What Does a Dancer Do?

Dance, by definition, involves the rhythmic movement of the human body in a pattern of steps or choreographed sequences, typically accompanied by music. To be successful in dance, a person must cultivate their talent throughyears of training, practice, physical conditioning, and  study about the expressive nature of the performing arts. Dancers perform in featured and complimentary roles in recitals, concerts, musical theater, music videos, television, and movies – any venue or format where entertainment in front of a live audience isprovided. Like filmmakers who tell a story through carefully crafted imagery, dancers provide a narrative andcommunicate emotion through physical expression. The field of dance encompasses a wide range of popular stylesand genres, including:

  • Concert Dance / Performance Dance
  • Traditional Jazz
  • Swing Dance
  • Classical Indian Dance
  • Ballroom Dance
  • Historical Dance
  • Latin / Rhythm
  • Folk Dance
  • Street Dance
  • Hip Hop
  • Disco / Electronic Dance
  • Traditional Persian Dance
  • Freestyle / Experimental
  • Pogo
  • Contemporary Dance
  • Dancehall

In addition to practicing and learning the sequence of a choreographed performance, professional dancers spend a considerable amount of time conditioning, strength training, and preparing themselves for the physical rigors of the job. Dancers are not just artists but, in many ways, extreme athletes as well. Natural ability and innate talent will only get you so far. In this highly competitive field, dancers must hone their athleticism, stamina, mental acuity, and work ethic. Other common activities include:

  • Work closely with choreographers and dance instructors to learn new routines or modify dance moves
  • Learn complex dance movements in an area or areas of expertise
  • Rehearse several hours or all day to prepare for a performance
  • Audition for a dance part in a show or a job with a dance/ballet company
  • Study new and perfect old techniques
  • Attend promotional events to promote a show

There are many different paths to pursue in the world of dance, and not all of them require a person to perform. Many individualspursue careers in teaching, dance instruction, choreography, directing, exercise fitness, stage management, physical therapy, or operate a business by opening their own dance studio.

Formal Training & Education Options

For many, natural ability and a passion for dance is discovered at a young age, leading to years of practice and experimentation at home, with youth dance companies, in after school dance programs, with friends in social settings, or in private dance or performing arts school. For those who decide to pursue dance as a career, there are several professional training and traditional postsecondary education options that can help you take your skills to the next level.

Students with previous formal training often pursue admission to intensive summer training programs with leading professional dance companies where they learn complex dance movements and rehearse several hours each day in preparation for performances in front of a live audience. Dancers receive critiques of their technique and are pushed to explore their creative abilities in a structured environment. Summer intensives offer students the opportunity to develop their audition skills with renowned instructors and acclaimed guest artists, and are often viewed as a springboard to admission to prestigious college, university or conservatory programs.

Dance conservatories typically offer year-round rigorous training in modern and classical dance, including in-depth instruction in areas such as classical ballet, choreographic composition, pointe, and improvisation. Students receive considerable studio time with accomplished choreographers and conclude each semester with a showcase performance that is open to the public. Acceptance into a conservatory program is based on an in-person audition, and is highly competitive.

Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance(B.F.A)

Although a degree is not a requirement to become a professional dancer, earning a degreefrom a conservatory of dance, or a college or university fine arts program can help students develop skills, technique, and knowledge that separates them from others in the industry. Artistic training and direction from expert instructors can open the eyes and minds of a dancer to all the choreographic possibilities they will encounter as a professional and broaden their academic prospects through a liberal arts curriculum.

A degree also offers students the opportunity to train together as peers, establish close personal and professional relationships, develop mentor relationships with professors,master their technique, and showcase their talent. Students will participate in performances and events that help them build their portfolioof performance art, and gain exposure with administrators and directors of respected companies worldwide.

Master’s of Fine Arts in Dance

A Master’s of Fine Arts program with a concentration in dance offers students the opportunityto pursue advanced dance theory and independent performance under the guidance of teaching artists. Students are pushed to explore vital aspects of the art as performers, and study dance conceptually, creatively and technically. An MFA in Dance encourages students to broaden their definition of form and performance through a combination of reading, writing, choreographic inquiry, and research. Additionally, students will receive advanced instruction in areas such as stagecraft, music, experiential anatomy, and dance history.

