The Job and What's Involved

Dance is about using the body to tell stories, interpret music and express emotion.

Dancers work in a variety of styles, including jazz, tap, ballet, modern, ballroom, flamenco, South Asian styles such as Kathak, Bharata Natyam and Bollywood, traditional African and Caribbean styles, bodypopping and breakdancing, contemporary and many other styles from around the world and from different periods in history.

Areas of work include:

  • Ballet - there are a few established companies with great competition for places.
  • Contemporary dance - in dance companies or as solo or 'session' performers.
  • Musical theatre, such as musicals and cabaret.
  • Film and television.
  • Dance in education - working in schools, colleges and the community.

Maintaining skills and fitness in daily classes and rehearsing take up most of a dancer's time. A dancer's career is physically tough and can be short. Injury may end a career early.

Dancers need to learn steps and styles quickly, and to retain the energy of the piece, while repeating the same scene many times over.

Dancers should be able to contribute suggestions to improve their own performance, while also being able to take direction and constructive criticism from the choreographer or director. They also need to remember their exact positions and movements on stage.

In theatre, TV and film work, the larger the dancer's range of styles, the more likely they are to get jobs. Dancers are selected, or cast, by the choreographer, producer, director or casting director. They may need some acting ability and, for musical productions, singing skills may also be required.

Dance is a collaborative process and everyone involved must work to ensure that the overall performance is effective, rather than concentrating solely on their own performance.

Working hours for a dancer can be long and hard, and usually involve evenings and weekends. Touring may mean working away from home for long periods and may involve additional rehearsals at each new venue.

Dancers take part in daily classes, as well as rehearsals and performances. A Royal Ballet dancer's week usually includes four hours in class, and 33 hours in rehearsal and performance each week.

Dancers work in various venues such as theatres, film and TV studios, nightclubs, hotels, halls and holiday resorts. Dance performances can also take place in more unusual venues such as disused factories, sports centres and shopping centres.

The work is mainly indoors, but some venues, and especially rehearsal rooms, can be quite basic.

Equity, the trade union for the performing arts, recommends a minimum weekly rate for dancers of around £300.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

It is estimated that the dance sector employs around 30,000 people, including dancers, teachers, choreographers, technicians and managers. There are around 200 dance companies in the UK, and dancers also work in commercial and subsidised theatre, such as West End musicals, and in opera, film, television, live music and video, corporate events, variety shows, clubs and many other industries. Some dancers work overseas or on cruise liners.

A dance career is very competitive, and most dancers will have periods of work and times when they are not performing.

Jobs tend to be advertised in publications such as Dancing Times, Variety and The Stage and on dance-related websites. Getting work usually depends on success in auditions.

Education and Training

Dancers usually start their training at a very early age, possibly with part-time ballet or tap classes, and they take graded examinations. In some cases, they may initially train as gymnasts and then move into dance.

Ballet dancers must start training, generally at the very latest, by the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys, while their bones and joints are still flexible.

Dance courses are available at specialist schools and colleges, which cater for young people from 10 years of age. Full-time training can start from 16, and this leads to various dance qualifications covering all styles from ballet to ballroom. Most dance performance courses have no minimum academic qualifications.

Ballet dancers must have a high level of physical fitness and stamina. Women may need to be from 1.52m to 1.67m tall and men may need to be 1.6m to 1.78m. Check with individual training establishments. Other dance forms do not always have such strict physical requirements.

For most courses, candidates have to pass an audition and, usually, an interview and medical.

There are degree courses in dance and dance-related subjects throughout the country. For degree courses, students need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications, plus an audition.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are also GCSE's, A levels and BTEC national diplomas in dance and performing arts subjects.

Most dancers will have trained in more than one dance form at a local dancing school during childhood. Graded exams provide a framework for their training.

As the work is physically demanding, dancers must maintain their stamina and fitness levels by attending regular dance or fitness classes throughout their careers. They should also continually research and learn new dance styles, to expand their repertoires.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Dancers need:

  • A good sense of rhythm and timing.
  • To be highly motivated.
  • Talent and creativity.
  • Good general health and excellent physical fitness.
  • Good concentration for long periods.
  • To be able to learn complex movements and roles.
  • To work well in a team.
  • Acting and interpretation skills and, in some cases, singing ability.

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Your Long Term Prospects

Once in a dance company, promotion to soloist depends on ability, physique and luck. Only a few dancers become soloists or principals and the career can be quite short.

Theatre dancers may eventually progress to become dance captains, responsible for ensuring the continuity of the dance.

Some performers start their own dance groups or companies. Others move into teaching, choreography, movement therapy or arts management.

Get Further Information

Arts Council England,
14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200

Arts Council of Northern Ireland,
77 Malone Road, Belfast BT9 6AQ
Tel: 028 9038 5200

British Ballet Organisation (BBO),
Woolborough House, 39 Lonsdale Road,
Barnes, London SW13 9JP
Tel: 020 8748 1241

British Theatre Dance Association,
The International Arts Centre, Garden Street, Leicester LE1 3UA
Tel: 0845 166 2179

Central School of Ballet, 10 Herbal Hill,
Clerkenwell Road, London EC1R 5EG
Tel: 020 7837 6332

Council for Dance Education and Training,
Old Brewer's Yard, 17-19 Neal Street,
Covent Garden, London WC2H 9UY
Tel: 020 7240 5703

Dance UK, 2nd Floor, Urdang, Finsbury Town Hall,
Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QT
Tel: 020 7713 0730

Equity, Guild House, Upper St Martins Lane,
London WC2H 9EG
Tel: 020 7379 6000

Foundation for Community Dance, LCB Depot,
31 Rutland Street, Leicester LE1 1RE
Tel: 0116 253 3453

The Place Dance Services, 17 Duke's Road,
London WC1H 9PY
Tel: 020 7121 1000

The Royal Academy of Dance,
36 Battersea Square, London SW11 3RA
Tel: 020 7326 8000

The Royal Ballet School, 46 Floral Street,
Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DA
Tel: 020 7836 8899

Scottish Arts Council, 12 Manor Place,
Edinburgh EH3 7DD
Tel: 0131 226 6051

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