Learning how to become a professional dancer is equal parts very complicated and very simple.
On one hand, all you need to do is attend a professional dance audition and get hired.
On the other hand, there are a lot of steps to getting you to that audition and performing at the level necessary to book the job.
Even if you went to college for dance or theatre, taking what you’ve learned and applying it to the real world is a challenge. Between finding an agent, getting headshots, formatting your resume, and finding auditions, learning how to become a professional dancer in “real life” is hard work.
That’s why I’ve put together this guide with everything you need to know about how to become a professional dancer.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and insult your intelligence by informing you that in order to become a professional dancer you need to have dance training. So, for the purposes of this guide, I’m going to assume that you have a solid foundation of dance training behind you.
That said, continuing your dance training while you are actively pursuing your career is paramount to your success as a professional dancer.
Professional athletes don’t just cross-train. They cross-train and they practice their sport so they can try different strategies, strengthen challenging skills, and continue to improve.
The same is true of professional dancers. Taking dance classes regularly not only keeps you in shape, but it allows you grow artistically and helps you continue to improve as a dancer.
Taking classes also allows you to remain adept at all genres of dance that interest you. And, in the end, the more versatile your dance training, the more you have to pull from artistically.
So, how do you find pre-professional and professional dance classes?
But even if you aren’t in a big city, a quick google search and let you know of studios in your area that offer drop in classes.
While we are on the topic of training. Let’s talk cross-training.
Cross-training is an imperative tool for anyone exploring how to become a professional dancer.
As alluded to before, professional dancers are professional athletes and they need to train as such. It takes incredible strength, stamina, and mobility to do what we do. And in order to prevent injury and maintain our physical capacity, we need to cross-train.
So, what is cross-training?
It’s working out in a way that is different than your chosen sport.
For example, a football player looking to throw the ball farther does not simply play football between practices and throw the ball just like he would in a game to get better.
Might he improve a bit? Sure.
Might he also get an overuse injury? Possibly.
So, to prevent injury and throw the ball farther, a football player lifts weights, throws medicine balls at the floor, and builds general strength and increases his end-range mobility.
Similarly, a dancer wanting to jump higher, should not only practice jumping, but train their legs via deadlifts, squats, and lunges to increase their end-range power.
Okay, so you have training and you’re taking classes. But how to do you actually book the job to become a professional dancer?
Well, sometimes, taking class often enough builds relationships with choreographers and you’ll get opportunities just from taking classes! (More on that later!)
However, this is not the norm. No, the fastest road to becoming a professional dancer is auditioning.
So, how do you find auditions? Do you have to have an agent? I’ll tell you. And No.
You do not have to have an agent to get auditions. In fact, there are a lot of websites specifically designed to help dancers find auditions. These sites list upcoming auditions for shows and gigs that you can either submit for or put in your calendar to attend.
The biggest ones are:
Casting networks – Casting Networks is mostly geared toward film, TV, and commercials and it’s a great resource for finding short gigs between long jobs.
Backstage – Backstage is an excellent resource, not only for finding auditions, but for learning about trends in the industry, hearing from casting directors, and reading about other actors’ experiences.
Actor’s access – Actor’s Access is one of the best tools you can have as someone learning how to become a professional dancer. Here you will find postings from casting directors seeking dancers and actors for projects. You can then submit your materials directly to the casting team and even leave them a note to introduce yourself and tell them why you’re the best fit for their project.
Answers4dancers – Answers4dancers is wonderful in that it is the only site listed here specifically geared toward dancers only. Here you can find auditions as well as a wealth of information about the dance industry today.
Playbill – Playbill is one of the best ways to find dance auditions specifically for live theatre. Simply click on their “Jobs” tab, set your settings, and happy hunting!
Now, if you are a concert dancer looking to audition for a company, these auditions are usually listed on their site. Another thing to note is that some of these auditions cost money. Usually the cost is not much more than a drop in clas would be, but it’s always important to check!
Okay, so you’ve found an audition to attend. The next order of business is to make sure you have the appropriate resume.
For concert dancers, your resume may look a bit different as many companies like to have a brief description of your work above your credits.
For theatre and commercial dancers, your resume will mostly consist of your credits and training. There are tons of resources like this one that can show you how to format your resumes.
But when it comes to listing your credits for both commercial, theatre, and concert dance you’ll want to be sure to list the show, your role, and the director or choreographer that lead the project.
What are credits?
“Credits” is just a fancy way of saying “roles/shows you’ve performed.”
Beneath your list of work, you’ll want to list your training. This is where you can list your college training if applicable, you can list any private coaches, or even intensives you’ve attended.
In conjunction with your resume, you’ll also need an 8×10 headshot.
Headshots are very important to professional dancers because they are often the first impression casting has of them. That’s why it is so important for them to represent not only what you look like but who you are.
A good headshot draws the viewer in and gives them a small glimpse of what you’re like. Headshots can be friendly, engaging, fierce, or moody. The important thing is that it represents you and is appropriate for the project you are auditioning for.
