How to Be a Professional Dancer

Four Parts:Choosing the Right PathEnrolling in a School or ProgramPreparing MentallyOptimizing Your Resources

Have you been inspired by dance? If you hope to become a professional dancer, you will need talent and perseverance. Plan your career path and train with a positive attitude. While there will be a lot of sacrifice and hardships, optimizing your resources and having the right mindset can help you achieve a successful career as a professional dancer.

Part 1
Choosing the Right Path

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    Keep an open mind to different career paths. A career as a professional dancer is very difficult and competitive to achieve. You must be open to different variations of dance as well as dancing in different capacities. Not everyone can be a star of a dance troop.[1]
    • Be flexible and think about how you can use dance in different ways. For example, dance therapy may be better suited for your personality. Some professional dance careers require a lot of travel which can present a lot of obstacles if you want to have a family or be in a relationship. Other careers may be seasonal so you’ll have to create a realistic budget for the times that you aren’t dancing.
    • Many professional dancers take on a second career after they are incapable of meeting the physical demands of dancing. If you become injured or choose to settle in more of a routine, you may have to adapt your dance skills into another career like choreography or teaching.
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    Watch dance performances. Whether you attend a professional recital, watch a documentary on performance, or read about dance in a magazine, absorb all you can. Take in the choreography and the athleticism required for the performance, the vocabulary used to describe the movements, and any other tidbits that can help you understand the world of dance.[2]
    • Increase your knowledge to broaden your perspective as an artist and performer.
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    Diversify your skill base. Try different dance classes and different teachers. Experiment with different dance forms. Budget and prioritize what interests you most before committing to anything. Oftentimes there may be drop-in opportunities available to see if you like a class.[3]
    • Research the origin of a class, as well as the background of your teacher to ensure that it is the right fit for you. There are many different types of dance including: ballet, ballroom, jazz, hip hop, flamenco, african, interpretive, modern, swing, jive, and many more. There are sub-genres and dance is constantly evolving. Learning how to dance will be a continuous pursuit.
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    Learn other movement forms. Train in yoga, martial arts, gymnastics, or other athletic pursuits. Build your strength, agility, and coordination to help you when you dance. You’ll be surprised with how each discipline can translate into the other.[4]
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    Take advantage of any free or low cost training. If you are in high school, you may have dance as part of your physical education program. You may also have lunchtime or after-school clubs. There may also be free lessons at community centers, churches, or at dance studios.[5]
    • Dancing may also be associated with music or drama programs and clubs so be sure to inquire. You may also take purely music or drama lessons to round out your performance skills.
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    Create performance opportunities. Audition for community or school productions. Post on community bulletin boards to form your own dance troop. Make your own opportunities when you can’t find what you’re looking for.[6]
    • Social media is a great way to advertise your performance or to find like-minded dancers and performers. You may simply use the search toolbar and type keywords like your city name and Dance Troop. If something comes up, message the group to find out more information. If nothing comes up, create your own group using your search terms as its name so that it will be easy for other dancers to reach out to you. For example, create a Facebook group called Toronto Jazz Dancers.

