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Nature of the Work
* Due to the long hours and strenuous work, most dancers stop performing by their late thirties, but sometimes remain in the dance field as choreographers, dance teachers and coaches, or artistic directors.
* Most dancers begin their formal training between the ages of 5 to 15, and have their professional auditions by the age of 17 or 18; a college or graduate degree in dance is required to teach at the elementary/high school or college level.
* Dancers and choreographers face very keen competition for jobs; only the most talented find regular employment.
From ancient times to the present, dancers have expressed ideas, stories, rhythm, and sound with their bodies. A variety of dance forms exist, including classical ballet and modern dance, which allows more free movement and self-expression. Others perform in dance adaptations for musical shows, in folk, ethnic, tap, and jazz dances, and in other popular kinds of dancing. In addition to being an art form for its own sake, dance also complements opera, musical comedy, television, movies, music videos, and commercials. Therefore, many dancers sing and act, as well as dance.
Dancers most often perform as a group, although a few top artists dance solo. Many dancers combine stage work with teaching or choreographing.
Choreographers create original dances. They may also create new interpretations to traditional dances like the ballet, "Nutcracker." Few dance routines are written down. Instead, choreographers instruct performers at rehearsals to achieve the desired effect; they may also audition performers. Some choreographers use computers to develop dance routines for various productions.
Dancing is strenuous. Rehearsals require very long hours and usually take place daily, including weekends and holidays. For shows on the road, weekend travel often is required. Most performances take place in the evening, while rehearsals and practice generally are scheduled during the day. Dancers must also work late hours. The work environment ranges from modern, temperature-controlled facilities to older, uncomfortable surroundings.
Due to the physical demands, most dancers stop performing by their late thirties, but they sometimes continue to work in the dance field as choreographers, dance teachers and coaches, or as artistic directors. Some celebrated dancers, however, continue performing beyond the age of 50.
Professional dancers and choreographers held an average of about 23,000 jobs at any one time in 1996. Many others were between engagements so that the total number of people employed as dancers over the course of the year was greater. Dancers work in a variety of settings, including eating and drinking establishments, theatrical and television productions, dance studios and schools, dance companies and bands, concert halls, and amusement parks.
In addition, there were many dance instructors in secondary schools, colleges and universities, and private studios. Many teachers also perform from time to time.
New York City is home to many of the major dance companies. Other cities with full-time professional dance companies include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
Training depends upon the type of dance. Early ballet training for women usually begins at 5 to 8 years of age and is often given by private teachers and independent ballet schools. Serious training traditionally begins between the ages of 10 and 12. Men often begin their training between the ages of 10 and 15. Students who demonstrate potential in the early teens receive more intensive and advanced professional training at regional ballet schools or schools conducted under the auspices of the major ballet companies. Leading dance school companies often have summer training programs from which they select candidates for admission to their regular full-time training program. Most dancers have their professional auditions by age 17 or 18; however, training and practice never end. Professional ballet dancers have 1 to 1 1/2 hours of lessons every day and spend many additional hours practicing and rehearsing.
Early and intensive training also is important for the modern dancer, but modern dance generally does not require as many years of training as ballet.
Because of the strenuous and time-consuming training required, a dancer's formal academic instruction may be minimal. However, a broad, general education including music, literature, history, and the visual arts is helpful in the interpretation of dramatic episodes, ideas, and feelings. Dancers sometimes conduct research to learn more about the part they are playing.
Many colleges and universities confer bachelor's or higher degrees in dance, generally through the departments of music, theater, or fine arts. Most programs concentrate on modern dance, but also offer courses in ballet and classical techniques, dance composition, dance history, dance criticism, and movement analysis.
A college education is not essential to obtaining employment as a professional dancer. In fact, ballet dancers who postpone their first audition until graduation may compete at a disadvantage with younger dancers. On the other hand, a college degree can help the dancer who retires at an early age, as often happens, and wishes to enter another field of work.
