Step Into a Dance Captain Career With These Tips

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Five, six, seven, eight! Behind any choreography you’ve ever loved was a dance captain ensuring every toe tapped to the right beat. Here, we explore what the position entails, how dance captains support synergy onstage, and the path to landing the job yourself.

What is a dance captain?

A dance captain is responsible for keeping choreography consistent over the course of a show or tour. They are especially useful in productions where movement is essential to the storytelling and overall audience experience. While the choreographer creates the routines, the dance captain ensures their vision stays true night after night, upholding the blocking, steps, and movements as originally conceived. 

This position is typically required in live performances such as musical theater or concert tours. Dance captains are members of the swing ensemble, the understudy performers who step in should another dancer become ill or injured. Because this could happen at any time, dance captains must know every single part and be ready to take the stage at a moment’s notice. 

Keeping track of everyone’s routine is no easy task, especially when there are solos, costume changes, or different blocking to consider. To do this, it’s essential to work from a “show bible” or “dance notebook” that meticulously details what happens onstage scene by scene, minute by minute. If choreography starts to stray from what was intended, dance captains work with the ensemble to get the routines back on course. 

A dance captain’s duties include: 

  • Holding extra rehearsals as needed, offering support and guidance for the ensemble
  • Teaching choreography to new cast members 
  • Taking notes for the choreographer and stage manager regarding issues with spacing, accuracy, and any changes to dancer lineup 
  • Assisting with auditions 
  • Filling in for absent dancers 
  • Coordinating routine changes for offstage performances (such as televised or streamed events) 

Dance captains are not choreographers and do not create the movements within a show. However, becoming a dance captain is an excellent stepping stone for those who aspire to a career as a choreographer. 

Notable dance captains 

Dance captains don’t always rise to the notoriety of choreographers or lead performers, but there are several standouts who have raised awareness for this invaluable artistic role. 

Ashley Everett: Beyoncé’s dance captain
Everett danced alongside Beyoncé for 17 years, starting at age 17 with music videos from Bey’s 2006 “B’Day” album. After establishing a great rapport with the superstar, Everett went on to perform in the iconic “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video. She was anointed dance captain in 2009 and toured with Beyoncé for years, appearing in 2013’s Super Bowl halftime show and 2018’s Coachella headliner. Everett stepped away from Beyoncé’s 2023 Renaissance tour in order to pursue TV appearancessuch as on “The Masked Singer” and in a Pepsi commercial with Bad Bunnyand build her own lifestyle brand. 

Shirlene Quigley: Lizzo’s dance captain
Quigley also started her career with Beyoncé, dancing in the “Crazy in Love” music video, before going on to work with other notable artists such as Missy Elliot and Rihanna. She joined Lizzo’s crew in 2019, overseeing the singer’s “Big Grrrls” backup dancers. The crew was often praised for promoting body positivity in an image-obsessed industry. In late 2023, however, Quigley was named as part of a lawsuit against Lizzo claiming a hostile work environment and sexual harassment; the case is yet unresolved. 

How to become a dance captain

Dance training

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Dance captains start as dancers themselves. It’s imperative to gain the necessary training in a wide variety of styles and techniques. Then, search for entry-level dance gigs to get started on your path. 

Rising the ranks isn’t just about having the right moves—captains must have the authority, experience, and leadership to keep an ensemble disciplined and motivated throughout the run of a show. In addition to dancing ability, your skills must include:

  • Organization and time management 
  • Attention to detail 
  • Public speaking 
  • Verbal and written communication 

Becoming a dance captain takes talent, time, and tenacity. Live performance experience is essential, but so is networking and building relationships with choreographers and stage managers. Choreographers work closely with their captains, meaning they’ll only choose someone they trust and respect as an artist and leader. 

How to be a good dance captain

  • Put in the work: In order to gain respect, dance captains must commit to the same level of dedication and performance that they expect from their ensemble. 
  • Lead with empathy: Even for the strongest, most experienced dancers, long hours of repeated movements are hard on muscles and joints. Dance captains must balance the need for accuracy with the strain of excursion, recognizing the difference between laziness and exhaustion. 
  • Communicate clearly: When updating choreographers and stage managers, accurate notes free of personal feelings keep the production on track. 
  • Deliver constructive feedback: Dance captains are responsible for correcting errors, but this can be done without making the assessment personal. Critique the movements, not the person. 

Dance captain salary

A dance captain’s salary depends on several factors, including the type, size, and duration of the production. 

According to Playbill, Broadway Equity dance captains earn a base of $2,903 per week during the show’s run. Broadway performers are paid weekly, since it’s not guaranteed that performances continue for a full year. This rate does not include agent fees for those who have professional representation, union fees, or taxes. Dance captains working Off-Broadway in smaller productions can expect to earn less, especially since there aren’t union minimums to adhere to. 

Dance captain salaries for concert tours and other live performances vary. Many dancers work freelance and can join professional unions and groups such as the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) or the Dancers Alliance. Both organizations fight for fair and safe working conditions, but there is still work to be done to establish the kind of firm base rates that SAG and Broadway artists rely on. 

The Dancers Alliance states that dancers should receive anywhere from $290 per day for “big show” rehearsals to daily rates of $1,082 for “theatrical performance solos.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that dancers and choreographers receive a median pay of $22.62 per hour. 

Touring dancers regularly receive per diems on top of their hourly rates that cover meals, transportation, and lodging while on tour.