Background Dancer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Aug 02, 2018

Learn about a career as a background or backup dancer. Research the training requirements, education options, and audition protocols to make an informed decision about starting a career in the performing arts.

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  • 0:03 Background Dancer Career Info
  • 0:33 Complete Training
  • 1:07 Improve Performance Skills
  • 1:29 Audition
  • 2:18 Consider a Degree
  • 2:50 Continue Learning

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Background Dancer Career Info

Background dancers perform choreographed dance moves in supporting roles for live shows, theater productions, concerts, and music videos. A successful career as a background dancer requires a commitment to physical fitness and an ability to withstand pressure during competitive auditions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, dancers in the United States earned a median pay of $14.44 per hour.

Degree Level High school diploma; a bachelor's degree is typically required to teach dance
Training Training can begin as early as age 5; most dancers receive formal training in one or more dance styles
Median Salary (2015) $14.44 per hour (for all dancers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Complete Training

The first step to becoming a professional background dancer is to complete dance training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of dancers begin their training prior to age 18, and some start as early as five. Most dancers obtain formal training from instructors at dance classes or workshops. Some may choose to focus on one dance style, such as ballet. Others may receive formal dance training in multiple styles, including modern, jazz, ethnic, hip-hop, or other period dancing styles.

Improve Performance Skills

Besides dancing, background dancers may be expected to complete other performance tasks, such as singing or acting. Colleges offer beginning courses in singing, music fundamentals, and theatrical acting. Some acting and musical organizations may also offer classes and workshops that can help beginners improve their skills.


Most dancers get hired or accepted into programs by auditioning. The audition process varies significantly, and many organizations post audition information and requirements on their business websites. Some organizations may ask dancers to submit a dance audition recording, but most prefer to have dancers audition in person. Part of the audition may include a formal interview. Dancers may also have to submit current résumés.

The main part of the audition usually includes performance of a dance routine. Many auditions require applicants to dance in certain styles. Candidates may have to dance individually or with others during the audition. Some auditions require that applicants create and perform original choreography to specific types of music.

Consider a Degree

Dancers do not necessarily need formal degrees to find career opportunities. However, dancers who plan to become dance instructors or choreographers later in life may need bachelor's degrees for these careers. Additionally, formal training can improve dance technique and performance versatility. One common degree program is the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. Courses in these BFA degree programs may include modern dance, history of dance, choreography, ballet, ethnic dance, and dance performance.

Continue Learning

Although professional dancers need to know traditional dance movements, they must also be capable of learning new dances. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends that dancers keep up with new dance trends. Background dancers can learn about new dances by attending different types of dance performances or by attending dance workshops.

To recap, those who are interested in becoming professional background dancers should consider starting their training early, working on their performance skills, auditioning often, and continually learning new dance moves.

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