While any photographer will be capable of taking a good headshot. Take your time to do some research.
There are photographers who dedicate their entire careers to producing excellent headshots for performers. And since headshots can be costly, it’s important to know that you’ll be getting exactly what you need.
Similarly, there are photographers who dedicate their careers to photographing dancers. Professional dancers often need full body shots either for company auditions or for their websites and social media. These can be incredibly helpful tools for marketing yourself as professional dancer.
There is a pretty rampant myth out there that you can’t book work without an agent. And while having an agent sometimes makes booking work easier, it is completely untrue that you have to have an agent to book big jobs.
Furthermore, I’d like to emphasize that having an agent that is not a good fit for your goals can sometimes hold you back.
However, agents can be an incredible help in getting you into audition rooms that otherwise might not be open to you. This is because casting offices sometimes have what’s called “agency submissions” or “agent appointments” before they host an open call or union run audition.
Having an agent that can vouch for you as a performer and recommend you for projects means you will not only be seen at the auditions you find and attend, but you will also be submitted by your agent or projects.
Why is this helpful to someone learning how to become a professional dancer?
Well, first, because more auditions means more opportunities. But also, because the more a casting director sees your resume and headshot, the more likely they are to bring you in again and again.
So, how do you find an agent?
Finding and agent that connects with you and vice versa can be a long journey.
The most important thing to remember is that working with an agent is a team sport. Once you get an agent you don’t stop looking for auditions and wait for them to get you in the room.
No. An agent will want to know that you are working along side of them to attend auditions.
That’s why you need to find someone that is excited to represent you, understands where you fit in the industry now, and understands where you want to go in the industry.
And that’s why it’s so important to get to know yourself as a professional dancer before you add an agent into the mix. Because if you don’t know where you fit and where you want to go, how can you expect them to know?
A few things to consider:
When you research agents for professional dancers take a look at where the agency is located. That will give you an idea of who they are connected to in your industry. Make sure their connections are ones that are applicable and desirable to you.
Next, take a look at the type of artists they represent. Do you fill a hole in their roster that they might be looking for? Do you fit the types of projects they’d be best at submitting you for? These are all important questions to ask yourself before you submit to an agency.
Then, once you get an interview, make sure you know the answers to these questions:
- What shows/gigs/companies do you see yourself fitting into right now?
- What are your goals for your career?
- What connections have you already made with casting directors, choreographers, etc. that the agents will be able to capitalize on?
Knowing the answer to these questions will help both you and your prospective agent understand if this agency is a good fit.
Networking is a very important tool to use when exploring how to become a professional dancer. For professional dancers, networkin can be tricky because it’s not like we have corporate mixers the way other industries do.
Or do we?
That optional cast dinner with the creative team? That opening night party? The way you speak with the monitor in the holding room for the auditions?
Those are are examples of a dancer’s “corporate mixer.”
The reality is, our industry is relational. We collaborate and create art together, sometimes becoming as close as family with our cast.
But never underestimate how closely members of the creative team, stage crew, and more are watching.
The truth is, many of the jobs I have booked have been through referrals from past directors, stage managers, and even teaching assistants from classes I’ve taken.
So yes, you can absolutely utilize websites like Actors Connection to make connections with people out of reach from your current network. But do not underestimate networking by taking the same dance class consistently to get to know a choreographer or their assistant.
Do not underestimate the value of connecting with the creative team on the job.
Now, if this feels icky to you, I want you to think about it this way:
You are going to be making friends in this industry no matter what. You will be working with these people no matter what. Wouldn’t it be valuable to build an intentional relationship with the people you work with no matter what they could get you? It just makes work more fun!
Suddenly, you aren’t networking. You are being yourself and building relationships. And that type of networking is what yields jobs and auditions more than any pay to play class ever will.
If you’re learning how to become a professional dancer you’ve likely heard the phrase,
“If you can do anything else, do that.”
Well, I’m here to reject that.
Dancers are incredible people. Our minds are trained to do so many things at once and all the while make it look effortless. Most of the dancers I meet are quite capable of doing almost anything they set their mind to.
But what I think anyone learning how to become a professional dancer needs is passion.
Pursuing a career in dance is challenging, exhausting, and full of rejection. The only way to be tenacious under those circumstances is to love what you do so much that you don’t really want to do anything else. Even if it might be easier and more lucrative, your heart always comes back to dance.
That is not to say that a professional dancer has to be singular either–I mean, Dancers Who Lift was created by a professional dancer while dancing professionally. But at the end of the day, all of the hustle and hard work that it takes to become a professional dancer, has to be worth it to you.
So, what do you think? Do you want to learn how to become a professional dancer to the best of your ability? Train along side other professional dancers? Expand your network instantly?
Think about giving Dancers Who Lift a follow. We’ll be here. Training, teaching, and cheering you o