Hiring or Working as an Employee vs. Independent Contractor: What’s Right for You or Your Dance Studio?
March 8, 2023

Dance educators have several options when it comes to finding work. Some seek out one school to call home, while others develop a network of studios to diversify their opportunities. Once hired, a majority of attention is focused in the classroom. But there are several items outside of the studio that deserve attention as well.

Every dance school must decide whether faculty will be qualified with the IRS as employees on a W-2 form or independent contractors on a 1099 form. There are certain implications that come with these statuses for both employers and teachers. How is it decided which form should be filed, and what effects does that have for both parties?

Dance Teacher spoke with three established school directors and two in-demand teachers to discuss the nitty-gritty details of tax status and its impacts on schools and educators.

The Directors & School Programs

Erica Fischbach: Academy Director of Colorado Ballet Academy since 2017.
We are a classical ballet school that has a daytime pre-professional division for
aspiring ballet dancers and an after-school program that is recreational, but still geared towards developing professional. Our school has between 25-30 teachers who are mostly on W-2’s.

Molly Larkin: Co-owner of Larkin Dance Studio since 2009.
We have both competition and recreational tracks. Our goal is to develop well-rounded dancers. Out of about 25 faculty and staff, 20 work as employees and 5 are hired as independent contractors.

Claudia Tavlin: Director of Velocity Dance Center since 2011.
We are predominately a recreational school, but also have a competition team and have produced professional dancers. I have 11 faculty members, several teaching assistants and a secretary. They are all hired as independent contractors.

Michael Crawford: Hourly Employee with Steps on Broadway, Pace University, and The American Musical and Dramatic Academy; adjunct professor at Mary-mount Manhattan College, and Independent Contractor for Complexity Dance Center, Brava and The Spot.
For the past 15 years, I have taught both ballet and concert-based contemporary dance.

Nao Kusuzaki: Hourly Employee with Houston Ballet Academy, University of St. Thomas, and Precision Dance Academy as a part-time employee. Independent Contractor for Bayou City Ballet, Dance of Asian America and Precision Dance Academy
I have 8 years of experience teaching ballet-oriented classes, including technique, pointe and variations.

Hiring Employees vs. Independent Contractors

Fischbach: Most of our teachers work as hourly employees. But we also allow teachers to decide their tax status. If somebody has a business, we can hire them as an independent contractor. They are treated the same, except we don’t take taxes out.

Tavlin: All of my faculty have other professions outside of dance. This is where they receive a majority of their income. Most of my teachers work 10 hours or less weekly, so they qualify as independent contractors. They have shared with me that they prefer this.

Claudia Tavlin, photo courtesy Tavlin.

Larkin: Our teachers teach a variety of styles between 15-20 hours weekly. We let them decide how they will be hired. We don’t have any preference.

Teaching as an Employee

Crawford: I am more taken care of as an employee. I get paid on holidays and incur sick pay. Certain jobs offer retirement savings and health insurance assistance too. I also love that taxes are taken out. But the trade-off is that more commitment is
expected of you.

Kusuzaki: It has been more beneficial for me to work as an employee. I feel more invested and responsible to the entire organization. Sometimes, though, as an hourly or part-time employee, I can still feel like an independent contractor because I become attached to the students I teach and the people I work with.

Teaching as an Independent Contractor

Crawford: I am more free to accept additional work as an independent contractor. I can set my own standards. But if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I am always looking for the next gig. Additionally, taxes are stressful because employers don’t take them out. During tax-time, there are many forms and I have to record and itemize my expenses.

Michael Crawford with his students. Photo by Christian Whan, courtesy Crawford.

Kusuzaki: Independent contracting was a great starting point for me because I was transitioning from a full-time company dancer to a full-time university student, and was exploring career options. I would just teach, then head home and be happy with that. During COVID, I discovered the challenges of working as an independent contractor. I lost a lot of teaching work. There were no benefits or safety nets.

Benefits, Policies and Basic Items

Fischbach: We have 6 full-time employees who receive paid sick time, health and dental insurance, 401k with match, vacation and holidays. Our hourly employees do not receive benefits outside of accrued sick pay that is required per Colorado law.

Larkin: Nobody works full-time, so we aren’t required to provide benefits. Most of our faculty have spouses, so they get health insurance through them. Some of our teachers have jobs outside of dance during the day that provide for them.

Molly Larkin with her students. Photo courtesy Larkin.

Crawford: I do not receive any benefits for my independent contracting work, except for travel. I have created some basic items that I think are fair in my contracts, like guaranteed hours or if there is inclement weather I still get paid.

Foundational Approaches

Fischbach: All of my experiences affect how I run the business. I’ve been involved in dance for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of scenarios. I know how difficult the career is, so I try to provide as much as I can for our teachers.

Kusuzaki: I was always told what I would be hired as. I never questioned it. Usually, the organizations already had a system in place for part-time hire, and sometimes, they gave me options. Teaching was something new I was going to do part-time after my performance career. When I first started teaching, there were life changes including getting married and having children, and founding a nonprofit which I direct. I was not ready to commit to a full-time job as a new mother, so teaching part-time allowed me to continue exploring and expanding on my teaching skills in various ballet programs.

Employees vs. Independent Contractors—Which is Better?

Tavlin: Hiring teachers as employees probably wouldn’t be sustainable for us, especially with most working other jobs. My friends who own schools sometimes ask me to recommend teachers to cover classes for them. We are located in the south. So we are friendly, have camaraderie, and help each other out. My staff also teach master classes throughout our community. If they were on salary, I would expect them to be fully
committed to my school and they might lose out on opportunities like this.

Crawford: In the right setting, I prefer to work as an employee. For basic needs, like obtaining a lease or buying a car, you may be required to pay upfront or have a guarantor if you don’t have proof of regular employment. As I get older, I enjoy the stability of working as an employee. You don’t know the longevity of your career, so it’s nice to be more covered.

Nao Kusuzaki. Photo courtesy Kusuzaki.

Kusuzaki: I still haven’t figured this out, so I like to have options. It really depends on the school. This is why I teach at many different places. I like to learn about different schools and see how they run.

At the moment, as I continue working part-time, how I am employed (an employee or a contractor) isn’t the biggest concern. But in the future, when I’m ready to commit more to one organization, I would prefer being an employee.

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