How do you become a professional dancer

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

Posted By JBS Admin on Jun 15, 2020 |

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.

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.

3 Tips for How to Become a Professional Dancer

To The Pointe

Follow us to stay updated on the latest news from our school & faculty. We also aim to provide inspiration and encouragement to aspiring dancers and their families interested in learning more about the world of ballet!

Sep 29, 2021 | Ballet

Ballet dancers practice one of the oldest arts of movement in the world, one that uses centuries-old techniques to express emotions and entertain with grace on stage. Dancers are storytellers – using a mixture of free-flowing and choreographed routines to share their narratives.

While there’s no clear-cut path to becoming a professional dancer, there are ways to train your skills enough soar through an audition.

The First Steps to Take to Become a Professional Dancer

Tip #1: Train with Reputable Performing Arts Schools

Just like any other skill, education can do wonders for extending your knowledge and honing your abilities as a ballet dancer. Getting training from established teachers allows you to learn from the best of the bunch.

Training with reputable dance companies like Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, for instance, can help you develop your muscle memory, flexibility, discipline, and technique so that you can propel your talent to greater heights.

If you want a less traditional route, you can also get a bachelor’s degree to unravel the technicalities behind choreography, production, your specific dance history, and extensive training to enhance your body alignment.

Tip #2: Explore the Expansive World of Dance and Gain Experience

Training helps build your foundation and strength but being versatile in today’s professional dance world is essential. Having experience and taking classes in character, modern, and even hip-hop will help you become the dancer that a director can count on.

Tip #3: Attend Auditions to Gain Networks and Build Reputation

Aside from gaining experience from other forms, it helps to attend as many auditions as you can to build your strength in a high-pressure environment. This is closely related to acquiring more real-world knowledge on how dance works in the professional world, so you can step out of your comfort zone and boost your reputation in the process.

The Bottom Line: The Steps to Turning Your Talent into a Profession

The road to becoming a professional dancer and flourishing on stage is unique to every individual, but the steps to reach your dreams of dancing can feel clearer when you know the basics.

Why Choose Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet?

Are you looking for a ballet academy in Central Pennsylvania? If so, then the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet may be for you!

Marcia Dale Weary founded this reputable ballet academy in 1955, so we’re known worldwide for providing one of the finest classical ballet training programs.

Train with us today and see what we can do to fuel your passion!

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15 True Stories from the Life of a Professional Dancer

20 Feb. 2022

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    No dancer has yet become successful based on innate talent alone. Dancers are artists and athletes. The world of dance today has become like extreme sports. Dancers have to work hard and diligently. They give years of their lives, plus their tears and sometimes blood, to have the honor and pleasure of performing on stage.
    We don't always get the part we wanted, walk on stage in the shoes we wanted, get the job we want, get the expected compliments, get the money we wanted, etc. This teaches us humility and respect for the process, for the art form, and for the people we have chosen to learn from. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we succeed. We are never 100% sure that it will work, but we can always be 100% sure that doing nothing will definitely not work.
    There is always information a dancer can learn. Even our least loved teachers, choreographers and directors have something to teach us. The moment we think we know everything, we cease to be a valuable asset.
    A dancer never knows when his dancing career will suddenly evaporate: company closure, career-ending injury, car accident... Dance every time as if it were your last performance. Don't save the fun of dancing for the stage. Infuse even your regular gym workouts with a passion for dancing!
    You cannot control who will hire you, who will fire you, who loves your job, who does not, the policy of being in the company. Don't waste your talent and energy worrying about things you can't control. Focus on honing your craft - being the best dancer you can be. Keep your mind open and your attitude positive.
    Knowledge comes from experience. You can discuss the task hundreds of times, go to 1000 classes, but until we get out of there and start dancing, we will only have a philosophical idea of ​​\u200b\u200bdance. Find an opportunity to get on stage. To call yourself a professional dancer, you must first perform.
    The shortest way to lose your job is to prove to your boss that he doesn't need you. On the contrary, be necessary. Show up early, know your stuff, be prepared, keep your opinions to yourself until asked, and above all, crave hard work.
    It doesn't matter if it's about work, money, roles or trophies. Instead of being sad about those around you, focus on the things you're good at, the things you need to work on, and the things that make you happy as a dancer.
    Everyone has a past. Everyone has made mistakes and everyone has stellar moments they would love to enjoy.
    "Will you keep leftover onions in your tooth just because you liked potatoes last night?" - The Boston Common series.
    Dance is an art form that forces us to focus on the present. To be a dance master, we must be present in the moment. The minute the mind wanders, injuries happen. If they happened, see point 12.
    Dancing alone cannot make us happy. The roots of our happiness come from our relationship with ourselves. Not on the amount of money, not on the role we were given, the company we dance for, or the number of competitions we won. Of course, these things affect our mood, but in the long run, who we are on the inside makes us happy.
    Dancers are in the public eye when they perform, and especially in this internet world, criticism abounds. You cannot be everything to everyone. No matter what you do, there will always be people who think differently. Therefore, concentrate on what your heart tells you. What others think and say about you is not so important. What matters is what you think about yourself.
    Sometimes, despite our efforts, following the best advice, being in the right place at the right time, we still lose. Failure is part of life. Failure can be the catalyst for some of our biggest growth and learning leaps. If we never lost, we would never appreciate success. Crave failure. When they happen to you (and they will happen anyway), take advantage of the lesson they bring with them.
    Every professional dancer has to work without pay at one time or another. If you are asked to work for free, be sure that you really agree with this. There are plenty of good reasons to work for free, and just as many good reasons not to work without pay. Ask yourself if it's worth the opportunity, if it's worth the experience, if it will bring you pleasure.
    Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is crazy. If you keep doing what you do, you will get what you get. If you do the bare minimum in class, don't complain to your teacher that you haven't progressed to the next level. If you give the bare minimum to your company, be glad you stay on the team. If you want to grow beyond your comfort zone, push yourself beyond your self-imposed limits.
    No one feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Dancers must be willing to take risks. From traveling the world to dance with a new company, to trusting a new partner to try out a new dance form, dancers must have an adaptable mind, attitude and body. The most significant opportunities in life force us to move outside of our comfort zones, which means you won't feel fully prepared for it.

