Anna Rogovoy in her dual roles of toy shop manager and dancer/choreographer. Left photo by Olympia Shannon; right photo by Kathryn Butler

Yes, It Is Possible to Work Full Time and Be A Professional Dancer

Few dancers are able to make a comfortable living from their creative pursuits alone. Many rely on non-dance freelance work or multiple part-time gigs, fearing that a full-time job would take too much time away from their dancing. However, plenty of artists manage to balance full-time day jobs with fulfilling dance careers, opting for the security, benefits and opportunity to learn new skills.


Shannon McMullan

McMullan works at an engineering firm and performs with two companies. Photo by Stephen Delas Heras, courtesy McMullan

Her dance gigs: This fourth-generation Isadora Duncan dancer performs with Dances by Isadora and Dance Visions NY.

Her day job: McMullan works at a large structural engineering firm in Manhattan. She oversees the company's research and development initiatives, handles internal marketing and communications, and plans large-scale events. She works roughly 40 hours per week and receives benefits, including health insurance and a 401(k).

How she makes it work: She rehearses mostly on the weekends, and if she needs to leave work early on occasion to go to a performance or rehearsal, she's able to communicate with her colleagues to make it work. "I've been super-honest with my boss and company. They all know I'm a dancer, and they're supportive of that," she says.

Pros and cons: "The biggest sacrifice is missing out on intensives or going to technique classes in the middle of the day," McMullan says. On the other hand, the job has allowed her to travel within the U.S. and abroad, and gives her the security of knowing she will always be able to pay her rent.

Dealing with doubters: "I have had a lot of people criticize me for having a 9-to-5. They call my dance career a hobby," she says. "That stereotype irks me. You learn so much from dance that you can implement in other places. And dancers shouldn't shy away from doing that."

Claudia Schreier

Schreier rehearsing Contra with Ballet Hispánico's Dandara Veiga and Chris Bloom. Photo by Dmitry Beryozkin, courtesy Schreier

Her dance gigs: Schreier is a contemporary ballet choreographer whose upcoming projects include commissions from Dance Theatre of Harlem and the ABT Studio Company.

Her day job: She worked at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for seven years as a marketing assistant and later as manager of editorial content. Her responsibilities included social media content creation, advertising and branding strategy; editorial and creative direction; and contributing to two website redesigns.

Worlds colliding: "For over six years, no one at my job knew I was choreographing," Schreier says. That changed when she won the Breaking Glass Project's choreography competition in 2014. The prize was an evening-length performance at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. "I took a week of vacation to rehearse, but I was still renting studio space in the building. I would walk in, say hi to my co-workers, and then go to the studio instead of the office," she says.

Saying good-bye: By the end of Schreier's time at Ailey in 2017, she was using all of her vacation days for dance. She left to enter a semester-long, full-time fellowship at the Center for Ballet and Arts at NYU. Schreier has been paying the bills with choreography and the support of donors ever since.

Her advice: Use skills from your full-time gig to enrich your dance career. Working for Ailey taught Schreier how to manage the business of being a choreographer. "I don't think I would be where I am without that experience," she says.

Anna Rogovoy

Rogovoy took a full-time gig after finding that the freelance life didn't work for her. Photo by Kathryn Butler, courtesy Rogovoy

Her dance gigs: Rogovoy is a choreographer and freelance performer. Most recently, she performed a solo two years in the making at New Dance Alliance's Performance Mix Festival, and she will appear in a new work by Mina Nishimura in December at Gibney.

Her day job: She manages an independent toy shop in Brooklyn, working roughly 35 hours per week, Tuesday through Saturday. The job does not include benefits, but it does have some flexibility. She comes in late twice per week, using the free mornings to take class, and usually schedules rehearsals on her days off from the store.

Why dance admin jobs didn't work: Rogovoy used to do part-time or project-based work in arts administration and company management, but found she either wasn't making much money or was going on lengthy, demanding tours. "Those long days were often in a theater, close to dance, but very much on the sidelines in a way that I ultimately found frustrating," she says.

Why she went full-time: "It took me a long time to accept that the freelance hustle doesn't work for me," she says. "I wasn't able to be the person and artist I wanted to be while I was scrambling from gig to gig."

Lessons learned: Rogovoy still uses the skills she learned as a dance company manager. "I haven't completely left that kind of work," she says. "I've just made myself my main client."

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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