Become a Professional Ballet Dancer: Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a professional ballet dancer. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in ballet.

Should I Become a Professional Ballet Dancer?

Professional ballet dancing is a demanding career that requires exceptional coordination, agility and many years of training. The most successful ballet dancers may enjoy a long career performing ballet for stage productions, instructing students and choreographing dance routines. Ballet dancing is often physically demanding. Intense competition may exist for positions in dance companies or productions.

Career Requirements

Degree Level No formal education is required, though some dancers choose to earn bachelor's degrees
Degree Field Dance or ballet
Experience Training often begins during childhood, sometimes as early as 5 years old
Key Skills Excellent balance, flexibility, agility and physical stamina; creativity, persistence and strong teamwork
Salary $14.31 is the median hourly wage for dancers (2014)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Begin Dance Training at an Early Age

Young people interested in ballet may join preparatory dance classes at a dance school or studio. According to the BLS, children typically begin ballet training between the ages of 5 and 8 years old to learn basic dance techniques. Training allows new dancers to develop flexibility, strength and mobility. After gaining general dance experience, aspiring ballet dancers can begin more concentrated study of ballet. Older, more experienced students can go on to learn intermediate ballet techniques, such as pointe.

Success Tip:

  • Attend a summer dance program. Experienced secondary school-aged ballet students may apply for an intensive summer program at a college or university's dance school. These programs usually last for several weeks and provide students with longer, more advanced training sessions than their regular classes. Depending on the school, dancers may perform live auditions or send in videos for consideration. Students typically spend most of the day training and learning new dance techniques or choreography. At the end of the program, students may publicly perform the techniques they've learned.

Step 2: Consider Earning a Bachelor's Degree

Individuals may benefit from a bachelor's degree program in ballet or dance. Though it is not required for professional dancers, a bachelor's degree can open up additional career options. Ballet degree programs typically cover subjects such as dance history, ballet techniques and choreography. Auditions may be required, and programs often include studio and performance requirements.

Success Tip:

  • Complete a dance internship. Some bachelor's degree programs may offer the opportunity to complete a dance internship with a professional ballet company. Aspiring professional ballet dancers will be able to perform alongside seasoned professionals. Ballet students can use these internships to make connections in the field and develop their resume of professional experience. Competition for positions in ballet companies and roles in performances is generally very strong, and gaining experience through an internship may be advantageous for dancers.

Step 3: Work After Retirement

According to the BLS, many dancers no longer perform once they reach their 40s. Professional ballet dancers can pursue a second career, however, either in the field of dance or an unrelated field, after they've retired. Retired dancers who've earned a college degree in the field can teach ballet or work as choreographers for a dance studio. According to the BLS, professional choreography is expected to have a much higher rate of job growth than professional dance between 2012 and 2022.

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