When I Grow Up: Dance Careers Beyond the Stage
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
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.