Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pros and Cons of Being a Freelance Dancer

Many dancers want to be professionals in a top company, but only some will ever make it into the competitive world of professional dance. However, even if a dancer is not accepted into a company or needs more flexibility than dance companies typically provide, career options still exist. Freelance dancing is one way to earn a living doing what you love.


A freelance dancer usually specializes in one particular style of dance, which can be anything from classical ballet to modern dance to jazz and beyond. He/She is responsible for keeping him/herself in training, whether it is by taking classes at an established institution or dance school, or by practicing on her own each day. When she works for a dance company, she will usually sign on for one particular show, rather than a whole season, though sometimes well-known dancers work as "guest stars" for an established company.

Finding Work

Because freelance dancers are not tied down to one particular company, they have more geographical freedom about where they can dance and may choose to travel to find work, or to go on tour with a company for a limited amount of time. Finding work can be difficult; dancers may do so by searching advertisements and listings for freelance dancers in trade periodicals, although some have agents who arrange temporary placements for them.

Pay and Being Your Own Boss

Because freelance dancers work when and where they are needed, they are not always guaranteed a steady paycheck, making the need to save money while they are working all the more important. Additionally, in contrast with those dancers who work under contract for a company, freelance dancers are responsible for withholding their own income tax and self-employment tax due to the IRS each year. Freelance dancers may be paid by the performance or for the entire run of the show in which they are participating; payment varies by company.

As independent contractors, freelance dancers no longer qualify for unemployment benefits, a safety net many full-time company dancers use during layoff periods. Plus, even when you are working, your income will be wildly inconsistent. Health insurance presents another challenge. Unless you’re under 26 and can remain on your parents’ policy, you’ll have to purchase your own or go without. (I belong to Freelancers Union, which offers affordable rates for PPO plans, but you need a certain amount of freelance work to qualify.)

Taking charge of your career means proactively searching for dance jobs and marketing yourself. Studios usually post audition notices, but it also helps to check company websites or audition sites.

Networking is important for freelancers. That means taking class at popular studios, meeting other dancers, talking to teachers and seeing performances. Workshops and master classes provide excellent opportunities to meet choreographers and explore their styles. “I hear about things through friends,” says freelancer Kelsey Coventry, who counts Complexions, BalletX, Avi Scher & Dancers, the Cincinnati Opera and Neglia Ballet Artists among the companies for which she’s danced. “For instance, a friend might be unavailable for a gig, so she’ll recommend me. Sometimes it’s just about timing, being lucky.” You never know—I was once offered a job after an artistic director spotted me taking class at Steps on Broadway.

Other Opportunities

Because of the irregular nature of freelance dance opportunities, freelance dancers often take on other jobs and short-term gigs to make ends meet between performances. One common opportunity is teaching dance at established dance schools or at local dance, yoga and Pilates studios. Because dance classes often run over the course of several weeks or months, freelance dancers can create a schedule that allows them to continue to perform during part of the year and earn money while they are not on-stage.  Luckily, many studios offer work-study programs where dancers can volunteer administrative services in exchange for classes.

Many freelancers know what their end goal of freelancing is. It can be anything from getting experience to joining a company to spending the final years of their career doing what they want to do. For others,  it isn't that simple. Some dancers aren't sure if they want to continue freelancing forever or if they want to eventually join a company again. A lot of freelancers use their time on the fly as a period of self-exploration.  While side jobs can be stressful, they also serve as opportunities to explore other interests and develop new skills

Difficult But Rewarding

Freelancing is as difficult as it is rewarding. Having any type of commitment in one place can be a challenge. Finances can be hard. On the other hand, dancers are living their dream. They may dance roles that they likely would not have been offered with a big company, traveling the world, and making endless friends and connections along the way. And being your own boss may sound daunting, but it helps to develop independence, the ability to deal with change, to take control over your own self esteem instead of relying on a company's praise to validate you as a good dancer. That might be the best lesson anyone can learn, in dance and in life.


  1. Hi Sheri,

    Sorry to leave a comment rather than email you but I couldn't find your email address. Would it be possible to get your permission to re-post this on our blog? We would, of course, give you full credit.

    Thanks so much!
    Ryan Harkrider
    The Portland Ballet

  2. Ryan, sure! Glad you like it.

  3. it's really nice and meanful. it's really cool blog. Linking is very useful have really helped lots of people who visit blog and provide them usefull information.
    British sme


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