The path to dance success isn’t always a straight line. We asked three pros to reflect on their careers—including the disappointments, unexpected opportunities and inspiring moments of perseverance.
Daniel “Cloud” Campos
Currently a commercial performer, choreographer and director
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Performing at Universal Studios Florida
Campos began breaking at a very young age, but he didn’t join a crew until he moved to Tampa, FL, at age 12. “I went to a roller rink, and there they were—the Skill Methodz! I was so impressed,” he says. “We started going to competitions and traveling around the world, making a name for ourselves.” Eventually the Skill Methodz landed
a job at Universal Studios Florida in a show called Street Breaks.
Touring with Madonna
On a visit to NYC, Campos heard about a Madonna tour audition. “I didn’t have an agent, but I crashed the audition anyway,” he says. He pushed through the choreography portion—an experience he’d never had—to get to the freestyle section of the audition. “I knew if they could see my breaking, I’d have a good chance of making it.” He did make it, and ended up working on two of Madonna’s tours.
The Commercial Life
After his Madonna audition, Campos got an agent in L.A. and started building his resumé. He landed gigs with a variety of directors and performers, including Jon M. Chu, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. Campos quickly discovered just how intense the commercial dance world could be. “The audition process is intimidating when people have expectations of you,” he says.
Discovering His Passion for Directing
While dancing in music videos and films, Campos realized he had his own ideas about how to capture movement on camera. He shot his first short dance film, The Paperboy, while
he was working at Universal Studios, and posted it on YouTube. “It ended up getting a lot of attention,” he says. “I know I can’t dance forever, and I realized this was another creative path to take.”
Campos’ newest dance short, Today’s the Day, is about facing your fears and walking into the unknown. “I enjoy telling stories with my body,” he says. “I want to bring back the golden days of dance films.” He’s looking forward to more dance-inspired directing projects.
Currently a member of Nederlands Dans Theater (and a new mom!)
(Photo by Marty Sohl)
Dancing with LINES Ballet
After graduating from the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Jacoby immediately accepted a job with the contemporary company Alonzo King LINES Ballet, in San Francisco. “I had hoped to join PNB, but they didn’t want to take the risk of hiring me because I was so tall,” says the 5' 11" dancer. “LINES was a different path than I had imagined.”
Though she enjoyed working with LINES, Jacoby still dreamed of a super-classical ballet job. She continued to attend auditions while working with the company. “I met so many people through auditions,” Jacoby says. “In the end, the conventional ballet path didn’t work out for me. But those endless auditions were very enriching. I figured out there’s more than one way to make it in the ballet world.”
Freelancing in NYC
After a few years with LINES, Jacoby decided to strike out on her own in NYC. “I created a DVD and website, got a commercial agent, started auditioning for movies and Broadway shows and took classes at Steps on Broadway every day,” she says. “I landed a gig with choreographer Lar Lubovitch, and from there, it just snowballed.”
Jacoby & Pronk
One of Jacoby’s freelance jobs was touring with Complexions Contemporary Ballet as a guest artist, and that’s where she met dancer Rubinald Pronk. They began to perform together as Jacoby & Pronk, building a name for themselves by collaborating with choreographers such as Christopher Wheeldon and performing at festivals like Jacob’s Pillow.
Joining Nederlands Dans Theater
While Jacoby was collaborating with Pronk, Paul Lightfoot and Sol Léon, then resident choreographers with Nederlands Dance Theater, brought up the idea of Jacoby joining NDT. But at that point, “I was still excited by making my own path,” Jacoby says. Two years later, after Lightfoot was made artistic director of NDT, he offered Jacoby a contract—and she was ready to accept it. “One of the reasons I stopped freelancing was fatigue,” Jacoby explains. “We were performing four pieces a night, I was doing all of the administrative work and we were traveling nine months of the year. I was trying to get funding, which was way over my head. So I was ready for company life again.”
Jacoby has now danced with NDT for three seasons. She’s able to maintain her professional connections by teaching, producing galas and performing at festivals. These days, she’s enjoying spending time with her new baby.
Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie
Currently a teacher at Broadway Dance Center and founder of Ephrat Asherie Dance
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Discovering Her Passion
Asherie began studying ballet at age 10 and Graham-based modern dance at 14. She loved hip-hop music, but “it was the ’90s, so hip-hop classes weren’t available at most dance studios,” she says. She went on to study at Barnard College, majoring in Italian. Halfway through her degree, she saw Rennie Harris’ groundbreaking hip-hop work, Rome and Jewels, which gave her a new perspective on dance. “It completely blew me away,” she says.
