Remain Persistent, Inspired, And Self-Motivated

To make it in dance, you need to stand out — and not just on stage. The dance world is highly competitive, physically demanding and requires a special level of persistence. If you wish to pursue a life-long career in the industry, you must obtain formal training, build your professional network, and dedicate endless hours to honing your craft. And yes, dancers don’t dance forever. Aspiring performers should have a willingness to explore other opportunities in the field. You may discover a gift for teaching, a talent for artistic direction, a passion for arts administration, or a desire to open a dance studio. Musical theater production and stage management are also possible career choices that can involve dance.

If you are looking to cultivate a career in dance, consider the following:

  • Education
  • Mentorship
  • Career Options & Transitions

We’ll provide a rundown of the unique aspects of the dance profession and discovering resources to help you achieve your goals.

Education & Training

How do you become a professional dancer?

Professional dancers often require many years of formal training. Whether studying musical theater or traditional modern dance, perfecting your craft is pivotal to building your career. A majority of dancers begin their training in adolescence. For example, professional ballet dancers are often expected to be career-ready by 18. However, a majority of students discover their passion for dance by the time they enter high school. Some may decide to audition for admission into dance conservatories or dedicate extensive time to attending master classes and workshops. Dance conservatories are designed to expose dancers to a wide range of techniques and prepare students to study at the college level or enter a professional training program.

Although a college education is not necessary for a dancer, undergraduate programs can provide students with a variety of opportunities and build their proficiency. Competitive performing arts schools, like Juilliard Dance and Oberlin College, offer high-quality instruction and prepare students for exploring a wide range of dance disciplines.

Movement artist Ana Fiore earned her BA in Dance from Connecticut College and discovered her niche early in her career.

“You can generally determine what a college dance department will focus on based on the faculty and required classes. Once in college, students are further exposed to a variety of dance and performance practices and begin to determine what they hope to specialize in, which of course can shift based on different opportunities and experiences.”

She also traveled internationally and attended prominent dance festivals: The American Dance Festival and The Bates Dance Festival. “Attending both of these festivals influenced the college I ultimately attended, the type of work I am now interested in, and connected me with artists I continue to see and work with in New York”, says Fiore.

Another advantage of formal training or going to college is mentorship from teachers and the camaraderie you build with fellow classmates. The academic program you select should support your individual growth and align with your aspirations as a performer. Upon graduation, you may dance in a musical theater production or join an international dance troupe. Every experience is worthwhile and builds upon your performance training.


As you gain knowledge of new possibilities in dance and experience with how the industry operates, it’s important to have mentorship. As your life goals evolve, you can have someone actively involved in your professional development. Mentors help identify opportunities and help students overcome challenges they may encounter. Having someone to simply talk to about your experience is invaluable.  There are many benefits of having a mentor including:

  • Access to, and contact with, an artist who has experienced similar challenges
  • Gaining confidence in your artistic ability
  • Networking opportunities
  • Obtaining  firsthand knowledge of the industry

How do you find a mentor? Some organizations offer structured mentoring programs; you can also find reach out to current or former teachers or dance professionals who you admire. Remember that most mentors are volunteers so it’s important to cultivate a relationship over shared interests. The website, Dance/USA, provides great tools for dancers interested in developing mentorship relationships.

Whether you’re in a professional company, a college dance program, or a conservatory, a good dance mentor is there to provide advice, help, and encouragement.


Career Options and Transitions

Dancing is a very physically demanding and intense career. You spend hours in rehearsals preparing for productions. Intense performance schedules and rigorous routines require extreme endurance to handle leaps, jumps and other physically demanding movements. Because of the physical limitations and high risk of injury, dancers often retire by their thirties, and many turn to choreography as their next career step. A choreographer creates and sets original movement on the dancers based on a theme, image, story, piece of music, or movement idea.

Elena Light is the programs & presentation associate at Gibney Dance. As a practicing dancer & choreographer, she has devoted her career to cultivating her practice and nurturing fellow performers. She strongly encourages dancers to be fully aware of their creative intentions when developing new work, they should be prepared to articulate their artistic choices.

“Students should be asking themselves why they’re doing what they’re doing. When they make a choreographic choice, can they defend it?”

Gibney’s latest initiative, Work Up, highlights how choreographers develop their individual techniques and articulate their narrative to audiences. The dance company offers a myriad of contemporary dance and ballet classes that are a great training ground for emerging dancers. In addition, they provide opportunities for exposure to choreographers teaching classes, and to fellow students creating work.

Beyond the roles of dancer or choreographer lie a vast array of opportunities you may not have even thought about pursuing. The online platform, Careers Transitions for Dancers, enables dancers to re-define their career possibilities and develop the new skills in a variety of disciplines. Here are a selection of positions that an established dance professional may purse:

Dance Teacher

Dance Teachers are responsible for leading dance classes for individual or groups of people. Their duties are closely related to teaching various dancing techniques. They may work at dance studios, production companies, high schools or colleges. Their primary roles are monitoring student´s performance and coordinating dance-related activities on behalf of an organization.

Dance Captain

A dance captain is a senior dancer who is appointed to direct rehearsals, support new dancers and provide performance feedback. He or she can also be called upon to substitute when another dancer is injured. The role is most common in musical theater and in productions with large ensembles.

Rehearsal Director

A rehearsal director schedules and supervises rehearsals to ensure that the dancers know and interpret the choreography as set by the choreographer. The rehearsal director also provides strategic notes after a performance.

Artistic Director

Artistic directors oversee the artistic programming of a dance company. This may include staff, such as dancers, choreographers and designers, and developing a full season that promotes the organizational mission.

Arts Administrator

Arts administrators can support the dance community in a variety of ways, including fundraising for arts organizations, offering professional development, playing an advocacy role, compiling resources (such as this one!) for dancers, among other responsibilities.

Inspiration is indispensable

As you increase your skill set, you must also remain persistent, inspired and self-motivated! Remember why you choose this incredible career. Attend festivals and foster connections within the dance community. By building relationships with other like-minded artists, you will increase your confidence and challenge yourself to grow. You can also join online communities like, Dance NYC and The Dance Enthusiast.  

For artist Lauren Slone, dance is a completely transformative and awe-inspiring process. As she rawly states, “dancing is a celebration of exactly who we are, the stuff we are born with, the intrinsic worth of every single body.“

Whether watching the performance piece An Integrator’s Manual or supporting fellow artists at MAP Fund, Lauren is constantly motivated to share her vision with fellow performers and enrich her individual practice.

“Performance activates my worldview. It informs every other moment of my day, and gives me a clear way to move execution closer to my intention, because it builds a tenacity to persist despite facing increasingly complex challenges… I can’t count the number of times dancing has caused a slight (but mighty) internal shift of perspective. Has seeded my compassion for myself. Has expanded my compassion for another person. Has focused my attention to beautiful details. Has increased my faith in what’s to come. Has moved my inaction to active citizenship [sic]”

You can do the same. Channel your creativity move towards building your own dance career. Visit NYFA Classifieds to search for a variety of dance open calls and jobs.

And tell us what other dance opportunities we should know about using the hashtag #NYFACreativeCareers

This is the second post of a new weekly series, NYFA Creative Careers, about working in the arts. Share your ideas for future posts on Twitter with us with the hashtag #NYFACreativeCareers.

– Glory Edim, Program Associate, Online Resources 

Images: Gibney Dance

Amy Aronoff
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