How to Become a Dancer: Job Description, Training & Employment


Are you ready to Tango with a few Buttery Spins and a Noventa or two thrown in? How do you feel about trying your hand (or feet really) at Pirouettes and Grand Adages? Personally, we’re fans of the Monkey Flip and Air Flare. In case you were wondering, we are going to talk about how to become a dancer today. If this has got you moving to the beat, let’s turn up the music and boogy down!

How to Become a Dancer

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The road to becoming a dancer is one filled with pulled muscles, torn tights and busted toe shoes. It will require hard work and dedication mostly, but also a good amount of talent. Prop up your feet and read along as we tell you what how to become a dancer along with some other helpful bits of information.

Step 1: Get on the Training, Train

Many dancers begin their training journey at a young age and progress towards a serious career in adolescence. Many students of dance attend training programs whenever there is a break from school in order to maximize every bit of time possible. Some dance students know from a very early age that they intend to continue their careers into adulthood and opt to attend dance or performing arts schools to prepare and gain the necessary experience.

These early days of training prime you for the hard work that is ahead. Gaining acceptance into advanced dance schools and colleges is much more difficult than you’d think. Most students have to literally put their blood, sweat and tears into getting a spot. It’s a lot of hard work, but if it’s your true passion, then you’ll do what it takes.

Step 2: Consider a Bachelor’s Degree

Having a college degree is not a requirement to become a dancer by any means. There are definite benefits to doing so, however. Undergraduate degree programs allow dancers to learn many different types of dance and will provide a great learning ground for other types of artistic expression that may help the quality of your dancing.

There is also the added bonus of having many performance opportunities, which is always a chance to learn and grow as a dancer. You’ll be able to watch some amazing dancing by your fellow peers and your instructors as well. If you feel that an undergraduate degree is in your future you will have some interesting classes to look forward too. Some dance degree programs offer classes in choreography, contemporary dance trends, movement analysis, ballet, jazz, rhythm and dance, dance composition and dance history.

Step 3: Keep Up the Work and Stay Strong

Your job as a dancer is going to be just as physically demanding, if not more so, than it was when you were in school. Your hours will be long and likely pretty irregular, which can be tough on the body. It’s a vital part of your future as a dancer to stay strong and conditioned. Your future employers are going to look for dancers that look like they are up on their game and seem like they will be able to endure 8 hours of dancing, teaching or practicing a day.

It’s also very important to take care of your body as a dancer because sports injuries are extremely high among those in this profession. You don’t want to be knocked out of the game before you even get a chance to play, so take care of yourself. A healthy body can mean a long career.

You’ve laid the ground work and now it’s time for you to go out and audition for dancing jobs. Remember that there is stiff competition out there and you will get more “no’s” than “yes’s”, but don’t let that stop you. The squeaky wheel gets the grease or in this case – the amazing dancer gets the job!

What Does a Dancer Do?

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Your goal as a dancer is to tell a story through movement. You ultimately want your audience to feel emotional impacted by your performance, which is no small feat considering that you never say a single word. You likely won’t be performing at this level every day that you work, so what exactly will you be doing on a regular day? Well we just so happen to know and are going to tell you now!

Your day as a dancer will typically consist of the following:

  • Go on auditions for parts in upcoming shows or to join a dance company
  • Study and learn new complex dances and choreography
  • Rehearse for hours to get your body ready for your next big performance
  • Learn about new types of dance to ensure that you are aware of the new trends in the industry
  • Develop close relationships with dance instructors and choreographers
  • Teach dance classes to younger students
  • Attend events that promote the dance company you work for or for your own business. You may also have appearances to make at events, schools or workshops to attend as well

How Much Will I Make as a Dancer?

The salary that can be expected as a dancer will vary greatly and will more than likely be based upon an hourly rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2013, dancers earn a median hourly wage of $14.87. The reported hourly earnings for dancers who are new to the professor or that have less experience is $8.47 and for those with more substantial experience is $34.22 an hour.

There are additional chances to increase your earnings as a dancer if you take on instructing classes and some freelance dance jobs. If you are really ambitious, you can also consider opening your own dance academy. This will help you to earn more money and serves as a great way to get your name out into the dance community. Two birds, one stone!

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What Kind of Dancer Can I Be?

