Background Dancer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn about a career as a background dancer. Research the training requirements, education options and audition protocols to make an informed decision about starting a career in the performing arts.

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Step 1: Get Dance Training

Background dancers perform choreographed dance moves in supporting roles for shows, such as theater productions, musical concerts and music videos. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of dancers begin their training prior to age 18, and some start as early as five (www.bls.gov). Most dancers obtain formal training from instructors at dance classes or workshops. Some may choose to focus on one dance style, such as ballet. Others may receive formal dance training in multiple styles, including modern, jazz, ethnic, hip-hop or other period dancing styles.

Step 2: Improve Other Performance Skills

Besides dancing, the BLS points out that background dancers may be expected to complete other performance tasks, such as singing or acting. Colleges offer beginning courses in singing, music fundamentals and theatrical acting. Some acting and musical organizations may also offer classes and workshops that can help beginners improve their skills.

Step 3: Learn about the Audition Process

Most dancers get hired or accepted into programs by auditioning. The audition process varies significantly, and many organizations post audition information and requirements on their business websites. Some organizations may ask dancers to submit a dance audition recording, but most prefer to have dancers audition in person. Part of the audition may include a formal interview. Dancers may also have to submit current résumés.

The main part of the audition usually includes performance of a dance routine. Many auditions require applicants to dance in certain styles. Candidates may have to dance individually or with others during the audition. Some auditions require that applicants create and perform original choreography to specific types of music. The BLS reports that overall employment prospects for dancers are expected to increase by 6% between 2012 and 2022, and dancers earned an average of $20.00 per hour in 2013.

Step 4: Consider Earning a Degree

Information from the BLS indicates that dancers do not necessarily need formal degrees to find career opportunities. However, dancers who plan to become dance instructors or choreographers later in life may need bachelor's degrees for these careers. Additionally, formal training can improve dance technique and performance versatility. One common degree program is the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Dance. Courses in these BFA degree programs may include modern dance, history of dance, choreography, ballet, ethnic dance and dance performance.

Step 5: Continue Learning New Dances

Although professional dancers need to know traditional dance movements, they must also be capable of learning new dances. The BLS recommends that dancers keep up with new dance trends. Background dancers can learn about new dances by attending different types of dance performances or by attending dance workshops.

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