Networking and Know-How: How to Work Your Way Around a Dance Conference

As an independent choreographer and dance educator, I look for opportunities to network and keep myself up-to-date on the latest trends in American dance.  I’ve found that attending industry conferences is a great way to do just that.  

While attending dance conferences may sound easy enough, we all know how intimidating they can be.  How do I decide which ones to attend?  How do I break the ice with strangers?  Which seminars are best for me?  As a freelance dancer, is it even worth my time?

I get it.  Conferences are often viewed as a bit lofty for lesser known companies or independent choreographers, and I never attended them because of this image.  However, I recently put my big girl leggings on and attended a big dance industry conference for the first time.  

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look on how I built new connections and gained new career insight at a dance conference.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t scary or hard. Just check out the special career hacks, and you’ll be on your way to working your next (or first) industry conference in no time.

First things first.  When choosing which event to attend, be sure to first know your goals, and then decide how the information being shared at the conference will contribute to your career path.  

In my case, I put my goals of networking and gaining deeper career insight right in my back pocket as I attended the Dance/USA Annual Conference in Kansas City last month.  For those of you don't know, Dance/USA is an organization that sustains and advances professional dance in the American dance industry. Sounded like a perfect choice for my goals.

And it was! As a first-time attendee, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to talk to any and everyone at the event.  There were individual artists, large and small companies, dance educators, and even funding organizations present at the conference.

I shared an Uber with a chief officer from a multi-million dollar dance company, had cocktails with heads of organizations, and ate lunch with a major funder. I also spent my time after sessions exchanging business cards with choreographers out of Kansas City, Los Angeles and dance educators based in New York and Atlanta.

An Uber ride, cocktails, and lunch...networking isn’t so bad after all, right?

With the networking checked off my list, it was time to handle the know-how.  This conference, like many, tries to spotlight specific needs of attendees.  With that, I found that there were a number of sessions that focused on providing more education on marketing, branding, and audience building.

I already knew some of the information being presented but enjoyed a refresher course.  For instance, from a session called Digital Marketing, I was reminded of a few important tips like :

  1. The 70/30 rule:

  • 70% of your digital content should tell a story.

  • 30% of your content asks your audience to do something.

      2.   Dancers MUST use video content to tell your story!

**Career Hack: These tips can really upgrade your social media feeds.

Moving on to the next session, I found other tidbits that really challenged me. In The Artist’s Body as Business, participants were asked to tell the group about themselves in under 10 seconds!  Trust me, this is much more difficult than it sounds.  It wasn’t until well after the session ended that I finally nailed my pitch.  How do you sum up who you are and what you do in 10 seconds?!  Try it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.

**Career Hack: Mastering your 10-second pitch can really strengthen your bio on your websites and social profiles.

Lastly, in a session called Building Audiences for Dance, I learned two questions that funding organizations ask artists:

  1. What part of your audience do you wish to grow?

  2. What do you NOT know enough about regarding your current audience?

Obviously, as artists we all want to grow every part of our audience as our audience keeps us relevant and keeps us working.  To the second question, learning more about our current fan-base could really help us expand and could ultimately help us attract funding from well-financed individuals and companies.

**Career Hack:  Dance companies aren’t the only ones with an audience.  Freelancers like you and I have a voice and an audience too. Take a moment to think about your aesthetic and the messages that are important to you, and you’ll be that much closer to identifying your audience.

So there you have it.  I nailed my first big conference! I networked A LOT and gained fantastic insight into professional development. All in all, I loved it. I walked away with some great pointers, new contacts, and a better perspective of my current place in this huge field.

You can level up your career with some great networking and career development at Dance/USA’s conference in Los Angeles next year.  Just save an Uber ride, a cocktail, or a lunch date for me.

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About the Author

Mary Roberts is a choreographer, dance educator, and events/marketing manager with 20 years of professional experience. As a choreographer, she brings high energy, professionalism, and an expertise in stage dynamics to every production.  As a dance educator, she continues the legacy of American dance forms, helping students find a sense of where they are in the American dance ecosystem.  She also offers a high level of network and event production acumen through her marketing expertise.  

Mary is currently earning a Masters of Fine Arts in Dance with a focus on Choreography, at Florida State University.  For more info, visit