Friday, March 5, 2010

How to become a professional dancer

The lights go up and the curtain draws. A perfect ballerina appears on the stage and moves about effortlessly with a gleaming smile. She goes up on her toes, moves her feet quickly, runs, and then jumps high off the ground almost as if she’s a puppet attached to a string.

Little did you know that that’s actually: plié, sous-sus, bourrée, tombé, pas de bourrée, glissade, grand jeté... and that’s just the feet.

As you probably already know, dancing is a skill that takes a lot of time and hard work to develop. Many dream of being professional dancers, but few go the distance and make the cut. As a dance viewer or a dancer yourself, you might be wondering: what does it take to be the one on that stage?

One teenager's dream to become a pro...

BalletMet pre-professional student Christopher Evans has hopes to become a professional dancer in a European dance company.

The 15-year-old knew he wanted to start dancing when he saw Baryshnikov in the Nutracker.

“He was doing all these cool jumps and turns,” Chris said. “I turned to my mom and told her that I wanted to dance.”

Chris’s typical day begins at with a Cota bus ride from Delaware to downtown Columbus at 6:30 a.m. He then spends time at a local coffee shop to wait until BalletMet opens at 8:30 a.m. He fits in his home schooling between classes, which have him dancing for at least three hours a day.

All of Chris’s long days paid off when he placed at an International Ballet Competition, Prix de Lousanne this January.

Starting this August, Chris will be spending one year in The Hamburg Ballet school in Germany.

Young company dancers following their dreams…

Some of BalletMet’s newest and youngest company dancers Kerri Riccardi and Samantha Lewis tell their stories about following and living their dreams to dance.

Kerri, 20, from New York has been dancing since she was three years old and made the wish to be a dancer when she blew out the candles on her 5-year-old birthday cake. (I guess now that she’s a pro, she can share the wish secret!)

Kerri traveled into NYC to dance during high school and became a trainee at BalletMet last year and stayed on this year.

“Dancing professionally is a lot more dancing than in high school and involves constant performing,” Kerri said. “Before we’re done with one show, we’re on to the next. You must train your mind and body to learn a variety of pieces.”

Samantha, 21, has been dancing since she was four years old and trained in BalletMet’s pre-professional program for four years in high school before making it into the company.

In high school, Samantha wanted to quit dancing to do cheerleading, but didn’t because of encouragement from her parents who believed that dance was teaching her self-discipline and time management skills. Her senior year, she left school early to come to BalletMet to take classes.

The audition process…

To understand what the audition process is like, Kerri says that you should watch the movie, A Chorus Line.

“It’s very intimidating standing in a room with 200 girls and 50 or 60 guys," Kerri said. “You wonder, how am I going to stand out?”

When attending an audition, you must bring a resume, headshot, and body shot.

“You spend hours and hours looking at every detail only for them to maybe throw it away,” Samantha said.

Auditions start with a ballet class and they cut people as you progress. If you make it to the end, you’re lucky, Samantha said.

Auditions can be positive and negative experiences.

“The worst feeling is when a director isn’t looking at you,” Samantha said. “That’s really frustrating.”

Samantha once auditioned in a room where the fire code was 40, but there were 250 dancers. The director eliminated several dancers at the very beginning by having them show their tendue. (That's a very simple step where you point your foot.)

Kerri had an audition that began with a simple walk across the floor so the directors could quickly eliminate dancers.

“Be yourself because that’s the most comfortable and will shine through when you’re auditioning,” Kerri said. “Also try to find the right company for you.”

Kerri auditioned for 22 companies and got two offers.

“Rejection happens and is part of this career," Kerri said. "Just keep on going."

Challenges once they’ve “made it”…

Both dancers expressed that there are still many challenges once you become a professional.

“Fitting in” can be a challenge when you’re the new kid on the block and everyone else has been here for several years, Kerri said.

Seniority and hierarchy present a challenge because “there’s a way things have always been and people don’t like to break the mold,” Samantha said.

Socially it’s difficult to meet new people because of not living the typical college life, Samantha said.

Working on multiple dances at once also presents challenges for the young dancers, who sometimes feel under-rehearsed the week before a show.

