Performing Arts

Performing Arts


The performing arts industry consists of professional and amateur performance organizations and theaters. There are for-profit organizations as well as nonprofit performance arts groups.


Dance companies employ professional dancers to perform programs on a regular schedule that typically runs for up to nine months. Dance shows are held several nights a week. There are also daytime shows in addition to daily rehearsals. Dance shows are also taken on the road, and dancers are expected to travel to other cities, states, or countries.  

Dance companies also employ choreographers, master dancers, recruiters, administrators, lighting and set designers, makeup artists, and publicists. In May 2018, approximately 13,900 dancers and 7,200 choreographers worked in the United States, according to the Department of Labor. Nearly 30 percent of all the U.S. dancers were employed by performing arts companies.

Dancers audition for jobs, which may be for a part in a dance production that runs for several weeks or months, or it may be to join a dance company as a permanent member. Dancers often train through apprenticeships before becoming full members of dance companies. They advance to become master dancers; many also become choreographers and artistic directors, creating original dances, teaching other dancers, and working with other performers in dance productions.

Professional dancers may also own their own dance schools or work as instructors at dance schools. They may teach adults and/or children dance styles for professional dance roles. The styles of dance that are taught may be ballet, modern, jazz, tap, or other. There are also dance schools for amateur dancers, where the focus is on improving skills, getting fit, and having fun.


Musicians may be instrumentalists or singers, performing independently or with bands or orchestras. The musical groups may be small, such as string quartets, or large ensembles, with everything from string and percussion to vocal sections. They may also perform with operas, Broadway productions, dance companies, and other performing arts. Musicians audition for temporary and full-time positions in bands, orchestras, and choirs. They may specialize in one type of music, such as classical or rock, or in a range of styles, including pop, jazz, blues, and more. Depending on their specialty, they perform in theaters, music clubs, or arenas, sometimes traveling to different towns for performances.

In larger musical groups, such as orchestras, conductors direct musicians, helping them keep the tempo of the music and instructing them on when to play softly or loudly. Musicians pay attention to the conductor as they interpret written music. There are also songwriters and composers, creating the music and compositions. Many musicians also teach to supplement their incomes; some teach part time while others may teach full time in their own schools or in grade or high schools, colleges, or conservatories.

The Department of Labor reported that there were 187,600 musicians and singers employed in the United States in May 2018. About 12 percent of all musicians and singers work for performing arts companies. Their work hours can be long, with weekday rehearsals and evening and weekend performances. The cities that employ the highest number of musicians and singers are Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, and San Francisco.


Actors work for commercial theater companies and nonprofit companies. Commercial theater companies, such as Broadway theaters, typically produce large, well-known plays that have proven to be financially successful. Nonprofit theater companies tend to produce more experimental plays. Actors audition for roles by memorizing and reciting lines from scripts. They rehearse with other actors and performers, working closely with directors and producers. Their work environment may be an indoor theater or outdoor venue, such as a theater in a park. They may also perform at festivals, theme parks, and even on cruise ships.

Actors’ schedules vary depending upon the production schedule. When they are cast in a role, the production may last for several weeks or months. Daytime rehearsals can be long and shows are usually in the evenings and on weekends. Actors may also work for companies that tour the country. As in most jobs in the performing arts, actors often supplement their income by holding other jobs; this is especially true for those starting out in the field.

There were 64,500 actors working in the United States in May 2018, according to the Department of Labor. About 8,980 worked for performing arts companies, while 20,380 were employed in the motion picture and video industries. Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago offered the most employment opportunities for actors.