General Information

The Results Are In: DCA 2007 Member Survey Summary

By Lisa Traiger, DCA Chair 2006-2007

I would be hard pressed to find a more interesting group of colleagues than those who made themselves known in our most recent DCA Membership Survey in March. We wanted to know who you are, why you write, and what you'd like from the DCA. We asked, and you answered. Thank you to the 42 of you who took the time to respond to our 17 questions – that's a return rate of about 14 percent, which, I am told by those in the know, is a relatively high rate of response.

So who are we?

How are you employed as a dance critic?
Staff writer/critic25%
Affiliated freelancer39%
Independent freelancer39%
Not employed as dance critic15%

Almost one quarter of us are staff writers/critics. Another 39 percent are affiliated freelancers and 39 percent are independent freelancers. (For those of you doing the math, note that many of us wear multiple hats, affiliated with one or two publications and freelancing simultaneously. Responses, therefore add up to more than 100 percent.) We have a modest 15 percent of members who are not dance critics.

What percentage of your income is derived from dance writing?

When we asked what percentage of income was derived from dance criticism, only 3 people or 7 percent answered 81 to 100 percent. The great majority of us earn very little or only a portion of our income from dance writing: 80-61 percent of income: 5 percent of members; 60-41 percent: 12 percent of members; 40-21 percent: 7 percent of members; and, no surprise here, 63 percent of us earn 20 percent or less of our income from dance criticism. A few noted that they earned nothing at all even though they were or are published critics.

What do we do?

What kinds of publications do you write for?
Paid websites17%
Unpaid websites37%

The great majority of us still write for newspapers (88 percent), while 76 percent of us also contribute to magazines and 22 percent of us write books. In new media, 17 percent of respondents write for paid websites, while 33 percent contribute to unpaid websites and another 5 percent of us write on blogs. Seventeen percent of respondents write for television and/or radio. Again, these responses indicate that were are contributing to a variety of media and many of us wear two, three or more hats, as staffers, freelancers, bloggers, correspondents, etc.

How are the publications for which you write distributed?
Print, paid subscription78%
Web, paid subscription0%
Print, free distribution27%
Web, free distribution61%
Cable radio/television0%

Seventy-eight percent of the publications we write for are distributed via paid subscriptions, while 27 percent of the publications we write for are distributed free. Sixty-one percent of us write for free websites, these could be either the web portals of paid print publications or web-only publications. None of us, again no surprise here, writes for a paid subscription website, probably because no one has yet figured out how to make money from web publishing. Let us know if you have the secret!

How many publications do you write for on a regular basis?

We're nothing if not resourceful... and busy. Forty-six percent of us write for between two and four outlets on a regular basis. And among our super-diligent, 7 percent write for five or more publications on a regular basis.

Please indicate the percentage of your work that each type of article comprises.
Short criticism/review47%
Long essay criticism20%
Enterprise articles2%

We asked you how frequently you write different types of dance articles and here is what you told us: Forty-seven percent still write the standard form short criticism/review, while 20 percent of you write the long essay format. A surprise (for me at least because when I was writing that's what I did most), 11 percent write previews, 13 percent write features and 8 percent write interviews. Finally, just 2 percent of respondents noted that they write enterprise articles, but I suspect that that number may be greater. An enterprise article is one that covers the business of the field, for example, it's the story about the ballet company's budget shortfall, or the endowment campaign to build a new theater space. I apologize if this term was unfamiliar to many of you.

We asked how many articles you write on average per month. Two of you must wear capes and royal blue tights, because you answered 20 and 12 to 15. Wow. Some of us write only one to two articles per year. About eight of us write between two and five articles a month and a handful of us write between five and 10. Quick turnaround deadlines are still the norm for 37 percent of you, while 63 percent write longer lead time reviews. More than half of us write features and interviews (66 and 63 percent respectively) and nearly half, 46 percent of us, write previews. Thirty-seven percent of us write dance history and 12 percent of us cover the business of dance (enterprise reporting).

We asked about market and that was a tough one, some of you write for a self-contained market, like one respondent whose publication in a small college town reaches a market of 80,000. Plenty of you write for the New York City metro market and plenty also write for multiple markets, as evidenced as well by responses to how many outlets we contribute to. Many of us write for national or international publications, or noted hits on a web site, another world-wide market.

