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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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021