What You Don't Learn in the Studio Could Cost You Your Career

June 26, 2017

When you’re training, it can feel like all you need to succeed in the dance world is artistic talent and drive. But once you make the leap into the professional world, you may find out just how much you don’t know about making it as a dancer.

When I started my professional career, I soon realized that all the time and money my parents and I had invested in my training still hadn’t fully prepared me to make it as a freelance dancer—especially one who had plenty of bills and student loans to pay. Only after years of trial and error, failures and mega-hustle did I start to figure out how to navigate professional dance life in a remotely sustainable way. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. You could lose a job due to outdated or poor quality materials.

The quality of your headshot, resume, website and other professional materials could mean the difference between a “yes” or a “no.” In fact, to some decision makers, the quality of your materials is an indicator of the quality of your work. I’ve even heard of instances where a dancer was almost passed for an opportunity simply because the casting director didn’t realize that the dancer who’d just auditioned was the same dancer on the materials in front of him.

Here’s the thing. A production team will often see your materials well before they ever see you move, especially if you self-submit. So do yourself a favor and invest in great headshots that show you as marketable dance talent. Invest time into developing a resume and website that represents you and your work well.

2. Talent isn’t always as important as who you know.

In the dance world, it’s not always about what you know. More often than not, it’s about who you know. You could be one of the best dancers in an audition, but choreographers still prefer to hire dancers who they know and trust. I’ve personally booked a number of jobs without auditioning, including a three-month contract to perform and teach in Shanghai, solely from the connections I built in class.

A Brian Brooks audition. Photo by Jim Lafferty.

To build those types of connections, you just need to “get known.” Plant yourself in the dance community by taking classes regularly, especially from choreographers with whom you’d like to work. Consistently show up, be on time, go all in, have a great attitude, and make friends, and soon enough, the work may start coming to you.

3. Doing outside work does not mean you’ve failed as a dancer.

Dance jobs can be few and far between, especially when you’re getting started. Finding supplemental work when the dance jobs just aren’t enough is part of the process, which is something I wish I’d understood early on.

When looking for other work, try to secure jobs that are remote or that offer flexible schedules so you can be available when an audition or project comes up. You may also want to consider creating your own opportunities. I have friends who’ve started businesses DJ-ing, bookkeeping and even selling homemade skin care products for additional financial support. Get creative about how you can use your interests and skills, and you’ll join the ranks of the many dancers who’ve begun to take their power back by starting their own businesses to support their performance lives.