Beware The Baddies in the Dance Industry

Rachel Levitt on approaching work in the dance scene with caution.


It’s Halloween time! The season of spooky scary skeletons, blood sucking vampires, wicked choreographers, dancers from hell, monstrous directors, nightmare producers and more…

As you probably know, there are a ton of awesome people here in the dance world who are dedicated, passionate, hard-working, loyal, considerate…I could go on. However, it is easy to get swept up in the good and forget that there are some “baddies” out there. Now, these people aren’t always malicious. They just may cause problems that can be avoided with a bit of caution on your part.


This article won’t be covering heavier issues such as industry harassment and abuse, however I’d like to note that those are topics of interest for future coverage. Instead, I want to look at issues that are more within your control. Things that can be avoided with contracts, communication and knowing when to distance yourself from someone in the industry.


So, here we go…


Why you need a contract


When you are spoiled by people who are reliable and never cause problems, this can be easy to forget. Set up a solid pay rate, include any limitations or requirements, and establish what you and the employer are providing for one another.


The more people you work with, the more you will find trouble makers. Some examples include not paying you on time, taking advantage of your time, and unprofessionally helping themselves to your resources (ex. contacts, knowledge, ideas, etc). And then of course they use the “there wasn’t a contract” excuse to defend their bad behaviour. Don’t let them have that leverage. Just get it in writing from the beginning.


Be suspicious of anyone who is “confused” when it benefits them


Sometimes people do make genuine mistakes, but be suspicious if you notice someone is consistently “confused” whenever they can get something like extra time, money or resources from you. That goes double if they become defensive, make rude comments or threaten you. Non-manipulators will likely express themselves calmly and respectfully. And if you really are so terrible to work with, they’ll just stop working with you rather than scaring you. If they start bullying, it’s likely to benefit them and NOT because you deserve it.


It’s not worth sticking around these types. You’re better off finding good, honest and reliable people to work with.


Don’t work with people who take more than they give


Taking more than they give can come in many forms. This includes participating in projects but not promoting them (ex. not sharing news on social media), putting in the minimum effort, expecting large time commitments without proper compensation, and my least favourite; acting like they’re doing you a favour by being involved.


One reason my A Dance Way of Life co-writer, Nicole Decsey, and I have such a great work relationship is that we are mutually generous when working together. This includes promoting projects independently and via social media, paying each other established rates (unless we’ve established it’s a voluntary project), and putting our all into everything we do together. And most importantly, we never make the each other feel like it’s a favour.


Also, when Nicole performs or choreographs for my dance company I am more likely to pay her a prime rate and offer her more work because of this. Other people sometimes come to my company with “fancy” resumes, but when hired they don’t show the work ethic to back it up. Then, when I have higher paid work or bigger gigs I am less likely to call them. Who wants to work with someone who is selective when they’ll do their best?


Consider the smaller gigs your audition. If you don’t step up, you probably won’t get called next time.


Are you being the baddie?


If you are questioning your behaviour in the industry, ask yourself these questions:


1. Do you consider what benefits you to be the most important part of a work relationship?

2. Do you try to avoid upsetting people, but end up doing it anyway? And when this happens, do you usually feel it’s their fault for being upset?

3. Do you consistently find it hard to find work that fits your “standards” (ex. pay, exposure, hours, location, etc)?

4. Do you feel like you are frequently doing people favours by working with them?

5. Do you find you regularly burn bridges or that people don’t want to work with you?

6. Do you feel like people are jealous and that’s why it’s hard to get what you want in work relationships?


If you said yes to any of these, there is a chance you may be the baddie. Not a guarantee, but it’s a possibility. Here are some alternate thoughts to help you return from the dark side:


1. If I give as much or more than I take in a work relationship, the person will probably value me at twice the rate and I’ll have a better chance of consistent work and higher pay. If I don’t get any return from my efforts after a certain amount of time and communication, I will move on to other opportunities.

2. I can see why this person is upset by my actions. I was thinking more about what I want than what they do. If I want to sustain a healthy work relationship with them, I should have acted better. What can I learn from this for next time? How can I better treat others around me while still getting what I need?

3. This isn’t quite what I think I deserve, however being active and building strong relationships in the industry is important. If I take this gig, will it help me meet my goals down the line? Have I not taken a lot of work lately because of my standards? Do I think people will really want to work with me if I’m not actively involved?

4. I am so grateful to be in the dance industry and have an opportunity to do what I love.

5. Was what this person did really so bad that I should never work with them again? Did they act unacceptably or is there a way to work this out? Was there something I could have done better? Why am I not getting called again? Did I contribute enough to the work relationship to deserve more gigs?

6. People tend to want to work with people they admire or are impressed by, so it’s not likely that they are withholding what I deserve in this work relationship out of jealousy. Is there something I can improve on? Should I open a dialogue with this person re: increasing my pay, hours, gigs, opportunities, etc? If we can’t see eye to eye, maybe I should distance myself from them.


Other people’s malice isn’t an excuse for lack of action


The biggest takeaway from this article is that a lot of us, if not all, will come across these things in the industry differently. While it’s tempting to just complain, it’s more important to take protective actions. This article doesn’t tackle every workplace issue, and some issues may not be preventable, but I hope this offers some food for thought into what you can do in certain circumstances.


Happy Halloween everyone, and may the only baddies you encounter be ghosts, ghouls and monsters in costumes!


Got a “big baddie in the dance industry” story or tip to share? Let us know via email at adancewayoflife@gmail.com or on Instagram @adancewayoflife for a chance to be featured.

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