Let’s be honest, no one pursues a career in dance for the money. We do it because dance is our passion. Unfortunately, the “starving artist” trope looms large for many dancers who are just getting their start in the industry. But don’t worry. You need not sacrifice your well-being—financial, physical, or otherwise—to chase your dreams. You may be wondering, “How do aspiring dancers support themselves when receiving little compensation for their pre-professional dance jobs?” The answer is side hustles. Having a standard 9am-5pm job isn’t exactly feasible when you are taking classes, going to auditions, and juggling rehearsal/performance schedules. Moreover, you should consider finding work that relatesto your desired industry, and you likely won’t find that in an office. But let me also remind you that, as these are side gigs, you might as well have fun with them!Below are two ways you can do just that.
This is a great way to gain real-life, professional experience on a set. One of the many benefits of background work is that it is not geographically limited (i.e., you don’t have to live in LA to pursue these opportunities). Lots of television shows and movies are filmed throughout the United States. Bonus! You could have background work on your resume before you even move to LA. So you can be one step ahead of the game. If, however, you don’t encounter these opportunities in your hometown, then there are plenty of chances to work as an extra once you arrive in California.
If you are, indeed, interested in doing background work in LA, then you will have to register with Central Casting. Visit their office on a day when they are taking new registration (usually on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). You can reserve your spot online in order to register. You will not be allowed access without all of the correct documentation. The best way to prepare for registration is to read through the Central Casting website thoroughly.
Also, make sure you look presentable. The staff will take photos of you at registration. These photos are kept in their database to be used for casting purposes. Luckily, if you don’t like or you need to update your photos, you can return to the office during “Re-registration & Updates” time slots (usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays). If you haven’t worked with Central Casting in a while, then I suggest going into the office to update your information. This is a great chance to get your face back on their minds.
Central Casing has a lot of people in their database. You will need to submit yourself for roles when you are available and fit the description. Every now and then, if you are a great fit for a role, casting will contact you to see if you are available to work a certain show. They might do this even if you didn’t submit for a role. If you respond that you are available, then they will submit your materials to casting.
One of my favorite side hustles is working as a seat-filler. This is where you go on a talk show or the like and are paid to simply watch! There are few different seat-filler companies with which you should register:
Quick warning: even if you are selected to be a seat-filler for a show, you may not end up actually working that gig. Sometimes, pedestrians will want to watch the show for free, and they will receive priority over you. If you are sent home, you are still usually given minimum compensation for your time.
It’s important to register yourself on several seat-filler companies, because you can’t work the same show week after week. The show’s viewers will start to notice if the same people are in the audience in every episode. If you are not routinely recast as a seat-filler in a show, know that this may be the reason you aren’t getting the job. It’s not necessarily because they didn’t like you or thought you were unprofessional.
You know how talk show audiences sometimes receive free items? If you happen to work one of these shows, know that, more likely than not, you are not going home with those perks. You are being paid to be there—no freebies for you.
Speaking of payment, though, some seat-filler companies will pay cash while others will send you a check. There have been times when I didn’t receive my check for six weeks. Carefully track the hours and days you work, in case you need to contact the company.
Whether you are working as an extra or a seat-filler, always remember to bring snacks, water, a portable charger, and something to keep you occupied (e.g., a book). Since you could be on set for a long while, and without access to an outlet, I suggest that you preserve your battery by staying off your phone. Find some other way to entertain yourself. Food and water are provided on set, but extras are often the last to eat. Bring your own snacks to keep your hunger at bay. Also, since the food options on set are pretty limited, if you have dietary restrictions, you should definitely bring your own food. But as you are all brilliant people, I don’t need to tell you that. 😊