Read as Ksyn Cason talks about her career as a Professional Dancer. Find her at www.missksyn.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I am a professional dancer. I specialized in Hip Hop and Dancehall but also have done African, Modern and a little bit of Ballet. I act and model as well but my bread and butter would have to be dancing. Overall I am an Independent Contractor/ Self employed.
How would you describe what you do?
If I had to describe what I do I would have to say I am a back up dancer for artists. I work alongside them in music videos, movies, television shows, award ceremonies etc. Basically, whenever you see an artist performing with dancers, that is what I do. I like to think of myself as my own business or brand so to speak. It helps to remind me that everything I do is for the promotion of the brand so I run myself as my own business.
What does your work entail?
My work entails a lot of running around. As a professional dancer you must constantly be ready. That means having the right tools that will possibly land you the job. You must train, which means taking different kinds of classes, so that you are always on your toes. You must audition for jobs which would mean having your head-shots up to date, so you have to set up photo shoots often. You must also be in good shape so you may visit the gym frequently or yoga, as well as working with different choreographers on their personal projects which would mean rehearsals, meetings, etc.
What’s a typical work week like?
A typical work week for me would be filled with 8 hour rehearsals per day (depending on the show), auditions for new gigs (jobs), taking classes (training), working out, meetings with agents/ photographers/ choreographers and lots of traveling both domestic and internationally. Your work week can be very flexible if you plan it that way but it can change at any given moment.
How did you get started?
I have been dancing/ performing since I was five years old and was also a part of an organization called Teens In Motion, which was a performing arts youth group throughout my teens, but professionally I started out modeling/ free-styling at video shoots. One day I went to an audition for Sean Kingston, got booked, connected with my current dance agency, Bloc Agency, and have been working ever since.
What do you like about what you do?
There isn’t one specific thing that I like about what I do. All I can say is that I love it as a whole. I love performing, so definitely one thing would have to be when I am on stage in front of thousands of people. It gives me the ultimate rush. I also love the traveling. I have been all over the world, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, Japan and still have so many places that I have yet to go. Lastly, I would have to say that I love what I do. It brings me joy to be able to tell people that I am actually living my dream. It is a blessing.
What do you dislike?
There are very few things that I dislike, if I had to name something it would be missing different family gatherings or events that you would normally be able to plan ahead for. In this industry it can be quite difficult to plan ahead because you never really know if you will be available. However, you can always block days off , which is called booking out, with your agents/agency if you really want that time to be clear. So there are options.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
Well, you make your money according to the jobs you book. If you are in a dance company it is run a bit differently since it is more like a 9-5 but if you are working with artists and such you are paid either per individual gig (job) or weekly if it is a tour or longer than a week. If you have any agent, they handle most of it for you (i.e.: negotiating rates, invoice for service rendered, travel accommodations, etc.). If you do not have an agent then you would handle those things yourself.
How much money do Dancers make?
The amount of money that dancers make varies from dancer to dancer as well as from job to job. Some jobs pay more than others but there is a guide line that most agents/dancers use set by Dancers Alliance. We as dancers do not have an official “Union” like SAG (Screen Actors Guild) /Aftra (The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) so the closet thing to it for dancers is set through DA. Some of the rate guidelines are as follows. Please note that these are not set rates, they are just a guide line that is used to help with rate negotiations. The rates can sometimes vary (lower or higher) depending on experience, artist, budget, etc. These rates are the guideline from 2011 and may have changed a little. I have provided information on Dancers Alliance below.
EIGHT (8) HOUR DAY (FULL DAY) $250.00
• ONE HOUR MEAL BREAK REQUIRED (Meals must be scheduled no more than 6 hours from call-time or last meal)
• OVERTIME BEYOND 8 HOURS AT TIME AND 1/2 or $46.88/Hr (Excluding Meal Time)
• IF REHEARSAL EXCEEDS 12 HOURS, DOUBLE TIME WILL APPLY AND A SECOND MEAL BREAK MAY BE REQUIRED
FOUR (4) HOUR DAY (HALF DAY) $175.00
• OVERTIME BEYOND 4 HOURS AT 1.5 or $ 65.63/Hr
• IF REHEARSAL EXCEEDS 12 HOURS, DOUBLE TIME
WILL APPLY AND A SECOND MEAL BREAK MAY BE
*TEN (10) HOUR DAY $475.00*
*TWELVE (12) HOUR DAY $550.00*
• ONE HOUR MEAL BREAK TO BE PROVIDED
(No more than 6 hours from call-time)
• IF WORK EXTENDS BEYOND 12 HOURS, A SECOND MEAL OF
ONE HALF HOUR MUST BE GIVEN
(No more than 6 hours from the end of the first meal)
Note: If work extends beyond 18 hours, a third meal break
would be required
• OVERTIME 10-12 HOURS (1.5 of RATE) $71.25/Hr
• OVERTIME 13-20 HOURS (2x of RATE) $95.00/Hr
• OVER 20 HOURS (And less than 24) – Additional Day Rate ($475.00) Due
No work may extend beyond 24 hours consecutively
Live shows/ Industrials
*FULL DAY REHEARSAL (8 HOURS) $250/DAY*
(ANYTHING OVER 8 HRS = TIME AND A HALF)
*HALF DAY REHEARSAL (4 HOURS) $175/DAY*
(ANYTHING OVER 4 HOURS = TIME AND A HALF)
1. •FIRST CLASS HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS
2. •GROUND TRANSPORTATION PROVIDED WHILE OUT OF TOWN
•ROUND TRIP AIRFARE ( IF TRAVELING BY PLANE)
•PER DIEM ($35.00 PER DAY. TO BE PAID ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE JOB)
RATE FOR ADDITIONAL SAME-DAY SHOWS IS NEGOTIABLE
•ALSO NOTE, IF SHOW IS ON A TRAVEL DAY, BOTH FEES APPLY
For more info or any questions please feel free to visit www.DancersAlliance.org
How much money did/do you make starting out?
