For many of us, dance has been a way of life for as long as we remember. We can’t imagine doing anything else except becoming a professional dancer. There was a line that was drawn, and all of a sudden, we’re no longer just dancing for fun, but so that we can make dancing our full-time job.
Everyone knows that becoming a professional dancer is an uphill battle and a constant struggle, and it’s one that might not pan out. Our dance blog is here to explore whether becoming a professional dancer is really worth it.
As a professional dancer, there’s a level of uncertainty that can (and should) make every dancer a little anxious. Your career could end abruptly in a way that other jobs simply don’t. Most employees experience an injury and go back to work as usual — your career as a dancer depends on being in full physical condition.
There’s also a deep level of uncertainty for dancers in terms of whether or not they’ll get into the performance or company or school they want, if any at all. Dancing competition only gets more intense as you get older and more invested in making dancing a career. You can no longer be the best at the studio — you have to be the best among dancers who are all likely the best at their studios, too.
A study by Princeton revealed that professional dancers believed their careers would last an average of 37 years. The reality showed that most careers average about 15 years. If you enter the world of professional dancing at the age of 18 or 19, there’s a good chance that your career will be over before you turn 35.
To be fair, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a professional dancer. But it goes to show that you’ll need to have other career prospects in your life. Your dance career is almost guaranteed to end before you’ll be ready for retirement, which is why it’s so essential to have other career plans in mind.
When you’re auditioning for a role and there’s a smaller audition pool, you have a much better chance at getting picked to be in a show. Professional dancers often go through months of auditions, perhaps even years, before landing a spot. All the while, they’ll likely need to support themselves financially by working another job (though anyone who reads this dance blog knows that auditioning is a full-time job in itself).
As a professional dancer, you’ll need to constantly keep your cool and not let rejection get to you, which is one of the toughest possible things to do. Things will get unbelievably competitive, and you’ll need to pick yourself up, again and again, to make it in the industry.
Of course, every job requires applications (auditions) and, if you’re lucky, interviews (callbacks). This isn’t unique to dance, but it’s more common to be one of a dozen people applying for a job versus one of a hundred people auditioning for a dance role.
The Physical Toll
Tendinitis, stress fractures, torn ligaments and tendons — the list of dance-related injuries is practically endless. Putting your body through dance is one thing, but making the switch to having it be a full-time job is something that very few can ever truly prepare for — and it’s a career that nearly everyone struggle to maintain.
Sometimes you’ll have to dance through the pain, even though you’ll risk further injury and having to cut your career short. Sometimes you might have to pay for surgery and physical therapy, and experience the financial loss that comes from weeks spent in recovery.
Unlike the NFL and the NBA and other professional sports, you’ll likely make less than $50k a year as a dancer. It’s hard to financially prepare for the physical toll that often comes with dancing.
You can focus all you want on the feeling of being center stage. You can fantasize about that day for years, and work tirelessly to make that happen. But the truth is that until you begin pursuing life as a professional dancer, you won’t know what it’s like.
You might get into the audition phase, give it a couple of months or a year, not experience a breakthrough, and feel like it’s time to try something else. You might experience a lot of success, but then become disenchanted with the politics (though to be fair, every job has its own set of politics and bureaucracy). This is just a reminder that while you might think you’ve thought everything through, you won’t know what to expect until you try to break into the industry.
Of course, if we’re going to focus on all the negative sides to professional dancing, our blog thinks it’s only fair to focus on the positive. The truth is that for so many dancers, their love of dancing and passion for the art overrides all of the drawbacks. So even though things can be outrageously challenging and competitive and painful, both physically and emotionally, dance is so emotionally fulfilling that it can absolutely all be worth it.
We’re not trying to scare anyone from pursuing the life of a professional dancer. But we think it’s essential to consider all the realities, the good and the bad, that come with professional dancing.
Just like a professional career in sports which will end at your mid to early 30s. The experience and knowledge learned while being a professional dancer is priceless. And the potential can be limitless, but it starts with an understanding that you are MORE than just a dancer. You’re an artist, a creator, an educator, a mentor, a coach, a storyteller, an influencer, and a leader. After your professional career, you can get into studio ownership (alone) or with a business partner, or more teaching online & at a studio, or choreographing, or curriculum building, or consulting, or speaking and coaching.
Unfortunately, our dance blog can’t make any decisions for you. But we can present both sides of the coin to the best of our ability, to help you make an informed decision. If you decide that dancing for fun and enjoyment is going to be a lifelong hobby and sport, that’s awesome! If you decide to pursue a full-time career as a dancer, yaaaaasss you go. If there’s anything that More Than Dancers knows, it’s that there’s no wrong way to dance. And that you can make it a great living doing what you love. Good luck figuring out your path, and keep coming back for even more articles, posts, memes, videos, and everything in between.
…and never say never, because limits like fears are often just an illusion.