Issue 1: Dance Workers’ Lack of Value and Protections in Society

Dance workers are disheartened by the widespread undervaluing of dance’s role in our communities.

We are disillusioned with the insufficient support we receive from various levels of society, the lack of appropriate dance knowledge across education systems, and we are frustrated and perplexed by the limitations of current organizational structures, like the 501(c)3 model. With limited infrastructure for the arts and dance, 60% of dance workers operate from one ‘gig’ to another, facing similar challenges as other freelance workers nationwide—lacking essential benefits and protections, which is particularly challenging given the physical demands of our work and the additional jobs we take to make ends meet.

What are the Facts?

  • Making art—and by extension dance—is viewed as frivolous, and artists’ societal contributions are not well understood, documented, or publicized.1
  • Dance education greatly decreases with each level of education. 76% of public elementary, 44% of middle schools, and 21% of high schools provide dance education.2
  • Dance educators make up only 12.5% of full-time and 7.2% of part-time certified arts teachers in NYC public schools.3
  • Dance/NYC’s studies show consistent requests for training to successfully navigate business structures.

From the State of NYC Dance 2023 Report:

How do we get to Valued & Protected?

By considering our relationship to larger systems, how we interact in community, and activities on a day-to-day level as well as incentivizing those in positions of power to take action.

Larger Systems

Dance is directly affected by the governing political and economic systems and their related laws, policies, tax codes, and social norms. These indicate the value of dance and set a precedent for how society interacts with and supports our industry. Here’s how you can help shift larger systems to better the New York City dance industry: 

Quick Actions (5 minutes)

Deeper Actions (30 minutes to 3 hours)

Questions for Reflection

In Community

When we engage with others in and out of dance—through work, cultural connection or collaboration—we shape the tone of the industry and can mitigate the less-than-ideal environment in which dance operates. Here’s how you can engage in community with this in mind: 

Quick Actions (5 minutes)

  • Share the Healing, Bridging, Thriving NEA Summit with colleagues to get language for cross-sector benefits of the arts and dance.
  • Encourage school leadership where you work or in your community to have meaningful dance programming and education.
  • Consider your relationship to power/privilege before you send a request for labor. 
  • Practice mutual aid with other dance workers or pay forward a small action of kindness. 

Deeper Actions (30 minutes to 3 hours)

  • Read the research on the benefits of dance education
  • Consider bringing dance programming into your organization—arts and non-arts—as part of professional development to support embodied learning. 
  • Explore other business models besides nonprofit structures including worker cooperatives.  
  • Consider ways to support dance workers you engage to cover safety net costs, access costs, or to mitigate the risk they incur.

Questions for Reflection


Our day-to-day actions can lead to small changes in our work environment, highlighting the value of dance and challenging the lack of protections in society. However, these changes often require us to be more mindful and deliberate in our actions.

Quick Actions (5 minutes)

  • Use ‘dance worker’ to refer to all of us who keep the dance industry afloat through their labor. 
  • Learn about your rights to timely payment and contracts as a freelancer in NYC.

Questions for Reflection

Positions of Power

Do you hold a position of power that influences how funding reaches the dance community or how policy is set? Review and prepare to advance the following actions for:

Download Primer

Get a downloadable version of this Issue Primer for your use.