Dance Advice

Transitioning from full time dance student to professional dancer

By Kym King of Dance Informa.

So now that you have finished your full time dance training how will you make the transition from being a student to being a professional dancer?

For many the transition can be daunting. Because of the demands of full time training, with daily class, exams, rehearsals and productions, it can be difficult to find time to think about anything beyond the end of your studies. And while finding work will obviously be the main focus, be aware that transitioning is also about how you keep body, mind and soul together in the meantime.

As a student life revolves around a structured timetable and when you finish your studies it can suddenly seem as though the future stretches ahead big and empty. Having some goals and making a plan of action is a good way to clarify thoughts and provide a sense of control over your future.

How you approach finding work may vary depending on the dance genre you are interested in, but other aspects of transitioning from student to professional are common to all recent dance graduates. Having an idea of what some of these are means that you can build them into your plan. Some areas for consideration include: understanding your interests, values and personality traits; how to stay fit, motivated and ready to audition; how to balance earning a living while you look for performance work; and how to stay connected and feel supported.   

Developing self-awareness

Developing self-awareness is particularly important for helping you make decisions about the type of work that will not only appeal to you but will be a good fit with your personality. Identify your strongest interests and make a note of the ones you would you like to develop further. These might be dance-related interests such as dance styles, choreographers and companies, but also interests outside of dance.

Outside interests are valuable as they can make you more employable both because you may have unique skills to bring to a job, but also because having them can make you a more interesting person and performer.

Think about what values are important to you as these will affect the decisions you make about work and ultimately how you live your life. Which values do you consider essential to your wellbeing? Is it important to you to help others? Be appreciated? Be challenged? Do you value being close to family and friends or would you be happy to live far away as long as you are performing? If helping others is high on your priority list perhaps something with an educational component will suit you.

Understanding your own personality will also provide you with more information on the type of work to seek out. Are you: assertive, creative, competitive, conscientious or agreeable? If you are a creative person it might mean that you can generate your own opportunities such as choreographing your own work, initiating projects or finding innovative funding options.

Once you have a little more understanding of yourself you are better equipped to make some goals and develop a plan. Keep in mind that understanding your strengths and limitations shouldn’t mean that you don’t strive to be versatile. This will mean there are many more possibilities for work.

Staying fit 

Staying fit and ready for work is something that should be a priority and scheduled into everyone’s plan. Continuing to attend dance classes once you finish fulltime training is not only important for keeping your brain and body fit, but also ensures you feel connected to the dance scene. Despite the fact that you are often competing for the same jobs, it can be reassuring to talk to other graduates about their experiences. Sometimes dancers also have inside information about work opportunities that aren’t advertised or listed on audition websites.

Another reason it’s good to get to class is so teachers, choreographers and directors know that you are out there and available for work. If you are interested in working with a particular agency or company then as well as letting them know you would like to work with them, it’s a good idea to see whether they offer classes, or secondment programs.

Keep in mind that if you can’t always get to class, cross-training with activities such as swimming, yoga and Pilates can also keep you fit. For most dancers the reality is that when they are just starting out they will need to have some other sort of job to pay the bills. If it’s not something you really enjoy doing, it can be easy to forget why you are doing it. Attending class is a really good way to remind yourself why you love dancing.

Staying connected and feeling supported

Sometimes, especially in the first year after graduating, dancers can feel a bit isolated, particularly if it takes a while to find work. Getting together with other dancers to make work is one way of feeling like you are extending your experience as a dancer while at the same time feeling connected to a group.

Another good option to factor into your plan is to find a mentor. It’s important that a mentor is someone who can provide support and act as a sounding board. While it doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement it does need to be someone you respect and ideally someone who has some knowledge of the industry. Most importantly, they should be interested and believe in you.

What you include on your plan and how it is structured will be as individual as you are and will provide a direction in which to head. Remember that it is also important to stay curious and open to opportunities that may arise unexpectedly as this happens frequently in the dance field. While it’s good to know what you want from your career, very few people start their careers knowing where they are going to end up. Having a plan is simply somewhere to start.

Over the next few issues of Dance Informa we will hear from dancers who have already made the transition to being professionals in contemporary, ballet and the commercial dance sector.

Next time: “Transition – A contemporary dance perspective.”

Kym King is a career counsellor and former dancer. Contact her through www.kymkingcareers.com.

Photo: © Andriy Bezuglov | Dreamstime.com

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