A Dancer in Switzerland

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.


If you're looking for a complete change of pace then you couldn't do much better than Switzerland. Sharing a border with France, Germany, Austria and Italy this country of just over 8 million people has scenery to die for and winter weather done the way winter weather was supposed to be done.

Swiss folks predominantly speak German (or Swiss German) along with French and Italian to a lesser degree so pick the language you choose to learn before going there carefully.

Although not exactly a hotbed of dance activity the country does have, relatively speaking, a healthy attitude toward the arts and there are jobs to be found. However our sources tell us;

"..from my point of view performing and touring seem to be rather difficult. I more often perform and tour in other European countries rather than in Switzerland, and also in Asia. In 2012 I had only one engagement in Switzerland and, in 2013, none at all."

There are some well established companies like Théâtre de Genève (contemporary/neo-classical) and Alias Compagnie (contemporary), also in Geneva, among others. Given the size of the country however you should expect part-time and full-time jobs to be hard to come by on a regular basis.

Here in the UK we have National Dance Agencies and Dance UK which you could describe, in very loose terms, as "support services". The situation in Switzerland is not quite the same;

"...the support is not as good as in other countries and the dancers are not so well organised like musicians and actors for example. I think it's still a long road for dancers to get the equal and effective support and protection as other employees."

Arts funding at the federal level is handled by "Pro Helvetia", basically the Swiss Arts Council. In 2014 they have a budget of approximately £23.5Million to spend on the arts. Additional public funding comes from the Cantons. As far as the Swiss Arts Council is concerned you can apply for funding as long as you're a Swiss resident and the project you are applying for matches their funding criteria. They quote an approval rate of about 49%.

Pay Levels

Purchasing Power Parity

The concept of purchasing power parity allows one to estimate what the exchange rate between two currencies would have to be in order for the exchange to be on par with the purchasing power of the two countries' currencies. Using that PPP rate for hypothetical currency conversions, a given amount of one currency thus has the same purchasing power whether used directly to purchase a market basket of goods or used to convert at the PPP rate to the other currency and then purchase the market basket using that currency.

Each month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development measures the difference in price levels between its member countries by calculating the ratios of PPPs for private final consumption expenditure to exchange rates. The OECD table below indicates the number of US dollars needed, as of October 2013, in each of the countries listed to buy the same representative basket of consumer goods and services that would cost 100 USD in the United States.

According to the table, an American living or travelling in Norway on an income denominated in US dollars would find that country (in October 2013) to be the most expensive of the group, having to spend 64% more US dollars to maintain a standard of living comparable to the USA in terms of consumption.

Source: Wikipedia

Switzerland, according to several economic measures, is the second most expensive country in the world to live in, beaten only by Norway. General living costs are high and the cost of renting an apartment or even a room in an apartment or house is more expensive in a lot of cases than London, especially in cities like Geneva and Zurich. Our searches turned up rooms costing several hundred pounds per month in Zurich alone so expect to look hard for a bargain on the accommodation front.

You can of course commute into a bigger city to try and save money (and pay lower income taxes) and the Swiss public transportation system is well known for its reliability. A 40 minute return journey from Lausanne to Geneva, for example, by train will cost approximately £28. Savers and season tickets can dramatically reduce costs.

Cost of living is, of course, all relative depending on how much you get paid.

"I consider the pay level for performing dancers as quite low, the payment as a teacher for classes or workshops are ok and I do give some dance classes, but to get enough income I also work as a consultant for communication/development."

Not so different from most other places where dancers have to live and work. You can get by but picking up an extra job here and there is probably a necessity. Being continuously employed will also help you if you need to claim welfare benefits for those times when there is no work available.

Visas and Permits

The country is not part of the EU but is part of the so-called Schengen Area. What that means is EU citizens can travel to and work in Switzerland freely and almost without restriction although there are some caveats.

If you don't have a job you can reside in Switzerland while looking for work for up to 3 months (you can stay for an additional 3 months but you need to apply for a residence permit). During this period you will not qualify for any Swiss state benefits.

