6 Essential Job Skills Dance Gives You

August 8, 2021

Retiring from the stage can feel like you’re suddenly abandoning something you’ve dedicated the better part of your life to, leaving behind the person you’d worked so hard to become. But that’s not actually the case. There are plenty of skills and lessons learned in the studio that can be brought into any workplace.

Being Unafraid of Failure

After retiring from dance, husband-and-wife business partners Travis and Mallory Walker opened Par Terre Winery in Idaho. Mallory danced with Ballet San Jose and Smuin Contemporary Ballet, then dove into business administration, while Travis performed with Ballet San Jose, Smuin, Alberta Ballet and the Trey McIntyre Project before studying enology and viticulture. The two say the fleeting nature of live theater and lack of control over audience reactions helped prepare them to run a winery. “We’re putting something out into the universe and hoping that people like it, but have no real control over that,” Mallory says. “You’re not always going to get it right, but you learn from it and do better next time.”

A man maneuvers a large hose contraption into a massive sink of grapes
Courtesy Par Terre Winery

Heightened Knowledge of the Body

A white man barechested with a white skirt reacheches one arm to the sky and the other at his waist

Hogan McLaughlin in Marguerite Donlon’s Strokes Through The Tail with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy McLaughlin

Having an understanding of the body’s lines and aesthetics can benefit jobs requiring a creative eye. Hogan McLaughlin, a former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago member turned visual artist and fashion designer, says knowing how the body moves has helped him design clothing that is elevated but also functional. “I know where the body will want to curve and where things will lay,” he says.

Being Disciplined

Brigid Polei stands on pointe in arabesque wearing a peasant dress with a romantic tutu.
Nancy Loch, Courtesy Polei

When COVID-19 cued Bridget Polei’s transition into real estate, the self-discipline, stress management and motivation she developed while dancing helped her approach the independent nature of the work. Many of Polei’s early clients have been former co-workers from Ballet Quad Cities and Ballet Ariel. She attributes their trust in her ability to find them a future home partly to her dependability in the studio, like always being early to rehearsals and knowing her choreography well. “If they needed to ask, ‘Is this on count 5?’ or ‘Is there a glissade here?,’ I usually knew it,” she says.

Taking Technique Seriously

Success in both dance and cooking require specific steps to be completed with exactness. Chelsea Farrah enjoyed a career competing in ballroom dance before attending culinary school. Today, she runs a small business called The Dancer’s Pantry, where she creates grazing experiences for gatherings and special events. She says that, like in dance, knowing how to put in the technical work allows her the freedom to express herself fully.

Chelsea Farrah, in a big white hat, holds a platter of food in front of greenery
Courtesy Farrah

Valuing Criticism

Eric Clopp leaps in grand jete, smiling at the camera
Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Clopper

After a successful career dancing with The Joffrey Ballet and Pacific Ballet Theatre, Eric Clopper has served in leadership roles at a digital tech company in Seattle for more than 12 years. Clopper says his performing experience has helped him navigate the finer points of leadership and communication. “In the dance world, if a teacher stops correcting you, it’s a bad thing,” he says. “Whereas, in the business world, some people don’t want feedback.”

Having a Growth Mindset

Benjamin Goodly balances on his hands with his body in the air on a concrete sculpture structure outdoors.
Courtesy Goodly

Benjamin Goodly, a former dancer with Eugene Ballet who works as a senior engineer for a consumer goods corporation, says the corporate world tries to develop a growth mindset in employees, while this approach is innate in dancers. “The growth mindset is this idea of embracing challenges, welcoming feedback, encountering new experiences and saying, ‘I might not be able to do it now, but I fundamentally believe, before I’ve started, that I can do this,’ ” he says.