A Dancer Speaks Out for Organizing

My name is Dana Wilson and I am a professional dancer. Whether I am performing with a major recording artist, or busting a move in television and film, it is my job to entertain and evoke emotion through movement. It is also my job to make it look easy.

The reality is, dancers train tirelessly, sacrifice our bodies and dedicate our lives to our work, and sometimes all we get in return is “the experience.” Most of us are young (twenty-somethings) and female. We are all are eager to work and it has taken a long time to gain respect as a work force. We have unions that represent us when we work on television shows and movies, but much of our work is still nonunion and many of us are without health insurance. Meanwhile, our bodies are taking a beating and we are always one injury away from unemployment.

Dancers’ Alliance is an organization formed by dancers and run by dancers to unite us and improve our working conditions. While DA has been around for over 20 years, we have really stepped up our game in the last few. Last year, we took on music videos as our first major challenge. Although glamorous in their final form, music videos often have some of the worst working conditions. Long hours, dangerous conditions, inadequate breaks and late (not to mention low) payment are just the beginning. Imagine dancing in the middle of the desert for 16 hours wearing nothing but six-inch heels and a leather bikini. Next to a tiger. On scaffolding.

In partnership with our union SAG-AFTRA, we built our campaign to the point where we were prepared for an industry-wide work stoppage on music videos. This campaign was unique in that we were able to engage our young members through the use of social media and actions like flash mobs! The end result: Music videos for major label artists are now covered under a union contract for the first time in 30 years.

The dance community is growing. We are stronger than ever and we are continuing our movement. Our next goal is to organize concert tours. Being on tour with a major recording artist is one of the sweetest gigs a dancer can ask for. We get to travel the world and perform for thousands upon thousands of people. These productions can make up to $10 million per show and are out on the road for years at a time. Dancers do show after show, promoting the artist and the music that was recorded under SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements, yet we don’t get the same benefits and protections as the artists, singers and musicians who worked on the recording. Dancers aren’t making health-care and pension contributions while on tour, when we need it most.

We officially launched our campaign to organize concert tours in August with an event at Avalon Hollywood, a nightclub popular with dancers. It was our biggest organizing event ever, with over 1,000 people in attendance who got to see live performances as well as a presentation on our union organizing. Most of the attendees were young professional dancers who now feel more strongly than ever about the importance of protecting our rights and improving our working conditions.

We are working on our campaign and have a lot of exciting things coming up. Join our movement and stay connected by following us on twitter @dancersalliance and finding us on Facebook at Imadancer.


This article originally appeared on the Frying Pan.