Professional Standards for Dance

Section 1 - Introduction


1.1. About CADA/East

The Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists, Ontario Chapter (CADA-ON) was formed in 1986 in response to impending Status of the Artist Legislation in Canada and incorporated in the Province of Ontario in 1995 to improve the status and working conditions of dance artists. We are a grassroots arts service organization and work to empower and educate members towards self-representation. One of our major spheres of activity is best practices, and our guide, the Professional Standards for Dance (PSD), is the benchmark document for compensation and working condition standards in the sector.

Version 1 of the PSD was first published in 2003, Version 2 was published in 2009 and Version 3 was published in 2011. Since 2017, we have re-imagined the PSD as a living document with ongoing annual updates, in order to better serve the ever-changing dance milieu. You are reading the version published in April 2021. 

In 2019, we became the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists (East Chapter) to better reflect the scope of our membership, which extends into Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. 

We support our mission with resources including professional development tools and research and development in areas affecting the economic status of artists. The CADA/East model reflects a community in which an artist’s roles can include engager, engagee, or member of a collective: it is an alternative to the traditional labour/management model. We address the needs of a community in which the vast majority of artists are self-employed. We understand that dance artists from equity-seeking and marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by subpar and exploitative working conditions. We recognize that equity, accessibility, and decolonization must be central concerns in any attempt to improve our sector. We affirm our commitment to practicing these values, and we encourage our members to do the same.

CADA/East collaborates with many other organizations, and strives to be part of a community of practice and an agent for change within networks. Our relationships include joint membership for our network of working artists with the Canadian Dance Assembly and acting on Status of the Artists issues within the Coalition of Provincial Arts Service Organizations (PASO Coalition).


1.2. What is the PSD?

This is a best-practices guide intended to promote and support professional standards and conditions of work in dance. It provides basic guidelines intended for the members of CADA/East in negotiating work agreements - everyone is welcome to use it. The PSD provides suggested minimum standards regarding hours of work, fee standards and working conditions and outlines rights and responsibilities in work agreements. 

These guidelines recommend minimums, and do not preclude the negotiation of further terms of agreement as determined by negotiating parties.


1.3. Why should I use the PSD?

The PSD can help you develop contracts for working in dance. It can help you determine when a work environment is acceptable or unacceptable. It is a standard that you can use as an authoritative source respected in the dance community - this can transform a stalemate situation of opinion. Instead of personal opinion, you can refer to accepted standards and gain a clear negotiation tool.

Your use of the PSD contributes to the health of the dance field. Every time one person takes care and attention for artists’ working conditions and payment, it positively impacts the field.

1.4. The Fine Print

These standards should not be regarded or relied upon as legal advice or opinions. CADA/East and its directors, employees and volunteers make no warranties or representations, express or implied, with respect to this document and shall in no event by liable for any damages arising from the use of this document including, without limitation, any incidental or consequential damages arising out of the use of or inability to use the document.

As per the CADA/East Membership Application and Agreement, members agree to endeavor to undertake and abide by the principles and policies of CADA/East, including the PSD. CADA/East takes no responsibility – legal, moral, or financial - for any failure of its members to abide by the guidelines of the PSD. However, in instances of reported misconduct, CADA/East reserves the right to suspend or deny membership at the organization’s discretion.

This is a living document. Amendments and supplements to the PSD shall be issued as deemed necessary by the Board of Directors of CADA/East and further editions of the PSD shall be published as necessary to reflect changes and developments in the field. Members will be given opportunities for input into changes and are encouraged to provide comment on the document to CADA/East at any time.

This document is based in Euro-American theatrical tradition. We welcome collaboration on how this document can be applied or amended to encompass other cultural practices; please contact the office with your suggestions and comments.

For a thorough understanding of the PSD, we encourage you to read the entire document including the Background section at the end. A glossary of terms used in this document is provided.

1.5. Contract FAQs

We recommend that you always work with a written contract. 

What is a contract?

A contract is a “promise” that has three components (offer, acceptance, and consideration) from individuals that have actual or apparent authority to enter into a contract. Consideration is something of value (financial or otherwise) to be received by the contractee. Consideration could be monetary or non-monetary (for example, a commitment to provide time or services). 

