Joffrey Ballet School

How to Be a Professional Dancer in 5 (Not So Easy) Steps

Professional dancers come from many walks of life, with different sets of experience and backgrounds. Some have been studying ballet since shortly after taking their first steps. Others begin dancing as tweens or teens and soon find themselves consumed with dreams of dancing for a living. But regardless of how you get started, there are 5 steps you’ll need to follow if your goal is to become a professional dancer.

Train with the Best

If your goal is to become a professional dancer, the quality of training you receive will make or break your chances of making it as a professional. Many dancers start their careers in local studios or companies, but when you become serious about turning professional, it’s time to look for the best training you can find.

That’s where Joffrey Ballet School’s pre-professional training comes in. Our pre-professional dance trainee program is a full-time course in dance that prepares you for a career as a professional dancer. We offer two tracks: Ballet and Jazz & Contemporary. Both programs provide thousands of hours of dance training, performance preparation and experience, along with classroom instruction in Career Planning; Critical Analysis; Music; Anatomy; Dance History; Health and Nutrition and more.

If your goals are more long term and you’re not quite ready to make the leap into pre-professional training, a summer dance intensive offers an opportunity to enhance your training and gain skills rapidly, without making a full time commitment to training until you’re ready. And it’s a great way to “try on” full time training and find the school that is right for you.

Gain Versatility and Performance Experience

At Joffrey, one of our mottoes for our pre-professional trainees is to “be the dancer that has it all.” What we mean is that a professional dancer needs more than just strong technical skills in a single discipline to be successful as a professional dancer. 

Why is versatility so important? It used to be the case that dancers focused mainly on a single discipline because that is what the majority of roles required. Today, dance productions tend to be more “multi-disciplinary,” often incorporating multiple styles and disciplines in a single production or role. For instance, a ballet dancer could be called upon to incorporate elements of classical, modern and Latin dance in a role. The dancer who will be hired for that role is going to be the one with the training to excel in all of those disciplines.

So, when developing yourself as a dancer, look for opportunities to gain versatility and experience that could benefit you later by being willing to try new things and step outside the box. A summer dance intensive is a great way to do this, and that’s why Joffrey offers intensives in so many different styles.

With us, you can study classical or contemporary ballet, latin dance, jazz, tap or hip-hop. You’ll gain performance experience in our in-studio performances and student showcases in professional venues. You’ll gain versatility in a short period of time that you’ll need in your future professional career, and who knows? You just might discover a new passion in the process.  

Have Realistic Expectations

One of the toughest decisions a dancer has to make is to determine which career preparation track to follow: studying dance at a college or university, or enrolling in some form of pre-professional training. There are pros and cons to both forms of training: college might allow you to pursue other options as well as dance, providing a backup plan of sorts for when your dance career ends. 

Yet, while a backup plan is nice, dancers also have to accept that dance is also a time-limited career, one that favors younger dancers. Finishing high school and college, followed by a year or two of pre-professional study puts you well into your twenties by the time you finish. Most dancers will retire when the wear and tear on their bodies takes its toll, usually in their 30s or 40s if they are fortunate. For dancers that choose the college track, that means a career of 10 to 15 years, at best, plus being at a possible disadvantage compared to the dancers who got their start younger, when their bodies were stronger and more resilient. 

By combining high school completion and pre-professional training, dancers can extend their careers on stage and get a much younger start, but there is a risk if their careers come to a premature end due to injury or other factors – or never really get started at all. 

For these reasons, dancers need to be realistic and ask themselves the tough questions about their ultimate life and career goals. Are you willing to forego the college experience in order to extend your career and improve your dance prospects? Do you have a plan for what you will do when that career ends? Dancers who want to make it as a professional need to consider not just their dance career, but their ultimate life goals.

Put Together a Professional Portfolio

Okay, so let’s say you’ve got the training. You’ve got the talent. You’ve got the versatility. And you’ve asked the hard questions about your chosen career path. You’re ready to take the next steps. That means putting together a professional dance portfolio.

At Joffrey, we offer career planning and work with our pre-professional trainees as they near the end of their time with us to put together their portfolio. The portfolio includes a resume or CV (short for curriculum vitae) and professional headshots. Dancers should also curate what used to be called a dance “reel”; a video of dance clips showing your best skills. These can be shared electronically via file sharing apps, on a disk or thumb drive as a video audition. 

Your resume should include your name, contact information (phone and email), a complete listing of your dance training and education, your representation (if you have an agent) and your union status. You should also list your training and performance experience: all schools attended, years of training and levels attained with each school, and specify your performance experience and roles. Dance competition experience and placement should be included as well.

For your headshot, professional photography and makeup is also very helpful. And while your dance clips don’t have to be professionally produced, you’ll make the best impression if they are well lit, well produced and show your dancing off to best advantage. 

Take Care of Your Body

Remember when we said that the average dancer’s professional career would likely end in their 30s or 40s? That’s one of the hardest truths about choosing to become a professional dancer: your time on stage will likely come to an end sooner than you might wish. Often, this will happen because your body simply can’t handle the strain as you get older.

However, the good news is that while aging is inevitable, you’re not helpless against it. You can extend your career through careful attention to your nutrition and conditioning throughout your career.  Younger dancers benefit from the fact that the human body typically gains muscle through one’s teens and twenties. However, at around age 30, this starts to change quickly as the body begins to lose muscle mass at a pace of about 3% to 5% per year. 

So if you want to be as strong as possible in the later portion of your career, don’t delay in paying attention to diet and strength conditioning.

Be the Dancer that Has it All With Joffrey

Training, experience and versatility, realistic expectations, a professional portfolio and a commitment to nutrition and conditioning are just five of the factors you need to make it as a professional dancer. If you’re ready to learn more about how to succeed in this career path, contact Joffrey today to learn more about our pre-professional training and summer dance intensives.

Avatar JBS Admin (69 Posts)

Founded in 1953 by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, Joffrey Ballet School maintains the vision of its founders to transform passionate dance students into versatile, individualistic artists able to collaborate and evolve fluidly in a fast-changing society. With an accredited dance program that offers two core areas of study – ballet and jazz/contemporary – JBS is known for its diverse curriculum and has the largest summer intensive training program in the country.


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Author: JBS Admin

Founded in 1953 by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, Joffrey Ballet School maintains the vision of its founders to transform passionate dance students into versatile, individualistic artists able to collaborate and evolve fluidly in a fast-changing society. With an accredited dance program that offers two core areas of study – ballet and jazz/contemporary – JBS is known for its diverse curriculum and has the largest summer intensive training program in the country.

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