Part 2
Enrolling in a School or Program

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    Enroll in summer programs. Research what different school and dance companies offer over the summer. There are a variety of opportunities for technical development and professional networking. Summer is a great opportunity for travel to attend an intensive dance workshop.[7]
    • Make sure to prepare at least a year in advance as some programs may be highly competitive to enter especially for more prestigious schools. Make your application stronger by adding all your related experience. For example, include all the recitals you have danced in as well as volunteered for. If you haven’t been volunteering or auditioning, you may also include how many views your Youtube videos are garnering or followers your social media accounts have. Any indication of your passion for performance helps.
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    Research what’s available for your budget and schedule. There may be pre-professional contemporary dance programs close to you, or art and performance schools in a larger city. Colleges and universities also offer dance programs. There may also be funding bodies to help with your education.[8]
    • There are organizations that assist dancers who are outside or currently in a dance career. Attend career planning conferences and workshops to find out what funding is available.
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    Research what learning method is right for you. You may develop technique and skills in dance performance if you attend a pre-professional or conservatory-style school. A college or university will provide you with academic credentials, and a degree may be handy in your post-performance career. Ask yourself:[9]
    • What does the program focus on?
    • What is the curriculum?
    • Is there a degree or diploma upon completion?
    • How long does it take to complete the program?
    • What resources are available to me in terms of facilities (studios, gyms, change rooms, showers, computer rooms, offices, etc)?
    • What is the background of each instructor and faculty member?
    • Are there any guest artists or performers who will be around?
    • What performance opportunities are offered?
    • What have alumni gone on to accomplish?
    • What is the location?
    • What are the associated costs?
    • What are the admission requirements?
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    Begin your application process well in advance. If you have decided to attend a school or participate in a program, give yourself enough time to meet all the application requirements. You want to show your best so give yourself enough time to edit and go over any questions with an administrator.[10]
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    Find or create an internship or mentorship. If you don’t have the time or money to enroll into a program or school, you may also work to get an internship or mentorship. Network with local dance schools, studios, or ensembles and seen if they would take you on as an intern. You may also approach individual performers and create a rapport to hopefully build a mentorship.[11]
    • Internships and mentorships can be both highly competitive and difficult to achieve. You may have to sacrifice your time without getting paid. You may also need to find the right fit to ensure that you are getting the most out of the relationship. Some people may use the opportunity to exploit free labour. Don’t let your passion blind you. This needs to be a mutually beneficial opportunity.
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    Find the right class. There are numerous dances to learn and you can find classes in forms including:[12]
    • Ballroom dances originating from the Renaissance and becoming popular in hit tv shows like Dancing with the Stars: waltz, Viennese waltz, tango, cha-cha-cha, rumba, samba, mambo, quickstep, jive, and bolero.
    • African-American and traditional jazz dances that are strongly linked to African-american music and culture: Charleston, swing, tap dance, moonwalk, and boogie-woogie.
    • World and latin dances that originate from outside of North America or that are associated with a particular culture: salsa, flamenco, Argentine tango, lambada, polka, jive, east coast swing, capoeira, country/western, folk, and belly dance.
    • Professional performance dances that may include some of the most complicated and revered dances including: ballet, contemporary dance, concert dance, modern, and tap dance.
    • Modern dances that continually evolve as advancements in music technology evolve: house, punk, rave, disco, and bollywood dance.
    • Hip-hop and funk dances that originated in the 1970s and are continually evolving and staying popular thanks to tv shows like America’s Best Dance Crew: breakdance (breaking), bounce, electric boogaloo, street jazz, jookin’, locking, and popping dance.