Adventures in Italy
Asherie was studying abroad in Italy when opportunity struck. “I was looking for an apartment, and I accidentally walked into a b-boy gym,” she says. “It just fell into my lap!” She started breaking, and found that it gave her the voice she’d been looking for. “I didn’t have to look in the mirror at my body—it was freeing to just be connected to the music and the movement.”
Back in NYC, Asherie discovered the city’s underground breaking scene. “You had to
prove yourself there,” she says. “The guys always thought I was someone’s girlfriend or a groupie.” One dancer in particular, Richard Santiago (aka Break Easy), took her under his wing. “He would teach me mini classes, spin records, show old breaking footage and share newspaper clippings,” Asherie says. “It was such a nurturing approach to my education.”
Committing to Dance
Life after college was challenging. Asherie waited tables, worked as an Italian tutor, wrote grants and danced at night. “I landed a breaking gig, and called in to work well in advance to get someone to cover my waitressing shift,” she remembers. “But my boss ignored the request, and I was fired.” It was a crucial moment: Asherie had also just landed her first jobs teaching dance, at Peridance Capezio Center and Broadway Dance Center. “I decided it was time to commit myself entirely to my practice, and I got an agent.”
Forming Her Own Company
Asherie began to develop as a choreographer as well as a dancer, and eventually founded Ephrat Asherie Dance. The group earned residencies at New York Live Arts and Jacob’s Pillow, which allowed Asherie to further explore her creative voice. She also kept up a busy teaching schedule. “When I’m fulfilled in my choreography, that makes me a better teacher,” she says.
After Asherie curated a show at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side of NYC, she was commissioned to do a full-evening work for the venue. The result, A Single Ride, was nominated for two Bessie awards—one of NYC’s highest dance honors.
Asherie recently finished a residency on Governors Island through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She’s also an MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin—a low-residency program that allows her to continue making work in NYC. This spring, she’ll be touring with Get on the Good Foot, a dance tribute to James Brown.
Karen Chuang was a freshman at University of California, Los Angeles, when she was
given the opportunity to dance in a K-pop music video being filmed in L.A. “I took all my books with me and studied during any downtime I could find,” says Chuang. She went on to book jobs with Brian Friedman and “Glee,” and to lead UCLA’s hip-hop team, NSU Modern, before graduating summa cum laude with a degree in business economics.
The whole point of getting strong dance training is to work toward a dance career—but sometimes, jobs come along before you’re done with college, or even high school. While balancing homework and dance commitments with an apprenticeship or auditions can be challenging, it’s not impossible. “The lifestyle isn’t for everyone,” Chuang says. “But if you get an opportunity you can’t pass up, take the leap.” Here’s how to make it work.
Karen Chuang (top, far left) on a music video set for K-pop star Ava in 2009 (photo courtesy Karen Chuang)
Communicate respectfully, early and often.
Since scheduling conflicts are inevitable, talk with your teachers and directors as soon as you’re presented with an outside opportunity. “Be humble and as detailed as possible about upcoming conflicts with classes or rehearsals,” says Joseph Giordano, who was offered a contract with Liz Gerring Dance Company during his final semester at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Be sure to follow up with your teachers over the course of the job. “Professors will be so much more lenient if you keep them in the loop,” Chuang says. And if you speak with them early enough, your outside work can be even more beneficial: Some directors, like Cathy Young at The Boston Conservatory, make it possible for dancers to receive credit for professional projects that take them away from school for a semester or more.
Make a schedule—and follow it.
“I map out my complete Monday-through-Friday schedule on Mac Pages and set it as the background image on my phone,” Giordano says. Chuang had a similarly detailed plan. “My days were completely structured, with slots for commuting, exercising and homework,” she says. But no matter how organized you are, Young adds, “someone completely overextended isn’t valuable to a choreographer.” Make sure you have the time before you commit to a gig.
Get your Z’s.
With the strain of additional hours of dancing, part of your agenda should be devoted to rest, says Giordano. “I try to get at least six hours of sleep, stay hydrated and monitor aches and pains,” he says. Irineo Cabreros, who apprenticed with Gallim Dance in NYC during his first semester in a PhD program at Princeton University, advises prioritizing sleep. “The few times I went into rehearsal dead tired, I realized I was getting the short end of both sticks—I wasn’t performing well and I wasn’t getting the most out of my education, either,” he says.
Learn to say “no.”
Doing it all comes with tough choices. “I often had to sacrifice my social life to
balance it all,” Chuang says. Other times, you might have to pass up a job. Don’t get discouraged, though: Sometimes opportunities will resurface at more convenient times. “Once, I couldn’t audition for Lady Gaga because I had a final exam,” Chuang remembers. “I was bummed, but the opportunity came around again.”
