How To Become a Professional Dancer (With Tips)
Updated March 10, 2023
Becoming a professional dancer requires passion, determination and commitment. You must invest time in building your craft to have a successful career. Hard work is an essential quality a professional dancer possesses.
In this article, we discuss the role of a professional dancer, how to become a professional dancer and the average salary for this role.
What is a professional dancer?
A professional dancer is an individual who has qualifications, skills and training in a particular form of dance. Professional dancers showcase choreographed dance in front of an audience and use their bodies to convey emotions that tell a story. They specialize in various dance styles like modern dance, contemporary, street dance, ballet and hip-hop, and appear in theater productions, movies, music videos and Broadway shows.
What does a professional dancer do?
A professional dancer works with directors, choreographers and other dancers to develop dance sequences for performances. Professional dancers work in a professional setting and are employed by large dance companies. They spend time learning complex routines and interpreting the work of the choreographer. Other responsibilities professional dancers have are:
Spending time rehearsing for performances
Attending and preparing for auditions
Studying different types of dance
Learning how to use other skills, like acting or singing
Showing up on time for rehearsals, promotional events and auditions
Maintaining good relationships with other dancers, instructors and senior staff
Professional dancers work in a variety of industries but mainly fall under these three categories. These are:
Company dancers: Company dancers are usually hired by one company that they regularly perform with for a long time.
Commercial dancers: Commercial dancers are usually freelancers who work in commercial projects that include movies, music, cruise ships, musicals and commercials.
Dance teachers: Dance teachers often become teachers when they can no longer dance or find that teaching is their passion.
How to become a professional dancer
Professional dancers are passionate, determined and persistent toward achieving their goals. Here are some steps to help you transition to professional dancing:
1. Receive extensive training
You don't need any qualifications or a degree to become a professional dancer, but training is an important factor. Professional dancers begin their training at the age of five and start auditioning for permanent work at 18. The training helps with the development of muscle strength and techniques needed to turn talent into a profession. Dance companies and performing art schools offer students the experience they need to gain admittance to a professional dance company. People who are new to dance should start with ballet classes because they offer a great foundation for gaining strength, muscle memory and flexibility to help them with any dance style.
2. Consider getting a bachelor's degree
It isn't mandatory to have a degree to become a professional dancer, but majoring in dance can give you exposure to different dance genres. You also have the option of concentrating on a specific dance. A variety of universities and colleges offer majors in dance through the fine arts or theater departments. In a dance major, you learn about:
Choreography: You learn performance skills through various dancing techniques and ways of expressing yourself through choreography.
Production: As a student, you learn about the processes of backstage production. This can include sound operation, how to run a light board, costumes, lighting design and stage management.
Dance history: You learn about the origins of dance and how people from different continents view dance from a social, ceremonial and cultural perspective.
Teaching: You learn how to develop teaching skills to teach classes to people from different age groups and communities.
Movement and body alignment: You learn about muscle coordination and body posture.
3. Gain experience
If you want to increase your chances of getting hired as a professional dancer, you should consider relocating to a city where entertainment thrives. However, take time to research art communities in your area where you can volunteer to dance. You can also gain experience by:
Taking classes: Participating in dance classes helps you build your craft, stay physically healthy and gain more experience. Dance classes also increase your chances of getting booked during auditions because the director or choreographer may be familiar with your work or have experience working with you.
Attending workshops: The majority of dance workshops are conducted by established choreographers and members of dance companies. The choreographers are always attentive to see who is following instructions and making improvements. Always try to make a good impression when attending workshops because it can lead to future performance opportunities.
4. Learn about union jobs
Big dance companies are affiliated with a union, and jobs relating to television, film and Broadway are union jobs. You must have a union card to be eligible for auditions. A union card identifies you as a legitimate member of a union and allows a union to represent you. Here are some unions that represent dancers:
Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA): They represent dancers, recording artists, new writers, stunt performers and other media professions.
Actor's Equity Association (AEA): They represent Broadway shows.
American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA): They represent the New York City Ballet.
American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA): They represent performing artists.
Read more: What Is a Union?
5. Find a talent agent
Establishing yourself as a professional dancer can be challenging; this is why most dancers decide to work with a talent agent. A talent agent is a professional committed to helping clients navigate the entertainment industry and help their clients find auditions and submit dance reels and resumes. They make the process of pursuing a professional dance career easier. You must take time to research and find a well-respected agent.
