If you love to dance, you may be wondering how to make money as a dancer – or even how to answer the undying question: “What are you going to do with a dance major?” The ‘starving artist’ stereotype perseveres, but there are plenty of fulfilling jobs in the dance industry, along with other dance-related careers. This article covers dance jobs from teaching dance and working as a dance/ movement therapist to becoming an arts administrator. Read on to learn about a range of plausible careers for dancers.
Professional Dance Artist
The most obvious career choice for trained dancers is dancing on stage in front of crowds of adoring fans. There are opportunities for very talented and determined dancers to dance for an entire season with a single company or to work on multiple projects with different dance companies as a freelance dancer.
However, dance performance jobs are highly sought after, and many freelance dance artists must also supplement their dance income with a second or third job. Dancers can also find seasonal contract work with cruise lines and hotels, entertaining guests with spectacular evening shows. This is one of the easiest ways to snag a dance job abroad. You could even end up working as a character dancer in a theme park show with big brands like Disney.
Dance Choreographer or Artistic Director
Many dancers find creating dance work satisfying. A dance choreographer’s work can appear in musical theater productions, music videos and even television commercials. And choreographers don’t just work with professional dancers. Some choreograph dance competition pieces for high school dance teams and dance studio groups, in addition to duets and solos.
Successful dance artists may also further their careers by creating and directing a dance company. Oftentimes artistic directors choreograph for their own companies, which gives a company their signature aesthetic – but artistic directors may also hire freelance choreographers, who can create or set an older piece on their dancers. For instance, Tamara Rojo invited Akram Khan to choreograph Giselle on the English National Ballet.
One of the most popular jobs for dancers is working as a dance educator. Becoming a dance instructor is a great way to share your knowledge and love of dance with others, whether you teach dance to children, young adults at a university or even the elderly population.
You can best serve children and pre-professional dancers by planning lessons and teaching skills in a progressive succession. If you teach adult lessons, you can offer drop-in classes that focus more on choreography than technique. If you’re unable to commit to regular dance classes, you can also hold one-off workshops and/or substitute for other dance teachers.
You can also teach dance abroad. Former American expat, Heatherly, tells us about her experience of teaching dance in Okinawa.
Dance Academic or Historian
In academic settings, there’s more to teaching dance than physical technique. Dance lecturers can teach students about dance history, choreography, production elements, dance pegagogy, screendance, dance/ movement therapy and somatics. Courses in these varied subjects increase dance students’ breadth of knowledge and can help them to decide how to shape their own dance career pathways.
Dance experts can also conduct their own research to author books in their respective fields, whether they focus on a specific dance genre, a certain historical period or dance in a singular region of the world.
If you love to curl up with a good book, see our list of dance books for dancers.
Dance Non-Profit Organizer or Worker
Although it sounds like non-profit organizations would only provide dance volunteer opportunities, there are paying roles at some non-profits. Dance non-profit groups often make dance accessible to marginalized populations for little to no cost for their program participants. So, working for a dance non-profit may simply feel like working as a dance instructor – except you might focus more on providing a positive, inclusive environment, than on perfecting dance technique.
Once dance non-profit organizers decide which group of people they would like to help – and how, they must secure grants and/or sponsors to fund their program. Then they must train their staff, who will need to run the program and document progress for donors and grant renewals. Challenging dance non-profit work provides an especially rewarding job for dancers.
Dance/ Movement Therapist
Dance/ movement therapists (also known as DMTs or dance/ movement psychotherapists) work with patients like any therapist – but they incorporate movement as a tool for exploration and a mode for healing. They believe that addressing the physical body is more effective than talking through problems alone and allows for holistic healing.
Dance therapy uses dance as an expressive art that can help qualified therapists to learn more about their patients. They study postures, movement patterns and how their clients navigate through space. DMTs work with all populations; however, some specific examples include people who have suffered from eating disorders, cancer survivors and children with autism.
Learn more about dance/ movement therapy on the American Dance Therapy Association site.
Dance PR, Marketer or Arts Administrator
Artists are known for their creative talents, but many don’t want to coordinate the logistics of making art as a sustainable business. It’s a necessary evil for them, but if you are interested in communications and relationship building, you can help dance venues and individual dance companies to attract much-needed audiences.
You can write synopses and press releases for arts journalists and invite them to review dance shows. Then you can collate their coverage into advertisements or share snippets on the business’ social media channels to continue promoting the production. Large and successful dance studios also have a marketing and PR team.
As an arts or dance administrator, depending on the scope of the role, you may also become involved in arranging rehearsal space and travel for the dancers, leading fund raising events, launching outreach projects and planning budgets.
