Dancing Career Information: Becoming a Professional Dancer

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

Do I Want to Be a Professional Dancer?

Professional dancers display choreographed body movements and can appear in theater productions, TV shows, movies, and dance recitals. Dancers must tell stories and display emotions with their bodies through various styles like ballet, hip-hop, and modern dance. Dancers are also likely to pursue other dance-related professions after they can no longer perform professionally.

Fierce competition exists among professional dancers for available jobs. Some risk of injury is present with this career, as it is very physically demanding. Working hours are highly irregular and may include days of rehearsal followed by evenings of performance, seven days a week. Travel is often required as a professional dancer, sometimes to exotic destinations. Tours may last for months away from home. Additionally, about a third of these workers are self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Requirements

Dance training can begin in childhood and continue throughout the dancer's career. The following table contains the main qualifications and requirements needed to become a professional dancer, as listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Requirements
Degree Level None required, but many have a bachelor's or master's degree
Degree Field Dance
Experience Training often starts as early as the age of five in order for dancers to gain enough experience to find professional work
Key Skills Creativity, teamwork and persistence
Additional Requirements Balance, knowledge of dance techniques and physical stamina

Step 1: Begin Training

Most dancers start their training before adolescence and audition for full-time work by the age of 18. Even after a dancer finds employment, training must continue throughout the dancer's entire career. Many students attend dance training programs in their teens. Private dance or performing arts schools and colleges can provide the experience needed to join a professional dance company. To gain acceptance into an advanced dance school, students often must participate in a summer workshop, which can serve as an audition for a full-time dance training academy.

Step 2: Consider an Undergraduate Degree

Although postsecondary education is not a requirement for a dancing career, undergraduate programs in dance can allow students to explore various dance genres or concentrate on a specific discipline. Performance opportunities are often available to give students practical experience. Curriculum for a bachelor's degree program in dance includes classes in choreography, contemporary dance trends, movement analysis, ballet, jazz, rhythm and dynamics, dance composition and dance history.

Success Tip:

  • Decide if a master's degree is right for you. There are also Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs available in dance that can allow students to study advanced dance theory and perform independent practice in a chosen dance style under the guidance of a faculty mentor. This may benefit those who wish to advance into choreography positions or become dance teachers.

Step 3: Stay Conditioned and Strong

A dancer's job is physically demanding and requires long and irregular hours. Dancers typically must stay in top physical condition through regular exercise and training. Dancing is extremely taxing on the body, and dancers may spend eight hours a day or more in class or practicing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dancers have one of the highest on-the-job injury reports, so it's important to keep the body healthy and strong in order to continue working.

Success Tips:

  • Join a union. Dancers face intense competition to earn their next gig, and only the most successful dancers find steady and well-paid work. Dancers who join unions, such as the American Guild of Musical Artists, are entitled to collective bargaining services that can ensure a minimum salary. Additionally, members can be informed of local auditions in their area of expertise.
  • Consider an additional profession. Because dancers cannot dance their entire lives, many pursue another line of work, such as teaching. Other careers are available as dance therapists, and these professionals can help students with self-esteem issues. After performing professionally becomes too demanding on the body, a dancer may also continue to work as a dance choreographer or director. Some dancers may need to start a second job while still dancing in order to support themselves in a competitive job market.

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