A union usually represents a reputable agent. Laws in different states vary regarding talent agents, but an agent shouldn't request any payment from you. They typically get paid 10% deduction of your earnings when you book a job. You must find an agent who shares your vision and is interested in you. Asking other dancers or choreographers for recommendations is a step, or you can research agency websites to see what kind of clients they represent. You must have these three things ready before applying to your ideal agency:
Recommendation letter: You can ask your dance teacher to write a recommendation letter that highlights your strengths.
Resume: Your resume should detail your education and performance experience, including what you have done, the name of the project you danced in and who you work for. If you have not worked on a professional project, you can list the competitions, local productions and musicals you have participated in to add to your performance experience.
Dance footage: The agency wants to see your skills, so make sure you record a routine that showcases your style and talent.
Related: How To Become a Talent Agent
6. Build your resume
When you go for auditions, some may require your resume. Your dance resume should have important details, including:
Dance reel: This is a short compilation of video footage that showcases your skills and experience as a dancer. It is usually a few minutes long. You must have a dance reel regardless of which production or project you apply for.
Headshots: Current, professional headshots are needed because they help choreographers, agents and casting directors remember you. Headshots also provide choreographers and directors with an easier way of deciding which dancers may be the best fit for the company or production. Your headshots must present your current look and must be clear.
Resume: Your resume should be easy to read, precise and concise. It should include your full name, phone number, email address, union status and dance experience.
7. Attend auditions
Auditions are a massive part of a dancer's life. You get to showcase your skills and talents to industry professionals. The process can be overwhelming whether you are auditioning for a dance company or college, but preparing for them can ease the process and reduce stress. Here are some things that can help the audition process:
Go over the audition application: Many application forms provide essential information on how the audition process works. It is crucial to write down a checklist of the requirements for dress codes and rules to make sure you follow them.
Do research: In some instances, you may know the choreographer you perform for in advance. Researching their videos to gain insights into their style can give you direction on how to provide an excellent performance.
Work on your freestyle: The directors or choreographers may want you to perform a freestyle to determine what sets you apart from other dancers. You should practice your freestyle regularly to have confidence.
Rehearse for your auditions: For commercial dancing, a lot of auditions are done on camera. You should practice your close-ups by having a friend or family member film you.
Get enough sleep: You should get at least eight hours of sleep before the audition to give you the energy and focus you need for the performance.
Arrive early: To make a good impression, set the alarm in the morning to get ready and leave your home early.
Dress appropriately: Your attire should be comfortable and appropriate for the dance style and provide easy movement. Your clothing should also align with the rules of the auditions. Keep in mind that the judges also want to see your body, so wear something fitting to show your form. If you are auditioning for a classical category like ballet, jazz or modern dance, wear a leotard and tights. Some auditions have stricter rules and require you to wear a uniform. Always go by the rules.
Be observant of the judge's reactions: Pay attention to how the Judges react to other dancers who are performing. Observing the judges' facial expressions and body language can help you avoid the same mistakes the other dancers make and inspire you to improve your performance.
Related: How To Become a Talent Agent
8. Remain healthy
To have a long-lasting professional dance career, you must maintain your health and strength. You should avoid processed foods and eat whole foods instead. Additionally, exercise regularly by doing cardio workouts like running, swimming, biking and lifting weights to strengthen your muscles. This helps reduce the occurrences of injuries.
Skills for a professional dancer
Apart from being talented, you need to possess skills that can help you have a successful career. These skills are:
Creativity: You need to have interesting, innovative ways to express your ideas through dancing.
Physical strength: You need to have excellent mobility and strength to move your body without losing your balance or falling and have the ability to work for extended periods.
Interpersonal skills: You must have the ability to interact with others effectively because you will work with many people.
Discipline: You must have a good attitude, follow the rules and meet requirements.
Persistence: You must stay committed to years of training and overcome obstacles and discouragement in the future.
Active listening: You must be able to pay attention to the instructions given by directors and choreographers.
Salary and job outlook
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment for dancers is expected to grow by 2% from 2019 to 2029. The majority of jobs come from private dance schools. The average salary for a dancer is $45,905 per year ($19.63 per hour).
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