Career Advice

Why Dancers' Skills Are More Valuable Than Ever

It's not uncommon to hear dancers planning for their "second act": what they will do after their performance career ends. Wrapped into this term is an assumption that the skills a dancer has developed are valueless in other work environments.

But as the rest of the world panics to create a workforce that will withstand automation and artificial intelligence, dancers may actually be prepared with just the skills our future economy needs.


Cognitive skills, like math and reading, are losing their value in the workplace. A recent study found that "In the past 30 years, job tasks in the U.S. have shifted dramatically towards tasks requiring noncognitive skills." Sometimes known as "soft skills," these noncognitive skills include problem solving, communication and innovation. As technology advances, it is becoming less important for workers to do and more important to organize and innovate.

The ideal employee of the future still has strong math and reading skills, but—more importantly—is equipped with creativity, resilience, perseverance and self-control.

Rubberbandance. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Dancers have the skills to be the ideal 21st-century worker. As practitioners of non-verbal communication, dancers have strong interpersonal, team-working skills and have the ability to interpret and organize abstract concepts through visual learning.

Additionally, dancers develop a sense of entrepreneurship and self-advocacy. It is no small feat to simultaneously collaborate with a company of competitive peers while trying to cultivate one's own artistic voice. Even the most talented face setbacks and insecurities; it's only through self-control and determination that any dancer sees their first paid opportunity.

Current culture has perpetuated the opinion that art is nice to have, but not necessary. Especially in cities where dancers struggle to make a living wage, there is a resounding anxiety that time is being wasted not developing more "valuable" skills.

Dancers like Connie Shiau (right) take on administrative roles at Abraham.In.Motion. Photo courtesy AIM.

We need to challenge this misconception and pressure administrators to spearhead a new discourse. Dancers should be recognized for all of their skills and encouraged to value themselves beyond performance. Involving artists in administrative discussions will enlighten dancers to their interpersonal and leadership skill sets. Providing artists opportunities to be a part of the business and administrative aspects of a company will help bolster a dancer's confidence and support the company's overall health.

If you are dancing professionally, you are already prepared to step into this rapidly-changing economy. Be proud of the valuable traits you possess. There is nothing "soft" about the skills you have spent years acquiring.

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Career Advice
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC

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Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.

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Cover Story
Photo by Jayme Thornton

In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.

All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.

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