“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
- Thomas Jefferson
Dancers dream about turning professional in the same way little girls dream about becoming fairytale princess…it all seems so dazzling and magical. In some ways, career in dance is similar to a fairytale, in that everything is not always what it appears to be. The life of a professional can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s also extremely hard work. Insane amounts of time and money- and the proverbial blood, sweat and tears- go into building and sustaining a successful dance career.
Business savvy is a must- essentially, you are running a small business, and the product is YOU. You’ll be doing all your own job negotiations, publicity, promotion, marketing and travel bookings. As the old theater saying goes, “The smallest part of show business is the show!”
You need great technique and stage presence, but you’ll also have to cultivate social skills and diplomacy. In any type of career, even in the arts, there’s always a lot of politics. It’s crucial to believe in yourself and your dreams, but you’ll also have to have a tough skin, because there will be a lot of rejection. Like acting, modeling, and the music industry, it’s a given there will always more talent than jobs; the competition is fierce even though it might be friendly. There will always be dancers who are younger, prettier and thinner than you are, with more technique, a bigger personality, and better costumes … and you’ll probably be up for many of the same gigs!
If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who breaks away from the pack and starts becoming well known, you can be reasonably sure there will be drama, jealousy and gossip …because no matter what, there always is! Some people just don’t know how to play nice.
Be prepared for difficult choices and making sacrifices, both financially and otherwise. For years, I ironically referred to my professional lifestyle as The Really Expensive Hobby I Laughingly Refer To As “My Career”! Though I was gigging constantly and teaching, I was barely paying my rent and bills, and had no free time whatsoever.
You’ll need to decide if you’ll keep your day job, go part-time, or try to support yourself on dance alone. If you are keeping your job, it needs to be flexible enough to accommodate your dancing. If you're quitting your job and just going for it, make sure you have saved up a decent amount of money to sustain yourself if the gigs aren't as frequent as you'd like them to be. Also- consider this: once you’re self-employed, insurance and benefits aren’t provided… unless you pay for them! Money will be tight, especially at first; you’ll be investing every cent you make right back into your career. Only a precious few ever create a truly lucrative career from their dancing.
Is your spouse or significant other supportive about your career decision? If you’re single, are you fine with remaining that way, at least for a while? Most professional dancers don’t have too much time for socializing, and in this profession in particular, you’ll pretty much be surrounded by women! If you have kids, whether you’re a single mom or not, you’ll obviously need to think about childcare for all those gigs, classes and rehearsals.
Last- but certainly not least: If you are a promising dancer driven with career aspirations- but live in small town without real opportunities-would you be willing to relocate to a larger city, a different state or even to a foreign country in order to work?
Question: Do you want to do this for love or for money?
If your answer was love, then you’re on the right track.
Dance because you need to, because you have to, because you can’t imagine life without it. If you are doing something you love and doing it well, the money will follow.