Important Skills & Qualities

There are many important skills and qualities that a professional dancerneeds to achieve long-term success in the industry. They must have strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work collaboratively in a team environment. They must be in good health and have physical stamina. Dancers must have a strong feel for, and connection to music, along with a fully developed sense of creative direction. Because dancers typically perform for an audience, they must be able to focus, maintain composure, and respond well to pressure. They must also have high levels of coordination, agility, flexibility, and sense of rhythm.

Additional Career Choices for Professional Dancers

Individuals who are educated and experienced in the art of dance have a wide range of career options that may not require them to perform in front of a live audience.Rewarding careers in fields such as education, choreography, theater production, television, film, fitness, and therapy are abundant. A few of them include: 

  • Adjunct Faculty
  • Choreographer
  • Community Dance Instructor
  • Dance Company Manager
  • Artistic Director;
  • Dance Therapist
  • Arts Educator
  • Yoga Instructor
  • Arts Manager
  • Arts Administrator
  • Ballet Instructor
  • Theatre Programmer
  • Rehearsal Director
  • Marketing Manager
  • Actor
  • Costume Designer
  • Performing Arts Teacher
  • Arts & Entertainment Writer

Professional Dancer Salary & Job Outlook

Professional dancers work in a variety of industries and environments, including the stage, movie studios, cruise lines, dance companies, schools, musical theaters, theme parks, casinos, sporting events, videos on the Internet, music videos, and more.A dancer’s schedule varies depending on the job and nature of the work. When preparing for a show, dancers will work long hours and will spend mostof their day in rehearsal. They will work closely with other dancers, choreographers, instructors and creative directors to modify their routine and perfect their performance. They will also participate in promotional events, attend photography sessions, and meet with members of the media to discuss the production.According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of dancers is expected to grow five percent through the year 2024, which is near the average for most occupations. Growing interest in pop culture and the explosion of online media has increased enrollment in dance schools and the popularity of the field in general. More people are exploring careers in performance art, which should ultimately create more jobs for dancers and choreographers acrossmany fields. Optimism about the job market for dancers should be tempered however, by the reality of intense competition within the field. Even with an increase in the number of available jobs, the number of applicants is still expected to exceed demand, making job prospects less attractive.In May 2016, the BLS listed the median hourly wage for dancers as $18.70. Dancers working a standard workweek were estimated to earn $8.69 per hour if they fell into the category of the lowest ten percent. The same data published by the BLS states that dancers in the top ten percent of all professionals in the industry exceeded wages of $33.34. Factors impacting a dancer’s earning power include experience, location, industry, and dance style.


2016 Median Pay

$18.70 per hour

Recommended Level of Education

Some college, no degree

Number of Jobs in 2014


Expected % Change in Employment (2014-2024)

10% (Faster than average)

Expected 10 Year Employment Growth (2014-2024)


Source: BLS - Occupational Outlook Handbook

Dance Salaries by Industry


Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools


Other Schools and Instruction


Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers


Performing Arts Companies


Spectator Sports

Source: BLS OES - Industry Profile
Mean Hourly Wage

Helpful Resources

  • Interview with June Archer, Music Executive & Recording Artist

    Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn PomroyJun 25, 2012

    From singing with a hairbrush to backyard karaoke, everyone has a little music in them. And for those who have more than a little; well those folks find themselves dreaming of a career in the music business. A magical mystery to the layperson, the music industry is an i...

  • Interview with Natalia Paruz, Musician

    Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn PomroyNov 04, 2012

    Part of what makes the arts an intriguing part of life is the diverse creativity each practitioner brings to the mix. For some, what is unconventional is the key to unlocking the magic in expression. In this article you will learn about how an injured ballet dancer foun...

  • Get Paid to Do What You Love: Seven Strategies to Make Money as an Artist

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 10, 2017

    Doing what you love and making a living from your art is a goal that is within reach. Here, we offer a few tips to help you get your dreams off the ground. Try these seven strategies to make money as an artist.

  • Five Ways to Jumpstart Your Art Career

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 17, 2017

    An art career cannot happen overnight. Becoming an artist takes dedication, hard work, and a plan. Learning early lessons about how to develop your skills, attract clients, and market yourself can help you generate early results.

  • 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Art Career

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 19, 2017

    The life of an artist is often glamorized, while the real challenges of being an artist tend to be glossed over. Here we provide a few tips on how to deal with early challenges, like facing criticism, dealing with frustration, and meeting the right people.

Dance Jobs