3 Things I Wish I Could Tell Every Aspiring Professional Dancer
As someone who is still chasing their “big dreams” years after moving to LA, please allow me to share 3 things I have learned and experienced that I want every aspiring professional dancer to know before committing to this industry.
It’s Not Enough Just To Be In The Room
Once I had a serious conversation about wanting to pursue dance professionally, my mother helped me in every way she could. She got me a personal trainer, I had private Pilates and ballet classes once a week (on top of my scheduled training), and she took me to extra dance intensives and conventions outside of my studio requirements. A lot of the “extras” I did, carried over with me when I was in college. While I wasn’t having personal training sessions or private lessons anymore, I was taking yoga and additional dance classes outside of my college dance program. Additionally, while in school, I continued to attend conventions on the weekends whenever I could, as well as participate in summer dance programs. All of these extracurriculars to better my dance training and body were great. But in order to “make it” in the industry, it’s not enough just to partake in these extracurriculars, hoping they will pay off. It’s not enough just to be in the room. What do I mean by that? Let me break it down.
Let’s say you attend a convention over a weekend. Are you just taking classes and leaving once the day is over? Or are you engaging with your community and fellow dancers outside of your own studio? We could call it what it is: networking. But since the word “networking” is often anxiety-inducing, let’s think of it in slightly less daunting terms. Are you meeting people?
In my experience, people who go to dance events to “network” are often people who are sucking up to choreographers and creative directors to try to get a leg up in the industry. But going to dance conventions, intensives, or shows to “meet people” is totally different—it’s a different mindset with a different goal. It takes the pressure off of trying to “get something out of the other person” and brings it back to just expanding your circle of people you know. I always encourage “meeting people” at every class or event you attend.
Let’s jump back to the convention setting. Lunch is a perfect time to find another dancer and their parent to have a conversation with while you eat. Not only are dancers meeting each other, but parents, you are meeting other dance parents as well. Maybe you stay in contact over social media, maybe you don’t. But who knows where the conversation could go and what you could learn from each other? We all have interesting experiences and insights to share—you just have to start the conversation. Let’s take the pressure off of “meeting the right people” and just go back to meeting people. While you go to a convention for training with top-tier choreographers, it’s also about getting to know your community because you never know who is in the room with you. My suggestion is to start small. Make a goal to meet one new person at each event you go to.
Now let’s take the above situation and amplify it some more. Say you move to New York or LA to become a professional dancer. It’s not enough to be in the city and take dance classes when you feel like it and attend agency auditions when they happen. You can’t be mad if you haven’t “made it” or booked a single job in four years simply because you made the “big move.” You can take every class and intensive under the sun, but if you aren’t talking to people and getting to know people, you are limiting your opportunities in the future. Don’t just show up. Speak out, make connections, and be part of the community.
Put In The Work
Honestly, it is that simple. Put in the work. Parents who I meet always want to know the “tips and tricks” of the industry. And while tips and tricks are great, they are only great if you have a solid foundation—the solid foundation being dance training and technique. Using “tips and tricks” to help give you that extra edge in social media, in classes, and in auditions is beneficial. Continue to do so, but make sure you are also continuously putting in the work.
What does putting in the work mean? It’s like building a house. You can order the most extravagant windows and doors but they won’t do you any good until you have a solid foundation and some walls up. There are literally thousands upon thousands of talented dancers in the world. Being a dancer is a profession, unlike many others. Compared to commerce, for example, the amount of job opportunities for dancers is a lot less and the gauge for success is very different. You have to put in the work to get the limited jobs and to continue getting those limited jobs. Putting in the work means self-discipline. It means taking dance classes consistently, fueling your body properly, cross-training, going to dance events, networking, looking up auditions, doing your research, and taking care of yourself. These are all things you have done before. But now it is just on a larger scale since this is what you want to do with your life. I’m afraid the hacks, gimmicks, tips, and tricks won’t do it. Success as a dancer—whatever that means to you—takes a monumental effort.
You Won’t Just Be Picked
A month before I moved to LA, I heard this advice and it has always stuck with me. Say you are in a dance class or in a convention class and the choreographer loves the way you are dancing. Say you are asked to demonstrate the combo to the rest of the class. Maybe you get filmed doing the combination and it ends up on the choreographer’s Instagram page. Awesome! Now what? Do you wait for them to call you up for a job? Let me be crystal clear: it doesn’t work like that. You will not be picked out of a sea of sometimes hundreds of dancers in a class to become the next “star” or assistant. Yes, a choreographer could see you in a class and love the way you dance. That exact situation has literally happened to me. What did I do? I went back to their class and continued to train. I kept going back and saying thank you after class until the choreographer remembered my name. And guess what. I still go back and take their class.
So be patient and continue to train with choreographers you love and with whom you have a relationship. Keep going back; keep being visible; keep communicating. When that choreographer has a performance or a job, you will have the leg up in the audition because they know you and your persistence. You still may not be right for the job, but at least you know you won’t be overlooked. So don’t sit around, waiting to be picked. You will have to make it happen for yourself.