You only have a few years to immerse yourself in your education, so if it comes down to missing too much school for a job, Young advises dancers to choose school. “Sometimes you have to jump when those opportunities come along, but the idea that your career clock is ticking is a dated one. The more info you get in school, the more likely you’ll be working into your 60s.”
Pro dancers have all had their share of nutty jobs—anything from ridiculous choreography to hilarious costumes. After all, if it’s fun and harmless, why not make a little extra cash? And sometimes, those kooky gigs can be surprisingly rewarding.
Clockwise from left: Jolina Javier (courtesy Javier); Hillary-Marie Michael (courtesy Michael); Mollie Sansone (Wheatphoto.com, courtesy Sansone); Kyle Robinson (Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images); Michael Gross (courtesy Ingrid Bonne); Francesca Forcella (courtesy Forcella)
Jolina Javier, FREELANCE DANCER
Wacky work: Performed as a dancing bear in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
“I was a ballerina bear for four years. The costume wasn’t too heavy—it was sort of like dancing in a Snuggie. You stepped into the bear body, and the head went on top. The snout was right in front of your face, so it was like looking through a screen. At first, it was a little scary. I’m claustrophobic, and when the head was on, you could hear yourself breathing. Not being able to fully see was the most disorienting—especially when on pointe. Pointework is hard enough without a big suit! On my first opening night, I fell onstage. It was so embarrassing. I couldn’t believe I fell—in a bear suit—in front of 6,000 people.
“When you’re growing up, you always imagine yourself in a tiara, or as a Rockette. But looking back on the experience, I love that I got to be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Hillary-Marie Michael, tap dancer and Jersey Tap Fest director
Wacky work: Tapped dressed as Kim Jong-il on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report”
“A colleague’s husband works on the show, and she told me they needed a few tap dancers for one episode. I immediately said yes—no questions asked. It was going to be my first
experience on TV, so I dropped everything to do it. All I knew was the piece had to do with a North Korean ban on imported Italian tap shoes. The six of us got to hair and makeup and we saw our costumes: We were going to be dressd as Kim Jong-il—green jumpsuit, wig, glasses and all. The experience was pretty cool: Colbert is a tap super-fan, and he came out and did a few shuffles with us. But when you’re expecting an artistic performance, a 20-second shtick in a silly costume can seem pretty disappointing. That was the day I learned to always ask questions before signing or agreeing to anything.”
Mollie Sansone, Nashville Ballet
Wacky work: Performed as a fire dancer
“During Nashville Ballet’s off season last year, I danced with Quixotic, a multimedia performance company that’s sort of like Cirque du Soleil. For one section of the show, I wore metal clamps on my fingers. The clamps attached to metal skewers with wicks on the tips that were lit on fire. My immediate reaction was pure excitement—I’m a bit of a daredevil."
“I performed barefoot, wearing a leotard with a hood to cover my hair. The work was very grounded—not a lot of jumps and no partnering—so I felt safe with the flames. Of course, I had to be careful: If my fingers pointed downward, the fire would shoot up and burn my hands. And if I moved my hands too fast, the flames would go out. The first rehearsal was a little scary, but after that I loved it. What a rush!”
Kyle Robinson, Shaping Sound Dance Company
Wacky work: Played an exotic dancer dressed as Abraham Lincoln on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”
“I was the last appointment at the audition for the part, and when I walked into the waiting room, it seemed like every guy in L.A. between 5'10" and 6'4" with brown hair and muscles was there. I thought by the time I got into the room, the agents would have already seen a million abs.
“Finally, it was my turn. I tried my best moves: I ripped open my shirt and I threw my head back as I landed on my knees, channeling Flashdance. I did a headroll, a handstand with a twist—and as I pretended to remove my belt, I heard yelling: ‘Stop, stop! Mr. President, put your pants back on!’ They loved it! Two days later, I heard I’d booked the gig. Being on the show was an incredible experience.”
Michael Gross, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Wacky work: Performed as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland at a fundraiser for the Chicago House and Social Service Agency
“For the benefit performance, I wore a black and white checked singlet, an oversize hat that kept falling over my eyes and patent leather white go-go boots with two-inch heels. It wasn’t my favorite choreography—but it was for a good cause and I figured I wouldn’t know anyone in the audience. Right before I went on, though, Hubbard Street’s artistic director, Glenn Edgerton, approached me. At the time, I wasn’t in Hubbard Street, but I had auditioned for the company a couple times and had yet to make the final cut. I kept thinking, Please don’t stay and watch this! He did, of course. Little did I know that about a year later, he’d be my boss. We haven’t actually talked about the show yet…it might be better that way!”