What is required for a document to be considered a legal document? Would a series of emails or something jotted down on a napkin qualify?

Yes, they would. An oral agreement can also be a contract, though it can be difficult to prove the contents of an oral contract.

It is important to note that contracts are, themselves, culturally specific, and that contract law in Canada is a result of British colonial histories. While CADA/East suggests working with written contracts as a best practice in the professional dance sector as it currently exists, we also acknowledge that written contracts are not used or preferred in all dance communities, and that alternative forms of agreement making should be equally valid and valued.

What does it mean legally if a contract is broken?

If the other party has breached, you can seek damages, but this can be more theoretical than real. For most dance contracts, the costs to take legal action would be disproportionate; also, a legal win does not guarantee that you can collect your court award from the other side. 

Are there basic questions to ask when entering into a contract?

Yes, including what is to happen if one side does not live up to their side of the bargain. The CADA/East Contract Template provides the basics of how much you will be paid, how often, for what services, and for how long. 

How are my legal rights different if I am an employee rather than an independent contractor?

Employees have a bundle of legal rights, many of them codified in law. These do not apply to independent contractors, who are seen as independent actors free to make their own bargain, even if it is a bad one.

Why should I care about working with a contract?

Working with contracts contributes to the health of professional dance. Every time we conduct ourselves in a professional manner, we contribute to the professionalism of the field, making it safer for everyone. 

A contract clarifies expectations on both sides. When disagreements arise, a written contract provides a reference point for settling them. When you have less stress around trying to second-guess what is going on in the relationship between engager and engagee, you have more energy and focus for your work. Contracts support good working conditions and protect you from exploitative conditions.

Writing things down provides an opportunity to test what we understand. Seeing the frequency of pay written down and then saying, “Oh, wait, I thought we agreed that I would be paid every week and this says every two weeks. That’s fine, I can do that,” or, “Can we change that?” are both better options to planning your finances around being paid on the 16th and discovering that day that you get paid on the 23rd. 

The legalities regarding breach of contract might seem discouraging. However, consider that there are other consequences that might have greater impact on your life and career. The dance community is small and there is probably no one you will work with who you won’t meet again. Contracts build and maintain healthy relationships. 

Isn’t it the engager’s responsibility to provide a contract?

Yes, an engager should provide a draft contract. But if you as an engagee are not offered a contract, why not present the engager with one? It’s not hard to say, “Here’s a draft contract for you to look at – please let me know if there are changes we should talk about.” You are contributing to the health and professionalism of the dance field when you do so.

How do I go about preparing a draft contract?

This PSD has a recommended template (click here to download it). It’s very simple. The main text lays out the terms of what and when you get paid and says, “We agree to everything in the PSD.” When that is not the case, you attach Schedule A and write down the changes you have made from PSD in your own agreement.

Or, if you prefer, you can make your own contract following what you have learned in this document and elsewhere. Because professionals customarily operate with contracts, there are lots of models out there to start with.

Why are you saying, “draft contract”?

When you write or choreograph, you almost always have many drafts, right? Expect the same from an agreement for dance work. If both parties agree immediately to the first draft, great! But don’t feel that you are under any pressure to do so. Sometimes, there will be pressure because of time constraints – do whatever you can to prevent that from happening and try not to let pressure affect your judgment when it does. 

When you modify an offered contract, the modifications are considered a “counter-offer”. You are considered to have rejected the original offer and it becomes null and void.

1.6. FAQ

Is CADA/East a union?

No. CADA/East is a professional association. A union is certified and regulated by provincial and federal legislation, and has the legislated power to negotiate collectively-bargained agreements on behalf of its membership and take action in the case of violations. CADA/East’s mission is to educate and empower its members to represent themselves in negotiating agreements working in the field of professional dance. Apart from suspending or denying membership, we cannot take action on violations of the PSD, so it’s important to know your own rights and make sure they are respected. (See About CADA/East.)

What is CADA/East’s regional jurisdiction?

We are a provincial arts service organization incorporated in Ontario. However, our membership includes dance artists from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. (See the Membership page on our website for specific details.) 

