Dana Wilson – Superwoman to Commercial Dance

Dana-WilsonMany pop music videos and stadium tours have back up dancer who are amazing at what they do from partnering to hip hop stylized dance routines, and in my opinion steal the show.  Dana Wilson is one of those dancers.  She has worked on every avenue of commercial dance including television, film, commercials, international music tours, and music videos.  Some of her most notable work includes dancing with pop superstars Joe Jonas, Brittney Spears, Justin Beiber, Backstreet Boys, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Justin Timberlake.  She is not only a dancer but has gotten bitten by the choreography bug and has assisted with Justin Timberlake’s World Tour “Future, Sex…” with Marty Kudelka, So You Think You Can Dance Season 5 with Joey Dowling, and Cirque Du Soleil with Wade Robson.

This multitalented dancer and choreographer is not only an artist, but she has brought the dance world to a new level where dancers need to start thinking about their long term futures.  Back when I was finishing undergraduate school with a bachelors degree in dance I was full of excitement.  I wanted to start my own dance company and create this amazing legacy.  After working on the business side of a dance company for almost four years and going to graduate school for arts administration I learned that their are so many other problems in the American dance world that need to be address such as health insurance, retirement plans, and life stability.  I didn’t like the instability that I saw my friends suffering from living from contract to contract, barely being able to pay their rents, and in some cases just surviving, which is why I started working on the business side of the arts industry; I wanted to do something more for the artists and dance companies by developing a more stable environment.

I feel that Wilson is like me to some extent in fighting for the artists.  Wilson started to fight for those rights through the “It’s About Time” campaign back in 2012 when SAG-AFTRA was fighting for performer’s rights in music videos.  In June 2012, SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild –  Amercian Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and major record labels (Universal Music Group, Sony Music Enterainment, Warner Music Group, EMI Music, and Walt Disney Company) reached a deal for performers on music videos which included amenities such as minimum daily rates, safety protection and additional compensation for hazardous performances, rest periods, improved auditions conditions such as shelter, start time, and auditions times not being more than four hours.  Durning the negotiation process dancer and SAG-AFTRA member Dana Wilson and friends discussed some of their horror stories such as not getting paid for months for the work that was done in the video, the horrible conditions dancers were given during video shoots such as being out in the elements, no food or meal breaks, no health care benefits, and not having contracts for work that was done the videos.  My motto – get everything in writing.  In any type of business you are working in verbal agreements only go so far, it is always best to get anything that is agreed upon in writing.

For Wilson, creating union contracts for music videos was just the first step in getting more stability for dancers and she took it one step further.  Music tours are some of the most sot after work for dancers.  What dancer doesn’t want to be on tour for sometimes over a year traveling the world and getting paid for doing something they love?  The downside to most tours is there is usually no union contract, and the dancers usually lose their SAG-AFTRA union benefits while on tour, which includes a commercial dancer’s health insurance and retirement plan.  Before Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience World Tour, Wilson got busy with other SAG-AFTRA members which came to a Touring Agreement under unionize contract where performers earnings went towards health insurance and retirement plans.  It is amazing how few tours have unionized dancer contracts considering the ware and tear on your body as a dancer, sometimes dancing on dangerous materials such as concrete, plexiglass, wood, or metal.  It is important as a dancer to take a care and protect your body, and these unionized contracts are another form of protection if a dancer is injured on tour.

Dana Wilson is superwoman to me.  She has created a domino effect that I hope will continue to drive dancers to become more business minded.  As a dancer you need to treat yourself as a business.  Take advantage of every opportunity even if that opportunity may not be as obvious such as supporting endeavors of other artists, getting involved in changing the dance scene from not only an artistic aspect, but a thinking and business aspect, as well as become strong by knowing what you believe to be equal rights and opportunities of present and future dancers.  Sometimes you have to push the envelope to make change.  No one said it would be easy, but it will always be worth it.

Check out sagaftra.org!


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