“As professionals, it’s our job to pull it all together,” Kerri said.

Aspirations for the future…

Kerri is currently a student at Columbus State Community College (our neighbor) studying to become an elementary school teacher, which will involve getting her master’s degree. In the coming years, she hopes to mature as an artist as well as dabble in choreography.

Samantha believes that she’s grown tremendously as an artist and dancer in the past few years and hopes to continue to grow, while exploring different styles of dance.

The dancers expressed concerns about how long their dance careers will last.

“It can be short and it’s daunting at times,” Samantha said. “The key is to enjoy every moment.”

Career length is a concern for many dancers who want to become professionals. BalletMet’s oldest company dancers are in their mid-thirties.

Advice for youngsters who want a career in dance…

-Never give up on your dream and work hard.
-Make the most of every opportunity and stay true to who you are.
-Remember that this is what you love to do.

-Don’t get jaded. Always work your hardest.
-Know that even the best are trying to get better.
-No matter how many parts, awards, or scholarships you get, always keep trying.
-Make it a rule to never miss class.
-Try all different kinds of dance and be open-minded.

Tips from Susan Brooker, BalletMet Academy Director
-Stand back and take an honest look at yourself and your abilities.
-Go to as many dance performances of different forms as possible. As you widen your experience you widen your choices and opportunities.
-Speak with your parents about your desire to make dance your career. You will need their support through the years of training.
-Ask a trusted dance teacher's opinion and advice or that of a dance professional. An honest assessment of your potential can help you make the best choices as a student and potential professional.
-Find as much information as possible on the most appropriate training method for your chosen form of dance. Intensive Training, Pre-Professional programs, College Programs, Traineeships, or apprenticeships are examples of programs of study.
-Research dance companies, the sort of dance the company director hires, the repertoire style and quality of the company.
-Be true to yourself. You will be required to study up to six days a week, many hours a day. You have to love your art form and all the hard work involved in arriving at your goal.
-Enjoy your dancing and stay positive. There will be times when you fly forward with your work and times when you will seem to go nowhere. Intelligent hard work always pays off!


  1. Thank you so much. This advice and tips really helped a lot. This really encouraged me to continue my dream on becoming a professional dancer. I really apreciate the advice. If you have the time, may you please awnser/write an article on the following questions:
    - what do you do if you pulled/strained a muscle?
    - when is it to old to become a professional dancer?
    - what style of dance is important to take?
    - how often should you train?

    thank you

  2. Hi, i love the article you wrote, it makes me want to continue my path to become a dancer. I would just like to know, what were some of the hardest momment in your life on becoming a dancer? Was it discouragement? Was it because you couldnt get a move right? If you have the time please awnser.

    Thank you! (:

  3. Thank you, i really enjoyed reading this. (:
    I just started dancing and i really want to become professional. I am in my teens so i do not know if it is to late, so i am a bit worried. Would you be able to post videos to teach how to do moves. (ex. pirouettes, splits, leaps, etc.) thank you!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I will do a new post soon to address all of your questions! Thanks for the comments!

  5. awesome article!!! It really helped (:

  6. thhhannnnnkkkkk youuuuuuu !!!!!!!!!!

  7. thank's for the advice!! :D I really need help with leaps because i do not know how to push myself up .... any advice????? and how do you get your splits and what is the best way to get them......?????? thank youuuu!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. i really want to become a professional dancer and to get my splits down without it hurting but i think i pulled a muscle so i do not know if i should just warm up and stretch it or if i should just lay off of it for a while or completely. Please help me i do not know what to do??????

  9. if i fail yr 12 is there a possibility i can actually become a pro dancer

  10. I love this article! Every time I feel down on myself about my dancing, I remember to just keep trying hard and enjoying it :)

  11. I would really love to follow my dream and become a professional dancer, but my parents are against it, they don't see it as a safe future. What should I do?

  12. Hi, I am currently 14 and have had 2 years of dance experiance I work as hard as I can and I am going to possibly be on pointe this summer. Is it to late for me? I really want to become a professional ballet dancer more than anything. What can I do to acheve my dream when I learned about it late?

    Thanks for your help :)