What Is a Professional Dancer?

Definition & Examples of Professional Dancer

A dancer in action
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A professional dancer is a paid performing artist who uses movement to convey stories and ideas.

Learn more about this career.

What Is a Professional Dancer?

Professional dancers perform dance numbers on stage, in movies, on television, in music videos, at theme parks, on cruise ships, and more. They usually have expertise in a particular type of dance, such as jazz, ballet, modern, ballroom, or tap, but some excel in more than one of these areas.

The median hourly wage for professional dancers was $17.49 in 2019. During that period, the lowest 10% of dancers earned less than $10.10 per hour, and the highest 10% earned more than $43.41 per hour.

How Professional Dancers Work

Being a professional dancer is a physically demanding job that often takes a lot of hard work. Dancers must practice regularly and prepare for auditions and rehearsals. They also spend a great deal of time learning complicated routines and must be able to remember choreography. In some cases, working dancers must be able to perform multiple high-energy shows each day.

Dancers can perform solo or in a group. They may dance on stage in front of a live audience in a theatrical production or they may be filmed for TV, commercials, music videos, movies, internet productions, and more.

Dancers who work in theme parks or on cruise ships are sometimes required to do additional jobs off stage.

How to Become a Professional Dancer

The education and training required to become a professional dancer varies depending on the type and level of dance.

Many, but not all, professional dancers begin their training when they're children or teens through after-school and summer dance programs and begin to pursue a career once they turn 18.

But regardless of when they began training, dancers must usually spend a great deal of time taking classes and practicing in order to begin doing it professionally.

A college degree isn't necessary to become a professional dancer, but one is usually required for those who want to become dance teachers or choreographers. Many dancers, especially those who want a career in theater, also choose to grow their acting and singing skills, as well.

The National Association of Schools of Dance has accredited more than 80 educational programs for dance and dance-related disciplines.

Beyond being able to perform dance routines, professional dancers also need a number of soft skills in order to succeed in their career. They include:

  • Active listening: Dancers must be able to give their full attention to choreographers and directors.
  • Active learning: They need the ability to easily pick up new dance routines.
  • Creativity: Artistic ability allows them to convey ideas through movements.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Dancers often have to work as part of a team that may include other dancers, choreographers, and other types performers. They must be able to interact with them successfully.

Disadvantages of Being a Professional Dancer

Being a professional dancer may seem like a glamorous career to many, but it does come with some downsides. They include:

  • Repeated rejection: Dancers must audition for dance companies and various roles. They must be able to handle rejection, as it's bound to happen often.
  • Lack of personal time. Professional dancers usually must work and practice for many hours. They often spend their days rehearsing and their nights performing. Professional dancers who join a dance company must also be prepared to spend a lot of time on the road traveling.

Dancers have one of the highest rates of injury among all of the occupations that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks.

  • The possibility of a shortened career. Due to career-ending injuries, dancers often have to stop performing while they're young. Or, they grow too old to sustain the amount of stamina required. Many become choreographers or dance instructors. 

Key Takeaways

  • Professional dancers are paid to convey artistry through movement.
  • They usually have expertise in a particular type of dance, such as jazz, ballet, modern, ballroom, or tap.
  • They may perform on stage, in movies, on television, in music videos, at theme parks, on cruise ships, and more. 
  • Being a professional dancer isn't always glamorous and requires a lot of practice and physical stamina.