How are we doing?

Are you writing more, less or abut the same number of articles each month as you were five years ago?
About the same27%

Half-full, half-empty or the same? Among our respondents 22 percent are writing more stories than they were five years ago, while double that, 44 percent, are writing fewer. And, sadly, more than a few of you chose to highlight that by writing in "much less." Twenty-seven percent of you said you're writing about the same number of articles each month as you were five years ago.

Do you teach dance writing or criticism?

Aside from writing about dance, we are a group that wears many hats. Twelve of you, or 29 percent, teach dance criticism. While we have no doctors among us (who replied to the survey, in any case), we do have a microbiologist and a golf course superintendent, a physical therapist and an educational consultant, a half dozen or more teachers who instruct in everything from novel writing to somatics to tap and jazz. We're also, and no surprise here either, a relatively experienced group: 61 percent of you have been writing for 21 or more years. We have one member who has been at it for 56 years, a few for 35 or more and a number of whom are now retired from the field. On the other end, our future is modest but present: 20 percent of respondents have been writing for five or fewer years. We have a half-dozen editors, a few independent consultants, a dance administrator or two and graduate students among us. Of the lengthy list of topics we write about other than dance, nine of us write about theater, two music, two film, two fashion, and a few general culture topics. We have a cookbook writer, a novelist, a writer on education reform and on climate change, a memoirist, an opera buff, a writer on Jewish culture and arts, and two travel writers, among many other very interesting topics. Those of us who teach or have taught, our subject areas range from anthropology/ethnography to microbiology, pedagogy, ESOL, aesthetics, education, math, novel writing, movement analysis/observation, Israeli dance history and general dance history. I'd like to take the whole lot of you to lunch for some very stimulating conversations.

What is your purpose in writing dance criticism?
Participate in discourse on dance and arts80%
Educate public71%
Provide feedback to artists and presenters32%
Personal interest68%
It's a job.15%

Finally, we do this for love: A whopping 80 percent of respondents write dance criticism to "participate in discourse on dance and arts." Another 71 percent write to "educate the public" and 68 percent write out of "personal interest." Thirty-two percent wish to "provide feedback to artists and presenters." And, a mere 15 percent of you do this because "it's a job."

Again, many thanks to all of you who completed and mailed the survey. The DCA board of directors hopes to use this information to better serve its constituency and to target, as well, funding and other sources of support or collaboration in the future.

I close with a bulleted list of suggestions you asked us to consider. Keep thinking about where you'd like to see DCA go in the coming years and how we can get there. Keep in mind that it is only through the good and generous support and efforts of our members that any of our programs, from our newsletter to our website to our conference and mentorship program, exist. Consider volunteering today. Contact We hope to hear from you.

Responses to "What new services or activities would you like to see the DCA offer?"

  • Mentoring program [we have one, email]
  • One-day symposia on selected topics
  • Advocacy for dance criticism to editors and public at large
  • More on websites and ethics of bloggers
  • Publish conferences and seminars list
  • A web directory of active members who write regularly online
  • Keep going before offering new services/activities
  • Online conversation boards to talk about issues in field
  • National advocacy for dance writers
  • Additional mini conferences outside New York
  • More service articles like the current one on blogging
  • Videos of conferences
  • Just keep going
  • Results of this survey – a great start
  • Collaborate more with scholarly dance orgs.
  • More instruction on how to write features
  • Continue connections and interfacing between other like-minded critics orgs.
  • Keep hard copy newsletter
  • Meetings outside of New York
  • Job and freelance clearinghouse
  • Revise DCA Critics Notebooks as a database (note: in the 1980s critics used to send in a few articles a quarter to a DCA member who compiled them into "Critics Notebooks," which were collected at the NYPL Dance Collection)
  • International news
  • Ongoing seminars, workshops, guest speaker panels in New York
  • Advocacy
  • Links with similar organizations
  • Links through DCA website to sites with dance criticism and history

These are all great suggestions. We need you, DCA members, to get involved and see them happen. And, finally, thank you to this lovely respondent: "I think the DCA is doing a fabulous job with limited resources. I'm so far from the hub in New York that it's hard to know what I might need." Well, we're here for you when you do need something.