It was little difficult when I was just starting out. I was already modeling and doing music videos so the transfer was quite easy but the amount of work is what makes it hard to answer that question. I made enough to pay my bills but still needed another job to maintain a steady and consistent cash flow. Some video jobs paid anywhere from $100 & and up, even free. It all depended on the job. When you start out you sort of have to weigh what the opportunity could do for your career and resume before you start negotiating your rates. If you don’t have a great resume to back up your rate then chances are you probably won’t get paid the rate that you hoped for if your even booked at all.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
The kind of education, schooling and/or skills you would need to do this kind of job all depends on the area in which you are looking to go into. There are some dancers who were able to go right into dance after high school and there are others who waited until completing college to go into it professionally. I personally waited until after I graduated college to pursue it full time but the option is totally up to you. As with sports, you may want to have something to fall back on just in case you don’t make it or to help you learn the business aspect of the industry so that you can promote yourself and network better than people who do not know the industry. For example, I majored in Arts Management with a concentration in Dance. I learned how to start and run my own not for profit organization as well as business management, accounting, marketing, contract law, public speaking and of course dance. I was able to find a major that combined all of the different aspects of the industry I wished to pursue so that I would better understand how to turn myself into my own brand as well as my own business.
I do suggest that you take a few classes/courses, along with dance and/or acting training (which you should already be doing) so that you can prepare yourself for the future.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The most challenging thing about what I do would be the audition process. You never know what an artist, management, or show is looking for so you have to do your research and hope you have what it takes. Just because you didn’t get the job doesn’t mean that you weren’t necessarily good enough. It could be that your look just isn’t what they were looking for at the moment or you may have been too short/tall. You just won’t know and that is the most challenging and frustrating thing about being a dancer, model, or actor/actress.
What is most rewarding?
The most rewarding for me would have to be traveling all over the world doing what I love to do. Everyone always has a dream that when they get get older they will be fortunate enough to live their dream and do what they love. So for me, to be able to do just that is amazing.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Some advice I would give to someone considering this career would be to always trust your gut and never give up. This career is not easy by any means. You can go to 10 auditions and be turned down by all of them. You have to have a passion for it, along with patience, determination and commitment in order to succeed. It also helps to have a support system (family, friends, etc) because they will always be that extra push for you to keep going and not give up.
How much time off do you get/take?
Now that is a tricky one. There is no set time off unless you are working with an artist/ show and they have given you a set schedule. Aside from big shows your time off is the time in between performances or the time you personally tell your agent that you are taking off. Other than that you can be home today and then called to a show the next day. It is very unpredictable.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
A common misconception that people have about dancers would be that dance is a hobby and not an actual career. Just because it isn’t your everyday 9am – 5pm doesn’t mean that it is not a job. Our schedules are more like having a retail job. One day we can have rehearsals from 10am – 6pm and the next day be in rehearsal for 12 hours. The times when we are not getting paid to work we are training, so technically we are always working. We get paid just like a person with a “regular” job, just not every week or bi weekly (Most agencies/clients have payment time frames outlined in their contracts which can range from 30 – 90 days). It’s just annoying when people do no take what we do for being an actual job. However, it is not necessarily a job that everyone will be successful in. Few people people make it so that is one thing that you must always keep in mind.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
My goals/dreams for the future would have to be to continue to dance and make the transition into acting as well as starting my own non for profit organization for kids and teens that will help to keep them off of the streets and productive. Lastly it would be to just enjoy life and make money doing what I love.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
Lastly, I would like for people to know and understand that this career choice is not for everyone. You have to have a thick skin, lots of patience and passion for it in order to succeed. You can’t start dancing today and feel as though everything will happen for you quickly because that is not the case. There are people who have been training for years and have yet to book a job/gig but if you do make it to where this is your full time job then understand that it’s just the beginning because now you have to maintain it. Like in any sport there are others out there who may be better than you and ready to take your spot. It is a rough business but in the end it’s all worth it.