Studying Professional Dancing: Degrees at a Glance
Formal degrees are not required to be a dancer, but many dancers prefer to enter bachelor's or master's programs to enhance their aesthetic understanding and to build a foundation for their post-dance career. To enter a program accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance, you will probably need to audition. A dance career requires extended training, beginning as young as 5 years old for ballet dancers. Like athletes, dancers will experience injuries and declining skill over time.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 11% increase in dance performance jobs against 14% for all occupations. Compensation may be hourly, not salaried, and part-time instead of year-round, leading to relatively low pay when compared to the amount of training required. Of all professional dancers, 40% are members of performing arts companies. You might work in casinos, cruise ships, musicals, TV shows, or theme parks, or pursue self-employment. Choreographers may benefit from 24% projected job growth due to an increase in the number of dance schools.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals who want to improve their dancing skills||Individuals interested in teaching as a career or further professional training|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary)|| - Dancer ($15.06 per hour - reported hourly; not full-time)*|
- Choreographer ($40,000)*
| - Dance or recreation therapist ($41,000)* |
Dance teacher, postsecondary (salary unavailable)*
- Producer or director ($71,000)*
|Time to Completion||4-5 years, full-time|| 2-3 years, full-time |
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Typically 120 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements|
| - Approximately 40 post-bachelor credits |
- Performance requirements
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or GED||Bachelor's degree|
|Online Availability||Not available||Not available|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).
Bachelor's Degree in Professional Dancing
In a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program, you will be able to develop physical and technical skills, knowledge of anatomy, and to experiment with choreography and teaching. Some programs may provide opportunities to travel to world cities known for quality in dance performance as well as opportunities to work with visiting artists on campus.
To graduate, you may have to meet technical skill requirements. You will likely participate in one or more performances or join a dance ensemble hosted by your school. Candidates will probably attend forums, seminars and arts events. Work could include dance history and study of composition, repertory, music and kinesiology, the science of human muscular movements. You may learn aspects of dance technical production, or focus on dance education.
Pros and Cons
- Provides foundation for additional or master's study in related areas like dance therapy, dance education, arts administration, kinesiology, occupational therapy or physical therapy
- Integrated challenge for mind and body
- Develops social, communication and risk-taking skills
- Opportunity to pursue your passion
- Ballet dancers may begin professional careers at 18 or younger and may not have time for full-time bachelor's degree programs
- Opportunities in professional companies are highly competitive
- Minor and major injuries are a risk
- Relatively low-paid profession relative to time and expense of training
- Dancing career over for most at relatively early age; necessary to plan for second or supplemental career
Courses and Requirements
Undergraduate programs may require an audition for admission. You would generally take general studies courses as well as ballet and contemporary dance classes, developing performance and choreographic skills. Your curriculum could be a mix of general education classes, dance technique, composition, repertory, and an elective area. If you add a dance education track, you may need to complete an internship or student teaching experience. Future instructors might be exposed to dance styles besides ballet and contemporary dance, including folk dance, ballroom, jazz or others.
You might take professional courses like these:
- Dance composition
- Movement theory and body alignment
- Methods in dance education
- Fundamentals of dance performance and repertory
- Movement improvisation
- Experiential anatomy
Online Course Options
Online degree programs in professional dancing are rare to non-existent. The nature of performance training requires face-to-face creative collaboration on campus. You'll need to work with other dancers and future artists in other disciplines.
You may be able to take some of your core curriculum classes online. Online course requirements are the same as for on-campus courses, with course materials available 24/7. You may need specific hardware or software to take these courses.
Standing Out with This Degree
If you're exceptionally talented, you may receive a dance scholarship. You can make yourself available for work with guest artists and choreographers, who might create work for you. If you're interested in research, you might contribute to a school-hosted journal or add content to the department websites and blogs. You may have opportunities to assist with lighting, audio and other technical aspects of production in addition to performing.
Master's Degree in Professional Dancing
The Master of Fine Arts in Dance is a terminal professional degree. Though performance will still be an important element, it may place more emphasis on research and teaching. In dance, that may mean opportunities to study choreography and create dances. Students may work one-on-one with mentors to produce a thesis or thesis project that combines creative work with research. You may have opportunities to audition for main-stage, student and other projects.
Graduate students may have teaching assistant, media coordinator, video crew or other roles that support their development while contributing to departmental projects. If you're teaching, you may have to meet supervised teaching requirements.
Pros and Cons
- You could be prepared for leadership or academic positions in your field
- You can pursue your area of interest through an individually-designed study program
- A range of performance and non-performance training opportunities could be available
- Opportunity to develop expertise in your field
- Admission is likely to be highly selective
- Schools may encourage graduate minors in a second field
- Time and opportunity cost of pursuing a graduate degree relative to return on investment may be adverse
Courses and Requirements
In an MFA program, you might spend a year focused on teaching, research and writing, followed by development of a thesis proposal and creative projects. Depending on your program, your thesis might be a fully-produced concert. Your MFA program could be a mix of studio studies in dance technique and academic studies related to the discipline.
Studio courses could include:
- Dance technique
- Performance and directing
- Visual design and choreography
Academic courses in an MFA dance program could include:
- History, theory and criticism
- Supervised teaching
- Arts administration
Online Degree Options
Online course options in MFA professional dancing programs would necessarily be rare based on the nature of the program. You'll need to spend significant time in the studio performing or working on creative projects with faculty and other students. Your best chance of working remotely may be arranging an academic independent study with a faculty member on a topic of interest so you will not have to be on-campus for that portion of your program.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Winning a scholarship could attract favorable attention. Your school may provide competition opportunities. You might create new work on other dance students. You may be able to assist with department projects, or successfully audition for on-campus or off-campus performance opportunities. Your final project could give you a chance to shine.
Related or Supplemental Degrees or Training to Consider
Some dancers teach or become choreographers, or start their own dance studios. Your background as a dancer could also help you get a start in other arts fields or teaching, kinesiology or therapeutic fields related to movement. Obtaining additional qualifications in fields like recreational or dance therapy, fitness training or physical therapy could permit flexible per diem work during your performing years and provide an income after you retire from performing. BLS projects these fields to grow, respectively, 17%, 24% and 39% from 2010-2020.