Dance takes a toll on a person’s body, giving dancers one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries. Many dancers stop performing by their late thirties because of the physical demands dancing makes on the body. Nonperforming dancers may continue to work as a choreographer, director, or dance teacher.
Dancers’ schedules vary, depending on where they work. Some spend most of the day in rehearsals and have performances at night, giving them long workdays.
Education and training requirements vary with the type of dancer; however, all dancers need many years of formal training. Many begin training when they are very young and continue to learn throughout their careers. Ballet dancers usually begin training the earliest, usually between the ages of 5 and 8 for girls and a few years later for boys. Their training becomes more serious as they enter their teens, and most ballet dancers begin their professional careers by the time they are 18. Modern dancers normally begin formal training while they are in high school. They attend after-school dance programs and summer training programs to prepare for their career or for a college dance program.
Many universities offer a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dance, typically through departments of theater or fine arts. Most focus on modern dance but also include courses in jazz, ballet, hip hop, and other forms. Most entrants into university dance programs have previous formal training. Even though it is not required, many dancers choose to earn a degree in an unrelated field to prepare for a career after dance, because dance careers are usually brief. Teaching dance in a university, high school, or elementary school requires a college degree. Some dance studios or conservatories prefer instructors who have a degree, but may accept performance experience instead.
Some dancers take on more responsibility by becoming a dance captain in musical theater or a ballet master/ballet mistress in concert dance companies, by leading rehearsals, or by working with less-experienced dancers when the choreographer is not at practice. Eventually, some dancers become choreographers.
Successful dancers must have excellent balance so they can move their bodies without falling or losing their sense of rhythm. They must be agile, flexible, coordinated, and musical. They also need artistic ability and creativity to express ideas through movement. They are often physically active for long periods, so they must be able to work for many hours without getting tired. Most dance routines involve a group, so dancers must be able to work together to be successful. They must commit to years of intense practice. Finally, they need to be able to accept rejection after an audition and continue to practice for a future role.