Part 3
Preparing Mentally

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    Persevere through your hardships. While you may be talented and have natural ability, hard work is the only thing that can distinguish a career. Be prepared to put in years of sweat, tears, and injuries.[13]
    • Stay dedicated. Dance every day and never lose focus. Your work ethic will dictate your career. Have self-discipline and keep your goals in mind. Get inspired by your peers and immerse yourself in the artistic community.[14]
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    Learn from failure. Be humble and respect the process. Accept that you must continually learn and put forth your best effort. You will never know how well you will perform without actually performing. If it doesn’t turn out as you expected, take the opportunity to learn and improve.[15]
    • Failure is inevitable. Grow and move forward each time you fail. Value the times you succeed after you have failed as you have embraced the lesson it taught you.
    • Learn all that you can. Don’t rest on your laurels. Even if you find an instructor, choreographer, or teacher difficult to work with, you can find a lesson in your experience. Learn what you can, and think of everything as an opportunity.[16]
    • For example, if you find an instructor who insists you come to class on time and closes the door if you’re late, you can learn the importance of punctuality for auditions.
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    Take advantage of all your opportunities. There are many factors that can end a dance career abruptly like injury, company becoming bankrupt, illness, etc. Use each performance to express your passion for dance. Treat even your practice routines and exercises as if they were your dream performances.[17]
    • Passion is infectious and you never know who is watching.
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    Stay positive. Focus on honing your craft. You can’t control everything so don’t waste your energy and talent worrying about outside factors. Be open and positive about what your future holds. It may be physically taxing but don’t let your emotions bring you down as well.[18]
    • For example, if you did not get called back after an audition, follow up and ask what you could have improved on. You may not need to call if you already have a sense of what your weaknesses are. Continue to practice to correct your mistakes.
    • Be confident. You must be willing to take risks. It’s okay to feel anxious if an opportunity comes up. You may need to travel around the world, perform a difficult move that has evaded you in practice, trust a new partner, or perform for the public for the first time. Embrace the challenge.[19]
    • For example, if you’re nervous about an audition, focus on the fact that you were called to audition. Think about all the other people who don’t even get a chance to show what they can do. Focus on the fact that they obviously see something in you that’s right for them. You don’t have to do anything more than be yourself.
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    Value any experience. Experience performance first hand. You may learn a lot from discussion, reading, and attending class but there’s nothing like performing. Don’t limit yourself to finding stage time. Ask to perform in front of peers, family and friends.[20]
    • Prove you are valuable. Become indispensable by working hard and putting in extra hours. Arrive early and stay late. Make sure you know the day’s material, be prepared, don’t disrupt class with any negative opinions, and work hard.[21]
    • Practice as much as possible. Only putting in minimum effort will bring you the minimum result. Don’t expect any favouritism from your teacher if you think you have the talent. Push yourself to go beyond your comfort level to grow as an artist. Push yourself to go beyond the class requirements.[22]
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    Don’t neglect your well-being. Focus on what makes you happy. While money, performance, school, or placement in a competition can affect your mood, look at your life as a whole and remember who you are on the inside. There’s a lot to life other than dancing.[23]
    • Ignore negativity. As your career progresses, you may become more of a public figure. Performance is inherently ripe for criticism. You won’t be able to please everyone. There will be critics amongst friends, family, peers, and the media. Concentrate on what feels right.[24] Ultimately you want to do what makes you happy so the opinions of other people shouldn’t matter as long as you have given your all.
    • Avoid politics and drama. Don’t get caught up with what others are doing. It may seem like there are class politics or something may be unprofessional but focus on your craft. Always work on what makes you happiest.[25]
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    Forget about past mistakes. Be in the moment. Don’t think about past mistakes or opportunities. You may get injured if you are distracted by thinking about past mistakes. Focus on the fundamentals and the movement.[26]
    • For example, if you are approaching a move that you have trouble with in practice, focus on the music so you don’t think about the move itself.
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    Know your worth. In the beginning, it may be difficult to find work and you may need to perform for free to improve your skills and network. Make sure that you know your value and that you are not being exploited. Make sure you are fully aware of your payment agreement and try to get signed contracts whenever possible.[27]
    • For example, if you have booked a role and are given a contract to sign, ask to take a day to read it over. You can then take it to a local dance studio to ask working dancers or instructors whether the rate and duration is acceptable. You should only work for free for a finite number of hours. Dance studios are a great place to get advice from peers. You can find both seasoned dancers or beginners also looking to break in. You should only work for free if you are learning new skills, networking, building your resume, or enjoying the experience.
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    Be mature. You must mature as a person to mature as a dancer. Gaining life experience will inform your performance. You will be better prepared to deal with the nerve-wracking life of a professional dancer having gone through your own challenges in life.[28]