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Professional or amateur

Sooner or later, every lover of moving beautifully into music faces the question: does he do it “for the soul” or does he want to develop as a professional dancer. This choice is really not easy, therefore, when making it, it is necessary to take into account all the pros and cons of a particular decision.

Sergey Alekseev and his partner Yulianna Lomako

Exercise "for the soul"


  • You can dance with anyone you want, in a mode that is convenient for you.
  • Without haste, calmly, at a pace that is comfortable for you, work on your skills.
  • You can perform at amateur competitions when you have a desire and mood and enjoy participation. And you can perform with demonstration numbers at holidays and festivals, not competing with anyone, but simply enjoying the very process of performance.
  • There is time and energy left for something else in life, except for dancing (work, study, personal life, other hobbies). And this is very valuable!
  • Dancing is not a major financial expense.
  • Let's sum it up: non-professional dancing is a pleasure, requires a minimum of nervous, time and financial expenses, develops you, but does not completely absorb, leaving room for something else good in your life.


    Perhaps sometimes you will be a little jealous of the level of skill of athletes at competitions and a little sad about your own unrealized dancing potential.

    Being an athlete or a professional dancer is...


  • A sports career gives you the opportunity to dance at competitions beautifully, more beautifully, more and more better, more precise, more technical, more dynamic, more amplitude, more musical... Compete, grow and achieve new peaks of skill, to realize oneself in this art form.
  • You have a chance to make dancing your profession, and this is an exciting path.
  • Willpower and character are tempered by regular training.
  • Life is very interesting: you always know what you will do today and tomorrow. You have specific goals, a specific training plan. You get a lot of pleasure from your progress in dancing, from winning competitions.
  • There are many beautiful people around you, because dancing is a world of beauty.
  • Cons

    The first and main idea that I want to convey is that it is very, very difficult to seriously engage in dancing. It's nice to look at professional dancers, but it's not easy to be in their place.
    This is due to the fact that for a successful sports career it is required to devote a lot of time, mental strength, finances to classes, to regularly endure heavy physical and moral stress, it happens to get injured.

  • To devote a lot of time means to train almost daily for 3-4 hours. On weekends, be ready to go to competitions that take almost the whole day, taking into account the preparation for the tournament (warm-up, hairstyle, makeup, road).
    Most often, athletes "live" in the gym.
    The consequences of such a dedication to dancing, I think, are understandable - this is the lack of time and energy for another career outside of dancing, and the dissatisfaction of family and friends that they do not see you, and the inability to engage in other hobbies, etc.
  • Physical activity, correspondingly high.
  • Moral burdens also take place. This is dissatisfaction with the results of the competition, and quarrels with a partner (partner), and pressure from family and friends who want to see you next to them, and not in the hall, and many other factors.
    The more you devote yourself to a sports career, the more serious the moral burden.
  • There are injuries and occupational diseases. The most commonly affected are the feet, knees, back, and neck.
  • Profession - dancer

    We talked to our teachers - extremely experienced dancers and asked them to tell their dance stories. What is it like to be a professional dancer and teacher?
    Interesting? Let's find out!

