By Shaz Sajadi
She gets off the examination table in the doctor’s office, puts on her socks and shoes and walks out of the sports medicine division of Boston Children’s Hospital, mumbling under her breath, “I can’t perform on this ankle. I’ll just have to pick up more shifts at the restaurant and maybe I can teach in the mornings. I just hope I can make rent.”
Haruka Tamura, 25, is a dancer at the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. She lives in Arlington, Mass. and has been supporting herself financially since her graduation from The Hartt School of Music and Dance in 2014 by dancing full time, working at a small Japanese restaurant and teaching an open ballet class at Brookline Ballet on Tuesday nights.
When she hurt her left ankle during a production of “The Nutcracker” back in December 2015, Jose Mateo, the director of Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, told her to stay out of the production and focus on recovery. It took her months of physical therapy and several visits to different doctors to finally diagnose the cause of the shooting pain in her ankle that prevented her from going on pointe.
The diagnosis was bittersweet. Dr. Lyle Micheli, an orthopedic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Tamura that she does not need a complicated surgery to take care of this problem. A simple ultrasound guided injection would most likely do the trick, but that also means another few weeks of staying out of pointe shoes.
Unfortunately for dancers like Tamura, sitting out of performances at times of injury often means losing their pay checks for those weeks and the added expense of taking physical therapy sessions once or twice a week for a minimum of four weeks.
A New York Times report in 2011 stated the 42 dancers at Boston Ballet make an average salary of $1,200 a week. When dancing full time, Tamura makes $450 a week, which barely cover her monthly expenses. The dancers’ pointe shoes, one pair per week , is the only expense paid for by the company.
“Sadly, one cannot support oneself exclusively on a ‘salary’ from most dance companies, particularly locally,” said Marlena Yannetti, senior dancer in residence at Emerson College. “Dancers ordinarily supplement income by teaching or other part-time work.”
Having second or third jobs is also important for dancers not only so they can augment their monthly income, but also to maintain some form of income in times of injury when they cannot perform or during the off-season when dance companies don’t produce any shows.
Tamura said there is more money in the musical theatre world than in the ballet world. “In musicals, there is a mixture of dancing, singing and acting and it appeals to more people, but personally I love telling a story through just dance. There’s more mystery to it,” she said.
Nonprofit dance companies’ income come from ticket or other forms of sales plus grants and donations. Raising the Barre, a study done by the National Endowment for the Arts noted that healthy finances enable dance companies to perform quality work, expand dance audiences, and achieve other goals set by nonprofit performing arts organizations. So smaller companies which have small theaters and limited tickets for each show have a smaller salary budget and rely heavily on their donations.
Bithiah Carter is the president of New England Blacks in Philanthropy and also a board member of Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. “Even in schools, the arts budget is the first thing that gets cut,” she said. “We tend to put the arts in a box as if it’s not important, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that arts is a reflection of who we truly are.”
Carter also pointed out that her support of a Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre goes beyond her support for the arts. “I support Jose Mateo’s company because it is a diverse company and a true representation of the American society,” she said.