Performance Pathways for the Professional Dancer
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Competitive dancers are amazing--they train for countless hours every week, often compete all weekend every weekend for the entire spring season, and then continue their training to head to nationals in the summer. But what happens to all of that training and dedication when dancers graduate from their studios? On episode 63 of Making the Impact, Courtney and Lesley sat down with IDA Judge, Maddie Kurtz, and founder/director of Commercial Dance Intensive (CDI), Casey Noblett, to talk about the various pathways dancers can take if they wish to pursue a career as a performer.
First, it’s important to note the skills that competitive dancers already possess as they head into the professional world. Not only do competition kids have tons of training and versatility, but they’re also used to picking up and remembering tons of choreography across genres and are absolutely fearless when it comes to trying new skills. Another great attribute of competition dancers is their ability to adapt, especially this season with constant quarantines and reblocking. These skills will absolutely come in handy in any facet of the dance industry! In addition to training intensively, all four educators recommend that dancers do their research to best equip themselves for auditions.
Casey suggests using local resources. If, for example, a dancer is interested in pursuing musical theater/Broadway, they should reach out to their high school’s chorus director or church choir leader to start vocal training. Maddie agrees, noting the power of social media and its ability to connect us--if, as a young dancer, you follow people and idolize them, reach out! There’s no harm in asking a dancer for advice--the worst that can happen is that they won’t respond. For more advice on finding a mentor, check out Episode #55, The Benefits of Having a Dance Mentor. Both Casey and Maddie also emphasize the value of summer training, whether in a ballet intensive, a modern dance festival, or a program like CDI. All of these programs can help prepare dancers for the realities of the professional industry by not only helping them hone their technique, but also assisting with audition preparation, resumé formatting, and other practical elements that their studios might not cover throughout the year.
So once a dancer commits to pursuing a career, what options are available? The following is a crash course in pathways and where to find them.
Maddie shares her overview on concert dance opportunities:
Ballet companies: across the country, nearly every major city has a ballet company, whether on a national or regional scale. These contracts are typically around nine months with some sort of layoff throughout the year and usually include health insurance, access to physical therapy, and a salary. Many ballet companies also tour.
Modern/contemporary companies: though few and far between in the U.S., these contracts tend to look similar to ballet companies. If dancers are interested in these types of full time company contracts, their best bet is to look into moving to Europe.
Project-based contemporary companies: these gigs are less stable but more common and tend to exist within the aesthetic that dancers typically train in contemporary/modern college programs in the U.S. Usually, these projects involve collaboration and often there is no audition--if there is an audition process, it’s usually an open rehearsal or class with the choreographer, but these types of projects tend to be a little less formal. These are usually 1099 contractor situations, so there are no health benefits. The majority of opportunities are in New York City, but most major cities have at least a small contemporary dance scene.
If you’re not interested in the concert dance world, the commercial side has tons of different gigs which Casey outlines:
Broadway/Musical Theater: while Broadway is in New York, many cities around the country also have regional theaters and host touring companies.
Pro team: While the NBA and NFL boast the most well-known dance teams, baseball and hockey also tend to have some sort of hype squad to cheer them on. These gigs are especially great because they don’t require a cross-country move--there is usually at least one pro team in any city! This is the only gig where dancers get to perform for upwards of 40-60 thousand fans per game! If this is of interest, Casey encourages attending a college with a dance team for preparation.
TV/Film/Touring with an artist: For dancers who want to be on the little or big screen, Los Angeles is the place to be! Casey reminds dancers to practice their hip hop improv before heading out to L.A.!
Cruise Ships: These contracts are fairly flexible, and cruise lines are always looking for talented dancers across genres to perform on the high seas. This is a great environment to quickly learn how to partner and dancers essentially get paid to perform while they enjoy seeing the world!
Overall, it’s clear from this conversation that there are tons of options available for dancers who wish to perform professionally. It’s important for each dancer to remember what they bring to the table as an individual to determine their best fit pathway. All four educators encourage dancers not to shy away from asking for help, to do their research, and follow their dreams!
Thanks to our guests, Maddie Kurtz and Casey Noblett, for joining us on the podcast this week! You can follow them at @maddiekurtz92 and @casey_noblett and be sure to check out Commercial Dance Intensive at @commercialdanceintensive.
Maddie Kurtz is an IDA staff writer/admin, choreographer, judge, and dance educator. Check out her other articles on the IDA Blog, visit her website, and follow her @maddiekurtz92.