From handing out flyers to modeling for National Geographic illustrators, the pros get creative when it comes to finding jobs to supplement dance incomes. Here are some inventive ways they’ve found to make a living, and some advice to help you choose a second job wisely.
Tip: Use the skills you’ve developed in dance to your advantage.
Make the Most of Retail
While working at Bath & Body Works in NYC, Richard J. Hinds, 22, created his own opportunity to perform in what would otherwise have been a noncreative job. He and a coworker, also a dancer, convinced the manager to let them give out samples in front of the store. They attracted such a crowd by dancing and singing that it became their permanent assignment. “Whenever we got a new product, we wrote a song about it,” Hinds recalls. “During the holidays, we sang Christmas carols, but we rewrote the words so they would be songs about the new holiday-scented lotions.”
Tip: When looking for retail jobs, start with dancewear shops in your area, where you could put your expertise to good use for customers. Many other retail businesses may prefer hiring performers, too, because they tend to be personable and outgoing, says Hinds, recommending that you be honest with employers from the get-go about needing a flexible schedule. “I would look at Back Stage for the coming week, decide which auditions I wanted to go to and make my [work] schedule around that,” says Hinds, who relocated to Las Vegas to join the ensemble of We Will Rock You.
Look for Dance-Industry Perks
NYC-based dancer Karl Warden, who spent last summer performing with Jean Ann Ryan Productions on the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn, has worked in Times Square handing out flyers to promote Broadway shows. He made tons of connections, because many other performers were doing the same job, and he also got to see shows for free.
Tip: Seek out work that can help you advance your dance career, whether that’s through jobs that offer networking opportunities or free dance gear. For instance, you might receive a free membership along with your wages for working the front desk at a gym or discounted classes for helping out in the office of a local studio.
Keep It Low Stress
San Francisco–based dancer and choreographer Faye Driscoll, 28, has worked as a painter with a construction crew, attended the box office of a movie theater and posed for college art classes, drawing groups and even for a National Geographic illustrator.
Tip: Driscoll says the best side jobs for dancers are the ones that allow you to save your creativity for the dance floor and put less demand on your body, such as database entry, web design and bookkeeping.
Marty Thomas, a dancer in the ensemble of Broadway’s hit Wicked, hosts a late-night open-mike show up to five evenings a week, does voice work for cartoons, trains pageant contestants and gives voice lessons.
Tip: Thomas recommends being savvy about which gigs you accept, especially for more off-the-cuff jobs, by asking plenty of questions. His worst job ever was as a human disco ball at a bar mitzvah. He had to wear silver spandex and dance while suspended from the ceiling. “They made it sound like I’d only be up there for the beginning of the party, but they left me up there for five hours,” he says. “At first, I was dancing, trying to be lyrical and mystical. But after three hours, I was just a rag doll.”
As a dancer, your discipline and creative abilities make you an asset in the workplace. The trick is finding jobs to fit your irregular schedule. Career Transition for Dancers in L.A. maintains an e-mail hotline of jobs in Southern California suited for dancers. To sign up, contact Joanne DiVito at 323-549-6660. Some recent postings include audio description at live theater for blind audience members and work as a professional patient, in which you act like you have a specific disease and then evaluate new doctors on certain criteria, such as whether he or she was sympathetic. Here are some other good bets:
part-time administrator for a dance organization
real estate agent
Bonnie McGeer is a health and business writer based in NYC.