Before age 10, many dancers recognize that they love dance and set their aspirations to grow up to be “a dancer.” Between the ages 12-14, however, kids become aware that they may not grow up to be a professional dancer, but they do love dance and have a passion for it. It’s important to move these dancers into the mindset that they can turn their love of dance into a variety of future opportunities, and continue their dance training with a future goal in mind.
Usually between ages 12-14, dancers are beginning to think about what decisions to make now as an investment into their young adult life, and they have a hard decision to make: Quit dance training to focus on academics and school activities, or put most of their focus, energy and time into dance in order to focus on being well-rounded, which could serve them in a future dance-related career.
At 3-D Dance, we want to equip dancers to be the most important kind of triple threat: academic strength, dance technique, and life skills. Dancers must be taught to balance the following skills well to truly achieve success:
- Learn to appropriately manage your own emotions.
- Take care of your body.
- Pay attention to your emotional well being.
- Manage your money well.
- Establish genuine relationships and network with colleagues.
- Be a hard worker who goes above and beyond expectations.
- Keep a positive attitude and optimistic perspective.
- Have a confidence and understand of WHO you are and why you are valuable.
Talent can get you a job, but character and work ethic will keep you there and make you valuable. Getting hired is great, but getting re-hired is even better!
There are more great dancers than there are great dancing jobs. However, there are not more jobs than there are great dancers who are also humble, hard working, and professional who demonstrate integrity and hard work with a positive attitude.
There are three general categories of dance related careers: dance jobs, dance-related jobs, and medical/fitness jobs.
Let’s dive into the yellow ring, Dance Jobs, first.
- Dancer: someone who is actively performing in some capacity. These jobs are hardest on your body. Jobs can limited due to physical shape, body composition, height or appearance (regardless of talent), yields the shortest career length (usually ends by age 30), lowest paying jobs (NYCB Principal Dancers make less than $60,000 year, although some do have endorsement deals with major retail companies, as do many other professional athletes), there are fewer jobs available than there are qualified dancers.
- Teacher/Dance Educator: someone who is actively working with students on a regular basis, may or may not be actively performing. Compared to a performance career, the dance education path has more predictable hours, longer contracted employment, is less limited by physical challenges or health, is higher paying than performance jobs, and provides opportunities to work with students of all ages, levels, backgrounds and goals.
- Choreographer: someone who is actively working to create and stage dances for dancers of ages and skill level. This career path has the potential to be higher paying than teaching, and affords possible travel opportunities. Dancers can be an in-house choreographer at a studio or company, or a freelance choreographer. “Choreography” usually includes music selection, music editing, costume selection, choreography and staging, depending on the job.
- Adjudicator (Judge): someone who actively serves as a judge or provides constructive feedback and scores at auditions or competitions. There are opportunities for travel or staying local. Dancers can judge for multiple companies at the same time and can usually set their own work schedule.
- Business Administration: Someone actively serving as Director, Owner, Arts Administrator, Management or Executive Board position in a dance related business. This path requires a thorough understanding of business, economics, marketing and managing a team of people, in order to be successful. There are many possibilities in the for-profit or non-profit business sector for dancers who have talent in the area of business administration.
In summary, with the skills previously referenced as being a “triple threat” in life skills, it is possible to have a dance job throughout college to help pay for higher education costs. It is also possible to have one or more of these dance jobs at the same time.
Next, let’s dive into the pink ring, Dance-Related Jobs. These jobs allow the dancer to play an integral role in the dance industry in a setting that is slightly more removed from the core dance jobs.
- Dance journalism – there is a market for dancers with a talent for writing to write articles, books, and magazines for national publications and beyond.
- Script writer/Play wright
- Marketing and Public Relations for Dancers – especially social media marketing!
- Dance Photography and videography – video reels, professional photos, headshots, performance videography
- Graphic Design – this is the highest paid person in many dance companies
- Public School Dance Teacher or Drill Team Director
- Dance Historian
- Dance Notation
- Costume Design – full time job with costume company or a dance company
- Lighting Design – designer, board op, crew, based with a theater facility or tour with a performing company
- Set Design – designer, builder, running crew, painter
- Hair/Make-up Design
- Sound Design – designer, board op, crew, mixer
- Stage Management
- Production crew
- Front of House Crew – box office, usher, bartender
Last, but certainly not least, let’s explore the green ring, Medical and Fitness Jobs.
Dancers are great candidates for these types of jobs because of their comprehensive understanding of the body and how it works. Dancers have the ability to physically feel the kinesthetic mechanics of the body and are usually educated in injury prevention, injury recover, and living a healthy lifestyle.
- Personal Training – requires a certification
- Yoga/pilates – requires a certification
- Group Fitness Instructor – requires a certification
- Dance Therapy – requires graduate school or higher
- Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy- requires graduate school or higher (can even specialize in dance. Some dance companies have their own staff therapist.)
