Dance · Must-See Share

15 Truths About Being A Professional Dancer

written by Melanie Doskocil, original post found at her blog, Ballet Pages

1. Dance is hard. – No dancer ever became successful riding on their natural born talents only. Dancers are artists and athletes. The world of dance today is akin to an extreme sport. Natural ability and talent will only get us so far. Dancers must work hard and persevere. Dancers give years of their lives plus their sweat, tears and sometimes blood to have the honor and pleasure of performing on stage.


2. You won’t always get what you want. – We don’t always get the role we wanted, go on pointe when we want, get the job we want, hear the compliments we want, make the money we want, see companies run the way we want, etc., etc.  This teaches us humility and respect for the process, the art form and the masters we have chosen to teach us. The faster we accept this, the faster we can get on with being brilliant.  We’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but we can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.


3. There’s a lot you don’t know. – There is always more a dancer can learn. Even our least favorite teachers, choreographers and directors can teach us something. The minute we think we know it all, we stop being a valuable asset.

4. There may not be a tomorrow. – A dancer never knows when their dance career will suddenly vanish: a company folds, career ending injury, car accident, death…Dance every day as if it is the final performance. Don’t save the joy of dance for the stage. Infuse even your routine classroom exercises with passion!

5. There’s a lot you can’t control. – You can’t control who hires you, who fires you, who likes your work, who doesn’t, the politics of being in a company. Don’t waste your talent and energy worrying about things you can’t control. Focus on honing your craft, being the best dancer you can be. Keep an open mind and a positive attitude.

6. Information is not true knowledge. – Knowledge comes from experience.  You can discuss a task a hundred times, go to 1000 classes, but unless we get out there and perform we will only have a philosophical understanding of dance. Find opportunities to get on stage.  You must experience performance firsthand to call yourself a professional dancer.


7. If you want to be successful, prove you are valuable. – The fastest way out of a job is to prove to your employer they don’t need you. Instead, be indispensable. Show up early, know your material, be prepared, keep your opinions to yourself unless they are solicited and above all be willing to work hard.


8. Someone else will always have more than you/be better than you.  – Whether it’s jobs or money or roles or trophies, it does not matter. Rather than get caught up in the drama about what others are doing around you, focus on the things you are good at, the things you need to work on and the things that make you happiest as a dancer.

9. You can’t change the past. – Everyone has a past. Everyone has made mistakes, and everyone has glorious moments they want to savor. “Would you keep a chive in your tooth just because you enjoyed last night’s potato?” Boston Common TV Series. Dance is an art form that forces us to concentrate on the present. To be a master at dance we have be in the moment; the minute the mind wanders, injuries happen. If they do, see #12.

10. The only person who can make you happy is you. – Dancing in and of itself cannot make us happy.  The root of our happiness comes from our relationship with ourselves, not from how much money we make, what part we were given, what company we dance for, or  how many competitions we won.  Sure these things can have effects on our mood, but in the long run it’s who we are on the inside that makes us happy.

11. There will always be people who don’t like you. – Dancers are on public display when they perform and especially in this internet world, critics abound. You can’t be everything to everyone.  No matter what you do, there will always be someone who thinks differently.  So concentrate on doing what you know in your heart is right.  What others think and say about you isn’t all that important.  What is important is how you feel about yourself.

12.Sometimes you will fail. – Sometimes, despite our best efforts, following the best advice, being in the right place at the right time, we still fail. Failure is a part of life. Failure can be the catalyst to some of our greatest growth and learning experiences. If we never failed, we would never value our successes. Be willing to fail. When it happens to you (because it will happen to you), embrace the lesson that comes with the failure.

13. Sometimes you will have to work for free. – Every professional dancer has at one time or another had to work without pay. If you are asked to work for free, be sure that you are really ok with it. There are many good reasons to work for free, and there are just as many reasons not to work for free. Ask yourself if the cause is worthy, if the experience is worth it, if it will bring you joy. Go into the situation fully aware of the financial agreement and don’t expect a hand out later.


