8 Tips For Dancers Transitioning From College to the Pros

By Jadée Nikita

Hooray!  It’s that time of year again where college students from universities all over the country are cramming for finals, writing the last few pages for their senior research project, and shopping for at least 3 different celebration outfits for that coveted day.  Wondering what I’m talking about?  College graduation, of course!  It’s a wonderful accomplishment to finally have that piece of paper with your name on it. You’ve worked tireless hours and finally the goal is achieved!  Congrats!  No one can take that away from you.

But once the confetti dies down, and the hats are finished flying through the air, what’s next for you?  You just graduated from a great dance program, from a great university, but do you have a plan for what’s next?  What’s your roadmap looking like for the next 5, 10, 20 years?  It can be daunting to think about, especially in an unpredictable career field like the dance industry, but like the wise man Ben Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

If you are a dancer who is having trouble deciding what to do post-graduation, I’d like to help.  I’ve been in your shoes, and in all honesty, had trouble deciding what to do for a few years after I graduated from Uni (for more personal info, click on the “About” page on my website).  It’s a big “next step” in your life, and in the dance industry there is no roadmap to guide you.  There are no set paths to follow.  But if you’re smart, have a good work ethic, a solid backbone, and have somewhat of a plan, you will be okay in these dance streets.  Depending on your personal dance style, the options for your professional dance career are limitless.  For the purposes of this article I will outline a few recommendations specifically for dancers who are graduating from college and are looking to pursue a career in the commercial dance world.  If you have any suggestions or questions please feel free to leave a comment or message me directly.

Relax.

Take those lovely summer months to relax and enjoy your accomplishments as a grad.  You truly deserve it.  If you already have something lined up for the fall, you should especially take it easy before the work picks up.  If you don’t have any plans for the fall, you should still relax.  At least for a good 3-4weeks.  Take time to catch up with family, friends and others who are motivated for the future.

On your own.

We all know the famous phrase, “use it or lose it.”  Well the term couldn’t hold more true for dancers.  During your “time off” you should still maintain a good level of training, working out, and stretching.  Getting back in the groove of things can be hard the first day you take class after a long break, so make it easier on your body by taking at least 30 minutes a day to limber up those limbs.

Take Class.

As a dancer who is possibly pursuing a future career in the industry, you should always take time to train.  Taking class not only makes you a better dancer technically, but you are also building confidence for auditions and performances, training your brain to pick up choreography fast, and you’re showing face (meaning, other people in the dance industry are seeing you, and may have possible work for you in the future).  Even if you are making it a s professional dancer in a big city, you should always take class.

Explore all options.

There is no pressure to jump into the dance industry right away.  Everyone is different, has different destinies, and paths in life, so something that works for one person, doesn’t alway work for the next.  Explore all possibilities of your future dance career.  Ask yourself hard questions and answer them as thruthfully as possible.  To help you get started here is a list of questions to think about:

  • Am I a city gyal or a more of a small town gyal?
  • Do I want to perform or choreograph?
  • Do I want to teach at a local studio or do I want to work as a freelance teacher?
  • What will I do to provide supplemental income for myself between dance jobs? In other words, how will you survive?
  • Do I want to dance backup for an artist, or be on Broadway?
  • LA or NY?

Again, this is just a general list of questions, but they should help you begin to plot your future plans as a professional dancer, and make your transition a little easier.

Big City vs. Home Town?

If you know you aren’t a city gyal and prefer to stay in your home state, look for dance companies and studios in your area that suit your dance style.  Because most large production companies are housed in the big cities like LA and NY, commercial dancers may have a harder time finding consistent work in smaller towns as opposed to modern or ballet dancers.  Don’t let that discourage you.  With social media and the internet playing a major role in the dance industry, it is easier than ever to create your own opportunities anywhere as a dancer.  Plus if you’re a hard worker and are serious about your dance career others will quickly take notice of you.

Network.

Like in any other industry, it’s all about who you know.  So during your transition period, a good place to start your professional career is by making connections with professional dancers and choreographers in your community.  A few good ways to network are:

  • Get involved in various dance activist groups like Dancer’s Alliance
  • go to class consistently and make an effort to introduce yourself to others
  • Never turn down performance opportunities.  You never know who is in the audience.
  • The dance industry is small, so alway put your best foot forward, and network your butt off!

Educate Yourself.

I know.  The last thing you want to do after graduating from a four year bachelors program is to study more.  However, the more you know about the commercial dance industry, the easier your transition is going to be in the big leagues.  Think about it.  You never go into a job interview without knowing a little something about the company, right?  Well the same principle applies to the commercial dance world.  Do your research on the origins of hip-hop and street jazz. Watch music videos from each decade and familiarize yourself with the different grooves.  Do a youtube search on the choreographers you plan on taking class from and get to know their style.  There is a lot to learn about the industry and if you take the time to educate yourself before jumping in with cold feet, the water will feel much nicer during that first plunge.  Remember, knowledge is everything.

Save.

In the professional dance world, sometimes you never know when your next big check is going to come through.  So in the meantime, it’s good to save up as much money as possible.  Whenever you get a little cash, save at least 10% of it in a savings account and don’t touch it until you’re ready for your big move, or ready to start your career.  The city can be really expensive, and you can run through money in the blink of an eye (trust me on this one).  If you don’t want to go bankrupt after the first month of city-living I recommend saving at least three months worth of rent prior to moving. That will help with your security deposit + 1st month’s rent + food and other basic living necessities.  If you can’t afford to save up that much, don’t stress.  I know legends in the industry who have moved to NY with $100 and a dream and made it werk.  20+ years later, they are still on top!   But if you’re going to do that just make sure you have a solid action plan and are prepared to grind!

Photo: Jason Stitt

Photo: Jason Stitt

If you found this article helpful or think it will help one of your gyal pal’s transitioning from college to the pros, please share!  Then slide on over to our online dance boutique and shop the hottest hip hop dance fashion trends on the web!
Cover photo via New Mexico Stat University
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