Part 4
Optimizing Your Resources

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    Optimize technology. Connect with others through social media. Post on the walls of your peers and like their work. Become involved in forums. Take interest in both local and national projects. Learn to shoot, edit, and share your work. You want to be a prominent voice in the community.[29]
    • Connect with as many people as you can and work or organized projects to bring people together. You can only succeed by putting yourself out there.
    • Create a Youtube account. Put yourself out there and showcase your performances. Youtube gives you a great opportunity to dance without having to audition or be part of a school or company. Build a following and your may be able to create opportunities for commercials, music videos, or tours.[30]
    • Build your brand with other social media accounts. You can post links to your Youtube videos on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Create free profiles for these social media sites to expose your talent to as many people as possible.
    • Post frequently and regularly. Create a following by posting quality videos consistently. Make sure you create a schedule that works for you.
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    Save money for an emergency audition fund. Depending on your location, you may have to travel far for auditions. This may include hotels and airfare so save regularly to keep a healthy audition fund. The audition process may take several days to months so be prepared to have the finances ready.[31]
    • Beginner dancers may need one or several sources of income to supplement their dance. Create a budget so that you are able to support yourself until you feel that your dance career is at a point that you are comfortable.
    • Research if you are eligible for a scholarship, apprenticeship, or fellowship. There may be local or national organizations that help fund emerging creative talent. Apply early and make sure that you meet all the requirements.[32]
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    Take as many workshops and classes as you can. While studios can be a tight knit community, you never know where your opportunity will arise so don’t be afraid to learn from different studios. Different teachers will often have different approaches. Learning from a number of people can help you find your own style and philosophy.[33]
    • If you have the time and money, you may want to narrow your search to teachers and studios who have a good reputation within the industry. You also want to learn different styles of dance because it can open doors and lead you to a path you didn’t know existed. For example, while you may have been drawn to dance because of ballet you may find that hip hop dance gives you an opportunity for a television series.
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    Take care of your feet. Bunions, blisters, corns, floor burn, toe splits, and broken bones are all very real parts of dancing. Make sure to take every precaution and don’t neglect your feet. Rest and allow your wounds to heal or you may suffer permanent damage.[34]
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    Eat healthy. Think of your body as a machine that needs the right fuel to function. Junk food and a poor diet can make you lethargic and generally make it difficult to perform. Certain foods give you energy and focus to perform at your peak. There are both long term and short term benefits to adjusting your diet.[35]
    • Protein during breakfast can wake you up and give you fuel for the rest of your day. You may also snack on nuts, hummus, quinoa, granola, and fruit to keep you energized throughout the day. Have a salad in the evening. You may also have tea with anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger or turmeric. [36]
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    Sacrifice your time. Training may take up all your time. If you are a student, a full-time worker, or a parent, you must make sacrifices to fit in your practice time. Your social time will mostly be spent training or recovering. You must take care of your body especially if you are expending all your energy in long days.[37]
    • Even if you’re not training you could be warming up, cooling down, rolling out your muscles, cross-training, and sleeping. All these activities will help you prepare your body each day. You don’t want to compromise all your hard work with a preventable injury.[38]
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    Learn to write the proper bio and resume. Dancing is like any other career and you must learn how to present yourself. If you are freelancing, trying to get a side gig, or applying to a program, you must be able to write about yourself and pitch why you deserve an opportunity.[39]
    • You also have to learn how to pitch yourself for social media, to network, or to get an agent to work on your behalf. Writing a proper bio and resume includes your name, contact information, education, and experience. You may ask instructors to help format your profile or resume to meet current industry standards. you may also find templates online. If you search a famous dancer online, she most likely has a brief bio on her webpage. You may follow her formatting while making sure the personal information of the profile reflects your own.
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    Find support in other performers. Dance is a competitive field. You need people that will support, listen, and understand what you are going through. Ensembles can be close depending on the dynamics of the cast. Foster a healthy relationship with everyone you work with and come across. You never know when you’ll need a shoulder to lean on.[40]
    • Learn to choreograph and collaborate. Don’t limit yourself to working with dancers. Find other artists, actors, musicians, and designers to create your own performances. You may not have a feature role for a while so develop your repertoire by collaborating in different projects. You will also have the added benefit of learning how to deal with different personalities from different disciplines.[41]


  • To better your performance try helping other people and see the mistakes they do. While correcting them remember not avoid the same mistakes. Be aware of the corrections given to you and your peers by your teacher. It's best to keep a journal and take down notes so that you won't forget the lessons.
  • Never give up.


  • Dancing is a very risky and bumpy career.
  • Don't let people tell you that you won’t make it. Self-confidence is important.

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Categories: Dances