Francesca Forcella, BalletX
Wacky work: Danced in a circus-themed fashion show for Macy’s
“When I was in Houston Ballet II, three dancers from the company were chosen for a fashion show. We assumed we were going to model—and we were so excited! On the day of the show, however, a Macy’s representative brought us to what she called the ‘talent room.’ The talent room? We walked in and saw a bearded lady and another woman with a monkey. It turned out the show was circus-themed, and we had to dress up as faux Cirque du Soleil performers. My friend was the ringleader, and I danced down the zigzagging runway in a silver unitard and full-footed tights. They didn’t have shoes for us, so we performed in stocking feet, trying not to slip. It was a crazy day, but it ended up being fun: I was with my friends, and we made the best of it.”
How much difference can a new hairdo make? Just ask The Beat Freaks member Alex Welch, aka BGirl Shorty. “When I did ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’ with The Beat Freaks, I had normal-looking brunette hair,” she says. “But one day, the other girls took me to a salon and said, ‘You have all this personality when you’re performing—the way you look needs to match it.’ I didn’t know what the hairstylist was going to do to me. I came out with orange hair! But thanks to my new look, lots of people in the industry started to recognize me. It was like I’d finally found myself.”
Why did Welch’s hair color make such a big difference to her career? Because physical appearance can be a huge factor when it comes to booking your next gig. According to McDonald/Selznick Associates agent Shelli Margheritis, “There are a lot of dancers vying for many different positions, so having a distinctive look can help you be recognized by casting directors.” Wondering if it’s time to make some changes of your own? Here’s how to figure out if your current look is right for you—and how to fix it if it’s not.
When Keenan Kampa cut her hair super short, she was warned that it looked "unprofessional." (Photo by Gene Schiavone)
A Brand-New You?
Maybe you’re going through a slow period in your dance life and are wondering if tweaking your appearance could shake things up for the better. Or maybe you just don’t feel like yourself anymore. “If you’re not projecting your best you, everyone will feel that when you walk into a show or an audition,” Welch says. “You could be one of the most talented people in the world, but if you don’t present yourself the right way, it’ll be harder to find work.”
That said, don’t run out and get five new piercings immediately. “If you’re thinking of altering your look, I would recommend sitting down with your agent and discussing the process instead of doing something hasty,” Margheritis says. “Remember that making a change means getting new headshots and dance photos, too”—so it’s not a decision to be made too lightly.
If you don’t have an agent, “think about your age, your particular vibe and who you are,” Margheritis advises. You don’t want to adopt an out-there look just to get attention; you want a style that reflects your personality. For some dancers, like Welch, that “true self” is a dramatically different-looking person—and big transformations can feel liberating. But if you’re unsure about what changes you want to make, take small steps. Considering pink hair, for example? Try going blonde first, or adding a few pink streaks to your regular hair color, and then reevaluate.
Don’t Make Me Over
Sometimes you’ll find that while you love the new you, the dance world thinks otherwise, which can be difficult to take. A few years ago, ballet dancer Keenan Kampa traded in her long hair for a short cut. “It was easy to manage, and I loved feeling like I was rebelling against the ‘bunhead’ stereotype,” she says. “When I joined Boston Ballet soon afterward, however, I was warned that my short hair looked ‘unprofessional’ and could prove to be a problem down the road.” While some ballerinas can make short haircuts work—New York City Ballet’s Ashley Bouder has rocked a bob for years—Kampa, who later became a member of the even more conservative Mariinsky Ballet in Russia, opted to grow hers out.
Experiences like Kampa’s happen outside of the ballet scene, too. Welch has had to change her hair for a gig on multiple occasions, including when she performed with Cher Lloyd on “The X Factor.” “It comes with the job description,” she says. “The key is not to take it personally”—and to remember that once the gig is done, you can always go back to your signature style.
The Bottom Line
Obviously, your look will affect your career, at least to some extent. But don’t agonize over a makeup or clothing choice, because ultimately, you can’t control what directors are looking for. “Every project needs something different,” Margheritis says. “The directors may want a really diverse group, or they may want everyone to look alike.” And as important as your style is, “I’ve never had a client book a job because of her look,” Margheritis says. Welch agrees: “As long as you rock it right, any look is fine. Some people might tell you, ‘If you change this and this, everything will fall into place, career-wise.’ But I’m proof that’s not true, because I’ve transformed so many times and I’ve still worked steadily.”
At the end of the day, it’s your attitude about your look that matters most. “The important thing is to feel confident with the way you see yourself,” Kampa says. “I think it’s good to keep trying new things, as long as you’re aware of the potential consequences. I try to dress respectfully for every situation without compromising what sets me apart and makes me feel comfortable. It’s the unusual details that really make a dancer special.”
