10 Dance Career Tips From Professional Dancers
Dance careers can be difficult to jump-start, so why not listen to some advice from professional dancers?
This past weekend, we had some additions to our usual group of friends, professional dancers. After I got over my initial sense of awe, we began to talk about their dance careers. I’ve always been fascinated with how people rise to the top of their profession. Professional athletes, movie stars and bands, they all have a unique story but there are usually some core similarities. This article outlines the basic things you should do to start your career in dance to become a professional dancer. Now, you’ll need a little bit of luck, good timing and connections as well, but you could get all of that while getting a Big Mac at your local McDonalds. Natural talent is a good base, but it won’t take you to the top. You need to nurture that talent, develop it and present it to the right people. This article shows you the basics. Some are more obvious than others. Most of you just need some reassurance that you’re taking the right steps to reach your goal, while others have no idea where to start. I believe that not all people in the “know” have the level of talent they need, and not all people with talent are in the “know”. I want to change that, so let’s start!
1. People do not become professionals in anything by reading a few articles or practicing a few hours a week. They become students of their profession. Students go to school. This goes for professional dancers as well. Now, there are a select few that push themselves on their own and have developed a wonderful ability, but that is still not enough. Their talent is rough and unrefined. Regardless of how many years you’ve practiced in your basement, everyone needs some formal training. Nothing can replace a veteran dancer showing you right from wrong, critiquing you and encouraging you. Start by going to a dance studio. Obviously, the sooner you do this the better. You’ll rack up experience and the younger you are the more receptive you are to learning. A good rule of thumb is the bigger the dance studio the better the dance professionals. However, a good teacher has experience, but also a connection with their pupil. This relationship can be forged at smaller, local dance studios as well. Remember, this is just the beginning. There are many professionals that reminisce about a grade school teacher that influenced them the most. Of course, it was probably some Julliard professor that trained them the most, but the person who taught them passion and desire is usually someone they met earlier in their dance career.
2. Dance camps and other supplemental dance institutions are a great way to increase your exposure to various aspects of the dance industry. You will network, learn techniques and be exposed to different teachers and performances. Going outside your comfort zone is a great way to build independence, character and a sense of responsibility as a dancer.
3. When you graduate high school, you’ll be looking to go on to college. This decision should be well thought out. You’re going to trust them with your education that will play a significant role in life after college. As an aspiring, professional dancer, you will want to attend the most prestigious dance school you can find. Try to find an accredited dance school, but at the very least any dance school is better than none. Make sure you start planning before it’s time to apply, like well before. You should begin your research about dance schools while you’re still in high school. Find out what requirements they are looking for in a dancer. Do whatever you can to better your chances at being accepted.
By the end of your formal training, you should, if you haven’t already, be narrowing down your dance techniques to a few select, specialized styles. You need to seek out the best dance teacher(s) you can find in those styles and train—train—train. Like any profession, it’s all about education, and for a professional dancer, you never stop learning and practicing. Once again, if you are serious and want to advance in your dance career, at this point you need an expert, a real professional dance teacher.
4. The next tip is something that I’ve written about before. You need good head and body shots, and for that you need a good photographer. Refer to my article, “4 Tips for Great Actor Headshots”, on Talent Trove for more information about what you need for a good portfolio. Yes, it’s about actor headshots, but there are some valid and transferable tips for dancers as well. The important thing to remember for your body shots as a dancer is that you should take pictures of yourself in various dancewears. Don’t wear flashy jewelry, use lighting or shadows to create illusions, or distract the observer with a complex or interesting background. You should be the focus and the subject of interest, nothing else. Good photographs can really help you further you dance career by grabbing the attention of those who should be watching you.
5. At this point, you should already have been to minor dance auditions and castings, just to get your feet wet and some sort of experience, however, now you are ready for some serious work…and it is work. Don’t ever forget that this is your job, your profession. This new level of dance might come as a shock or seem like foreign territory, but you must believe that you are good enough to be here. You are good enough to be here. This is a higher standard. It will be different. It will be difficult, but that is what makes it so much greater when you succeed. You’ve come this far. This is what you’ve been training for, and others have found potential in you, enough to accept and train you. You belong here. The more of these auditions and casting calls you attend, the more comfortable you will become.
6. Those networking and people skills you picked up during your days at dance camp and college will now come into play. You’re in the deep end of the pool now, playing with the big kids. Time to mingle and make new friends. You have to start talking to those professional dancers you see walking the studio halls during your dance auditions. Talk to other dancers who are auditioning. Talk to the judges, casting directors, agents, anyone that will talk to you. Ask them questions, pick their brain, and learn from their stories. Even if they don’t answer your questions, their behavior, demeanor, and way of conversing with you will teach you something. The best thing you can do is become friends with someone successful.
7. You should be fairly comfortable with auditioning by now, and ready to start searching for a dance agent or a dance agency. You will most likely have to perform a dance routine for them in order to be accepted, however, once you’re in you will be given opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t know existed. These dance agents and dance agencies get the scoop on dance auditions and casting calls so try your best to get represented by one. Once you are in, your dance career will be given wings. However, this is no time to take it easy and coast on through. Now is the time to step it up.
8. Back to what I mentioned before, “…you never stop learning and practicing.” Well, it’s time to train—train—train. Practice makes perfect, I know you’ve heard that before. This intense training period isn’t about learning new styles as it might have been about before. This dance training will focus on honing your existing skills and techniques down to a sharp, crisp point. You need to be awesome in what you do, not mediocre in a broad range of areas. A professional dancer needs to be at the top of their specific field, not hovering in the middle across the board. You’ll have plenty of time later to expand your horizons, but for now you need a job so you can gain valuable experience…and money. Also, stop and take a breath. Look around, you’re becoming a dancer, and your dance career is beginning to take shape. Enjoy it!
9. When you think you’re ready, and don’t wait to long at this point, start researching some choreographers you would like to work with or train with as a pupil. Most dance choreographers will offer dance classes at their own dance studios. You have to wait this long before you attempt to train with a professional dance choreographer, because they are just that, professionals. Dance choreographers will only work with the best dancers so you have to be at a certain point of your dance career for them to take interest in you. There are many benefits to working with a dance choreographer. You become familiar with the way this aspect of the dance industry works. They will begin to recognize you and perhaps throw some work your way. You will also be updated and trained in the most current dance techniques and trends. The fewer things that surprise you during a dance audition the better.
10. At the end of all this there is one important thing to remember, that usually separates those that make it and those that do not. If this is truly what you want, and you’ve dreamt about it all your life, never give up trying. Every successful person in the world has one thing in common. They were relentless in their pursuit of happiness. If you want to make the most out of your dance career, it will take a lot of hard work so don’t get discouraged. You’ll get rejected. Everyone does. Being a dancer is not easy for anyone, but people do it. Why not you?
These tips are not set in stone or by any means in exact order. Everyone is different and some people might jump ahead or start one step later in their career. The important thing is that you have a clear plan with goals, and you work hard to achieve them.
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