When CADA/East (then CADA-ON) was formed and later incorporated, it included the word, “Canadian” in its name, reflecting the impetus for its formation, which was national legislation (and perhaps, the idea that the organization could grow to be national). CADA-ON provided support to artists in British Columbia to form CADA/BC (now CADA West) in 1992 and the two organizations shared their first website from 2007-09, but they are separate organizations. In 2019, CADA-ON became CADA-East, to more accurately describe the scope of our membership.

Is there “a CADA contract”?

Not in the sense of an “Equity contract”, which is a collectively-bargained agreement. When you use CADA/East’s contract template or follow our best practices, it does not make us party to your agreement. The agreement is between you and the other party. Using the CADA/East Contract Template allows you the freedom to make your contract fit your circumstances and artistic work. 

If I use the PSD, do I have to use the recommended minimum payments?

No. They are just that – recommended minimums. Dance artists statistically have the lowest income of any artists in Canada, and we encourage higher payments! Many artists work for fees higher than CADA/East minimums. However, we also know that artists sometimes agree to work for less than our recommended minimums. The reasons include that artists often work for other artists who have very low budgets for the production of their work. Budgets can vary greatly depending on grant revenue and location, and since dance has the lowest market share of any performing art, box office revenue is often very limited for many artists. 

CADA/East’s PSD provides an established norm that you can be assured represents an accepted standard in the not-for-profit dance field. This is a vast improvement to having to make everything up on your own without any support. Strive to meet at least that standard. 

Even in circumstances when you agree to work for other than monetary consideration, we urge you to still work under a contract for the same reasons that were given earlier. You will still need to set expectations about your working hours and conditions.

What is the difference between “employee”, “engagee” or “contractee” and why should I care?

See the Glossary in this document for the above terms.

It is important to understand your status - whether you are an employee or self-employed – as this impacts on your ability to apply for Employment Insurance and your rights under federal and provincial legislation.

If you are an employee, your employer has legal obligations to you under your contract and the Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA). The ESA does not apply to you as a self-employed person. The majority of CADA/East’s membership is self-employed for their dance work; this greatly impacts the social status of artists, because when we are not employees we have no access to employment insurance, for example. Even the few dancers employed in Ontario with employee status are usually employed for contracts of only 24 to 36 weeks. 

1.7. History of the PSD

Prior to the March 2003 publication of Professional Standards for Dance (PSD), Version 1.0, CADA created contract templates followed by the Basic Dance Agreement (BDA), a set of pages stapled in the corner and first distributed to CADA members in 1990. The BDA was available to anyone; a practice in use up to this day and reflecting our commitment to the betterment of the dance community as a whole. The PSD V1 was the product of years of donated labour by dance artists who participated in community meetings. Key to this development were the organization’s founders Marie-Josée Chartier, Pat Fraser and Maxine Heppner as well as Jennifer Watkins, who contributed first through her work at Dance Umbrella of Ontario from 1991-93, then became CADA-ON’s first part-time Administrator in 1994. Many other individual dance artists and Dance Ontario also supported CADA-ON’s early development.

From the outset, the goal was to accurately reflect the community and create an alternative to the traditional labour/management adversarial model, which made no sense in the “many-hats” dance culture of the Toronto dance community and sometimes negatively impacted on creative process and artistic possibilities.

“Appendix B: Fees & Payment” updated recommended fee minimums and was published in February 2008. Version 2 was published in February 2009 after CADA-ON acquired its first-ever full-time Executive Director under a three-year Ontario Trillium Foundation grant. Version 2 included a new conflict resolution section and provided better language and clarity around CADA-ON’s identity and the difference between it and a union. Updated fees were also included. Version 3, 2011, incorporated new content, updated fees and was intended to be more “user-friendly” through lay-out and contextual content. The current PSD is a living document, undergoing regular updates to reflect the evolving sector we serve.

1.8 Fees 

How does CADA/East establish fees? The baseline was decided with Version 1, which involved countless hours of volunteer contributions from practicing dance artists and therefore represented artists’ experience in the field. Fee increases are based on cost-of-living increases. Our working Board of professional dance artists also recommends changes to fees based on their lived experience. 

The increases will be made following the schedule of published versions of Professional Standards for Dance (PSD), the schedule of which will vary. We aim to revise the PSD bi-annually.

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