Like most dancers, Alexandra Badgett spent the majority of her high school nights and weekends in the studio. And though she knew how to craft a resumé for dance auditions, putting one together for college applications was another story. “It was hard to express the commitment and dedication it takes to be a dancer, especially since I knew the admissions officers reading my resumé wouldn’t be in the dance industry,” she says.
Whether you’re applying for college, an internship or a part-time job, the non-dancers evaluating you won’t be interested in the Nutcracker roles you’ve performed or all the summer intensives you’ve attended. (Save those for your artistic resumé.) But as Badgett learned, there are several ways to spin your time inside the studio to help you get hired outside of it. Today, Badgett’s a freshman at the University of South Carolina, and she’s used her dance-infused resumé to apply for positions on the Freshman Council and as a university ambassador.
Looking to beef up your professional resumé? Read on for tips to make it as impressive as possible.
An example of a dance resumé
Translate Your Achievements
If you already have a dance resumé, you don’t necessarily have to start at square one. Instead, says Chris Chesley, director of education programs and student academic support at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, translate some of what you’ve already highlighted into terms people who aren’t familiar with dance can understand.
While a dance resumé might list the names of the choreographers you’ve worked with or the workshops you’ve attended, a non-dance resumé should emphasize what you’ve gotten out of those experiences. “Don’t get into technique specifics or how your turns improved this year,” Chesley says. “Instead, look at those same ideas from a different angle.” Are you a choreographer? That can translate to being a leader and a problem solver. Do you perform a wide range of styles? You’re probably attentive to detail. And don’t forget to mention how your sense of artistry affects your school work and your ability to collaborate with others.
It may seem like all you’ve done at your studio is take class and rehearse, but chances are you’ve actually done a lot more. When Badgett first started working on her college resumé, she made a list of everything she’d been involved with—like assistant teaching and helping out backstage at recitals. Have you sat at the front desk answering phones or checking in people for class? That’s customer service experience. Did you perform at senior centers or hospitals on weekends? That’s volunteering for community outreach. Those are the kinds of experiences employers love to see on resumés.
An example of a non-dance resumé
Next, think about ways to present those experiences that will best show them off. Badgett organized her resumé using three categories: “Scholastic Honors” for in-school achievements, “Leadership Roles” for work in the studio and “Accomplishments” for competition titles and other awards. Depending on which qualifications you want to highlight or the type of job you’re applying for, you can vary the order of these categories. For example, if you’re looking for a part-time position in an office, you’ll want to list your experience at the front desk first. On the other hand, if the resumé is for a scholarship, you’ll want to lead with your education.
Confidence Is Key
Above all, don’t underestimate the real-life skills you’ve gained as a dancer. “You have the ability to work with others for long, grueling periods of time,” says Amanda Hankes, a former New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet corps member. “Dancers also understand the benefits of a good presentation, being organized and being prepared.”
Today, Hankes is a real estate agent in NYC, and though she remembers struggling with her first non-dance resumé, she learned to appreciate what dance
offers. “I realized I’d done a lot—and my time had been well spent.”
What could possibly be better than dancing in Susan Stroman’s new musical, Bullets Over Broadway? How about getting to dance next to your best friend? Beth Johnson Nicely and Amanda Kloots-Larsen have been close to inseparable since meeting on the national tour of 42nd Street in 2002. So it was only a matter of time before these two leggy ladies discovered they shared another obsession—desserts—and decided to turn their sweet teeth into something more. They started the blog Just Desserts NYC (justdessertsnyc.com) in 2007. Despite their hectic careers on Broadway and as fitness instructors in NYC, Kloots-Larsen and Johnson Nicely have continued to grow their sugary side project into a recognizable brand.
(Photo by Justin Patterson)
Kloots-Larsen and Johnson Nicely first met during callbacks for the national tour of 42nd Street, and immediately bonded over their Ohio roots. And when they spotted one another on the first day of rehearsal, a little challenge brought them together. “We didn’t know how to fill out our contracts,” recalls Johnson Nicely. “We were struggling—the lead at the time had to help us.”
Their friendship soon blossomed. “In every city, Beth and I would go on a search for something sweet,” says Kloots-Larsen. Those delicious adventures continued once the two girls returned to NYC, and a blog seemed like a natural next step. “People kept asking us where to go for the best desserts in the city,” Johnson Nicely says. “We figured our blog could be a resource for everyone.”
Just Desserts NYC hit its stride around 2011, and today, new bakeries and restaurants reach out to the dancing dessert duo—who also go by “Blondie” (blonde Amanda) and “Brownie” (brunette Beth)—to taste and review their treats. They post almost daily about new desserts, recipes, the latest crazes and sweet spots to check out, not only in NYC but across the U.S. and abroad. And of course, they do it all together. (Kloots-Larsen and Johnson Nicely were even one another’s bridesmaids.) “Luckily, dancing is a great workout,” says Kloots-Larsen, “because our blog requires us to taste a lot of desserts!”