14. Repetition is good. Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is insane. – If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.  If you keep doing the bare minimum of required classes, don’t complain to your teacher when you don’t move up to the next level. If you only give the bare minimum in your company, be happy staying in the corps. If you want to grow beyond your comfort zone, you must push yourself beyond your self-imposed limitations.


Photo by Peter Perazio. Taken when Sylvie Guillem was promoted to Paris Opera Ballet étoile status and is inspired by Béjart’s choreography “la Luna”. It has appeared in a cut version on the cover of the popular general audience French magazine, ‘Le Nouvel Observateur.’

15. You will never feel 100% ready. – Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises.  Dancers have to be willing to take risks. From letting go of the ballet barre to balance, to moving around the world to dance with a new company, from trusting a new partner to trying a new form of dance, dancers must have a flexible mind and attitude as well as body. The greatest opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means you won’t feel totally comfortable or ready for it.

Found via Credit towards Melanie Doskocil on her blog, Ballet Pages. Thanks Michelle for bringing it to our attention! Dancers, any thoughts? Teachers, any other points you would add?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 at 1:00 am and is filed under Ballet Artists and Inspiration, Learning at the Ballet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


35 thoughts on “15 Truths About Being A Professional Dancer

  1. Bravo, wonderful piece. I would add, since you asked, that there is always a place for you in the dance world- you just have to make it happen. It might not be the idea you always had in your head, but it will fulfill you because you will be doing what you love- dance.

  2. Reading #15 couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for me. I am literally on my way to New York City from San Francisco to pursue one of my biggest dreams for dance: Juste Debout. I bought the one way ticket yesterday and i’m just going for it and starting anew in New York. Sounds insanely irresponsible I know but i’ve made this kind of decision work before. I can speak from experience from throwing myself completely out of my comfort zone does wonders dance and my growth.

    1. I left Sunny San Diego California at the age of 23 with $400.00 in my pocket. No place to live, No Job, No friends, and a Dream. To dance with Alvin Ailey and make it in New York City as a Dancer. I had only been dancing for 2 years. all of the above I found to be true.The bottom line is associate those who are where you want to be. Once I did that I figured I was as good as any other dancer I just had something else to offer. Figure out what that is and go to auditions because you don’t want the job. Read inspirational books and you’ll make it! By the way I ended up touring the world with International touring dancing companies and landed a Job in Jerome Robbins Broadway , worked with the Legend himself before he passed . Met my wife Got married and moved back to Sunny San Diego. It was in the put in rehearsal of West Side Story that I met my wife Maria.Yes you guessed it, my name it Tony !

    1. Same as a writer and musician. SAME! Life is a form of athleticism, either metaphorical, and as performers, more literal. Though of course, all tribute to dancers as the ultimate athlete artists!

  3. That was bang on…. I always had these in my mind. From being a dancer to becoming a dance choreographer nw… It’s been quite a long and hard journey for me… Everyone around me thought I was lucky and I made it but no one knew the kind of sacrifices, insults, pain, hardwork I have gone throughout.. And working in the Indian film industry with so many people trying to grab a chance to prove themselves… Ohhhhhh… Thank god for everything… All for one thing… My passion for dance.. Tq sooo much for this one I can totally relate to it. Cheers

  4. I am a dancer, choreographer, director, and owner of a dance studio. I’m looking for this in a poster to place in studio as a motivation and inspiration to those I’m trying to prepare as they enter this new world of mystery, suspense, and magic that we call dance. If you know of where, I can get, please send info to Thank you.

  5. I started jazz, tap, ballet and performing on stage at age 3, became a working professional dancer at age 18, traveled and performed until age 27, then taught ballroom dancing, gymnastics and jazz, until I became a Mom at 29. Dancing has taught me to pick myself up after losses, work through problems, celebrate precious moments life, and to dance whenever possible! It taught me to express myself, have confidence in my abilities and to appreciate the beauty of hard work.

  6. I enjoyed reading the 15 truths of a dancer! I dance part-time for school and work reasons, now when I get on the stage I realize that I do miss the stage more than when I was doing it often

  7. My child is 6 and lives dance 5 days a week. I printed this and am saving it for when she crashes and burns. May I paraphrase to make it age appropriate?