    Valery Katsyr

    Valery Katsyr told us that he did not want to become a dancer at all: his mother brought him to the hall. And she did it regularly, because at first little Valera did not really like dancing.
    And only after some time, when he began to really dance, and not to perform memorized steps, when he began to enjoy and satisfy himself after each training session, he realized that dancing was his life, and he simply had to become a professional dancer!
    But more than one year of hard work, training, performances passed between understanding and real achievements.
    He has been dancing for 20 years, but he still continues to hone his skills, spending most of the day in dance halls, that is, most of his life.
    Valery admits that his career has been everything: injuries, losses, failures, parting with partners and looking for new ones. All this took a lot of time and effort, sometimes I wanted to leave it all, but he saw the goal ahead and walked towards it.
    Let's remind that now Valery Katsyr has the status of a master of sports in ballroom dancing, but he still continues to develop, learn and take lessons from other professionals.

    Maria Makhotko

    We would like to introduce you to Maria Makhotko, a master of sports in ballroom dancing. And she also has something to tell us!

    L: - Hello, Maria! You have been dancing since childhood. What achievement do you consider the most important?
    M: - It's very difficult to choose just one. You are constantly trying to develop and improve yourself. The main dance achievement is that I have been dancing since the age of 5 and still can’t quit.

    L: - In addition to being a professional dancer, you also teach dancing. What do you like more?
    M: - It's completely different and it's hard to compare. I used to think that dancing, but now, when you watch how people progress, develop, studying with you, it's very nice!

    L: - In addition to ballroom dancing, what directions attract you?
    M: - There is no limit to perfection...I am actively involved in bachata, Argentinean tango and salsa. I would like to develop in these areas. Although there are still a lot of plans, but time gives limitations.

    L: - At what age did you start your dancing career?
    M: - I've been dancing since I was 5 years old. I danced everywhere and always, therefore, at some point, my parents simply could not stand it and sent me to a dance studio.

    L: - Tell us about your hobbies. Is there time for anything other than dancing?
    M: - I knit. There is even a dream to knit a tablecloth. I also love other sports very much, such as football, hockey, biathlon, athletics, figure skating, so if I have free time, I watch TV or go to stadiums.

    L: - Do you have any special rituals, dance signs?
    M: - There aren't any at all. I just try not to look at the competitive couples before the performance, so as not to knock down the mood.

    L»: What are you dreaming about now?
    M: - I dream of studying as many dance styles as possible, developing my body as much as possible in order to convey all my feelings and emotions through dance!

    Sergey Alekseev

    Sergey Alekseev also shared his experience with us. He admitted that he came to dancing on his own, at an age when a person himself makes a decision about his fate. He came almost by accident - this is how the circumstances developed: he had been thinking about starting to dance for a long time, and somehow on the street he came across an advertisement for a dance studio.
    Sergey made up his mind and came. And he has remained in dancing ever since!
    Now he already has a C-class in ballroom dancing, he is constantly improving, participating in tournaments, going to training camps, and never stops dancing for a minute!
    Sergei has advanced in this area not only as a dancer and teacher, but also as a director of amazing beauty and scale productions and show numbers. He continues to improve his level, but admits that in dancing he appreciates not a nominal title, but what people think about his work, how they perceive what he does. And this is also extremely important!

    Daniil Varlamov

    Daniil is a very talented dancer, master of sports in ballroom dancing, the strongest dancer in St. Petersburg according to the European program. Daniil constantly improves his skills, trains with world champions and has the most serious plans for the development of his dancing destiny.

    L: - Hello, Daniel! Please tell us about your acquaintance with dances and their role in your life.
    D: - Role? Hmm... You could say I'm married to dancing! The first time my mother brought me to the dance, however, I must say that I tried to go to a lot of places, the dances were near the house, it was possible to walk in 5 minutes, but I was not eager to go anywhere at all, everything changed somewhere in six months of classes.

    L: - Today you are a brilliant dancer and a successful teacher. And what is closer to you: teaching or dancing for yourself?
    D: - It is unambiguously difficult to answer. After all, for an adult dancer, these are two interconnected things. As Edita Daniute says: "Teaching makes you perfect". And indeed it is! In order to clearly explain something to a student, you must first put everything in your head on the shelves!

    L: - What do you feel at competitions? Are you worried?
    D: - Of course, I'm a little worried when the 1st round is going on or when I look to see if I've made it to the next one. Sometimes it happens that I don’t worry at all, and then it works out best. The main thing is that instead of the absence of excitement, it should not be all the same. There must be some responsibility!

    L: - What do you do in your free time? How much time does it take to train?
    D: - I like to spend my free time with friends, and in my spare time I really like cinema and billiards. I used to train more, but on average no more than three hours a day, 5 times a week.

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