Being a professional dancer and getting paid for your passion, seems unbelievable attractive. For most, it will stay an illusion as many will fail on this journey. What does it takes to become professional? What can you expect and what does it mean to be professional? Question we try to answer in the following blog, prepare yourself a tea, take a sip and lets’ get right into it.
Manage your expactation - It sucks!
Lets’ bring the bad news first: You are one little fish in a sea full of sharks and the reality is that you might fail in getting a job as a professional dancer. The worst of it all might be the reason why: because you don’t fit the look, you are not the right kind of personality or you are just too tall or too small. On the other side there is also some good news, there is place for you somewhere, you just need to search for it…. months or years. And then again, 100 against you! Will you make it?
It all sounds bad and over the top, because of what you see on instagram, youtube or somewhere else. Where people make it seemingly easy to be or become a professional dancer. Yet, this is the end product of years of killing yourself to get to a point where you can enjoy being at the top. The endless hours crying, hurting, traveling, learning, failing and repeating are not shown. But that is what it takes.
First of all you should see your career as a big investment, as you need to take as much dance classes, workshops and conventions as possible. As you can imagine this is not a small amount of money you have to invest into yourself. For some that will mean that you will have to get a different job, that will support your dream. And we are back to time management!
Next up auditions! If you have no agency who supports you in getting those auditions, you will have to invest a lot of time searching and sending mails to get invited, travel there and hope that you will survive the cuts. The last can end your audition within minutes. Eventually you will make the final cut, just to be rejected later via email.
Eat, sleep and repeat!
The competition is real and there is no easy way to deliver this message:
Be the best at any given moment and hope your looks fit!
Prepare yourself to kill it
Now that we got the negativity out of the way. Let us focus on what counts on the journey. Some things we wish we had knew earlier and some things in retro perspective we would have changed definitely on our approach towards dancing.
Killing yourself doesn’t only mean to push yourself to the limits of your capacity, but as well push yourself to stay healthy, mentally sane and give yourself space to enjoy.
Yes, you should be taking classes and you should try to find the teachers who push you to the limit and learn as much about different styles as possible. But first:
Choose your core style.
Being a broad dancer is amazing, but you shouldn’t just be good at everything you should at least be amazing in one style. The reason we advise being good at one style, is that by learning one style can really dive into the technic, your body and getting an automated understanding of movement. When we talk about automated understanding of movement, we talk about technical elements, you don’t have to think about no longer. Because you understand how they work at their base. You will be at a place, where you can improvise and explore your body through those elements without being worried if it is technical correct. If you are at that point you can start to implement other styles, try out new things, with the safety of falling back to your automated knowledge. This will improve your learning proces, as most of the style interrelate in their core. Yes even Ballet with Hip-Hop, but I am not talking about Hip-Hop Ballet, that is just weird! Sorry can’t help it!
You don’t have to like your teacher, you should learn from her/him
We all know it, those teachers, who you just could take and smack into a wall. Maybe they are not even that good, in your opinion, but there is one thing that is certain: You will learn more about yourself and your emotion. Yes aggression is a part of it, but also how will it translate into your dance. What are you recognizing in your movement? In hindsight it is easy to find out, but within the class you are just furious. Maybe that is the reason you just jumped higher or have been doing everything in timing, or it just helped you to push harder and nail it. Was your frustration that high that you did it with less energy, but still were able to do it right? Did you find room within your body through it (remember those shoulders who are always up)?
Remember: You will always work under a human being, named choreographer. So better get used to deal with people you don’t like, because when you finally will get paid as a dancer, you might just be picked by a choleric choreographer, who hates the world and will let you know s/he does. The earlier you find your peace with it, the faster you can blindly do your job, like a horse with eye claps.
After all always look for opportunities to learn and get something out of the class that you are taking. Because you are paying for it! That said you are always able to focus on what you want to improve on.
Your support system
We covered family in an earlier post, but there is so much more that you should think about when investing into your career. Dance is physical, DUH! Of course, but did you know that the more you pressure yourself the higher your stress lever will be and your central nerve system is starting to transmit 150 times slower? With that said, injuries can happen when you push beyond exhaustion, as well your mental stress level of not growing fast enough. Something we are not really aware of. But now you know! That means get your team together. Find yourself a physiotherapist, who knows your body, who you can speak to about your training programs. This program should be developed by a personal trainer, who can be found at your gym. The place where you should be to strengthen your body the right way.
Also find somebody, who can really help you with your eating habits. That doesn’t mean you should be put on a strict diet, but you should know how you can support your body with food while putting on a heavy work load. That said, it is your body and just because somebody tells you that theoretical what you should do, doesn’t meant if you feel it is not working for you, it is not, you should not listen to your body!
