A Dancer in Germany

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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Dancers are a nomadic bunch and, often times, they have to go wandering off overseas to ply their trade. Here in TheLab™ we thought it would be a good idea to give you a flavour of what life is like, in practical terms, if you're planning to audition for a company that's not in the UK.

What can you expect in terms of pay, cost of living, support services and health care when you're working that short or long term contract.

We contacted professional dancers in several countries to get some idea what life is like for them. This short series of articles is not exhaustive, because there are too many variables, but should give you some idea of what to expect when you leave the arrivals gate.

These articles assume that you will actually be living in a particular country, not just visiting for a short period of time.


The Federal Republic of Germany, to give the country its full name, is one of 80 million souls pretty much right in the middle of Europe. Leaving aside the cliches about "efficiency" and "sense of humour" Germany is very well known for its dance output and for supporting the arts and culture in general. Dance in and of itself however is a relatively poor relation in terms of funding (as it is most everywhere else in the world).

However, nothing is simple in the wide and wacky world of culture;

"The important factor to understand with German culture politics is acknowledging the "venue landscape". Germany has large number of state/city or federal state owned theatres: 140 which come with complete socially secured staffing structure that includes artistic, technical, stage, costume, set department and administration. 
These theatres are divided into drama, music and dance and are providing repertoire plus multiple new works per-season.
In addition to the above, 200 privately run theatres exist plus an additional 150 theatres without ensemble and 100 touring theatre/dance companies. On top of that you also have the fringe scene."

In 2012 the German Federal Government bucked the global trend and increased their spending on culture to €1.28Billion (just over £1Billion). Even accounting for population this far exceeds the amount spent by the government in the UK. Funding overall for the arts comes from both Federal and State sources.

The availability of jobs for professional dancers is also not very clear cut. It very much depends on the particular state you are trying to find work in.

"I guess it is true to say there are more jobs for teaching than for performing in dance. Dance is quite popular as a recreational activity but less popular as a performance art.
As Germany is divided into different states with their own cultural policy it very much depends on the priority of cultural politics in each state. In general, the job market in Germany has been quite good considering almost every town has a theatre with their own dance company.
This started to erode around 10 years ago. Due to financial considerations some theatres chose to dismiss their dancers and to invite international touring companies.
Others decided to fuse two or three companies into one. Furthermore there is a strong division between the freelance scene (generally viewed as being creative but employing less well trained dancers) and the state theatre system (well trained dancers but artistic work is most of the time sidelined for the sake of the entertainment of a broader public). These are very rough generalisations though."

Pay Levels

From a cost of living point of view Germany is very close, price wise, to the UK. Food, internet, restaurants and a trip to the theatre are not going to leave you with the kind of bill shock you will get in Norway and Switzerland (for example). Even a trip to Staatsballett in Berlin for a good seat will only set you back €60 (about £50).

Some things may be more expensive (like alcohol, especially in restaurants) but compared to living in London you might be able to stretch your income a little further.

Accommodation costs will vary depending on where you stay but the big cities like Munich, Berlin, Stuttgart and Dusseldorf all have accommodation for reasonable prices. We were able to easily find a one bedroom apartment in Berlin for £470 per month (including utility bills) £370 per month with bills being extra and single rooms for about £210 per month.

You may or may not be lucky enough to live on your dance work alone however;

"Dancers that are employed at a state theater, even though the pay level is the lowest compared to other art sectors, can make their living. Within the freelance scene this is different. A few companies do get four years of funding. But even then, they can only afford to pay their dancers during the time of production and performance."

If you want to commute, and reduce accommodation costs, then you can purchase a train ticket from Leipzig to Berlin, for example, (which will take just over an hour) for approximately €25 (£20) or approximately €60 for a return ticket depending on travel time. Season tickets and travel passes will make regular travel more cost effective.

Get Advice

The complexities involved in moving to a new country, especially for work purposes, are far too detailed and variable to be covered in a relatively short feature piece like the ones we are doing here for you, our dear readers.

Before making the move make sure you get professional and reliable advice about everything from paying your taxes (if you have to pay taxes), health care, social services, accommodation and how to stay on the right side of national and regional laws.

If you get into serious trouble of any kind then go to the embassy for your particular country, show them your passport and they will help you, especially if you are having legal problems. An embassy won't pay for return flight tickets or lawyers but they will be able to give you advice and give it to you in your own language if you are struggling with the locals.

Visas and Permits

Germany is a part of the European Union so that's good news for all the dancing folk who have an EU passport or come from a country that is part of the Schengen Area (or EFTA, like Switzerland and Norway). The rules for EU folk are simple. You can go to Germany, live there and work there and you don't need a visa of any kind.