  8. This write up is awesome and brillant.very educative.i just came to this country to purse my dance career, leaving my comfort zone in my country, am a proffessional, entertainer, graced lots of stages home and abroad but am not contented becos I dont know it all.i aspire to learn more each day reason why am here to keep growing. Its not gonna be easy I knw but am willing to give a try nd am positive it ll end well.thanks for the head up…..USA am ready to learn

  9. This is fantastic! Thank you for the inspiring words and reminder that nothing in life comes easy if it’s worth having/doing. We will be sharing this with our readers 🙂

  10. This is a lovely post. I particularly liked the way you talk about working for free- it’s a hard truth in so many of the arts, not just dance, and I think recognizing when to do it, and when not to, is a really important.

  11. This was so on point! This just confirmed so many things I say to young up and coming dancers when I teach a master class and a Q & A… Or just to someone that asks me about what it is to be a dancer… Definitely gonna share this on as many media pages I have. lol. Great read. 🙂

  12. Wonderful article and so wonderfully timed. As a professional dancer/instructor who has transitioned into a studio owner, I related so very much to every point made! I see a major difference in the work ethic and expectations of dancers from when I lived in NYC to a more suburban area where for many students, dance is a hobby or a social thing and they have no desire to move out of their comfort zone but want to dress up in costume and perform before paying any kind of dues. Recitals, showcases and special event performances is what keeps them coming to class. I want so badly to have a company of dancers that understand the sacrifices and level of dedication required to perform a repertoire of concert level pieces but the only one that seems to make a sacrifice is me. I work around their inability to be at rehearsal due to other priorities, other groups they are involved in or a general lack of strength, skill and artistry required to dance on a concert stage. I end up settling for bodies present which places limitations on my work. This article reinforces my belief that the points mentioned continue to be valid in the real world of dance and after reading this article, I realize that I no longer want to settle and hope to inspire my students by raising the bar. The first step will be to share this article. Thank you for your insight!

  13. Wonderful tips! I would say, as far as the “working for free” part goes, make sure to ask for money if it’s there! I was in a local production of “West Side Story” a few years ago. I found out that the musicians in the orchestra were getting paid but no one else was. I had been hired as the lead dancer. I approached the producer and asked why only the orchestra was getting paid. He said it was because they had a lot of experience. Being one of the oldest cast members, I said that I had a lot of experience too and that I felt I deserved to get paid. So, magically, money was found to pay me! Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease [paint]. Dancers are so used to being “mute”, that sometimes we don’t speak up for ourselves and get what we deserve. Maybe it’s deeply ingrained in me because the first time I was ever on stage was when I was five years old and performed with the Nederlands Dans Theater in Anna Sokolow’s “Dreams.” I got paid quite nicely for a five year old and have come to expect some form of payment when there’s money around and others are getting paid. We can be thankful for any opportunity to perform, but we dancers need to find our voices when appropriate!

  14. This was so cool! Do you know of any way that I can become a professional dancer, and perform publicly, without leaving home for a vocational ballet school scholarship at the age of 16, as I have other dreams too!

  15. This list very well applies to anything you want to do in life. Particularly the last one. No one is ever 100% ready for change, yet we become ready by taking the risk. Lovely pics and post. Thanks!

  16. This is a great article with many hard-won truths. I would also add that taking care of your health is paramount! Among other things, proper nutrition, hydration, stretching, strength training, sleep, and medical care from vaccines for travel to chiropractic care to keep your nervous system at optimal performance. Protect your health to hold on to your passion.

  17. I am not a professional dancer and always wish I was; I live in Florida where we have the most over 100 year olds from around the country; just to give you even more inspiration every hundred year old (some up to 109) when asked what is their secret had this one common thing in their lives, they all danced in some shape or form either professional or just because. Dancing keeps you healthy and young at heart, it is in all our souls. So to the professionals who keep the rest of us inspired just to get up and dance. Dancing keeps you a live longer!

  18. So True….and according to me these 15 golden rules are apt for all professions. This article is a must read for every individual who wants to succeed in their professional life.

  19. Very well written article. It will be helpful to anyone who usess it, as well as yours truly efbaedkgkdge

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