done in preparation for rehearsals and performances, water and lunch breaks are important. Make sure you schedule some rest time during your long rehearsal days. Your dancers need it!
4. Regulated work hours
Though the number of dancing hours a student is capable of safely maintaining varies among individuals, there is certainly a point where studios cross the line. Be smart, and consider setting a limit on how long your dancers can be in the studio. Help them find balance between school, dance, family and friends. Their emotional well-being and ultimate success depends on it.
5. Vacation and sick days
Let your dancers take the day off if they are puking their guts out, even if there is a competition that coming weekend. Don't require your dancers to rehearse on important national holidays. You need the day off, too, so make vacation and sick days a priority!