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Advice for students considering life as a professional dancer

Everyone who has ever really enjoyed dance classes will at some point ask themselves one very important question; is dance something I could do for a living? Perhaps it’s a fleeting and immediately dismissed thought years into your dancing days, or maybe it’s something you consider after your very first dance lesson as you imagine a life of music and curtain calls, made all the more alluring by the pull of the stage and the undeniable magic of the spotlight. However, if you were one of the thousands of hopefuls whose answer to this all-important question was a resounding ‘Yes’ then there are other far more crucial questions that become pivotal in determining which path you will take at this turning point (in more ways than one!) in your life. In addition to enjoying dance, you need to consider whether you have not only the determination and commitment, but also the facility and the opportunity to pursue a career in the field of dance. Aspiring dancers must have the discipline to prioritise the pursuit of a dance career above many other areas of their life – there’s no point in sugar coating it – dance is endlessly rewarding but it is also endlessly challenging, in mental and emotional aspects as well as the obvious physical demands it entails.

Dancers rarely enjoy the stability found in other career paths, contracts are frequently brief and many companies have off seasons which means dancers must live in a state of perpetual change. Steady employment is elusive, even when a permanent position in a company is attained, the competitive nature of the business means that you’re sometimes only an injury or bad rehearsal away from being replaced.  Perhaps you will discover that your future lies in a different area of the dance industry. You might find you are more suited to the role of choreographer, dance critic, company director, teacher, talent agent  or any of the other greatly rewarding jobs that relate to dance. Yet if after reading this, you’re still eagerly imagining life onstage then perhaps you’re ready to put your dreams into action.

Your chances of success are influenced by many factors; if you have started at an early age, are naturally limber, have good musicality and strong feet, if you’re a fast learner, can take direction well, are in good physical condition, are strong, are well proportioned, are not affected by stage fright, and if you are confident enough to handle the pressure of auditions and the disappointment of rejection. However, no matter how confident you are of your abilities, no one factor can guarantee your success. It can be a fickle and unpredictable industry and succeeding requires a combination of at least four things; persistence, talent, passion, and sheer good luck. So if you are making the decision to pursue dance as a career, it’s important to know that all that really matters, is your passion and love of dance. This won’t ensure that you will succeed, because success is never certain as a dancer — either through skill or passion. It’s simply such a competitive world with so much talent all vying for the same dream and limited roles. But one thing that’s true is that without a sincere love of dance, success could not be possible. So if you know with absolute certainty that you love dancing, and that being a dancer is what fuels and motivates you, that it’s where you draw pleasure and inspiration. If it’s what satisfies you, what excites you, what captivates you; if you can’t imagine your life without dancing — If you would never want to imagine life without dancing — then do it anyway. Do it because you have to. Do it in spite of the challenges and because of the rewards. Do it knowing that you may not end up exactly where you want, but knowing that the opportunity to pursue your dreams is the only reward you need. Prepare yourself to work tirelessly to achieve success, and prepare yourself for setbacks along the way. Anticipate rejection and bad days, but don’t give up, because with a little passion, persistence and hard work anything is possible. There is no limit to what you are capable of achieving, and we wish you all the success in the world.

Become more knowledgeable about your industry

The dance industry is a highly collaborative world, and a huge part of life as a performer, teacher, choreographer, or other industry professional is built around your ability to stay attuned to the desires and demands of the ever-evolving field of dance. Communicating with peers and keeping up to date with relevant events, shows and information is a huge advantage to someone seeking a career in the dance industry. It is always beneficial to distinguish yourself as someone who pays attention to what’s going on in the broader dance community and is attuned to the current trends and movements.

Take a Variety of Classes

It’s all very well to be the master of one specific style of dance, and it’s great to have a strong suite, but the dance industry greatly values adaptability in performers, as most jobs require dancers to demonstrate proficiency in more than just one style or genre of dance. Rather than taking most classes in your preferred dance style, try to focus on ‘rounding out’ your skillset. Tackle the styles that challenge you the most. Not only will you find the improvement incredibly rewarding, but you’ll be much better prepared to handle the diversity of auditions and jobs that you will come across over your career.

Network

Networking and developing a visible profile in the industry is also incredibly helpful. With an area that has a skillset as specialised as dance does, professionals rely on critique and recognition from fellow industry insiders to verify the quality of their work and endorse each other (directly or indirectly) to future employers. Not only this, but getting the breaking news on upcoming jobs or events is all about who you know – showbiz is a ‘word of mouth’ kind of industry and you won’t know anything if you don’t know anyone... So put yourself out there as much as possible and attend different classes, get in touch with other creatives, and build contacts and relationships. The more effort you put in the more your horizons will broaden.

Expand Your Skillset

Just as with a singer who can write their own songs, a dancer who can also choreograph has a much broader range of opportunities and a huge advantage when it comes to auditions and situations where improvisation is required. Similarly, a teacher who has a background in musical theatre as well as classical is often a more rounded instructor, as they have mastered various styles and can appreciate the technical differences and distinctions between each one. It is always a good idea where possible to build your skillset. Any opportunity to learn new areas of expertise that relate to your chosen profession will be a valuable advantage. It’s helpful if dancers have an interest or some knowledge in anatomy, diet and nutrition, choreography, dance history, music, musical theatre, lighting, costume design, hair and make-up, injuries and injury prevention, and so on. For instance, for an aspiring dancer, taking on the role of choreographer could make you a more intelligent and considerate dancer as well, as you’re more able to empathise with the demands of choreographing and more intuitively recognise the wants and needs of the choreographer, and this kind of quality is very valued in a company environment.

Consider a Degree in Dance

Like with any other profession, getting qualified is a good way to gain recognition as a legitimate and skilled performer that has earned their place in the industry. It also opens up the possibility of turning to teaching as a career option or even running your own dance school. Aside from these advantages, qualifications also offer the obvious benefit of providing you with a greater knowledge base about your field, and often students or even teachers that you meet through study can lead to career opportunities later down the track.

Find a Mentor

If you’re lucky enough to come from a dance background then having a family member with industry experience and knowledge about how to succeed in the field is a wonderful asset. But if (like the majority of us) you don’t, it’s possible to reach out and find someone; a friend or a teacher perhaps, who can help to offer advice and encouragement, and share their own experiences with you. It’s great having the support of your non-dancing friends and family, but sometimes we all need to talk to someone who really understands the demands and experiences of the dance industry and all the associated anxieties and emotions that working in that industry involves. It’s also nice to have a tangible example of success, looking up to Natalia Osipova, Travis Wall or Michael Jackson is one thing, but having only icons who have already made their meteoric rise to fame to aspire to can make the journey seem that much more daunting, and the end result even more unattainable.

Learn to Embrace Criticism and Rejection

There’s just no escaping that in a field as competitive and brimming with talent as the dance industry, you are going to come across your fair share of rejection and let downs, no matter how talented or dedicated you are. It’s just an inevitable aspect of life as a performer, but one that clever dancers learn to embrace as a tool to help them grow and advance. Even the most talented performer in the world is going to be wrong for plenty of jobs, it’s just part of the joys of being a member of the wonderfully diverse human race. You might be absolutely perfect for one thing, and completely wrong for another, that’s ok. It’s often that feature that makes you so wrong for one role that makes you ideally suited for the next. The only thing you can do is to learn from your mistakes and continue to improve and strive to be the best version of yourself that you are capable of. That way when criticism does come along you can see it as a great opportunity for feedback and improvement, rather than a negative.

Read More: Tips From Industry Professionals