Professional dancers covers three main areas – classical ballet, contemporary dance, and musical theatre or modern stage dance (which includes jazz and tap, and often also involves acting and singing). Other fields are also growing in popularity, such as African and Asian dance styles and street dance. Professional dancers usually specialise in one area, and may perform live, or on TV or music videos.
Usually, dancers will interpret the work of a choreographer, although in some cases improvisation may be required. As well as performing, dancers spend a lot of time rehearsing, and also maintaining their skills and fitness, which they need to do even when they are not involved in a performance.
Many dancers combine performance with other related work such as teaching or working on projects in schools and colleges.
Social dancing, such as ballroom, disco and line dancing, is usually done as a recreational activity, although there may be a few opportunities to perform for profit on stage, TV and in competitions.
Work as a dancer is strenuous and involves long hours, with rehearsals and practice during the day and performances in the evenings. Travel is often involved, touring in the UK and possibly abroad. It is often necessary to re-locate to find work.
Performances take place in a range of venues, including theatres, film and TV studios, nightclubs and cabarets, hotels, halls and on cruise ships, so facilities will vary. Rehearsals may be in purpose-built studios or more basic locations.
To be a dancer you should:
This type of work is very competitive, and periods of unemployment and under-employment are common.
Most dancers work initially in the corps de ballet in classical ballet, or as part of a small company or chorus. Progression to soloist or principal may be possible, but these opportunities are limited, requiring high levels of talent and hard work.
Employers include a range of companies, such as ballet companies and contemporary dance companies. Dancers may perform in musical shows in the theatre, in clubs and cabarets in the UK and abroad, or on cruise ships. Some dancers set up their own companies, possibly with funding from the Arts Council.
Career development usually involves moving into other areas, or combining these with performance.
Many dancers move into teaching, in the public and private sectors. Some may run their own dance schools. Please see the Dance Teacher profile for more information.
Dancers may also move into areas such as choreography (see our choreographer profile), dance movement therapy (see profile), or dance administration and management, or take courses in journalism and do freelance work such as writing reviews of performances.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a dancer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.
Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET)
28 Commercial St
Tel: 020 7247 4030
National Dance Teachers’ Association (NDTA)
29 Larkspur Avenue
Tel: 01543 685 162
Royal Academy of Dance (RAD)
36 Battersea Square
Tel: 020 7223 0091
British Ballet Organisation
39 Lonsdale Road
Tel: 020 8748 1241
Battersea Arts Centre
Tel: 020 7228 4990
Work in Dance
Foundation for Community Dance
2 Peacock Lane
Tel: 0116 251 0516
Tel: 0800 093 0444
Upper St Martins Lane
Tel: 020 7379 6000
DFES Dance and Drama Awards
Dancers’ Career Development (DCD)
222-227 Africa House
Tel: 020 7404 6141
Arts Council England
Arts Council of Northern Ireland
The Arts Council Wales
Scottish Arts Council