Completion of a college program in dance and education is essential to qualify for employment as a college or elementary/high school dance teacher. Colleges, as well as conservatories, generally require graduate degrees, but performance experience often may be substituted. However, a college background is not necessary for teaching dance or choreographing for local recreation programs. Studio schools usually require teachers to have experience as performers.
The dancer's life is one of rigorous practice and self-discipline; therefore, patience, perseverance, and a devotion to dance are essential. Good health and physical stamina are necessary in order to practice and perform and to follow the rugged schedule often required. Above all, one must have flexibility, agility, coordination, grace, a sense of rhythm, and a feeling for music, as well as a creative ability to express oneself through movement.
Dancers seldom perform unaccompanied, so they must be able to function as part of a team, highly motivated, and should be prepared to face the anxiety of intermittent employment and rejections when auditioning for work. For dancers, advancement takes the form of a growing reputation, more frequent work, bigger and better roles, and higher pay.
Choreographers typically are older dancers with years of experience in the theater. Through their performance as dancers, they develop reputations as skilled artists. Their reputation often leads to opportunities to choreograph productions.
Dancers and choreographers face very keen competition for jobs. The number of applicants will continue to exceed the number of job openings, and only the most talented will find regular employment.
Employment of dancers and choreographers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006 due to the public's continued interest in this form of artistic expression. However, cuts in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and related organizations could adversely affect employment in this field. Although jobs will arise each year due to increased demand, most job openings will occur as dancers and choreographers retire or leave the occupation for other reasons, and as dance companies search for and find outstanding talent.
National dance companies should continue to provide most jobs in this field. Opera companies and dance groups affiliated with colleges and universities and television and motion pictures will also offer some opportunities. Moreover, the growing popularity of dance in recent years has resulted in increased employment opportunities in teaching dance.
With innovations such as electronic sounds and music videos, choreography is becoming a more challenging field of endeavor, and will offer some employment opportunities for highly experienced, talented, and creative individuals.
Earnings of many professional dancers are governed by union contracts. Dancers in the major opera ballet, classical ballet, and modern dance corps belong to the American Guild of Musical Artists, Inc., AFL-CIO; those on live or videotaped television belong to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; those who perform in films and on TV belong to the Screen Actors Guild; and those in musical comedies are members of the Actors' Equity Association. The unions and producers sign basic agreements specifying minimum salary rates, hours of work, benefits, and other conditions of employment. However, the contract each dancer signs with the producer of the show may be more favorable than the basic agreement.
For 1997-98, the minimum weekly salary for dancers in ballet and modern productions covered by the National Dance Basic Agreement was $693. According to the American Guild of Musical Artists, new first year dancers under the union agreement earned $543 per week. Dancers on tour received an additional allowance for room and board. The minimum performance rate for dancers in theatrical motion pictures was around $500 per day of filming. The normal workweek is 30 hours including rehearsals and matinee and evening performances, but may be longer. Extra compensation is paid for additional hours worked.
Earnings of choreographers vary greatly. Earnings from fees and performance royalties range from about $1,000 a week in small professional theaters, to over $30,000 for an 8- to 10-week rehearsal period for a Broadway production. In high budget films, choreographers make $3,400 for a 5-day week; in television, $8,000 to $12,500 for up to 14 work days.
Earnings from dancing are generally low because dancers' employment is irregular. They often must supplement their income by taking temporary jobs unrelated to dancing, or teach dance to students.
Dancers covered by union contracts are entitled to some paid sick leave, paid vacations, and various health and pension benefits, including extended sick pay and child birth provisions, provided by their unions. Employers contribute toward these benefits. Most other dancers do not receive any benefits.
Other occupations require the dancer's knowledge of conveying ideas through physical motion. These include ice skaters, dance critics, dance instructors, and dance therapists. Athletes in most sports also need the same strength, flexibility, agility, and body control as dancers.
Directories of dance study and degree programs may be purchased from:
National Association of Schools of Dance, 11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Suite 21, Reston, VA 20190.
The National Dance Association, 1900 Association Dr., Reston, VA 20191.
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