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Originally posted on Salsaweb NY in 2000
The CO$T of Dancing
The downside of being a professional dancer.
Manny Siverio

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Doing the Mam-Fu routine in Puerto Rico

You ever think of how great it must be to be a professional mambo dancer. You get to travel around the world to perform, meet other famous dancers, share the stage with many world renown Latin musicians and bands, perform at concerts; while making a decent living doing it. All you have to do is get up there and dance for a couple of minutes, get some applauds, get paid and go home right? Piece of cake. Easy Money. Sounds great right? I even know of promoters who believe that. Well think again. Being a professional mambo dancer may fulfill many dreams, but making a living is not necessarily one of them. Its basically a cost draining profession. I should know since I’ve danced with The Nelson Flores Student Dancers, The Eddie Torres Jammers, The Jimmy Anton Dancers, The Mario Diaz Dance Revue and The Jimmy Anton Jazz Emsemble. Currently I’m a member of my wife’s performance team, the Addie-Tude Dance Company. I’ve also been fortunate enough to dance on stage with Tito Puente & Celia Cruz, traveled to such places as Hong Kong, Switzerland, London, Paris, Puerto Rico, California and Baltimore; and performed at the 3rd Annual Congreso Mundial de la Salsa in Puerto Rico. My resume is no way as extensive as many of the top NY/NJ performers, but its enough to qualify me to give you the inside scoop on what its like being a professional mambo dancer.

Lets face it, being a professional mambo dancer is not cheap. There are costs that need to be covered. For example, some dancers continue to take classes in order to further refine their dancing skills or pick up new turn patterns and/or open floor shines. Other dancers feel the need to take classes in order to maintain their edge over other upcoming dancers. Competition is real heavy in areas like NY and LA. Especially for women in NY where there is a greater ratio of professional female dancers over male dancers. At $15 to $20 dollars per class, a dancer could chalk up a minimum of $60-$80 a month if they only averaged one class per week.

Then there is the need to search for that perfect mambo song every dancer is looking to choreograph and perform to. As many of you know a typical Latin CD can run anywhere between $12-$17 dollars. Imagine how many records the average dancer buys each year and tag that to his annual professional expenses. Also, in their never quest for professional perfection, dance companies turn to DJ’s to help them spice up their numbers by using CD burners to add sound effects or cut melodies together. This can add up to yet another musical expense.

Next there is the cost of a rehearsal studio. Most dance studios in New York can run from a minimum of $15 to a maximum of $30 dollars an hour. Choosing the cheapest rehearsal space is not as easy as it looks. Dancers usually compete with other renters (other dancers, dance instructors, acting coaches, exercise classes, martial art classes, etc.) for studio rehearsal space. Therefore people rent space according to availability and not price. In other words, if you need it bad enough you'll end up paying for it.

Lets not forget about the actual time dancers sacrifice to perfect their craft. Believe me, there are better things to do with your free time then to rehearse a dance number. It takes away from your friends, your family and your personal life. Performing has to be important to dancers in order for them to go that extra mile. I’ve seen choreographers spend hours, upon hours coming up with routines for specific songs. There is a lot of work, sweat and tears involved with perfecting a number. Basically, the choreographer has to come up with the number; the dancers need to learn the routine until it becomes second nature to them; and finally each member has to learn how to work the number as a team.

Think that’s it. Nope, not really. It gets better... there’s more... how about the expenses of.. that's right ...costumes! Mambo costumes can’t be found at your local Gap clothing store. They have to be created from scratch. I’ve seen my wife sit down and sketch a design for the girls on her team. Then she’ll go out to the garment district and hunt and hunt until she finds what she’s looking for. The trip can run her anywhere from $50 and up depending on the material she purchased. But thats not all. She still has to take the material and the design to a seamstress and have her sew together the entire costume. That adds even another expense of an additional $60 dollars plus for every individual costume. And believe me this is the cheaper way of doing things. Your other option is to go to a top-of-the-line mambo costume designer. This can mean a purchase tag of no less than $400 to $500 dollars. I know of designers charging as high up as $800 to $1,200 dollars for one costume. Male mambo performance usually have it a little easier than there female counterparts. But costumes still have to be chosen, purchased and created nonetheless for them too.

While we’re at it, let not forget about performing shoes. Men and women usually pay anywhere from $80 to $150 dollars for a pair of dance shoes. Men usually purchase black-patent-leather shoes, black & white shoes and plain black shoes; while women normally have different color shoes to match their very colorful costumes. The end result: an additional $80 to $200 expense on performance shoes. This is not including the $75 plus dollars per pair of dance sneakers which mambo dancers are fond to rehearse with.

I think that being a professional dancer is tougher on women than on men. Women have to worry about additional accessories such as earrings, necklaces, make-up, stockings and hair products. By the time a dancer hits the stage for the first time he or she could have spent anywhere between $400-$1,200 dollars (depending on the total cost of costumes, shoes, accessories, make-up, music, classes/instruction, rehearsal space, etc). Remember that many of these costs are recurring (i.e. classes, rehearsal space) and continue to subtract from the dancers total net profit earnings.

But what really sucks about performing is the amount of work that dancers have to put into their craft. No matter how good a number is, it still has to be rehearsed. It still has to be perfected. It still has to be tighten. This takes an extreme amount of dedication. A dancer's job is never done. They are always in the process of creating new material for their viewing public. Believe me, as soon as a number has been performed enough times in the same area (i.e. NY or LA), its time for the choreographer to start all over again. People get bored and the dance team has to come up with new a number. 

So you ask yourself, "why go through all this trouble???" Its simple, because we love what we do. We love our craft, we love to perform and we love our music. Now It would be nice if we got paid better for it too. So the next time you see a group of mambo dancers performing at an event, give them a healthy round of applauds. They worked hard for it. - Manny Siverio 

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In Switzerland with the Addie-Tude Dance Company


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