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What is this job like?

Dancers express ideas, stories, rhythm, and sound with their bodies. Some dance in ballet; others perform modern dance. Dancers work in musical shows, in folk, ethnic, tap, and jazz dances. Opera, musical comedy, television, movies, music videos, and commercials often include dancing as well. Many dancers sing and act, as well as dance. Dancers often work as a group. A few stars dance solo. Many dancers also teach or choreograph dances.

Choreographers create new dances. They may also add changes to older dances. Some teach dancers to get the results they want.

Dancing is hard work. Rehearsals often are long and usually take place daily. Many rehearsals take place on weekends and holidays. Weekend travel is common when a show is on the road. Dancers must also work late hours and practice during the day.

Because dancing is hard work, most dancers stop working by their late thirties. Sometimes they become dance teachers and coaches.

How do you get ready to be a dancer?

To become a dancer, one must be agile, have good body tone, and a supple body. Training begins at age 5 to 8 in ballet, usually by private teachers and in ballet schools. Boys often start training later than girls. Students who are good by their early teens get more advanced training. Training also takes place in the summer. Most dancers have their professional auditions by age 17 or 18. Dancers normally spend 8 hours a day in class and rehearsal, keeping their bodies in shape and preparing for performances.

Music, literature, history, and the arts can help you understand the mood and ideas of a dance.

A college degree can help a dancer who retires early get another kind of job. It is also very important if the dancer wants to teach in elementary or high school. Dance studios usually want teachers to have been performers.

As dancers get better, they often get more jobs, bigger and better roles, and higher pay.

How much does this job pay?

In 2002, the middle half of all dancers made between $14,570 and $34,660 a year. The lowest-paid 10 percent made less than $12,880. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $53,350. Choreographers earned a little more, on average. When on tour, dancers receive an allowance for room and board and extra money for overtime.

Dancers and choreographers work on specific jobs. When the job is over, they have to look for another one. Earnings from dancing are often low because dancers don't work all year. They often take another kind of job when they are not dancing.

Many dancers belong to unions. Some get paid sick leave and other benefits.

How many jobs are there?

About 37,000 dancers and choreographers had a job at any one time in 2002. Many other dancers didn't work during the year and earned a living doing something else. Dancers work in many kinds of places. Some work in restaurants, theaters, dance studios, theme parks, and with bands. In addition, many dance teachers work in all kinds of schools.

Almost all the major cities in the United States have full-time dance companies.

What about the future?

There are a lot of people who want to be professional dancers and choreographers, but not so many jobs. Only the most talented will find regular work.

The number of dancers and choreographers will grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. The best chance of getting a job will be with a big dance company. Opera companies will also have some new jobs. Dance groups in colleges and universities and television and motion pictures will also have some jobs. There will also be some jobs for dance teachers. Music video producers will have some jobs for dancers and choreographers.

Are there other jobs like this?
  • Actors
  • Dance critics
  • Dance instructors
  • Dance therapists
  • Directors
  • Ice skaters
  • Musicians
  • Producers
  • Professional athletes
  • Singers
Where can you find more information?

More information about dancers and choreographers can be found in the Careers Database

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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