One thing that always separates the amateurs from the professionals is their attitude.
True professionals are competent, calm, and collected. They are courteous to other performers, to the producer, and to the venue staff. They’re punctual for shows, rehearsals and classes, and in the (odd)event that they are running late, they call or text.
A pro thinks ahead and is prepared for anything that might go wrong... and if it does, they handle it with poise. They know how to negotiate for gigs firmly but politely. They return emails and telephone calls promptly and don’t leave anyone hanging.
If a producer has asked for promotional materials, a professional dancer sends them in immediately. Professionals don’t make scenes or hog space in the dressing room, perform longer than their allotted time, or drop out of group choreography the day before a show. Professionals are kind and polite to the wait staff, technicians, stagehands and volunteers working at the venues where they perform…because without these people, there would be no show!
A true pro can take direction or constructive criticism well, and can distinguish between critique and a personal attack. Critique is beneficial to you, but when it’s unsolicited, uncalled for, mean spirited, or comes disguised as a backhanded compliment, it’s not critique, it’s designed to make you feel bad. Don’t let it! Act professionally...but don't let some idiot make you feel unworthy, either.
As a performer, you’ll constantly be subjected to scrutiny. Deal with it, learn from it, take the good with the bad, and don’t let “haters” get you down. Professionals know how to deal with rejection- because they have to. If you’re passed over at an audition, lose a competition, or aren’t invited to perform on a show, there’s always a reason why. Often, it might not have anything remotely to do with you or your dancing. You could be too short, too tall, too blonde, not blonde enough, too young, too old, or whatever! Maybe you’ve been doing a lot of local gigs, or a particular show was only open to dancers from a certain studio. Rejection comes with the territory, don’t take it personally.
Remember, any time you get a gig, someone else will be disappointed that they weren’t picked!
A professional dancer needs to strive to prevent injuries of any kind. Your body is literally your moneymaker, so protect your health. Curtail any activities that might hurt you, including exhausting yourself by over practicing-before important gigs…. and they’re all important. Get enough sleep, eat clean and healthy and maintain your weight, but don’t fall prey to eating disorders.
If you need to cancel a gig for a good reason, do it without waiting until the last minute- unless it's an absolute emergency- and offer to find a replacement. A good reason is that you have a serious injury, a death in your family or a communicable disease ( like the flu) that might make those around you fall ill.
Having your period is not a reason to cancel a gig. Can you imagine this scenario playing out in any major ballet company, among the Rockettes, on "Dancing With The Stars" or "So You Think You can Dance"? I thought not! Our dance world is roughly 95% female...and menstruation happens to everyone once a month. Take some Midol, and get a grip!
Professionals know how much to charge for performances, classes or workshops. Different types of gigs demand different pricing, but no matter what, you need to know what other dancers in your area are charging for their services. This is called “the going rate”. While well-known dancers may charge more than the going rate for their shows, you have to realize that when you charge less than the going rate, you are undercutting.
Other dancers do not take undercutting the regional minimum for performances lightly, because in the end, it hurts everyone – especially those who make their sole income from dancing...and that's what you're trying to do, right? If you are unsure of what to charge, ask your instructor or other professionals in the area. Believe me, they’ll be glad to discuss money and minimum rates with you as a professional courtesy.
This being said, sometimes it’s wise to take unpaid gigs. While you should never undercut other dancers, and it’s a no-brainer to turn down a “regular” gig that only pays in tips, it can be very beneficial to take legitimate unpaid gigs. I'm not talking about those annoying situations where a venue or private party is trying to wheedle a free show out of you... so before your get your panties in a bunch, please hear me out.
If you use your discretion and pick wisely, you’ll be able gain experience and get exposure, build up your resume, give back to your community, be seen and make contacts at unpaid gigs. Often, the perks of doing select unpaid gigs are worth way more than cash! I’m talking about dancing at haflas, neighborhood festivals, fund-raising benefits or charity events, dance festivals, in student or indie films or music videos, and for certain situations when an event producer you have worked with is putting on a great show with a limited budget.
You could also decide to take a gig where no cash is exchanged, but get paid via the barter system, such as with an ad in the program, free admission to a workshop, or something like that, which will enhance and compliment what you are striving for in your career. Before accepting or declining an offer to work for "free", weigh the options and figure out if this specific opportunity will be worth something to you, by helping to further your career.
A professional doesn't fall prey to gossiping and "high school" style games and power plays... They rise above that pettiness, knowing that at any moment, for any reason, in person or online, they could be the next "victim". Unfortunately, this is all too common in our industry, so try not to get involved. "Be Switzerland", ie. take a neutral position. You'll be glad when you did.
Conversely, if you are the victim of bad-mouthing or gossip based upon assumptions, take the high road and keep quiet about it until it blows over- because it will. The people that participate in this behavior are always looking for the next big scandal to gossip about. If you know anything about my own history as a "public figure" you may know that a few years back, I was gossiped about and defamed online incessantly over a period of time. There are also a number of other constantly working - and respected- professionals that this has happened to in the near past. This happens in every line of work, from the arts to the corporate world. If someone is targeting you, it's usually because they are jealous. That doesn't make it hurt any less when it's happening, but don't let it get you down...
The people who are participating in this bullying are usually not the dancers who are working constantly, touring the world, organizing festivals, producing shows, and making DVDs.
A professional shows up with her music, cosmetics, and every piece of costuming and props in good working order. Nothing is forgotten at home. Make a checklist, keep it on your computer, and refer to it as you pack for every gig.
A pro is specific in all forms of communication: emails, voicemails and texts. Never assume someone knows what gig you are referring to, never assume that someone has your contact information. List it at the end of emails and texts, or say it slowly and clearly at the beginning- and at the end- of every voicemail you leave.
Act like a professional and you will be treated like one!