Finding the right higher education for your dancer’s goals:
Different jobs require different levels of education: certification, 4 year degree, graduate degree, doctorate. Statistics show that the return on college investment is quickly dwindling, therefore, 10-20 years from now, the post-high school path may look very different than it does now. More high school graduates may be entering certificate programs and opting out of traditional college degrees.
Food for thought: some of the careers that our children will be working in have not even been invented yet!
The Spectrum of Training and Education
- TAKE THE LEAP: Move to city focus 100% on dancing, take classes and attend auditions regularly. Not actively pursuing a formal education. To audition in NYC, having an agent is not necessary, but to audition in the state of California, having an agent is required.
- CERTIFICATE PROGRAM: Usually 1-3 years in length. Will earn a certificate of achievement, but no accreditation or degree. Sometimes these programs can roll into a 4 year degree. For example, Alvin Ailey has a 9 month and 2 year certificate program. Alvin Ailey certificate can be rolled into a 4 year degree at Fordham University. Ingredients Dance Company (Dallas) – has a 9 month certificate program. Certificates typically cost about $3,000-$5,000 per year. Certificate programs are great for students who need to take a “gap year” between high school and college.
- FOUR YEAR NON-DANCE DEGREE: maybe a dance minor, or just participate in dance classes while studying something else (probably state School college tuition)
- FOUR YEAR DANCE DEGREE: B.A. or B.F.A. degree in dance or dance performance (usually private school college tuition)
- CONSERVATORY PROGRAMS: domestic and international opportunities that sometimes feed directly into a professional dance performing company. Highly competitive entrance process.
If you find a school or program you interested in, start following them on social media. It will help you see over time if you would be a good fit. Social media is passive research. Follow professional dancers affiliated with performing companies or actively working in the commercial or entertainment industry.
Know the difference between Professional Dancers vs. Insta Celebrities- don’t follow insta celebs thinking this is a great path for you. It’s not!
Dancers, have a realistic idea of your strengths, weaknesses, work ethic, physical challenges, financial priorities, and factors that may be out of your control. Choose an education path that is going to be a good fit FOR YOU. Don’t just assume Julliard is where you should study because that’s where the “good dancers” go. (Juilliard has very narrow type of dancer they will accept and NYC is one of the most expensive places for dancers to live.)
Did You Know??
Did you know? The US does not have one governing body monitoring certifications or professional affiliations in the dance industry. You cannot become licenced to teach dance in the US (except in the area of public school teacher certification, which is necessary to teach in public schools.) That is why it’s important to chose your dance studio wisely – literally ANY UNQUALIFIED PERSON CAN OPEN A DANCE STUDIO AND TEACH DANCE in the US!
(Let’s save this discussion for another day because I could go on and on about this.)
Would you allow an unlicensed technician to fix an issue or appliance in your home? (It’s fine. I’m sure he YouTube’d how to fix it before he came over.)
Would you take your car to an unlicensed, uneducated, or unqualified mechanic? (Again YouTube – DUH.)
Would you take your child to a doctor who had not attended medical school, but went to the doctor a lot as a kid? (He probably knows what he’s doing because he paid really good attention. Plus there is always Web MD to reference).
At 3-D Dance, our instructors hold a variety of degrees and professional certifications in dance and dance-related areas. Annual continuing education and professional development is a top priority.
I HIGHLY recommend Dance Magazine’s College Guide to help navigate potential future schools. This guide offers students and parents:
- Profiles every US school with a dance-related degree plan
- Audition requirements per school
- Student perspectives on college life
- Best questions to ask on your college tour
- Financial advice: How to get funding, and where
- Plus: Helpful charts, timelines, contact details and much more!
There are 4 Basic Types of (Dance) Performance Careers
- Concert dancers usually have a year round contract with a traditional performance company. Can also be a 4 year college path.
- Commercial Dancers usually need to get an agent and moving to a city with commercial dance opportunities (usually LA). In California you MUST have an agent to audition (by law). These dancers perform in commercial/industrial/film opportunities. Usually in NYC it’s an open market and you do not have to have an agent to audition.
- Broadway triple threat: sing, act, dance. You do not have to be the “best” dancer, but you do have to have amazing stage presence and be a triple threat. Success on Broadway depends on where you are willing to start: touring company, off-broadway, community theater, non-performance jobs in Broadway theater while you’re actively auditioning. Only a few hundred people are in the entirety of all Broadway shows at any time.
- Entertainment: You do not need an agent: theme park, cruise ship, professional dance team. Pro sports dance teams are big in Texas. Many cruise ships have open casting calls. Disney also has its own Disney casting agency.
Remember, there are many ways to use your passion for dance as a long term career path. They key is to find the path that’s best fits your desired education level, interests, skills and talents!
Click HERE to read more about the audition process and how you can be prepare yourself for auditons!