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Dance is about using the body to tell stories, interpret music and express emotion. Dancers work in a variety of dance styles. Areas of work include ballet, contemporary dance, musical theatre, film and television, and education.
Daily classes and rehearsing take up most of a dancer's time. Dancers need to learn steps and styles quickly, and be able to take direction and constructive criticism from the choreographer or director. They also need to remember their exact positions and movements on stage. In theatre, TV and film work, the broader the dancer's range of styles, the more likely they are to secure contracts.
Working hours for a dancer can be long and hard, and usually involve evenings and weekends. Dancers may perform in theatres, film and TV studios, nightclubs, hotels, halls, holiday resorts and cruise ships. Touring may mean working away from home for long periods, possibly overseas.
Most dancers are self-employed, so their income varies depending on the employer, contracts and the regularity of performances. The minimum weekly ballet and dance rate is recommended as £336 a week. Dancers with The Royal Ballet earn between £14,000 and £18,000 a year. Soloists earn more and a principal or leading dancer can earn up to £35,000.
- rhythm and timing
- motivation, talent and creativity
- good general health and excellent physical fitness
- teamworking ability
- to feel passionate about movement, music and performing.
Of the estimated 30,000 employed in the dance sector, 2,500 are performers. Most dance jobs are based in London, although opportunities exist with regional dance organisations and companies, touring productions and overseas.
Most dancers, especially classical ballet dancers, train from a very early age. They often take graded examinations. GCSEs and A levels in dance are also available.
Full-time training can start aged 16. Many dancers train at a vocational dance/performing arts school or college. The Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET) accredits a number of courses at numerous schools and further and higher education institutions throughout England. Most course applicants undergo an audition, interview and medical.
Maintaining stamina and fitness levels throughout their career is essential for dancers. Various dance organisations offer guidance and support programmes to prepare dancers for other careers
A dancer's working life can be quite short. Only a few become soloists, principals or theatre dance captains. After completing their performance careers, some move into related areas like teaching, choreography or arts management. Others may pursue business interests, establishing their own dance groups or companies.
What is the work like?
Dancers use performance as a way to tell stories, interpret music and express emotion. They may perform for live audiences or dance for recorded media, including television, film or music videos.
Working alongside other dancers, they are usually cast for a role by a choreographer, producer, director or casting director. Dancers are expected to improvise and interpret the vision of a choreographer. Although they may train in many different styles, professional dancers often specialise in one dance form, like:
- classical ballet
- contemporary dance
- modern stage dance - jazz, tap, and in some cases singing and acting in musical productions
- cultural African or South Asian dance
- street dance.
In theatre, TV and film work, the more skills and dance styles they have, the more likely they are to secure work. Whilst a few may work as solo or lead/principal dancers, the collaborative process of dance means everyone involved must train, rehearse and work together to create an effective production.
Rehearsing and attending auditions and daily classes to maintain skills and fitness is usually part of a dancer's daily routine. As a performance approaches, they need to learn steps and styles quickly, retaining the energy and repeating the same scene many times over.
Many dancers combine performing with related work, such as teaching, working on community projects or arts administration.
Hours and environment
Working hours can often be long and unsociable, owing to performance timings. Most performances occur in the evenings, but dancers may do daytime matinee shows. Touring may mean working away from home for long periods, possibly overseas, and may involve rehearsing at each new venue. Dancers may perform in theatres, film and TV studios, nightclubs, hotels, halls, holiday resorts and cruise ships.
Some work regularly, others part time or just weekends, combining performing with other jobs. They may be booked for one-off performances, tours or, in the case of residential theatre productions and cruise ships, whole seasons.
The work itself is physically demanding, involving participation in daily classes, rehearsals and performances. Even when not performing, dancers must maintain fitness levels, attending classes and gym sessions.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer, contracts and the regularity of performances.
- Equity, the trade union for the performing arts, recommends £336 a week as the minimum ballet and dance rate.
- Dancers with The Royal Ballet earn between £14,000 and £18,000 a year.
- A soloist earns around £22,000 per year and a principal or leading dancer earns on average between £30,000 and £35,000, but these fees vary depending on reputation and success.
Skills and personal qualities
- a strong sense of rhythm and timing
- excellent physical fitness and stamina
- focus, with good concentration skills
- excellent memory, to learn and remember complex movements and numerous roles within a performance, including several understudy routines
- motivation, enthusiasm and commitment
- talent and creativity
- to be patient and rational when injured, to prevent further long-term damage
- reliability and punctuality
- teamworking skills
- acting and interpretation skills and in some cases singing ability.