(Photo by Dana Edelson)
In addition to the blogosphere, Kloots-Larsen and Johnson Nicely have also enjoyed great success onstage. Since the national tour of 42nd Street, they’ve performed as Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. And between the two of them, they’ve scored roles in Broadway musicals including Young Frankenstein, Good Vibrations, Follies, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and Spamalot. Now, Bullets has finally brought them back together—and dealing with desserts is even part of the gig.
In Bullets, the gluttonous actor Warner has an odd food fetish: dog treats that he steals and eats throughout the show. Enter Blondie and Brownie. Stroman, Bullets’ director and choreographer, who was familiar with Just Desserts NYC, asked if they’d bake the “dog treats” during the show’s early workshops last fall. “Beth and I consider ourselves more critics than bakers,” says Kloots-Larsen. “But when she asked, we automatically agreed. You don’t say ‘no’ to Stro!”
Now, in addition to performing eight shows per week, Kloots-Larsen and Johnson Nicely also bake two dozen edible props—tasty gingerbread-butterscotch cookies. In May, the St. James Theatre even started selling the cookies to theatergoers after each performance. So far, the extra work has been worth it. “The opportunity to marry our two loves—desserts and musical theater—has been a dream come true,” Johnson Nicely says.
While Just Desserts NYC hasn’t brought in extra income, the girls have high hopes for the blog’s future. They’ve received steady attention, including webisodes on NBC’s Today.com and the Cooking Channel’s “Log On & Eat with Eden Grinshpan.”
One day, Kloots-Larsen and Johnson Nicely dream of hosting their own TV show. But for now, their blog helps keep them grounded. “Being in show business is a lot like being on a roller-coaster ride,” Kloots-Larsen says. “There are so many ups and downs in your career.” Adds Johnson Nicely: “That’s why it’s so important to have a creative outlet on the side.”
Do you ever wonder about life after dance? Whether you’ve been dancing for two years or two decades, the time will come when you have to—or choose to—hang up your shoes. But don’t stress! There are plenty of ways to stay in the industry you love. Check out this huge list of careers that keep you connected to dance. You might just find your next passion.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Stage managers coordinate everything that goes into a production, from lighting cues to backstage calls.
Get hired: Many theater schools offer programs in stage management. Get additional experience in a local theater or as an assistant stage manager.
Average pay: $78,000/year
At performances, stagehands open and close the curtain; lay the marley floor; move sets, scenery and props; hoist scrims and adjust lighting.
Get hired: Many stagehands start out as carpenters or electricians. To get your foot in the door, call the local union and put your name on a list for big outdoor concerts that will be happening in your area, since these shows often need up to 300 stagehands at a time.
Average pay: $1,200–$1,600/week per show
Casting directors go through submissions and auditions to find dancers a choreographer and/or director might like.
Get hired: Casting directors are either self-employed or part of a casting agency. Intern at a casting agency to see firsthand how it all works.
Average pay: $73,000/year
Most dancers rely on agents to book their auditions and find them jobs. Agents negotiate contracts, make travel arrangements, secure rehearsal times and look out for their clients.
Get hired: In addition to having a degree in business, communications or public relations, it helps to know people in the industry, be a strong negotiator and have a good eye for talent.
Average pay: 10 percent commission fee for each job booked, though agents who work for an agency might get a base salary + commission, versus an individual agent who gets paid per job.
Personal Assistant to a Dance Celebrity
Personal assistants have to be everything: calendars, organizers, travel agents, food gofers and confidantes. They usually have to be available all hours of the day.
Get hired: You must be organized, attentive and responsible. Network and get to know the people who are close to the stars. Try to get a personal recommendation—avoid the “I’m your number 1 fan” approach.
Average pay: $35,000/year
Producers run the business side of a production by raising money and marketing the show to get it off the ground.
Get hired: It isn’t what you know—it’s who you know. It helps to have knowledge of theater practices. Use your contacts to get on board as an associate producer, or sign up as an intern to learn the ropes.
Average pay: $92,000/year
HEALTH AND WELLNESS
These medical professionals help heal, maintain and care for dancers and their bodies. They often work at a clinic or on site at a school, company or theater.
Get hired: Most physical therapy programs require a bachelor’s degree. To practice as a PT, you must complete an accredited PT education program to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, and pass the PT state license exam.
Average pay: $85,000/year
Registered dieticians (RD) educate dancers by helping them establish healthy eating habits.
