Approximately 13,900 professional dancers are employed in the United States. They work for dance companies, opera companies, theater companies, and film and video companies. They are also hired for individual shows and performances that may run anywhere from one night only to several years. Most opportunities are located in major metropolitan areas, New York City being the primary center of dance in the United States. Other cities that have full-time dance companies include San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, and Washington, D.C. Many smaller cities also have their own resident dance and theater companies. After several years of experience, dancers often start their own companies based in studios that also may offer classes to both professionals and amateurs.
Dancers who are interested in teaching may find employment in high school and postsecondary schools. Teaching opportunities are also available in local dance studios that offer classes to age groups that vary from preschool to adult. Other employers might include local park districts, senior citizens homes, youth centers, and social service agencies like the YMCA.
Take advantage of every performance opportunity possible. Local groups are usually in the market for entertainment at their meetings or social affairs. These appearances provide the opportunity to polish routines and develop the professional air that distinguishes the professional from the amateur performer. Breaking the professional barrier by achieving one’s first paid performance can be accomplished in several ways. Take advantage of every audition. Follow the announcements in the trade magazines. Circulate among other dancers. Attend shows and get to know everyone who may be in a position to help with a job. Another possibility that should be considered is to register with recognized booking agents.
As in all performing arts, the star on the dressing room door is the dream of dancing aspirants. Yet top billing, a name in lights, or being the program headliner are positions of accomplishment reserved for a very small number. Many dancers start by earning a spot in the dancing chorus of an off-Broadway musical, in the line at a supper club, or in a dancing group on a television variety show or spectacular. Such opportunities permit further study, and enable one to work with experienced choreographers and producers. Earning a spot as a chorus dancer in television on a regular weekly show could provide as many as 13, 26, or 39 performances with the same group.
In recent years, a number of musical stock companies have originated throughout the United States, thus providing another avenue for employment. Although many of these operate only in summer, they provide experience of a Broadway nature. Outdoor spectaculars such as exhibitions, parades, fairs, and festivals often use dance acts.
Working on the road can be an exciting, yet tiring, opportunity. Chorus groups with traveling musicals and cafe shows provide regular employment for a season. The numbers are rehearsed before the tour and very little adaptation or change is possible. One does get a chance to perform in a variety of situations and with different bands or orchestras because accompaniments are different in each club or community performance.
Dancers may also advance to choreographing, one of the most creative and responsible jobs in dancing. Other dancers find positions as teachers and some eventually open their own schools.
Tips for Entry
Begin your training in dance as early as possible, usually in elementary school, and apply to attend summer programs at dance companies in your area.
Prepare to commit yourself to dance if you expect to become highly proficient. This means that dance must take priority over other after-school activities.
Persistence and hard work are essential to become a good dancer. Be prepared to enter auditions as often as you can and to accept failure far more often than you will achieve success. Professional dancers grow accustomed to being turned down and losing parts far more often than they win them.
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