Breaking Into A Career In Ballet

Posted by on 03.15.2012

A few weeks ago I received this comment on my blog:

“I love ballet but whenever I try to mention it to my parents they change the subject to school or soccer. I try to tell them that I am very passionate about dance but my family thinks that I cannot make a living out of dance. Can someone please give me some advice as to what to do I dont want my life to just pass by.”

I really feel like this is an important topic to touch on.  I know this reader is not alone when she brings up these concerns about her future.  Many young dancers dream of making this life their careers but need to educate themselves and their families on the potential of a professional ballet career.

Ballet is just like any other career in many ways: it takes hard work, perseverance, and determination to get where you want to go.  There will be many tests along the way.  Some young students find it hard to balance their social lives at school with their commitments to ballet. Some dancers will miss football games because they have rehearsal or skip the prom because of a performance.  If you find that your priority is and always will be ballet, you are not alone.  Every professional dancer in America felt the same way when they were in school.  It may be hard for parents to understand a deep commitment to anything other than school, but this unique dedication is what sets ballet dancers apart and prepares us for success.

Ballet is a career that demands the upmost maturity at a young age.  This field is all about youth: ballet careers are never as long as we would like them to be, so starting early is a must.  As a result, 17 and 18-year-olds find themselves living away from home, on their own, and supporting themselves, while their friends back home are packing and heading off to to a dorm room on a University campus.  It is indeed a very different life.

Because the average ballet career begins directly after high school, or even before a student’s graduation, there is not a moment to lose.  The reason why the majority of ballet dancers do not attend a conventional college is not because they are not intelligent, nor because they want to take the easy road.   It is because they are way ahead of their peers: they are ready to start their careers and they understand that time spent in college between the ages of 18-22 is precious time.  Trying to begin a ballet career after college proves difficult when other dancers your age have already entered the ranks of Corps de Ballet or higher.  However, a post-college career is not unheard of.  I do know of a couple dancers who have launched their careers after receiving their four-year degree.

Making a career for yourself in ballet does not, in any way, mean that you need to give up on higher education.  Through the wonders of technology, there are more options now than ever before for people to receive a college degree while working full time.  Many professional dancers attend school online or through correspondence to prepare themselves for a career transition after their dancing days are over.

Most importantly, you can make a living as a professional dancer: look at the rosters of every ballet company in America, and even in the world!  Every one of those dancers receives pay checks to do what they love.  Ballet is a career where you can support yourself.  But as we all know, funding for the arts is always a struggle and often dancers’ pay checks reflect that struggle.  There are many professional dancers who have a second job and/or immerse themselves in different projects to supplement their income.

As a professional ballet dancer, you will work harder than you have ever worked before.  Between class, rehearsal, and performances, you will find that most of your time is spent working.  You come home at the end of the day exhausted and worn out.  Performance weekends consume you and you treasure your few days off.  Your fellow dancers become your family and you support each other endlessly.  This is the life; the life you have worked towards for as long as you can remember.

The long of the short of it: very few people in this world are able to do what they love every day and make a living from it.  If ballet is what you love, explore your options.  Read about professional dancers, find dance blogs, look up YouTube videos, follow different companies, and talk with your parents.  Show them the possibilities that a career in ballet can hold for you.  You never know how they will respond, but it is certainly worth a try.  You may even be surprised.

2 Comments

  1. Hey Rebecca!
    I love what you wrote up here.
    Personally, I was VERY lucky that my parents, after a serious conversation with my ballet teacher, fully supported me in my pursuing of a ballet career. I go to a special school called Professional Children’s School in New York City where it is easy to balance school work and a crazy dance schedule including classes, rehearsals, and auditions.

    But back in my old studio in New Jersey, there are SO many girls who have this problem that you have described. Their parents refuse to see them moving into dance world as a professional– they want their children to go to college and get a degree before working anywhere. But when it comes down to it, I find that their narrow-mindedness is simply a lack of education. If parents (and students) are educated about the options & possibilities beyond a conventional high school–> college route, I’m sure that they would support their children just as my parents support me.

    It’s a shame, really. But I’m glad you’ve gotten the message out there. With a blog as popular as yours, it is amazing to see you putting your internet influence to a worthy cause. I hope that a dance parent somewhere out there reads your post and decides to support his or her daughter or son in the dance world.

    Honestly, as one of the seventeen year olds you have described above, training so intensively every day is a huge emotional and physical strain. If I didn’t have my mom and dad to come back to every once in a while to help me organize my life or to give me advice, I would not be as motivated as I am in the studio every day, nor as well prepared (emotionally) for performances and auditions. While we must act and think like adults, we are still, at heart, teenagers. A parent’s support is truly vital to a young ballet dancer’s success.

    This is terrific. Congrats on a lovely blog post:) I know how much effort goes into just one of these things, it’s not an easy process! I admire your persistence and dedication on keeping an updated and very informative blog… that’s something I need to work on. 😛

    -Sarah Steele

  2. Thank you so much that was very helpful.

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