Get hired: You need a bachelor’s degree to be accepted into an accredited dietetic internship program. Typical programs take six to 12 months to complete; adding a master’s degree to the internship will take two to three years. You must then pass the national board examination to be certified. Many dance schools incorporate nutrition into their curriculum, and companies often hire a dietician to speak with dancers.
Average pay: $51,000–$62,000/year
Many dancers rely on personal trainers to strengthen, tone and stretch the muscles that are hard to target in a dance studio. Personal trainers often teach Pilates, yoga, Gyrotonic, weight training and/or stamina-building exercises to address their clients’ needs.
Get hired: Go through an accredited program to get certified in your fitness field of choice. Most gyms and clients will love that you’re a dancer turned personal trainer!
Average pay: $26,000/year. Some fitness experts average $34/hour, or $50/hour for a personal trainer. The trainer then usually gives a percentage of the client’s pay to the studio or club unless he/she works independently.
Licensed performance psychologists provide coaching for dancers who struggle with performance anxiety, injuries and other stress-related issues. They offer exercises and techniques to help dancers get through some of their toughest moments.
Get hired: A master’s degree in sport or performance psychology and the completion of a psychology doctoral program are required.
Average pay: $88,000/year
Lighting designers work with choreographers, directors and set designers to create lighting for each scene. (Lighting technicians are stagehands who change lights, operate the board and run the spotlight.)
Get hired: You don’t need certifications to be a lighting designer, but you do need experience in the field. Volunteer with a local theater production or go to theater school, take classes in lighting design and get involved with school productions. Many lighting designers start out as theater electricians before trying their hand at design.
Average pay: $47,000/year
Set designers collaborate with choreographers, directors, stage managers and lighting designers to help create the look of a show.
Get hired: Many set designers have a degree in architecture or interior design. Start as a designer’s assistant, or work as a prop maker to get hands-on training.
Average pay: $54,000/year
Music editors create tracks for dance pieces. They use computer software to cut and paste sections of a song, adjust the volume, make tempo changes and smooth out transitions.
Get hired: Offer your services for free to gain experience and get your name out. If you know someone who edits music, ask to be an assistant or intern so you can learn the technique. It helps to be tech savvy since most editing is done on a computer or mixing board.
Average pay: $38,000–$68,000/year
Costume designers determine what the dancers will wear, and seamstresses help with construction and fittings.
Get hired: Most costume designers have a fashion or costume design degree. You must have excellent sewing skills and an understanding of how materials fit and move on a dancer. Submit samples of your designs to choreographers whose work might match your style. To find a seamstress position, try contacting a dance school or company’s costume department to see if they need sewers or assistants.
Average pay: $29,000–$64,000/year
Dance photographers take pictures in the studio, backstage and during rehearsals and performances.
Get hired: Photography classes are helpful. You can also assist other photographers and watch their techniques. It helps to know the style of dance you’re watching so you understand what to capture. Once you gain experience, apply for jobs emphasizing your dance experience.
Average pay: $25,000/year
Hair and Makeup Artist
Hair and makeup artists paint, pin and style dancers so they look fantastic for a show
or photo shoot. They might also create special effects by gluing on artificial pieces and prosthetics.
Get hired: It’s not necessary to have a license, but it helps to study makeup or cosmetology. To get your foot in the door, offer to substitute or be on-call at an amateur production. You can also get experience at student theaters, in charity fashion shows or by working with established makeup artists and photographers.
Average pay: $29,000–$67,000/year
Freelance choreographers are commissioned by individual artists as well as companies with big budgets.
Get hired: Choreographers typically specialize in a particular style of dance. Market yourself to find people who might fund your next project. Ask dancers to “workshop” and find space to experiment. If you have the dancers’ permission, tape the end result and use it as a marketing tool.
Average pay: $45,000/year. Small companies usually pay $3,000–$10,000 per commission. Major companies pay anywhere from $12,500–$30,000 based on your experience.
Dance company publicists are responsible for promoting the company and its dancers. They shape the group’s image by writing press releases, helping with media campaigns and
coordinating media interviews.
Get hired: You need a degree in communications, public relations, business or marketing.
Average pay: $62,000/year
Development, Marketing or Administrative Assistant
Working on the administrative side of a dance-related nonprofit or dance company means you’re helping to sustain and promote the organization. You’ll fundraise, brainstorm and develop marketing campaigns, or assist with anything the directors might need. You may also be responsible for managing the company’s social media accounts.
Get hired: A degree in marketing or communications is helpful. Find job opportunities on company websites or via word of mouth.
