Is Being a “Professional Dancer” an Achieved Status or a Mindset?

Hello everybody!

Today I want to address something important. This is especially important for all of my fellow dancers who are just coming out of a college dance program, or those who are only one or two years removed from undergrad.

See, in undergraduate dance programs, the professors and dance directors warn students that finding professional work is hard (Most do, but if not, than THEY SHOULD). They say the performer life is hard because a lot of professional dance company work (especially in NYC) is unpaid, or a stipend is the only compensation for MONTHS of time and energy put into rehearsals. They warn students they will hear more “No’s” then “Yes’s”. They even warn students that most of the time, they will be paid more to teach dance than to perform dance.

When young dance graduates find a company or dance project to work with, how do they handle putting in a ton of effort for little or sometimes no pay? Does little or lack of pay make what they’re doing any less “professional”? If the company someone dances for doesn’t offer benefits or a steady income, is she not as “professional” as someone who dances for a company that does provide those benefits and income?

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I’ve discovered a lot in this past year removed from undergraduate school. What I’ve discovered is all of what my dance director and professors warned me about is true. I’ve discovered I will see the same 60 people at every small contemporary/modern dance company audition because we all want the same jobs. I discovered I will pay more money to commute in and out of NYC to audition for jobs and companies that are not even willing to pay me even if I was hired.

However, I also discovered that the small companies and dance projects I work on require just as much time and energy as projects within a “bigger” company would. If I am working on a contemporary dance piece for a private, small company that requires unpaid weekly company class/rehearsal, and weekend rehearsals/traveling/shows, what separates the professionalism of that situation from a company who does the same thing but has a more well-known name (ie: Paul Taylor Company, Alvin Ailey)?

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Is it because more well-known companies are established and have a historical legacy? Yes, that probably has something to do with it. And it makes sense to feel that way when people perform with a small dance company not many people have heard of. But, if I take myself and my work seriously, I will be viewed seriously. And if I am viewed seriously in my dance endeavors, why would I not be viewed as a professional? Even if I do not necessarily like the choreography I am dancing, if I keep my attitude towards it professional, I will act and be viewed as such.

The title “dancer” or “artist” in general is very unspecified. Just because someone doesn’t have a piece of their art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC doesn’t make them any less of an artist. If they are mentally and physically invested in what they are creating, they are a creator. They are an artist because they view themselves as one! Granted, if the opporunity arose to have art displayed in the MET or to dance with New York City Ballet for example, obviously those achievements are milestones in someone’s artistic career that should be celebrated. However, what I’m saying is not any one who makes artwork can call themselves an artist (although they did create something classified as artwork).

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A real artist or dancer (in my context) is someone who is investing most of their time and sometimes even most of their life to their craft. They are the people who are constantly in search of improvement and knowledge in their field, while simultaneously teaching others about their craft through sharing their craft with others and with their community. Their mindset is focused on consistently bettering their art.

Let me put it this way – the CEO of a Fortune 500 company doesn’t walk into work everyday thinking she or he cannot handle the day, and that their job responsibilities are outside of their skillset. No. The people who make it to CEO, CFO, principal dancer, company soloist, “professional”, etc. KNOW their worth and they KNOW their skillset. That is why they are in those positions. They believe they can handle whatever tasks are thrown their way because this is what their years of training, education, and experience has prepared them for. Even if someone is dancing for a small company and is not being paid as much as much as she would like to be or thinks she deserves to be, it is still an achievement and progress to have made it into a company after graduating a college dance program.

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In short, professionalism begins with the right mindset. The more someone believes they are a professional, the more they will begin to act like one. And once opportunities arise, even in small companies (or small art galleries!), the more it will reinforce the professional mindset. This mindset is what will bring someone to where they want to end up in their field (dance, art, business, whatever!).

Aim high, shoot higher. Don’t lose sight of who and where you want to be.

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Staying Organized and Marketing Yourself as a Dance Professional

Hi everybody!

As you all know, I am trying to break into the dance industry as a professional performer and as a respected dance educator. I’ve been learning as I go, and it has been so hectic trying to stay organized on top of all of my responsibilities as a dancer in two companies, and a teacher at four different studios. I will share with you the ways I’ve found to be most effective in keeping my life together! ❤  These tips are focused for dancers, but are helpful for any young professionals trying to break into their own industries!

