4 Types of Dance Careers & How They Make Money

We all know that there's no set path to becoming a professional dancer.  Aside from the years of training, dedication, and hard work, no two dancer's career paths will be exactly the same.

As professional dancers, we get to flex our creative muscles and chart our own course, which means that the possibilities are endless.  

Although the idea of creating your own path may sound exciting and adventurous, it can also be a little scary. Having huge dreams without a clear direction can even be downright overwhelming.  Which is why I always recommend dancers have some type of plan when first starting out.

A dancer's career journey is a lot like using a GPS system.  You start where you are, plug in the destination, and then several different routes will populate.  The only difference here is that your pathways aren't pre-calculated for you...YOU get to decide that yourself.

Now back to this plan.  Your career plan should include your specific dance interests, where you've seen the type of work you'd like to do, studio locations for training, and how you'll make money while you build your career.  The plan doesn't need to be etched in stone.  In fact, it should evolve as you do.  The more you learn about what it takes to build a dance career, the more you may need to adjust your plan.

So, your starting point is here...ready to be a #workingdancer.  Next, you'll need to know where you're going.  Questions to consider are, what types of jobs would I like to have?  What type of lifestyle do I want?  

To help you answer this question, I've created a list of 4 types of dance careers and how they make money.  It's important to note that the four career types I'm about to share are NOT the only types of careers you can have as a professional dancer.  You can have any type of dance-related career you choose.  You just need to put a plan in place, then get to work.

Here's some insight to help you find your destination.

1. Commercial Dancer

Commercial dancers are freelancers who work on a project-by-project basis.  They perform as back-up dancers for artists, in movies, industrials, cruise ships, musicals, commercials, and more.  They audition or are directly booked for projects that offer contracts for a set period of time, and once those projects end, they're out looking for the next one.

What I love about this type of dance career is the opportunity to work on different types of projects, to perform different dance styles, to consistently meet new dancers, and to consistently work with new choreographers.  You get to work AND grow your network at the same.  

On the other hand, being a commercial dancer comes with the challenge of enduring slow seasons or dry spells.  Those moments when you're in between gigs, the bills still need to paid, and that inconsistency can be stressful if you don't set yourself up the right way.

Before I talk set up, let's talk about getting paid.  Commercial dancers are paid as independent contractors by the producing organization of a project.  If you have an agent, the agent gets 10% - 20%. 

And when it comes to set up, having an agent generally assures that you're getting paid what you're worth because agents work on your behalf for that.  However, just be sure to read your contracts carefully so you understand how, when, and how much you're getting in relation to what they're getting.  If you don't have an agent, be sure to only accept work that pays you what you're worth.  Not sure what that means?  Start by calculating your personal hourly rate.

2.  Company Dancer

Company dancers consistently work with the same company for an extended period of time.  They're hired by a specific company to perform in their concerts and often times to teach their classes as well.

A pro to this type of dance career is the opportunity to have a more consistent income, depending on how established your company is.  Not only can it be more stable, but some companies even offer the opportunity to move up in rank, and therefore, earn more money.  

A con to this type of work, in my opinion, is that company members perform the same repertory and the same dance style over and over again.  I personally enjoy moving in and out of different styles, but I understand that some dancers fall in love with one particular style, and stick with it (although more and more companies are now incorporating more than one style of dance into their work).  

Company members are obviously paid by their company.  Larger and more established companies, like ABT or Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, are able to offer their dancers a salary, while smaller companies generally pay their dancers per show.

3.  Primary or Secondary School Teacher

Becoming a dance teacher is a great way to keep dance in your life while also generating a steady income.  Dance teachers get to dance daily, sow into their students' lives, work a set number of hours per day, and earn a salary plus benefits.

Aside from perks I just mentioned, a pro of becoming a dance teacher is that it offers a more defined career path.  To become an elementary, middle, or high school teacher, you'll need a college degree and a certification to teach in your state. Once you're qualified, you start applying to school districts, and then you're on your way...pretty straight forward.

A con of this type of career is that the artistic integrity can sometimes be compromised when teaching at a school, unless you teach at an arts magnet or performing arts school.  I often hear of public school teachers having issues with proper dance space, unsupportive administrators, and students who aren't necessarily serious about dance.  

Even with those challenges, the stability of year-round income is enough for many dancers to go this route.

4. College Professor

And last, but certainly not least, is the college professor.  College professors teach technique and lecture courses at community colleges and universities, and enjoy some of the same benefits as primary and secondary school teachers.

The obvious similarities are consistent pay (with one exception that I'll share in moment), hours, and sowing into the lives of the next generation of dancers.  Other similarities can be the challenges of facilities, administrative support, and strength of the dancers or dance program.

The main difference is that college professors are required to earn a Master's degree.  Another difference is that there are different types of college professors, and the pay ranges for each.  For instance, and here's that exception I mentioned earlier, while all professors are paid consistently, adjunct professors are generally paid per course or hourly as well as on a part-time basis.  While this saves the schools money, it makes it very difficult for adjunct professors to make a living.  

Although this route can be much harder than it first seems, many dancers have gone on to have fulfilling careers as college professors.

Use this list to help you begin your career planning.  Figure out where'd you like to go, then be open and creative in determining how you'll get there.


Need help with figuring out what to do next?  Click the button below to get a summary of The Freelance Dancer's Roadmap.  This summary includes all of the tips shared within the book, and it'll help you get moving in the right direction.