This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Pre-auditions for the televised dance competition Révolution were held earlier this spring in Montreal, offering Quebec dancers the opportunity to showcase their talent to more than one million viewers. The show’s fourth season comes after a concerted push by contestants and other dancers last year for adequate pay.
Révolution is popular in Quebec for featuring professional and amateur talent across styles. It attracts 1.4 million viewers and aims to be a champion for dancers, democratizing the art form for the public. In May 2021, however, 195 professional dancers and choreographers signed a letter to the show’s producer, Groupe Fair-play, stating their desire to support dance and attract top talent was not mirrored by the production’s pay in past seasons.
“Why are the dancers the last people to see the pay and yet we’re the first people that make the show exciting?” asks Season 3 contestant Janelle Hacault, who spearheaded the effort, along with Nicholas Bellefleur, to publicly denounce the contestant rates.
“If the conditions were right, then we could actually show Quebec so many different flavours!” she says. “This production is also missing out because they just are not up to par with what we deserve to be paid.”
The Season 4 casting call did not specify the fees for selected artists, who create and perform original choreographies for the pre-auditions and subsequent phases of the competition, but the Union des artistes (UDA), which represents performing artists in French-language media in Canada, confirmed a recent agreement was made with the show’s producers to increase those rates.
Still, there remains skepticism from artists like Marco Édouard who danced up to the Season 3 semifinals. He believes determining fair pay is complicated when a single entity, like the UDA, represents a large variety of professional practices. Although he believes there is no perfect solution, he thinks input from the dancers themselves in determining compensation is lacking.
“It’s as if, as a journalist, the person deciding how much you should be paid is a plumber,” he says. For such collective agreements to have credibility in his eyes, there needs to be more transparency in negotiations, and dancers must have a seat at the table.
So now that Season 4 is underway, have the money matters improved?
Hacault and Bellefleur first started pursuing discussions around fair pay with the show’s producers during their first round of filming for Season 3. She describes those discussions as open-hearted, but only somewhat fruitful. In August 2021, Le Devoir reported that the UDA had been trying to open negotiations since Season 1; by Season 3, contracts offered payment per day filmed but only after the first round (which was considered an audition), leaving the first three days of filming unpaid. In subsequent rounds artists received less than half the minimum $467 recommended by the UDA for a comparable day of filming.
Before negotiations, Hacault says she was initially offered $200 for the first (non-audition) day of filming (each day lasting 10-12 hours), a rate that increased by $50 for subsequent rounds of the competition.
The minimum rate recommended by the UDA with the Association québécoise de la production médiatique for an eight-hour day of filming in a comparable show is currently $618 for a soloist and $473 per person in a group of three to four dancers. Fees for dancer preparation and creative input are not specified.
After Le Devoir reported on the issue, Groupe Fair-play agreed to enter negotiations with the UDA and an agreement has since been found for future seasons. The producers raised rates for successive rounds of filming, agreed to offer studio hours for creating and rehearsing choreography (a cost that previously fell on dancers) and brought a physiotherapist on set.
The agreement created with the UDA guided the producers in determining artist fees for Season 4, but these were not available to dancers before registering. Citing confidentiality, a UDA representative declined to comment on the agreement or the impact of this silence on dancers weighing the choice to register for the pre-auditions.
Season 4’s rates were shared with The Dance Current by a dancer who auditioned and has been granted anonymity.
The dancer was informed by the producers in an email that the first day and a half on set is not paid because it constitutes an audition. In the second round, dancers will be paid $250 per day of filming (each round takes two or three days), with $250 per entity for their creative work in preparation, split between dancers competing as a team.
In the third round, rates increase by $50 with each subsequent episode, culminating at $400 per day per person for the finale. In this last round, the creative work fee rises to $400 per entity, plus choreographic support.
According to one of the producers on the show, Martin Métivier, the competition’s specific working conditions were shared with dancers who registered and were invited to participate in the pre-auditions. This registration nonetheless required dancers to consent to being filmed by the producer and to their image being used for free in the show and promotional material, regardless of whether they were selected to compete.
Édouard worries the collective agreements like those between producers and the UDA act as an easy justification for producers to pay the bare minimum. The burden of those choices and creating change ultimately falls upon the artists, he says, particularly for emerging dancers who often accept less in the hopes of a future payoff.
“Do I refuse all the contracts that come my way because they don’t pay me what I’m worth? At a certain point, I have to accept something,” he says.
Dancers are often familiar with the feeling that their work is undervalued. Though she was happy to see change at Révolution, Hacault, who has been dancing professionally since 2012, believes the culture of silence she has seen in the dance world was likely at play in the previous seasons of the show.
“There’s a lot of hush-hush things that we don’t say because we know that there’s a dime a dozen and we can be replaced,” she says. “I’m done with that, and I think a lot of people are done with that.”
In most fields, professionals do not have to advocate for adequate pay, yet in dance it’s as common as it’s infuriating for artists like Hacault. When circulating the collective letter, she says, “Stories started to come out of the woodwork” about conditions in other competitions and organizations.
“This was not the first time [dancers have] felt taken advantage of,” she says.
Marianne Boulet, the content producer of Groupe Fair-play, who participated in the development of the initial show concept and production since the first season, says Révolution was always intended to elevate artists.
“Ever since the beginning, we sat at a table with dancers … and people who are influential in their community and who could talk to us more about the reality of dancers in several styles,” she says.
Boulet also says that the decision to audition depends on the experience individuals are looking for and where they are in their careers. Part of her job in the current casting process is to answer dancers’ questions about the investment of time and energy so they can make an informed decision.
“That person has to see an opportunity to surpass oneself, try new things, win a prize or visibility, but I can’t say to a dancer, ‘Come do Révolution because that’s the visibility you need.’ It’s not up to me to decide that.”
When asked if touting exposure as a benefit might hinder dancers’ interest in participating, Métivier says he believes the tight-knit nature of the dance milieu and discussions with the UDA and artists so far has enabled enough transparency for dancers to make their choice.
“It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it is a dance competition show that necessitates a personal investment …but which is also supported by a production team that wants to make the talent shine,” says Métivier.
He described dialogues about conditions as ongoing, although official negotiations with the UDA are not currently taking place.
“If this spiny problem of pay is a problem for dancers, they can be heard. They must raise their hand and talk about it [through the UDA],” he says. “With each season, we learn and we adjust.”
Édouard insists the need for these conversations must go beyond a single union or producer and beyond the internal dialogues of dance communities.
“If the public realized the number of hours we spend on what we do plus the amount we are paid … plus the hours of work we do onstage to make their visual experience attractive,” he says, “I think things would move a bit more.”