There are so many different styles if dance out there that we could probably write a book describing each type. We don’t want to bore you nor do we have that kind of attention span, so we will keep it short and sweet today. We’re going to focus on the 7 most popular forms of dance and let you decide if one of them makes your feet happy!

Hip-Hop

The Hip-Hop style of dance is a major part of urban culture and is performed to hip-hop music. This style is comprised of breaking, locking and popping that are usually executed close to the ground. The community of dancers that specialize in Hip-Hop is really growing too, which is exciting and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

Ballet

Ballet is one of the oldest styles of dance and originates back to fifteenth century Italy. Ballet really grew in France and Russia, which allowed it to grow into the concert dance that we know today. It is widely thought of as one of the most difficult forms of dance and for good reason. Ballet requires pointe work, flow and incredibly precise acrobatic movements and the ability to tell a story through movement. The literal translation of the word ballet means “to dance”.

Salsa

Even though Salsa hails from the island of Cuba, but it is just as popular throughout Latin America, North America, Europe, Australia, Asia and even the Middle East. This is usually a partner style of dancing that is choreographed to Latin American music.

Ballroom

Ballroom dancing is a blanket term for dancing that requires a partner and is choreographed. Ballroom dancing was once thought of as a social dance that was meant to be performed by the more affluent citizens. It’s common for the Argentine Tango, Viennese Waltz, Samba, Paso Doble, Rumba, Foxtrot, Jive, Cha-Cha and the feared Quickstep to be placed under the ballroom category.

Contemporary

Nothing gives us the feels like a good Contemporary dance routine and we may or may not cry when we watch the performances on “So You Think You Can Dance”. That’s just between us, ok? Contemporary is a combination of Lyrical and Modern dance with a dash of Classical ballet thrown in for good measure. Not many dance styles can tell a story and convey emotion quite like Contemporary.

Broadway

The Broadway style of dance is primarily what is seen in musical theatre and the goal of each performance is to tell a story in as theatrical a way as possible. When you think about musicals like Cabaret and Chicago – they each rely on dance to support the musical numbers and original choreographer Bob Fosse made sure that you’d feel the movements just as much as the words

Jazz

The Jazz style of dances originated from a melding of African American vernacular dance and traditional Caribbean dance. Jazz is known for the creative flair that is similar to Contemporary, but maintains strict lines.

Groundbreaking Dancers to Know

There have been some truly amazing dancers in the past and there are some equally amazing dancers cutting a rug today. Let’s meet some of the dancers that have impacted the dance world both past and present!

Josephine Baker

 The Jazz style of dance owes everything it is to Josephine Baker. Baker began her dance career in 1925 Paris in an appearance in La Revue Negre. She wowed French audiences with her undeniable talent as a dancer and her personality. Her influence can still be seen in performances by Madonna, Beyonce, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. We all know their names and have seen them dance countless times and each of them has sited Baker as an inspiration.

Sylvie Guillem

Sylvie Guillem has single handedly redefined how we think of Ballet and ballerinas. She never played her career safe, but instead chose her own path and in turn defied both the laws of gravity and Ballet. There are few, if any, dancers that have the scope and talent that Sylvie has and it’s no surprise that many young dancers model themselves after her.

Gene Kelly

We have Gene Kelly to thank for bringing dance to movie musicals and back to the stage. He may in fact be one most loved and well known dancers of our time. He was known for using every inch of space as possible to dance his way into the hearts of viewers. Gene Kelly was one of a kind and there will never be another one like him.

Joaquin Cortes

Latin hip shaker extraordinaire, Joaquin Cortes, is the youngest dancer on our list. He has quickly built a pretty notable career for himself and has brought Latin dances like Flamenco and Salsa into mainstream pop culture.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

We can’t talk about groundbreaking dancers without talking about the legendary Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This awesome twosome brought ballroom dancing to the masses when it was needed the most – during the Depression Era. Most people during this time were struggling to feed their families and make ends meet and Fred and Ginger made all of that disappear for a bit.

Martha Graham

Martha Graham is considered by those in the dance community to be the mother of modern dance. She had a seventy year career that encompassed over 150 works and countless performances. She will forever be held in high esteem for her intense and emotional performances, distinctive choreography and for her one of a kind technique.

