If you want to become a professional ballet dancer, you typically need to begin a serious training program long before you’re old enough to drink. However, this does not mean talented adult dancers don’t have a chance. They may not stand out as the prima ballerinas of the world, but more and more adult dancers are finding their place in this highly competitive industry. If you’re an advanced student considering a career, these 8 tips can help you strategize.
1. Take class everyday.
To make up for lost time, it is vital that you attend class everyday. And be selective—as an adult dancer, you can’t afford to waste time with anything other than top-notch training. Find a reputable school and focus on your technique. Of course, your body will need time to recuperate, so it’s wise to give yourself at least one day off.
2. Swallow your pride.
If you’re serious about pursuing a career, be prepared to go back to high school—sort of. If a school or locale does not cater to budding adult dancers, your only option may be to train alongside teenagers. Too self-conscious? Get some perspective. High school aged students are reaching their peak physical condition, preparing their minds and bodies for professional life. You, on the other hand, are trying to capture this development by playing catch-up. If you’re hungry enough to dismiss the embarrassment, you’ll have to play catch-up on their turf.
3. Attend workshops.
Workshops and summer intensives are great way to learn from different teachers and gain new experiences. Adult dancers tend to stay in their comfort zone, but this isn’t healthy or realistic if you’re going to pursue a lifestyle that requires you to adjust at any moment. Expand your network of classes, teachers, and peers. Take master classes at different schools; these sometimes host retired alumni of major national companies. If you play your cards right, you may even have the privilege of attending! These education programs are fun, enlightening, and essential to your growth as a dancer.
4. Broaden your skills.
Ok, so you don’t want to be a breakdancer, but a ballet dancer. It’s good to know what you want. However, all professionals have taken multiple styles of dance. In fact, some of the most prestigious schools in the country include ballroom, jazz, and modern as required curriculum. Exploring these other dance forms will unlock different facets of your artistry, making you more versatile and valuable to a company.
Ballet is one of the most athletic art forms, even tougher than most sports. It’s important to keep up your strength and stamina when you’re not in the studio. Popular cross-training options include Pilates, yoga, and swimming for their low-impact strength training and restorative benefits. Not your thing? Jog, take spin class, or weight-lift. Find a mode of exercise that motivates you to stay in shape.
6. Find your niche.
If you have your heart set on dancing for the New York City Ballet, but you took your first ballet class at 19, you may want to adjust your expectations. Unlike in generations past where innovation happened only in particular parts of the country, dance movements are everywhere now, making it easier than ever for an adult to break into the dance scene. While the major hubs still exist for the classical elite, smaller regional companies are cropping up everywhere in the form of neoclassical, contemporary, and parody companies. If your main pursuit is stardom, you’re in for a rude awakening. If your goal is to find a place that’s right for you so you can do what you love to do everyday, keep looking.
Build your resume as soon as possible. Audition for anything you can get your hands on. Community theater? Audition. Local Nutcracker? Go! It doesn’t matter if you don’t attend the school, if you don’t meet the height requirement, if you have to be Margot Fonteyn’s first cousin. Audition anyway. Truth is, they can always say no. But they just might say yes, and as an adult dancer vying for a spot in this game, you can’t afford to not take risks. Auditions force you to confront stage fright, rejection, and ultimately the sweet payoff of scoring a gig.
8. Work a day (or night) job in the industry.
While it’s every dancer’s dream to dance full-time as a vocation, the reality is, anyone in your position is going to be working multiple jobs until that dream is realized. Maybe you’re an accountant by day. When you’re done crunching numbers, maybe you can teach a beginner ballet class at night. Fresh out of college and jobless? Maybe you can clean the studio in exchange for classes. This may not sound like the glorious path to the stage, but anything worthwhile rarely is. If anything, it teaches you work ethic, the operations of the industry, and to be grateful that dance is part of your life.
It’s hard to become a professional dancer—but not impossible. Talk to your teacher and other professionals for additional insight and advice.