The Right Way to Behave on a Professional Dance Job

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You audition and book a job—congratulations! But that’s just the first of many steps in the life of a professional dancer. Most dancers who move to a big city to take a crack at the industry are qualified for the movement but woefully unprepared for how to be a professional. There’s a knowledge gap between aspiring and working dancers because this know-how is usually learned on the job.

Ultimately, professionalism is more important than your facility, talent, or look. No dancer is so special that choreographers or producers will put up with bad behavior, especially when there’s just too many of us and too few jobs. So make sure you’re making the right impression and adhering to the behavior that will get you hired again and again. Here’s how. 

Be on time. 
Getting to set or rehearsal on time actually means being early. Punctuality is what we attempt to do every day with all of our appointments but this is not like getting to the dentist or dance class. Don’t mess around with this. It will affect your relationship with the choreographer and chances of getting hired again. Calculate your commute plus anything that might hold you up—parking, public transportation, etc.—to give you some wiggle room.

Come in prepared to work.
Being prepared means that you walk in stretched, warmed up, and ready to dance at the start time. Whatever you need to do to feel ready, get it done before you walk in; you’re on their time the moment rehearsal or set time starts. 

Respect the chain of command.
On a dance job, your boss is the choreographer and their boss is the director. Circumventing your choreographer and going straight to the director with questions or issues is a no-no. Respecting the chain of command means approaching your direct boss—usually the choreographer—with any issues that might be important enough to speak up about.

READ: How to Become a Dancer

On big jobs, there are even more steps in the chain of command. Start with the dance captain or your agent. Be aware that the choreographer and everyone above him or her has to manage the entire scope of the project and your role may be only a small percentage of the whole. Following protocol is respectful to your boss but it also protects you from looking unprofessional.

Don’t do other choreography.
Work only on what the choreographer has set when you’re on that job. Dancers get excited, start grooving to the music, and go on a tangent. It’s not a felony but it’s also not the best of practices. The choreographer usually has limited time to create, set and clean the movement. Randomly practicing other choreography or doing your own thing is disrespectful to your boss and what he or she needs to accomplish in a short amount of time.

Act as if.
If you get hired on a job where the dance style isn’t what you’re used to, act as if you feel comfortable even if you’re panicking inside and learn it to the best of your ability. Commit to the character right away and keep your eyes peeled for the small details that make the style authentic. Absorbing a style quickly is one of the hallmarks of a working dancer even if it means practicing on your own at home before and after rehearsal.

Keep your ears open and mouth shut.
Do your job. That’s it. If you have an opinion about the artistic merits of the work, keep it to yourself. Don’t suggest your thoughts on how to change it. Choreographers are always constrained by a variety of limitations, some that are obvious and others that aren’t. You may not be privy to the direction your boss has been given and suggesting random changes isn’t your place.

Learn the culture of the job.
Pay attention to what’s going on around you and be mindful of the culture. Every gig is different and blending in well will help you keep the job. That isn’t to say you can’t be yourself, but make sure you’re putting on the right outfit for that day.

Put away your phone.
You’re on their time, so put your phone away and be fully present.

Ask before you post.
For anything that’s not aired live, the industry standard is to not post until it’s released. Even then, find out the details of what can be posted and when.

Be easy.

I’m talented but not even close to being as naturally gifted as some of my peers. However, the reason I’ve worked for a long time is that I’m easy to work with. I do my job to the best of my abilities with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart. Don’t be a diva. There’s only room for one of those on any set and it’s usually reserved for the person you’re dancing behind.

Booking a dance gig is competitive, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by acting less than 100 percent professional when you get hired. I’ve been around dancers who display bad attitudes on the job and it just doesn’t serve your career. Even if you’re not outwardly negative but are neglectful of these things, it can hurt your credibility. Directors and choreographers might not remember good behavior but they will certainly remember bad behavior.

Try to look past the gig right in front of you by imagining what it may be like to make a good impression on choreographer after choreographer. Over time, you’ll start to get called to skip the audition because you’ve proven your abilities, skill set and, most importantly, professionalism. Your good reputation will pay off in the long run. If you want longevity as a dancer, it starts with your first gig.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Kerry Wee
As a 17-year commercial dance veteran, Kerry Wee has first-hand knowledge of LA’s dance scene and has worked on tours, TV, film, commercials, and music videos. She has danced for artists such as Taylor Swift, Motley Crue, Carrie Underwood, and Shakira, trains clients like FKA Twigs and Colleen Ballinger, and teaches aerial arts.
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