Dance Sector Recommendations for the Employment Insurance Program Review

Dance Sector Recommendations for the Employment Insurance Program Review

As representatives of the dance sector across the country, CDA and four other organizations sent recommendations for the review of the Employment Insurance program, particularly for dance artists, that clearly represent the needs and priorities of our members.


Dance artists are financially insecure and under-supported by existing programs. A large proportion of workers do not meet the criteria for eligibility, as these programs remain built around the notion of full-time paid work.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2016 census data, the lowest-paid artists are dancers with an average annual dance-related income of just over $16,000.

Dancers are generally seasonal workers, as cultural offerings generally run from September to June, with much less work during the Summer.

Dancers are self-employed, living from contract to contract, multiplying their ingenuity by using their diverse skills in different roles in the sector (performer, choreographer, coach, consultant) for and with a multitude of other artists.

Although many work in other sectors such as the hospitality and education industries, these artists sometimes hold part-time jobs, but they balance this by being available for future dance contracts. This availability is critical to their careers. It is difficult for them to take on long-term supplemental jobs.

Dancers are similar to high-performance athletes. The physical and mental demands of their profession are very high. Yet they are responsible for training and caring for themselves at their own expense. Dancers have little support or programs in place to ensure their health. As a result, dancers must pay a significant amount of money for psychologists, osteopaths, physiotherapists, and training classes to maintain their level of excellence.

Dancers are generally not unionized like other performing artists, such as musicians and actors. As a result, they have little protection or access to insurance or pension plans offered by unions (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), Union des artistes (UDA), the Canadian Actors Equity Association (CAEA) and the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC)). Some professional associations offer the possibility of joining an insurance plan. However, the incomes of dance artists are so low that they struggle to pay into these plans.

Artists who practice non-Western dance forms earn even less income. Their careers are even more precarious. The 2016 Census revealed that Indigenous, Black, and other racialized artists earn significantly less income than their non-Indigenous/non-racialized counterparts. Indigenous, and Black and racialized artists earn a median income of 68 cents and 72 cents, respectively, for every $1 for non-Indigenous/non-Black/non-racialized artists. Also, large ballet companies often offer longer-term employment contracts or salaries-based contracts to dancers, but this is far from the norm. This contributes to inequity among Canadians. The program should be able to help reduce this inequity and serve all artists regardless of the art form they practice and regardless of their cultural background.

The Employment Insurance special benefits for self-employed people does not work for dance artists because of the financial insecurity described above. The contribution level is still high for many as well as the minimum net revenue required (7 555 $ en 2020), especially for those starting their career or in transition. Another barrier to this opportunity is the lifetime membership requirement. The length of a dance artist’s working life varies greatly. It depends on a number of factors, such as physical fitness and freedom from injury, the ability to find contracts, work-family balance, the impact of successive international tours on life balance, etc.

Dancers sometimes pay fees to other artists themselves, as dance projects include other collaborators: other dancers, technicians, musicians, consultants, set designers, lighting designers, etc. They sometimes have difficulty making officials understand the distinction between grant income earned for the entire project and income earned for their own purposes. This creates an additional barrier to timely access to benefits due to a lack of understanding of the employment realities of dance artists.

The impact of the pandemic has been very significant for dance artists. The live performance sector is still the last to recover. Everywhere, the arts and entertainment sector has been impacted even more severely than the accommodation and food service sectors. The GDP of the performing arts sector has fallen by 62% since last year (The Globe and Mail, March 11, 2020). Moreover, artists have paid the highest price for this loss: hours worked in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector as a whole have declined by 36.6% in 2020, and by more than 60% among performing arts workers. We believe it is important that the program be reviewed as soon as possible to ensure that it meets the government’s promises of equity and social justice.


That the employment insurance program becomes in its essence an income insurance program for dance artists by:

  • Lowering the number of insurable hours required. The initiative to lower the number to 140 hours is a good step in this direction.
  • Allowing hours to be accumulated from different jobs and employers.
  • Developing a specific intermittence program so that dance artists can earn income between contracts and cultural seasons. Dance artists should be eligible even if they have a part-time job to support a decent level of income between season and contrats. The criteria and the monthly income offered by CRB of $2000 per month (as originally conceived) seems to be a great floor from which to start the program. The program mechanism, accessibility and agility were really appreciated by all artists, who were understandably eager to get back to work.
  • Funding the enhanced EI program through a mechanism in which government and employers contribute in addition to individual artists. Artists should not contribute to the system alone and their contribution should be carefully and fairly scaled. Contributions could be made either through “payroll” deductions or through the tax system.
  • Allowing dance artists to terminate their enrollment in the Self-Employment Insurance program when they change careers.
  • Encouraging the Canada Council for the Arts to allow artists to include employment insurance costs in their budgets when they fill out a project application form, to facilitate access to the program for all artists participating in the project.



Sign Up for our mailing list to receive regular updates.