Wade Robson

Wade Robson began teaching Hip-Hop classes at the age of 12 and hasn’t looked back since. He is well known for his insane dancing skills and has really made a name for himself in the choreography world too. He is also an Emmy winner as well. He scored the award from Hip-Hop choreography he crafted on a 2007 episode of ‘So You Think You Can Dance”.

The Truths of Dancing

As with any career, there are some things that are helpful to know about before making the leap into becoming a dancer professionally. Here are some truths about working as a dancer that may help you along the way:

  • Dance is not easy: There isn’t a professional dancer around that became successful without having to work incredibly hard to get where they are. Natural talent alone is not enough to get you where you want to go. You must work through injuries, illness and when you are just plain tired.
  • This isn’t a Rolling Stones song You can’t always get what you want: What we mean is that you won’t always get the role in a performance you want, maybe the instructor job you wanted goes to someone else and maybe you won’t always get the praise that you feel you deserve. This is an unfortunate, but very real part of this profession. You’ll have to have a tough skin to push through and not let all of that get to you.
  • You will always need to learn: There will always be dances you don’t know and choreography that you have to learn. Every moment can be seen as a learning opportunity and as a chance to become a better dancer.
  • You never know what the future holds: The career as a dancer can be there one day and gone the next. Dance companies close and career ending injuries are a real part of a dancer’s life. These are perfect reasons to leave your heart on the stage, dance like nobody is watching and reach for every goal you want to accomplish in this profession. You just never know when your last salsa could be.
  • There will be times that you fail: There will be times when things aren’t going to go the way that you want them to and the result will be failing. It’s part of the job and it’s part of growing as a person really. Don’t let each failure crush your dreams of becoming a dancer though. Instead of giving in and giving up, use it as fuel to keep you going and improving.
  • You won’t always be the best: This is true in regular life, but even more so in the dance world. There will always be someone that is better than you, that has more experience than you and that can perform a Fox Trot that would make Ginger Rogers green with envy.
  • You will never feel like you are ready to perform: The nerves are never going to go away and that’s a good thing. It means that you still love what you are doing and still want to do the best that you can. When your nerves stop, it might be time to hang up your dance shoes.

Bust a Move – Watch this Video

If you’ve read some of our other pieces on careers and degrees you know that we have a slight obsession with finding YouTube videos that apply to the topic at hand. If you haven’t read our stuff before, you better start! Anyhoo, we found a really interesting video about dance today and we are excited for you to watch it. It’s a bit different than what we usually look for, but we think it perfectly depicts what a dancer’s life is like. Take a look below or by clicking here to be routed to YouTube. Enjoy!

Final Grade

Take your toe shoes off and give your aching feet a rest while we give you our final grade and opinions about the job of a dancer. We’re feeling nice today, so don’t worry about us being too mean.

Degree vs. Debt: B-

Well you don’t need a degree to become a dancer, but if you do decide to enroll in an undergraduate dance program you’ll have to eventually pay back the money your borrowed. As you are likely able to glean from our salary section, the hourly wages for dancers isn’t much to write home about when you think about the often short duration of dancing gigs. The lack of a solid and stable income can make it a bit difficult to pay back student loans if you do decide to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Difficulty of Degree: A

You don’t have to get a degree in order to become a dancer, so it’s pretty safe to say that the difficulty of doing so is not too difficult. Don’t forget that it does take a lot of hard work and hardcore training to get to where you want to be. Becoming a dancer is by no means a cake walk, but the lack of a degree requirement is a plus in our book.

Happiness Quotient: B

If you have a passion for dance and that is all that you can imagine yourself doing, then we can imagine that you’d be pretty happy pursing this as a job. There will be times that you’ll be discouraged because you aren’t getting hired for shows, but that’s par for the course and you’re likely used to the rejection that comes with the business.

Job Outlook: C-

We really hate when we have to give low grades like this, but the job outlook for dancers is surely deserving of a C-. We checked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what they had to say and it’s just as sad as the grade it. From 2012 to 2022 the job growth for dancers is estimated to hang around at 6%. This is significantly less growth than the average for all other professions, which essentially means that jobs are going to be a bit hard to come by.

Sources and Recommended Reading

We’ll stick to doing the research over here while you show off your dancing skills. Trust us…we slightly resembled a hog tied cat trying to get out of a paper bag when we dance. It’s not a pretty sight and no one should be subjected to watching it. To make up for our lack of coordination, here are some helpful websites that have lots of information about the dancing world.

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