It is important to enjoy:
- movement and music
- working with other dancers and choreographers
- performing for audiences.
Of the estimated 30,000 employed in the dance sector, 2,500 are performers. Many dance jobs are based in London, although opportunities exist with regional dance organisations and companies, touring productions and overseas. Dancers may be
self-employed or employed on short terms contracts or permanently by:
- one of the 200 UK dance companies
- TV/film production houses
- musical theatre and opera production companies
- community dance or dance education organisations
- leisure, entertainment and corporate event companies
- cruise ships and hotels.
Securing a successful career as a dance performer requires talent and lots of dedication. Extensive training and qualifications are required from a university or dance or performing arts school. Work experience may be possible with a company, teacher or dance administrator. Gaps between jobs are common, so dancers often do other work to maintain a regular income.
Audition notices appear in publications like Dancing Times, Variety and The Stage and on dance-related websites. Networking, constant promotion and performing well at auditions are the main ways dancers secure work. Youth Dance England (YDE) has produced an informative Careers in Dance guide, which can be downloaded from their website.
Most dancers, especially classical ballet dancers, train from a very early age. They often take graded examinations from awarding bodies like the British Ballet Organisation or the Royal Academy of Dance. GCSEs and A levels in dance are also available.
Full-time training can start aged 16. Many dancers train at a vocational dance/performing arts school or college. The Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET) accredits:
- National Diploma in professional dance
- National Diploma in professional musical theatre
- National Certificate in dance (classical ballet).
These courses run full time for three years. Visit the CDET website for the latest listing. Funding for these courses is available through the Dance and Drama Award Scheme (DaDA).
Several schools also offer higher and further education CDET-accredited courses, including:
- foundation degree arts (FdA) dance performance
- Diploma (HE) and BA honours degree in theatre dance
- BA honours degree dance and theatre performance.
Applicants should check the exact entry requirements and course content with individual institutions. As well as an audition, an interview and possibly a medical, some courses ask for A levels or equivalent, like the BTEC National Diploma in performing arts (dance).
Dance is physically demanding and dancers must maintain their stamina and fitness throughout their careers. Dancers should continually research and learn new dance styles, to expand their repertoire. CDET produces annually The UK Guide to Accredited Education and Training in Dance and Musical Theatre. The guide is free and is available from French's Theatre Bookshop or directly from CDET.
It may be useful to train in other areas, such as teaching, choreography, stage management or complementary activities, such as Pilates or yoga, to provide a second income or future career. YDE Stride! is an annual dance programme aimed at young people between 14 and 19 years old who wish to develop their skills in a dance environment that isn't performance based. The programme is extended to disabled people aged up to 24.
Theatre dancers may progress to dance captain, responsible for ensuring the continuity of the dance. Only a few dancers become soloists or principals. A dancer's working life can be quite short and injuries may occur, so having a second career plan is advisable. Dancers' Career Development (DCD) offers advice and funding to professional dancers nearing the end of their performing careers.
Some dancers start their own dance groups or companies. Others move into teaching, lecturing or the academic study of dance. A few become choreographers. Some may move into dance movement therapy or other complementary therapies. Community arts management and administration are other popular choices.
Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET), Old Brewer's Yard, 17-19 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9UY. 020 7240 5703. Website: www.cdet.org.uk
Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800 (careers advice in the creative and cultural sector). Website: www.creative-choices.co.uk/performingarts
Dance UK, The Urdang, The Old Finsbury Town Hall, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QT. 020 7713 0730. Website: www.danceuk.org
Dancers' Career Development, Plouviez House, 19-20 Hatton Place, London EC1N 8RU. 020 7831 1449. Website: www.thedcd.org.uk
Equity, Guild House, Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EG. 020 7379 6000. Website: www.equity.org.uk
Foundation for Community Dance, LCB Depot, 31 Rutland Street, Leicester LE1 1RE. 0116 253 3453. Website: www.communitydance.org.uk
National Dance Teachers Association (NDTA), PO Box 4099, Lichfield WS13 6WX. 01543 308618. Website: www.ndta.org.uk
National Resource Centre for Dance, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH. 01483 689316. Website: www.surrey.ac.uk/NRCD
Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB. 020 7713 9800. Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900. Website: www.skillset.org/careers
Youth Dance England, Unit 7G2, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3ER. 020 7940 9800. Website: www.yde.org.uk
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.