Education and training requirements vary with the type of dancer; however, all dancers need many years of formal training. Nearly all choreographers began their careers as dancers.
Many dancers begin training when they are very young and continue to learn throughout their careers. Ballet dancers 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.
Leading dance companies sometimes have summer training programs from which they select candidates for admission to their regular full-time training programs.
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 colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dance, typically through departments of theater or fine arts. The National Association of Schools of Dance accredits more than 70 dance programs. Most focus on modern dance but also include courses in jazz, ballet, hip hop, and other forms. Most entrants into college 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 college, 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.
Nearly all choreographers began their careers as dancers. While working as a dancer, they study different types of dance and learn how to choreograph routines.
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.
Dancers and choreographers also may advance to become producers or directors. For more information, see the profile on producers and directors.
Balance. Successful dancers must have excellent balance so they can move their bodies without falling or losing their sense of rhythm.
Creativity. Dancers need artistic ability and creativity to express ideas through movement. Choreographers also must have artistic ability and innovative ideas to create new and interesting dance routines.
Leadership skills. Choreographers must be able to direct a group of dancers to perform the routines that they have created.
Persistence. Dancers must commit to years of intense practice. They need to be able to accept rejection after an audition and continue to practice for a future role. Choreographers must keep studying and creating new works even if some of their routines are not successful.
Physical stamina. Dancers are often physically active for long periods, so they must be able to work for many hours without getting tired.
Teamwork. Most dance routines involve a group, so dancers must be able to work together to be successful.
In addition, dancers must be agile, flexible, coordinated, and musical.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition