By Chris Bamford.
Due to the popularity of full time dance courses there are now multiple institutions that offer performance programs. Let’s face it, if you want to perform for a living it is becoming increasingly necessary to take a full time course to build the skills and connections you need in this industry.
However, with so many courses now available the exclusivity of these programs is becoming less and less. With multiple courses and hundreds of dancers and singers who all want be a star, it can be tough to secure work after you complete a course.
Some dancers have the misguided opinion that because they have done a full time course they have the right to get paid to perform, rather than the privilege. This may have been the case when only Dynamite and Brent Street offered courses and only a very small number of the best were accepted each year, but it isn’t anymore.
Unfortunately, I estimate that now only about 5% of all performers from full time courses go straight into paid work. Therefore many, many dancers across the country have to wait to get their lucky break. So what do you do next? There is a certain expectation that those dancers who have completed full time studies will automatically get paid work, but the reality is that you will probably do more unpaid work in the first few years than paid.
So what do you do until then? The most important thing is to continue your training. A lot of performers don’t keep up their training and then miss out on opportunities. It can take years before you get that lucky break and you can just miss out if you’re not up to standard.
Now it is easy to keep classes up with many dance schools offering adult casual classes, but the problem is that they don’t look at the individual dancer and where they need to improve. Casual classes definitely have their place and are great for networking and learning different choreography, however they generally will not continue to build your skills.
So how do you continue to grow and improve your craft? You can do another full time course for another year and see how you go, but that can very expensive and can restrict you for auditions. I suggest that you find a studio where the professional dancer is catered for. For example, Caramell Dance Studios offers night time performance courses for the professional and advanced dancer (by audition only) in hip hop and contemporary/lyrical. This allows performers to work or audition through the day time and train at night to maintain and improve their technique. So look for an institution in your state that can cater to your advanced needs.
So you are keeping up your training, but you still don’t have steady work?
Here are a few suggestions to help you open some doors…
- Look out for dance festivals where there may be an opportunity to perform, teach or choreograph, and get involved. You never know who you might be working with and what opportunities may arise.
- Do non-paid productions in between jobs (musical societies, etc). Some professional directors and choreographers use these as a testing ground or a way to refine their skill and it can lead to an audition or an offer for a professional production.
- Get a new skill. Take classes in styles or art forms you are less familiar with. The more skills you have the more employable you are.
- Market yourself. Start to look at yourself as a product package and sell yourself like one. Make sure you know why you are the best for a job and be confident in yourself. However, don’t be over confident or arrogant – this can cost you work.
- If you commit to a project, paid or not, make sure you see it through. The entertainment industry is a ‘clicky’ business and once you have annoyed one person you have generally annoyed ten. This may cost you a job in the future.
- Doing something is better than nothing. Don’t knock back any opportunity, no matter how small. Take the work and run with it until a better opportunity comes along.
- Always be gracious and thankful for each opportunity. Don’t burn any bridges as you may need them again someday.
Don’t stress if you don’t get work straight away. Just keep focused and keep training in your craft. Make sure you don’t get complacent with your current level of skill as you wait for your big break. Keep learning and develop new talents. Dancing is like any other job – you need to constantly work hard and improve if you want great success. Give yourself goals and reflect on your achievements often, rating your skill level, work ethic and attitude to ensure constant development.
Remember – the moment you become a professional performer you become a product, not a person. Don’t forget about the person behind the product!
Very top photo: Full time dance students of Jason Coleman’s Ministry of Dance, Melbourne. Photo by Belinda Strodder.