Dancers asked to perform during Super Bowl week for next to nothing

The Super Bowl Host Committee is offering $100 for travel expenses and 'exposure' to a top choreographer.
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A chance to perform during Super Bowl week in exchange for $100 in expenses and artistic exposure has been described as a "slap in the face" and "exploitative" by local dancers.

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee is looking for 96 "technically trained" dancers aged 16-35 to perform at its Super Bowl Live outdoor festival on Nicollet Mall between Jan. 26 and Feb. 4 (Super Bowl Sunday.)

They will be required for at least four shifts, performing three dances lasting 3-5 minutes in each shift, according to an ad placed on the Northrop Auditorium site.

They will also have to attend two rehearsal sessions of three hours.

In exchange for this, the dancers will get the following:

  • Meals
  • Costuming (which they can keep)
  • A donation of $100 per dancer to cover transportation costs (payable to the dance organization).
  • Exposure to notable choreographer Mark Swanhart, whose credits include Celine Dion's Las Vegas Show, Cirque du Soleil, America's Got Talent, X-Factor and Dancing with the Stars.
  • And a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to dance center stage at Super Bowl Live.

The Host Committee has fundraised $50 million as of November to put on free events for the public ahead of the Super Bowl, according to the Business Journal.

'A slap in the face'

The reaction on the Northrop website is not a positive one, with commenter Sarah Salisbury writing: "This is just offensive and a slap in the face to the performers you are looking for."

"$100 for that amount of time & expertise sounds exploitative & a disservice to the dancers and the field," Sharon Mansur, wrote.

In a post on her Facebook page, local choreographer Laurie Van Wieren wrote: "As dance makers we know: This is not a great opportunity! This is exploitation."

Super Bowl Live is the Host Committee's main event, the Business Journal notes, and will feature live music, winter sports demonstrations, live network broadcasts and other sponsored activities.

Here's what spokesman Mike Howard told GoMN when asked why it wasn't paying dancers:

“The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee is a locally-based, non-profit organization charged with hosting the world in our beloved state for one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

"We are seeking to highlight local dancers, particularly student groups, as part of our free and open to the public festival.

"This is just one more way that we are involving the community in this once in a lifetime, memorable event. Already, we have heard from dozens of local dancers who are overjoyed to join in the fun."

How much would it cost to pay dancers minimum wage?

Minneapolis will see its minimum wage for large businesses (100-plus workers) rise to $10 an hour on Jan. 1.

Assuming the Host Committee is considered a large business, the cost of paying 96 dancers $10 an hour for 22 hours of work (four shifts, plus two 3-hour rehearsals) would be $21,120.

Even if they did more than that – say 30 hours over the festival – that would still be just a $28,800 additional outlay for an organization that has raised more than $50 million to put on these events.

(Note: Minimum wage was used for ease of calculations, and is not a reflection of what trained dancers should be paid).

Is the Host Committee allowed to do this?

The Super Bowl Live events are being operated by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, not the NFL.

The Host Committee is a nonprofit, so under Minnesota law is allowed to use volunteers.

It's already taken on 10,000 volunteers to staff the various events it's putting on in the 10 days before the Super Bowl, as well as to provide assistance and directions to visitors to the city.

A GoMN investigation earlier this year found that this volunteer arrangement could be considered sketchy at best, as even though they're being used for Host Committee-run events, their presence in town is ultimately beneficial to the for-profit NFL.

And the call for trained dancers to perform at the Super Bowl Live raises more questions about whether these volunteers should be paid.

Related: 

– Should Super Bowl volunteers be paid?

Companies asking for free labor in exchange for "exposure" is a common complaint among those working in the creative industry.

It's likely to leave a bad taste in the mouths of dancers given that the Super Bowl is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the local economy, TV networks and the NFL.

The NFL and its 32 teams generated a combined $13.3 billion revenue in 2016, according to estimates.

Attorney Rebekah Bailey, an employee rights specialist at Nichols Kaster in Minneapolis, told GoMN earlier this year that the volunteer arrangement is "incredibly unfair."

Bailey said the NFL benefits from the volunteers' service, since they help and entertain visitors who are in town for the festivities – people who are likely to spend money on merchandise and NFL-run events like the Super Bowl itself and the NFL Experience.

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