Finding income a challenge for L.A. dancers

By Aja Hood

Dancers and dance studios in Los Angeles find multiple income streams to pay the bills.

L.A. is a place where there is great demand for dancers in music videos, commercials and movies. This invites fierce competition. Natasha Vogt of International Dance Academy in Los Angeles said that making her studio unique and using different sources of income helps keep the business running.

“We have two sides to the company, one that’s commercial with open classes,” Vogt said. “Then we also have the three-month certificate program. It’s academic. It has midterm and final exams.”

IDA also stands out from the competition being one of the only dance studios located on Hollywood Boulevard in the center of L.A. This location alone has made it the ideal studio rental space for popular dance shows such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“We do studio rentals. That’s been a big money-maker for us,” Vogt said. “Because of our location I would say we’ve gotten more television shows claiming IDA as the home of their TV show than probably any other studio.”

IDA has been the home of every single season of “America’s Best Dance Crew,” multiple seasons of “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing with the Stars” and a variety of reality shows.

The competition among dancers also forces those seeking work to find other forms of income while waiting for their big break. Dancer Tricia Fierro has been a character dancer for Disneyland theme park and is currently a dancer for Universal Studios.

“If you don’t have a back-up job, it’s going to be a very big struggle,” she said.

In addition to working as a character dancer for Universal Studios, Fierro works at a juice bar and as a house manager for a theater in Orange County. The United States department of labor estimated the average hourly wage for a dancer to be $11.82, as of May 2011. Dancers often obtain certifications and teach dance classes as a way to supplement their income. Fierro is working on a dance certification with IDA.

“Until you’re really noticed and you have that one big name on your resume, it’s hard to break through,” said Fierro. “I’m still working on that.”

According to the Small Business Administration, more than 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first five years. Dance studios are not exempt from the trend. Offering a variety of options for students and creating a welcoming atmosphere has helped IDA make the cut.

“Our first two years our classes had maybe four or five people in them. Then fast forward to today where we have classes with 50 students on a weekly basis,” Vogt said.

One thing that draws students is the skill and popularity of the teachers. IDA boasts faculty such as Dejan Tubic, who has traveled around the world through dance and has choreographed for big names such as Soulja Boy. IDA pays their instructors by attendance instead of an hourly rate, which encourages instructors to provide a great class and advertise to boost numbers.

While hip-hop has ruled the dance scene for quite some time in the heart of the U.S. entertainment scene, Vogt said contemporary dance is gaining steam. Series like “So You Think You Can Dance” have showcased the beauty and grace of contemporary dance. This increased its popularity and the demand for both instructors and dancers in Los Angeles, she said.

This sets L.A. apart from the dance needs in New York, where technical training and ballet are in greatest demand for Broadway musicals and local theaters.