1. KEEP A BINDER, AGENDA PLANNER, & JOURNAL ON HAND ALL OF THE TIME

This one is a biggie. I cannot tell you how helpful each of these resources are. My binder separates my paperwork for all of my studios. It organizes my class rosters by day and time, separates costume pictures for recital dances, and allows me to keep track of employee agreements and contracts. Furthermore, the binder allows me to keep a portfolio of different class combinations, barre for each level of ballet I teach, and choreography. The agenda planner obviously helps me keep track of commitments, auditions, teaching, private lessons, and rehearsals.

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My journal helps me keep track of all of my ideas for my classes, for my blog, and allows me to create to-do lists. With all of your paperwork organized, you will not only thank yourself for keeping your life in order, but you will appear organized to your employers and directors, and appear as though you take your job seriously (which you should), which is a win for both parties.

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2. KEEP COPIES OF YOUR PERFORMANCE BILLS, RESUME, AND HEADSHOT

I cannot stress ENOUGH how important this is. If you don’t keep track of your performances or choreography showcases, how can you prove to future employers or directors these events actually happened? Also, keeping copies helps you create a precise CV/resume – performance bills usually have choreographer names spelled correctly, and include the name of the piece you danced in, the music, and the names of the other dancers you performed with. This information is pertinent for networking with other dance professionals and creators in the field, and pertinent for updating you’re own CV.

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Keeping extra copies of your headshot and resume is helpful if you have a lot of back-to-back auditions or workshops you’re attending. Sometimes workshop teachers will ask for participants’ headshots and resumes, and having extra copies readily available will only be beneficial to you and to the hiring directors! You never know who you’re going to meet!

3. MAKE BUSINESS CARDS MARKETING YOURSELF AS A PROFESSIONAL

Okay, a lot of dancers (especially emerging professionals) don’t believe they need business cards since dance is not necessarily an “office job”. However, that is actually false! Dance is a business, and a small fraternity at that. I decided earlier in the summer to make business cards for myself and for my blog/Etsy shop. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have them on hand since I was securing a lot of studio jobs and auditions.

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Low and behold, at the dance festival I performed in (see First Professional Performances – I Can’t Believe This Is Real Life), one guy from another company who performed in the show gave me his card and asked me for mine!! Luckily, I had them on hand to distribute! Again, YOU NEVER KNOW WHO YOU WILL MEET! Whether or not these dancers are in the same dance genre as you, networking is so important, and you never know how these people could influence your career later down the line.

4. MAKE A FREE WEBSITE PORTFOLIO DOCUMENTING YOUR DANCE EXPERIENCE

The internet and WordPress are a great way to advertise yourself for free! I use WordPress.com for my blog, and for my professional dance website. Check it out at juliakathryn.dance. You can use one of the readily made templates, and customize it to your liking. You can include a copy of your resume, your dance reel, dance photography, highlight important workshops or dance experiences, and more!

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Furthermore, you can buy a web domain and link it to your free website, so when people search for your site, you have a professional domain to go with it. I bought a few domains and linked them to my free WordPress website from GoDaddy.com. This online portfolio you can link in the signature of your emails, put on your business cards and resume, and you can put it on your social media to direct followers to your professional work.

This concludes my top tips for staying organized and marketing yourself as a dance professional. All of these resources are also cost effective – my planner was $5 from Wal-Mart, the journal was a gift so it was free, the binder I already had with dividers from college, the website is free, my business cards cost about $10 for 100 of my dancer ones, and $15 for my blog ones (because they are square and printed front and back), costing me bout $25 before tax and shipping. My website domains with discounts for a year of ownership was $41 for three domains. An 8inx10in headshot print out costs about $3 from Walgreens.

I hope you enjoyed my top tips! I didn’t realize how important the business side of the dance world was until I graduated college, but these resources have helped me land a lot of jobs in the last six months!! 🙂 I hope they continue to do me well in the months ahead, as I try to break further into this industry as a young professional.

What are your favorite ways to market yourself? Have you tried any of these resources? Let me know if this was helpful!

xoxo

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