How to Become a Dancer - Skills, Requirements and Career
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What Does a Professional Dancer Do?
A dancer is somebody who dances professionally. Professional dancers need a wide range of abilities, including excellent physical fitness and athletic abilities, and strong musicality and are capable of executing classical and modern dance styles with great skill.
A huge variety of dance forms and styles exist. Some of the most popular forms include classical ballet, modern dance, hip hop, latin, caribbean, jazz, ballroom, tango and contemporary.
The work of a dancer combines artistic expression - i.e. the ability to interpret music by making movements and shapes using one’s own body - and significant physical effort. Dancers put in long hours in the dance studio or the gym, performing exercises with great concentration, commitment and discipline and practising dance routines and sequences.
Training and exercise is of paramount importance for dancers as it ensures they develop and maintain optimal physical fitness and flexibility and develop and hone their technique, musicality, artistry and movement.
Also essential for dancers is the ability to study and memorize complex choreographed routines and sequences in preparation for shows and events, etc. In some cases, dance routines may be created by dancer-choreographers - i.e. dancers who are also capable of designing dance sequences.
A professional dancer may dance as part of a group - for example in the corps of a professional dance or ballet company, or in the chorus of a stage production - or as a soloist. Dancers are required in a wide variety of events and contexts, including shows, musicals, festivals, concerts, TV programmes, adverts, music videos, entertainment programmes at holiday resorts and hotels, theme parks and nightclubs.
The working hours and locations are extremely flexible and varied, with dancers required to devote a significant number of hours a day to training and rehearsals. Performing in shows may entail a series of dates around the country, or even tours overseas, meaning long periods away from home, travelling from venue to venue.
In addition to working as a performer, many dancers find work as dance instructors in schools, dance academies, and gyms, giving dance lessons to students of all ages in styles including classical ballet, modern dance, hip hop, street style, group and couples dances, belly dancing etc.
One sector in which there are a lot of job openings for dancers is the holiday entertainment sector. This is seasonal work, which is generally also open to dancers who have had no professional training. Show business and holiday entertainment agencies recruit people who have studied dance (of any style) for work as dancers at holiday resorts, villages and hotels, as part of their entertainment teams. For dancers fresh out of school, this sort of work offers an opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt and also acquire invaluable live show experience. At the assessment days held to audition potential recruits, dancers offering choreographic experience at dance companies or schools are often much in demand, with agencies looking in particular for people capable of creating choreographic routines and directing the music and dance shows that are a staple of the entertainment program at holiday resorts.
Professional Dancer - Responsibilities and Tasks
The main daily tasks of a professional dancer include:
- studying dance and training
- learning choreography
- preparing for dances and shows
All of the above tasks will be focused on a future performance in front of an audience.
How to Become a Dancer - Education and Training
Becoming a dancer requires long years of hard training and sacrifice. There are no specific academic requirements, but rigorous training at a dance school is an absolute essential in order to learn the positions, movements and basic dance technique. Taking dance lessons from a young age is very important as it lays down a foundation, enabling dancers to develop the necessary balance, coordination and musicality. Two of the most important qualities for a dancer are dedication and determination in focusing on their training sessions, as this is the key to developing the strength, stamina, power and poise needed to become a success.
The standard route to become a professional dancer involves obtaining a dance qualification from a dance school or academy under the guidance of a qualified dance instructor. Dance schools will often assist their students with finding work, helping them to participate in auditions and casting calls and putting them in contact with choreographers looking to cast dancers in theatre shows, musicals or TV programmes.
But while technical ability and physical prowess are important, what really makes the difference in the career of a professional dancer are musicality and expressivity - i.e. the ability to dance convincingly and with real feeling. Dance, after all, is an art form - an expressive language in which the body is the medium through which the dancer dialogues with the music and the space around him or her.
Professional Dancer Skills and Qualifications
A professional dancer needs the following skills:
- Technical ability to dance a wide range of styles
- Strong feeling for music and expressive capacities
- Ability to study and execute choreographed routines
- Great physical and mental strength and stamina
- Dynamic and willing to travel
Dancers working at tourist resorts, on television or in show business will also require a natural aptitude for interpersonal relations and the ability to work as part of a team.
Dancer Career Path
What's the career development of a dancer?
The career of a professional dancer may take a number of different routes. For instance, the most able dancers in the corps de ballet of a dance company may be chosen for solo roles and eventually progress to the role of principal - a prestigious position requiring an extremely high level of professional ability.
Talented dancers may aim to find work with a top national or overseas dance company, become part of their corps de ballet and perform in famous theatres the world over.
Other dancers may aspire to a role as a choreographer and look to combine their work as a performer with a role as an assistant choreographer, which will enable them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to progress in the field.
A further possibility is to pursue a career in film and television. Dancers looking to achieve success in this field will need to show versatility and be able to perform in a variety of styles.
Finally, some dancers decide to go into teaching, opening a dance school and working to pass on their knowledge, skills and passion to children, teenagers and adults and promote dance culture.
Top Reasons to Work as a Dancer
A love for dance, coupled with a strong sense of artistry and natural talent are the main reasons people choose to embark on a career as a dancer. The opportunity to turn a passion into a career and to express yourself creatively while doing it are most probably the most attractive aspects of the profession, not to mention the potential for self-affirmation and success it offers.
Additional factors of appeal include the chance to travel to and perform in a wide range of locations around the world and the opportunity to continually challenge yourself to improve your performance and scale new artistic heights.