- The Super Bowl halftime show sent out a casting call for hundreds of unpaid dancers.
- Experienced dancers say unpaid work for exposure is common in the industry.
- Exposure gigs contribute to systemic inequity within the arts and entertainment, an expert said.
Each year, the Super Bowl draws 100 million viewers to their TV screens for a national broadcast that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue — an estimated $545 million in 2021.
So when the Los Angeles dancer Melany Centeno received a casting call for the Super Bowl, she said she was disturbed to learn the splashy halftime show was recruiting unpaid dancers. The coordinator’s email, which was forwarded to her by an acquaintance, touted the volunteer position as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be seen in front of millions.
But no amount of exposure is worth the 72 hours of rehearsal and performance time that should pay at least $3,000, she said, an estimate she determined based on her experience.
“That’s an insult to someone who has been professionally dancing for 10 plus years,” she said.
Meanwhile, Taja Riley, a dancer who performed alongside Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé in two previous Super Bowl halftime shows, criticized the event in a viral Instagram post, saying it was seeking “predominantly African-American movers” for the unpaid positions.
“If you’re going to be supporting Black, you need to be paying Black,” Riley told Insider, adding that the entertainment industry had shifted its focus to highlight Black artists without giving them the same level of respect: “They’re finally utilizing us, but they’re still exploiting us.”
Following the backlash, the Super Bowl said “no professional dancers will be asked to work for free,” according to a statement from SAG-AFTRA, a union that represents more than 160,000 performers and entertainers.
That concession doesn’t cover nonunion dancers and students who may still volunteer for the show. The NFL, which organizes the event, did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
It’s not only the Super Bowl that has sought free work from fresh talent eager for the spotlight. America’s exposure economy has been a standard for thousands of performers and creatives who work for free or low wages in exchange for opportunities that might lead to industry connections, professional creatives and experts told Insider.
Exposure economy undercuts the early-career artist
Gigs for exposure, such as unpaid internships, film shoots, and performances, are a part of greater systemic inequity within the arts that most often benefits those who can afford to work for free in a saturated market, Lily Hung, the director of career development at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, said.
“For all the people who say no, there’s going to be somebody who says yes,” she said, adding that people who take unpaid positions undercut the pay potential for early-career artists, which results in more people who ultimately give up their craft.
“You can’t pay the bills with exposure,” Lia-Shea Tillett, a dancer and actress who stopped taking unpaid gigs after getting injured during an audition last year, said. “You’re consistently putting such a strain on your body and mind.”
Every job comes at a cost. While dancers often work as independent contractors, Riley considers herself a business because she fills multiple roles — she often covers her own food and transportation, pays to get her hair done, does her own makeup, and styles her own wardrobe.
“Either you’re not being paid well, or you’re not being paid at all,” she said.
Riley is surveying any dancers who have performed at past Super Bowls to raise awareness. From the musicians and choreographers to the
, she said everyone in the entertainment industry needed to get on the same page to truly value dancers and performers.
“You can be very grateful for the opportunity, but you can also ask for respect in that same opportunity,” she said.
If you volunteered as a dancer for the Super Bowl halftime show in 2022 or previous years and would like to share your story with Insider, contact this reporter at [email protected].