Once you find a job or if you are offered work then as an EU citizen you will receive a residence permit that can last for 5 years. Once you have a residence permit you are free to live where you want (or can afford) and change jobs as you see fit.

Should you be offered a job in Switzerland and you are an EU national and the job lasts for less than 3 months then you don't need a residence permit to work in Switzerland.

Non EU dancers going to Switzerland face a slighter steeper hill to climb to get a residence permit to work in the country. First of all you will need a job offer to even begin the process of applying for a permit and this can be a long drawn out process. Also, Swiss law stipulates that the job cannot be filled by a non Swiss or non EU national if a suitable qualified person is available. Dance is of course a very specialised industry and exceptions may apply.


When you move to any new country, make sure you pay your taxes! Switzerland is often portrayed in the media as a tax haven for the rich and famous. This may or may not be accurate but for a regular working person Swiss tax law is similar to every other country in the world.

The amount of tax you will pay depends, for the most part, on where you live. Switzerland is run by a Federal Government and local "Cantons". Federal income taxes are charged at progressive rates. The more you earn, the more tax you pay up to a maximum of 11.5%. Taxes are levied on your "worldwide" income. So, if you are a resident in Switzerland and you earn some money in Germany then you pay Swiss taxes on that money.

On top of the Federal rate you add the Cantonal taxes and some communal taxes as well. If you live in Zurich then your total tax rate (if you were a high earner) would be about 40%. If you live in Obwalden then your income tax rate, as a high earner, would be about 25%. Dancers are, obviously, unlikely to be in the top tax bracket and the Swiss Federal Tax Administration do have an online calculator you can use to give you some idea of how much you might pay. FTA Tax Calculator

Deductions do apply that will bring your tax liability down. Given the exclusions for low wages and other deductions the chances are your income tax burden while working in Switzerland will be relatively low.

Social Security

In Switzerland welfare benefits are covered by unemployment insurance which is a compulsory payment made by those who are working for an employer. Part of the contribution is made by the employee and the other part by the employer.

You are only able to claim unemployment benefits if you have been working for at least 12 months within the previous 2 year period. Once you are out of work and register your claim with a local employment centre you will receive benefits depending on how long you have been contributing to the system.

If you have been paying contributions for 6 months to a year, for example, then you can receive benefits for 50 weeks. The amount you receive depends on how much you were being paid during your employment and is calculated at "70% of your gross employed income".

While you are receiving those benefits you must be actively seeking a new job. Unemployment insurance may also help you if your working hours reduce and, subsequently, your income.

Self employed people are not able to receive state benefits since they don't contribute via the unemployment insurance programme. If you are self employed it is up to you to arrange unemployment insurance for yourself in case of any prolonged period of unemployment.

Health Care

Health care in Switzerland is paid for by means of compulsory medical insurance that every resident must take out to cover the cost of any hospital treatment or visits to a doctor. The cost of this insurance varies by Canton and the person being insured but the insurance is very heavily regulated with the average cost (according to our sources) being about £260 per month for an adult over the age of 26.

Even though the insurance does cover the cost of all treatment there is, just like any other kind of insurance, a deductible ("franchise") to pay (or excess for UK folk). Again this varies by policy. If you want to lower your monthly premium you can increase the deductible you pay when obtaining treatment.

You can also add "complementary" insurance to the state mandated insurance requirement to get additional levels of care or to cover things that the compulsory insurance does not cover.

As far as physiotherapy is concerned;

"In Switzerland you need to have a health insurance coverage and then go to a doctor, who can transfer you to a physio. You can of course go to a physio without seeing a doctor. But most of the time it will take much longer to get an appointment. So it's easier and cheaper most of the time."

If you are not a resident of Switzerland (like an EU national working for less than 3 months) then you have to make sure that you have appropriate insurance coverage for medical care otherwise you will have to pay any hospital or treatment bills out of your own pocket and that could get expensive. Dental treatment is not covered by basic health insurance so if you are staying for a long time you should get additional insurance to cover this.

Thanks to Bettina Carpi

Top image by David L. Haeni

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