What you do need is a registration certificate from the "Einwohnermeldeamt". To do this you need your passport and proof of residence in Germany. This can be a lease or the proof or purchase on your house (although you're probably not going to be buying a house anytime soon). When you move to a new city you must change your registration so they know where to find you.

Dancers not from the EU have a slightly harder time of it. You still need a registration certificate from the Einwohnermeldeamt and you also need a residency permit from the "Aufenthaltserlaubnis". Getting the residency permit involves you providing your passport, proof of health insurance and proof of employment. Basically you need to have a job before you can even think about living in Germany if you are from a non EU country.

"Dancers from overseas will need an permanent contract/employment to get a working permit. This make is almost impossible for fringe companies to work with dancers that do not have this permit yet."


For the first €8,004 (£6,636) you will pay no income tax at all on your earnings. After that the German tax system is progressive so the more money you earn the more tax you will pay. Rates start at 15% and progress all the way to 45%. For the most part you will probably be in the lower tax brackets although the 42% rate kicks in at the €52,881 (£43,846) threshold.

A 45% rate exists for really high earners but a professional dancer will, sadly, rarely run into the situation of earning more than €250,000 per year.

You can claim deductions for various things, just like in any other country, to reduce your tax liability. If you are self-employed then you have to file your own tax returns or get a professional individual (referred to as a "Steuerberater" or tax consultant) to help you. Employees of a company are taxed at source and generally do not have to fill in tax returns.

Employment insurance and health insurance are not part of your income taxes so you need to take that into account before deciding to rock-up in Berlin.

Social Security

Unemployment insurance in Germany is a mandatory payment shared by an employer and an employee that amounts to 3% of the gross monthly salary that you earn. Half is paid by you with the other half paid for by your employer. The maximum that you can pay in any year is €5,600 (£4,643).

Self employed people can pay into the state run unemployment insurance programme but it is not mandatory.

You can only receive the benefits of unemployment insurance if you have been contributing toward them for at least twelve months out of the previous three years. You cannot receive these benefits indefinitely though with limits of 12 months placed on those under the age of 45. There are other types of support available if your entitlement to unemployment insurance benefits expire.

There are restrictions and caveats though;

"This again differs very much depending whether They have a contract at a state theatre or not. In the first case they will get "Arbeitlosengeld" when out of work, which is about 2/3 of what they earned."
If you are self employed and you have made no contributions not the state funded unemployment insurance programme then you can still receive some assistance when you are out of work.
"Otherwise dancers are dependent on family and social welfare: "Hartz IV" (also known as Arbeitslosengeld II) which won't allow you to do a lot of dance classes or travel to auditions."

Unlike this country Germany does have somebody that can help you find work in dance would you be out of a job for some reason. One person is better than nothing at all, probably!

"The agency for work employs one person for the whole of Germany that specialises in jobs for dance (compared to around eight for actors)."

Receiving any benefits for unemployment is also dependant on you being available for work and actively seeking new employment

Health Care

Health services in Germany are paid for via mandatory health insurance that every working person in the country must have. The system itself is fairly complex but if you earn less than €4,350 per month then you are automatically enrolled into the state run insurance program and payment for your insurance will be deducted from your salary. The cost to you is about 15.5% of your monthly income up to a maximum of €3,938 (£3,265) or a maximum premium of €373 (£309). So the less you earn the less insurance you pay.

Your employer pays half of the cost but since the deductions are made at source, if you have a job and you are not self-employed then you will have health coverage. Self-employed individuals meet the health insurance cost entirely on their own and you may not be eligible for the state run insurance programme and will have to use a private insurance company instead and that might be more expensive.

Insurance does cover dental care but not having health insurance if you are resident in Germany is illegal. If you have existing health insurance in your own country then it may be possible to use that during your time in Germany if the policy has been active since before April 1, 2007.

As with all things insurance though there are some caveats for dancing folk;

"Employment in a theatre covers dancer's health insurance. Large and middle scale companies may also employ a physiotherapist for their dancers. Dancer in the freelance sector can apply for the Künstlersozialkasse [Website is in German] and if accepted they will cover over half of the insurance costs. 
There is a dance medicine institution, "Tamed [Website is in German]", that is very much interested in promoting and researching dancers health and listed all physiotherapists and doctors that are specialized in treating dancers. They offer information and support in finding the right treatment. But they have no funding to support a special treatment, that would not be covert by a national insurance e.g. in case of a serious long lasting injury freelance dancers will face financial problems."

thanks to Stina Sommerlade and Susanne Fromme

Top image by Andreas Levers "U55 Hauptbahnhof"

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