Always listen to your body, because it never lies!
Finally we arrive at a point I never heard a dancer talk about: Your personal mental coach. Ever heard of sport psychologist? They are the reason why world class athletes are competing at the highest level. Modern sportscience acknowledges the impact of your mental state towards your performance capability. Oh I hear you saying: I can handel it! Of course you can, but can you move past it, can you understand how to dissolve unconscious behavior that you are not seeing in the first place? Can you not just cope with the situation, but grow through it? Can you not only neglect your fears, but face them and erase them? I doubt it, because that would make you a machine!
Financial partners are the last thing you should worry about. This can be sponsors, a job that pays good and doesn’t take that much time away from your road to glory. This can also be your family, who loves you to death.
Welcome to 2019, the world is at your feet and you are able to present yourself to the people with just one click. Besides influencer marketing, affiliation programs and making big money on social media, you are no where. And probably that is a good thing, because chasing those things will for sure not work with the path you are on. Before you even start with promoting yourself and building your brand, here are some questions what you want to ask yourself first:
1) How much time do you want to spend on your brand management? Is it an hour a day, one day a week, only the weekends. Be clear in what time you have at your disposal and make sure you plan it properly. Otherwise you will invest too much time into social media than you should.
2) What are you standing for? Is there something you strongly agree or disagree with? Do you want to represent a style a movement idea or your personality.
3) How would you describe yourself? Be honest, because being fake brings you just that far. And once the truth hits the surface, people will turn away and you are left with nothing.
4) What is it you want your followers to experience? Do you want to show them your life, your progress on becoming a professional dancer, improvisation work, daily vlogs, dance videos you create on the weekends, whatever comes to your mind, be clear in it. And make sure that in the end you start with one thing and get a routine within it before adding on a second one.
5) What are you willing to offer your followers in return besides the content you are creating? Do you want them to be in contact with you, do you just want to present without interacting, do you want to thank every new follower for joining your channel. To you want to give away flowers for the best dance experience they send you. Just naming things right now.
6) Which channels do you want to use? Well some say post to everything, but to start out, chose one or two platforms and once you get going try to spread your content out. But by that time you should have found somebody who can help you with that. As it is, depending on what you want to produce, a ton of work.
Having answered that you might need to make some calibrations as some projects take just a lot of time and don’t really help you to get where you want, any faster. If you have answered the question you then can present yourself in that way. By this representation you will give a clear framework to your future followers and they know what they can expect. That means it will be easier for them to relate. If you want us to dive deeper into branding and why we are not that aggressive on social media, then let us know in the comments below.
The reason why you should build your brand and a great amount of followers is very simple: Theaters need people, choreographers need theaters, people come and watch a performance, because either they love the work of the choreographer, the choreographer or the dancer(s) who are part of it. You see where I am going. If you would sell 100 tickets in every city because people know you already and they want to see you perform, you are an asset and you will be able to exploit that!
But also if you one day your career is over or something unexpected happend, you always can use your platform to make a business change. If you want to become a dance teacher, start motivational speaking or even want to get paid for coaching other people, you have the platform to promote and people know what you are standing for.
Something I was always looking for, a concept I never really understood until the day that I became one myself. It is hard to find someone who sees you as the person you are and knows how to trigger you to become a better version of yourself. Someone who protects you and guides you through difficult situations. A mentor should always be somebody you fully can trust and who understands the scene you are a part of.
Just to be clear you won’t have one mentor your whole life. Maybe you just start with your own dance teacher, then find somebody that will help you through taking workshops and in the end you contact a choreographer you really like and ask for help and you eventually get it. This is something that is not necessary, but something that will help you as you can expand your relationships within the scene and you will get more and faster insights than the competition around you. A little help from friends (or mentors) is know to bring you place, you thought were miles away!
Respect a “No”, but never let it stop you!
Because we pointed a dreamy picture of a mentor, doesn’t mean in reality it turns out to be a person matching our description. In that case, you should always keep in mind what you want to get out of it. Observe how and why your mentor is doing certain things and research why s/he is successful.
I hope those points can help you to get started in pursuing your dream. We will follow this blog with ideas how and where you can find jobs and of course what kind of jobs are available. But also what are qualities of a professional dancer. By the way, who is your favourite professional dancer? Let us know in the comments below!
And as always don’t hesitate to ask us your questions and let us know what you think!
Stay open, stay creative, for you and for everyone!
Christoph Eberl & Nelse van Heurck
Written by: Christoph Eberl