Professional Dancer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a dancer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a professional dancer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons: Becoming a Professional Dancer

Professional dancers express themselves or tell a story through movement. Take a look at the pros and cons to determine if a career as a professional dancer is right for you.

PROS: Professional Dancer
Creative career with diverse options to express yourself (such as ballet, jazz, tap)*
You can travel to different venues and see different parts of the world*
Employment growth is expected for professional dancers involved in pop culture (TV, movies, theme parks)*
Nonperforming dancers have opportunities to work as choreographers, producers or directors*

CONS: Professional Dancer
Small field with below average growth expected resulting in extreme competition (15,600 people with an expected job growth of 900 jobs from 2012-2022)*
Job injuries are common (dancers have among the highest rates of non-fatal job injuries)*
Many years of formal training required (starting at 5-8 years old)*
Many dancers retire in their thirties due to the physical stress placed on their bodies*
Irregular schedules (some find only part-time work while others work long schedules with rehearsals during the day and performances at night)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Professional dancers perform choreographed routines that require a high level of physical skill and endurance. Dancing requires agility, coordination and flexibility. When you're seeking employment, you'll typically first need to audition. At an audition, the employer might request that you demonstrate a few specific dance maneuvers in addition to displaying your own strengths. Once you've been hired, you'll spend many hours practicing the necessary dance routines in preparation for performances. Some professional dancers have to promote themselves with appearances at radio stations, television networks or other production events. Potential employers include theater companies, cruise ships, theme parks and casinos.

You can choose to specialize in one type of dance, such as tap, hip hop or modern dance. Knowing your limitations can help you choose the type of dance accordingly. Depending on the production, professional dancers can perform alone, with a partner or as part of an ensemble, although many work in a group.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that as of May 2014, professional dancers had average hourly wages of nearly $19 (www.bls.gov). Because of the irregular work schedules, it's difficult to determine the average annual salary of a professional dancer. The colleges, universities, and professional schools industry is the top paying industry for professional dancers with an average reported hourly salary of around $29. The most favorable wages for dancers were found in Nevada, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee and New York.

Even though the employment of dancers was expected to grow at a below average rate, 6%, the amount of dancers auditioning was projected to be more than the amount of jobs available, according to the BLS. If you go to conservatories or schools that have associations with dance companies, then your job prospects might be more favorable.

Vocational Requirements

Education and Training

Some professional dancers begin ballet training as early as five years old. The BLS notes that many dancers retire in their late thirties due to the physically demanding nature of the job. Consequently, dancers expect to start their careers as early as 18 years of age, making early training important. This is especially true for ballet dancers. Modern dancers, on the other hand, may begin their training while in high school.

If you're interested in modern dance, you may also benefit from formal education. The National Association of Schools of Dance has accredited approximately 70 programs in dance. You can take classes in hip hop, jazz, ballet and other dance types depending upon your interests. A college degree is typically not necessary for a career in dance.

Useful Skills

Persistence is key for obtaining work in this competitive and difficult field. Teamwork is also important, since many performances involve dancers to work as an ensemble. In order to understand the choreographer's routine, you'll need active-listening and coordination skills.

What Employers Look for in Professional Dancers

Employers typically hold auditions for dancers. Possessing the necessary balance, agility and skill is important. Recent job postings for professional dancers demonstrated that training in ballet and modern dance are typically necessary. Take a look below at some job postings that were available in April 2012:

  • A company in New York City advertised for both male and female dancers for a choreography showcase. Dancers would be performing a 5-minute piece. A minimum of eight years of training in ballet and modern dance was necessary.
  • A classical ballet company in New York City and Connecticut was seeking dancers to perform contemporary and classical choreography. This position was for experience only and was not a paid position.
  • A New York City dance company was seeking young dancers, age 11-18, to perform for educational programs. This would be a great opportunity for young dancers to train with professional dancers.
  • A casino in Nevada was seeking dancers who needed to be a minimum of 5-feet 8-inches tall. Strong dance technique in jazz, ballet and tap was required and would need to be demonstrated in an audition.

How Do You Stand Out?

The field of professional dancing evolves and changes. By learning what new trends are occurring and taking appropriate classes, you can set yourself apart. Additionally, professional development conferences are offered by organizations such as Dance/USA (www.danceusa.org). These conferences provide opportunities for networking and information sharing to help keep you informed and inspired. According to the BLS, physical stamina is paramount. Thus, having a high level of physical fitness may also set you apart from your peers.

Other Occupational Options

If you love performing, but didn't start dance training at an early age or don't feel you have the ability to dance, you might enjoy being an actor. Television, movies and theater are all potential venues for actors. Generally, you're assigned a script that contains your character's lines and actions. You'll be tasked with accurately portraying the emotions and actions of your assigned character. Actors typically take formal acting classes, and auditions are generally required to obtain roles. In May 2011, the BLS reported that actors made an average wage of about $34 an hour. However, acting is also a highly competitive field, and the BLS predicted that employment growth would be slower than average at only four percent from 2010-2020.

If you have musical talent, you might consider the music industry. You could become a singer or a musician depending on your preference and skill. Singers typically develop a unique vocal style while musicians specialize in a type of instrument, such as the drums or guitar. In this area, you may find entry-level work playing small venues like weddings. If successful, you may work in larger arenas such as clubs or concert halls. Musicians and singers earned around $32 an hour on average, according to the BLS in May 2011. The BLS predicted that musicians and singers could expect employment growth of 10%, about as fast as the average for all occupations, in the 2010-2020 decade. Additionally, the field itself is much larger than that of professional dancers with a projected 17,900 jobs to be added in the same decade.

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