Average pay: $32,000–$45,000/year
(courtesy Tawney Giles)
Dance Writer or Editor
There are many ways to write about dance: You can start your own blog, write a book about your favorite dance topic or work for a fantastic magazine like DS! Editors do a lot of writing, but they also plan and edit material that will be published.
Get hired: It helps to have taken college courses in journalism or English. If you want to work for a certain publication, get familiar with its style. Then submit writing samples, offer to blog for the website or apply for an internship.
Average pay: $30,000–$70,000/year
A judge sits through every number at a competition or convention and offers constructive comments and scores, as well as special awards.
Get hired: You must have teaching and performance experience and knowledge of different styles of dance. You should be able to analyze, compare and rank each individual or group and provide helpful comments. Judges are often hired by word of mouth, so talk to dancers, teachers and friends to see who’s hiring and if you can get a personal recommendation. Contact the company you’re interested in to get a sense of their preferred application and hiring process.
Average Pay: $25/hour
Dance critics are accredited journalists with dance expertise. They are educated observers who watch performances and then write reviews to evaluate what they see.
Get hired: Dance critics need to have an extensive knowledge of dance and know how to craft a well-written review. It helps to have a degree in English or journalism. Start your own blog and review some performances, then submit your work to publications and offer to cover shows free of charge. Most major newspapers hire a dance critic as part of their arts coverage, and there are numerous online sites dedicated to dance that are looking for fresh voices.
Average pay: $41,000/year
Dance Historian or Archivist
Dance historians research the artform and write about their findings. They often teach courses as part of a school’s dance curriculum. Dance historians collaborate with archivists, who maintain and categorize historical materials.
Get hired: You should have a master’s degree or higher in dance history. Try to get your work published and apply for a faculty position at a college or university. Or work as a freelance writer and apply for grants to pursue research projects.
Average pay: $29,000–$94,000/year
Dance studio owners run every aspect of the school. They develop their own curriculum, schedule classes, teach, address student and parent concerns and often put together student productions throughout the year. As business owners, they are also responsible for financial matters such as insurance, tuition, taxes and salaries.
Get hired: You should have a good business sense and be willing to learn as you go. You need financial backing or money to rent/buy a space and open a studio. Drum up business wherever you can: Do outreach at local schools, give demonstrations at the mall, call up local Girl Scout troops and talk to family and friends about getting their children involved.
Average pay: $67,000/year
Dance teachers train and coach students in all types of dance. In addition to planning classes, dance teachers must be aware of health and safety issues to prevent injuries. They are often required to choreograph for student performances.
Get hired: Be proficient in the style you want to teach. Some of the best teachers never danced professionally, but they know exactly what certain choreography should look like and they can express their ideas well. Take master classes and teacher workshops to learn and get fresh ideas. Prepare lesson plans in advance so that if you guest teach or apply for a position, you’ll know exactly what you want to do. To get experience, check with local dance schools, health clubs or community colleges to see if they need a dance teacher.
Average pay: $28,000/year or up to $75/class
Convention teachers go “on tour” as part of a team of well-qualified teachers, giving classes in large studios or hotel ballrooms to hundreds of students at a time. In addition to teaching in their style of expertise, they often teach choreography and evaluate students for potential scholarships.
Get hired: You need to have a name in the industry or know people who can give a personal recommendation. Conventions tend to hire dancers and teachers who are well-known to ensure that they get a big turnout in each city.
Average pay: $38,000/year
Dramaturgs are typically the first set of outside eyes on a new piece. They offer feedback, conduct research and help build and define the work by asking questions about the choreographer’s intent.
Get hired: Be knowledgeable about the style of dance you plan to watch and understand its historical and cultural context. While some people have a master’s degree in dramaturgy, others simply relate well to choreographers and are able help their processes. Start by working with student choreographers in a college dance department. Talk to other dramaturgs about how they find work, and try to build an artistic relationship with a choreographer you like.
Average pay: $500–$8,000 per project
Documentary filmmakers make movies that tell true stories. Dance companies might hire a documentary filmmaker to follow a new work from its first
rehearsal to its opening night. Individuals might commission a film for historical purposes or to help promote a dancer or event.
Get hired: You should gain a thorough knowledge of filmmaking and editing. Take classes at a film school or find a mentor in the film industry to learn about the craft. Use your contacts in the dance world to find a project, or search for a financial backer and pitch an idea that’s close to your heart. Submit your finished documentary to a local film festival.
Average pay: $49,000/year
Are you a male hip-hop dancer looking to make your big break? Yes? Well, we've got great news! Casting agents for Cirque du Soleil's The Beatles LOVE in Las Vegas are looking to immediately fill an opening for Walrus, a male hip-hop dancer in the show.
It's super easy to get started with the audition process: Just fill out this mandatory audition application by September 20. Good luck!