Dance Arts Collaborators: Costumers, Musicians and More
Surprisingly, a dance show isn’t all about dance. There is plenty of room for other creators to enhance and elevate a dance performance. If you flip through a show program’s credits, you’ll notice that artistic collaborators are listed in addition to the choreographer, rehearsal directors and the dance performers.
Your other artistic talents may allow you to create intricate costumes or innovative sets. You could also compose music to accompany a performance, perhaps even playing live alongside the dancers. As a lighting designer, you would understand how to add different shades of light to emit certain moods and determine which type of lighting to use: spotlights, side lighting, etc. There are multiple ways to get involved in a dance production.
Dance Photographer or Videographer
If you become a dance photographer, you will capture beautiful moments of an ephemeral art – and if you have studied dance extensively, you’ll have a leg up on other dance photographers. When shooting dance portraits, you will notice and correct poor alignment; and you’ll be able to suggest more interesting variations on a pose. This is valuable input for dancers, and your dance pictures will be featured in dancers’ portfolios – and, no doubt, their social media feeds.
In addition to dance portrait shoots, you can also capture dance performances, classes and other events in video. Dancers will use your clips to advertise their dance businesses in e-newsletters and website landing pages. If you’re interested in learning more about screendance, dance created specifically for film, read our interview with Omari ‘Motion’ Carter of The Motion Dance Collective, where he explains how dance is transformed by the process of recording.
Physical Therapist or Osteopath for Dancers
Unfortunately, injuries are common among professional dancers, whether they’re recurring injuries or they spring up from a single, unfortunate accident. Physical therapists (or physiotherapists, as they’re called in the UK) can help dancers to regain their strength and mobility.
While many physical therapists work in hospitals or generic physical therapy clinics, you can specialize in working with dancers. For example, PTs at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries work exclusively with dance professionals.
Dancers may have higher goals than other physical therapy patients, or they may push harder in order to recover more quickly. Understanding a dancer’s lifestyle and how muscles are used in specific dance exercises will help PTs to work with the dancing population – and this is also true of massage therapists, osteopaths and personal trainers.
Dance Fitness Instructor
Dancing helps practitioners to learn a lot about their bodies and the human body in general. So dancers are well-suited to working in the fitness industry. Teaching exercise classes is a great way to keep in shape (and rehearsal ready, if you’re still dancing part-time) – and you can feel good about inspiring others to love moving.
Leading athletic dance fitness classes is an obvious choice for dancers. You can create dance-like routines that are fun and don’t feel like a traditional workout. Zumba is a popular Latin dance fitness brand, but there’s also La Blast, old school Jazzercise and a bunch of unique workouts in cities like New York and London, such as DanceBody. You can even start your own brand, whether it’s based off of ballet, ballroom, Bollywood – or twerking!
Other dancers are drawn to teaching hardcore ‘ballet’ barre classes, as well as yoga, Pilates and stretching. (Moving Stretch, anyone?) These fitness instructors’ dance experience gives them useful knowledge about postural alignment and the muscular system. As a bonus, many dance enthusiasts will be drawn to taking their classes over more generic exercise sessions.
Dance Writer or Blogger (or YouTuber, etc)
Dance writing and blogging help to unite and inform the dance community. Dance critics write dance show reviews, so readers can decide whether to attend and attendees can decipher the performance. Dance journalists may also interview dance artistic directors about upcoming shows or structural changes within the dance company. Other written dance features can include articles about teaching dance, improving dance technique, you name it! (Dance Dispatches even offers dance class reviews, similar to fitness class reviews, which is quite rare.)
While there are fantastic dance publications and tiny dance segments in local newspapers or magazines, it’s not very easy to find an ‘in’. Therefore, dance blogging may be a good way to start your dance writing career. Starting a dance blog allows you to practice writing articles, publishing them in a CMS (content management system) and growing an audience on social media.
If writing isn’t your jam, but you love to create video content, you may be able to start a profitable dance channel on YouTube or Instagram – or maybe even TikTok. With a large, engaged and niche audience, you may be able to secure brand campaigns. (Though be sure to disclose to maintain audience trust and adhere to legal advertising standards!)
A Note on Dance and Arts Job Boards
You may have a hard time finding a very specific dance job on a standard online job board, although there’s a chance you could find vacancies for fitness instructors, personal trainers and dance teachers. However, you’ll have much better luck searching for jobs and dance internships on specialized arts or dance job boards, which will feature listings from arts organizations, as well as audition opportunities.
You may also hear about dance opportunities in online discussion forums or Facebook groups. Be sure to keep an eye out for fliers at dance studios or ads on local bulletin boards. And don’t forget to check the websites of your favorite companies and theaters (as well as their LinkedIn pages) for possible openings, too. They may not post information externally, and you don’t want to miss out on your opportunity to apply for your dream dance job.
What is your ultimate dance job – or combination of dance jobs? Tell us about your dance career in the comments below!