The world of ballet is full of dancers who dream of making a living from their passion for the art form. But in truth, professional ballet dancing is a cut-throat industry where talent is analysed with a fine-tooth comb and anything less than perfection is rarely tolerated. The odds of actually “making it” in the ballet industry with a major dance company such as the New York City Ballet or the Bolshoi Ballet are very slim, but there are smaller companies around the world that do their best to support their dancers. With the physical and mental demands and time-intensive nature of ballet training, serious dancers must be employed on a full-time salary. A company’s investment in their dancers can certainly be worth it, because when a professional dance group has a strong reputation, tickets can be sold for major profit.
When a dancer first joins a company, they form part of a group called the Corps de Ballet, and they typically start as ensemble dancers in the background. If a dancer is part of the union known as American Guild of Musical Artists (also known as AGMA), they have a degree of protection, in that they’re entitled to at least a minimum wage that is livable and at a set scale. The industry – as with so many of the capricious, competitive arts industries – is notoriously underpaid, with the majority of dancers working long hours for very little financial reward. Payscale cites the average ballet dancer’s salary as a tiny $15,080 – $26,419. Midlevel dancers, often soloists, could earn as much as $50,000-$58,000 a year. In the aspirational case, celebrated principal dancers can earn a couple of thousand dollars per performance.
There is no doubt that in order to become a rich ballet dancer, it takes hard work, and sometimes dancing for multiple companies at once. But to become one of the richest ballet dancers in the world, a certain amount of fame and hard work is also needed. Many of the wealthiest ballet dancers on our list have made their name and their wealth through branching out into choreography, producing, or even acting and modelling. We’ve selected five of the richest dancers in the industry – and, compared to the five richest actors or singers, the salaries are diminutive. Ballet, one of the most highly-skilled performing professions, is also one of the least financially rewarding. The dedicated, talented dancers on our list got there through hard work, passion and – quite possibly – a financial struggle. The salaries we’ve cited are based on a variety of factors from per performance earnings, yearly earnings, and net worth.
5. Nina Ananiashvili – $30,000 per performance
Nina Ananiashvili is a Georgian ballerina and the current artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia. She recently hung up her ballet shoes after an illustrious career as a prima ballerina earning about $30,000 per performance. She originally trained not as a dancer as an ice skater. Because she was a sickly child, her parents encouraged her to take up figure skating in order to build her strength. Nina started ballet training to complement her skating, but eventually abandoned skating altogether and began training as a ballet dancer. Her career took off after studying at the Moscow Choreographic Institute where her talent captured the attention of her instructors. From this point on her career sky-rocketed, and Nina eventually made waves in the United States becoming a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre and later the Houston Ballet.
4. Sylvie Guillem – $850,000 + per year
Sylvie Guillem is the highest paid female ballet dance in the world today, at 48 years old. She hasn’t slowed down in later years; continuing an enormously successful career, Sylvie is selling out theatres all over, and has been since the mid-80’s. Hailing from Paris, this French dancer is sought after in some of the most highly regarded dance companies and is guaranteed to bring in a lot of revenue for the companies that can afford her. Despite the fact that’s she much older than most of her contemporaries, Sylvie seems to defy the laws of gravity and physics in her performances, making her the highest paid female ballerina of the 20th century.
3. Benjamin Millepied – $900,000 net worth
Now a fixture in Hollywood, this French dancer was relatively unknown in the mainstream world until a few years ago but has long been a famous face in the ballet world. Born in France, Millepied started dancing at the age of 8 under the instruction of his mother, who is also a ballet dancer. He has danced for the City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, School of American Ballet and the Paris Opera, to name just a few. Millepied made the rare transition from ballet to Hollywood when he choreographed the dances for the psychological thriller, Black Swan – where he also played a small part in the movie. There Millepied met Natalie Portman, who was starring in the movie, with whom he became engaged in 2010. The couple recently welcomed their son into the world in 2011.
2. Rudolf Nureyev – $7.9 Million*
Rudolf Nureyev was one of the most celebrated ballet dancers and one of the most photographed men of the 20th century. When he passed away in 1993, it was on one of his private island – in stark contrast to the Russian dancer’s impoverished beginnings. Between choreographing, dancing, acting, and directing his net worth sky rocketed to the millions in a short amount of time, and he became highly sought after not only for his talents, but for his appearance. He became an instant sensation in the Soviet Union and reinvented the role of the male ballet dancer, who before were only there to support the female dancers.
*based on value of estate after his death
1. Mikhail Baryshnikov – $45 Million
Mikhail Nikolaevich Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia – then Soviet Russia – and is regarded as one of the best ballet dancers of the 20th century. He started as a freelance dancer in Leningard and Canada, eventually joining the New York City Ballet. Since then, Baryshnikov has made a tremendous impact in the ballet world. Besides being a ballet dancer, his high profile saw him branch out and he became a highly respected choreographer. He eventually made waves in Hollywood as an actor, most notably as Carrie Bradshaw’s Russian lover, Aleksandr Petrovsky, in the HBO series, Sex and the City.