Dance Career Field Structure
As with other performing arts, the staff involved in executing a dance performance extends far beyond the talent that appears on the stage, and includes choreographers, costume designers, and lighting technicians. The performer, however, is the most visible and best known of the people in dance.
Dancers use their ability to move rhythmically and athletically to perform in ballets, modern dance ensembles, musical shows, folk shows, and other productions. They most often perform as part of a group, though some dancers perform solo. Among the different types of dancers are the acrobatic dancer, whose dancing is characterized by difficult gymnastic feats; the ballet dancer, who uses classical ballet movements to perform dances that often suggest a theme or tell a story; the modern dancer, whose dancing explores abstract ideas; the jazz dancer, who uses contemporary styles, often in shows and musical theater; and the tap dancer, whose style is distinguished by the feet tapping a rhythm in time with the music.
All dancers must take good care of their bodies and keep themselves in the best possible physical shape. The most successful of today’s dancers have training in a variety of styles so that they may adapt to the demands of contemporary choreography, which can combine movements from ballet, modern, tap, and other styles.
Choreographers create original dances and teach them to dancers and other performers. They often direct the presentations of their work. Choreographers follow the same format for assembling a production that directors do. They audition performers, rehearse the performers, block out the action that takes place on stage, and combine the elements of design, movement, lighting, and sound into a cohesive piece. Such a task requires an understanding of music and storyline. Many choreographers begin as dancers. Some go on to start their own companies, while others remain freelance professionals whose work is commissioned by different companies around the country and even the world.
Ballet masters or rehearsal directors assist in teaching a dance to a group of dancers. Usually the ballet master or rehearsal director has learned the dance directly from the dance. At times, when the dance is a preexisting work being introduced to a new company, it is taught to the company’s ballet master, who then takes charge of teaching and rehearsing the dance in the choreographer’s absence.
Dance may be performed in a small studio or a large auditorium, although the floor or stage upon which the dancers perform must meet specific qualifications so that the dancers will not be injured. Although dance usually does not involve such elaborate or realistic sets as one sees in theater, there usually is some scenic design, sometimes in the form of a backdrop or other simply scenic pieces. A set or scenic designer decides what elements will be used and how to enhance the presentation. Scenery behind the performers sets the mood and the location.
Lighting sets mood and highlights movements and performers at key points in the presentation. The lighting designer draws up plans for how each part of the performance will be lit. The general lighting, specific illuminations (such as spotlights), and the special-effects lighting are all charted, timed, and choreographed to the performance. The choreographer, scenic designer, and lighting designer work closely together to create a unified, memorable final product.
Stage crew members help build the sets. They also operate lighting and sound equipment during a performance. Lighting of the performance is designed, set up, and executed by lighting technicians. Manipulating the equipment, establishing the timing, and creating special effects are part of the lighting job.
Directing the amplification and recording of stage sounds is done by sound technicians. They also tape record performances for records, tapes, compact discs, video, film, and television broadcasts. Sound amplification, sound effects, and recordings are well plotted before the performance actually begins. For dance, the sound usually consists primarily of prerecorded or live musical accompaniment. Soundboards that control effects, amplification, and recording are controlled by the technicians during the performance.
Makeup and costuming are expressive elements of the appearance of the performers that augment and reinforce the mood of the dance. Even the most basic costumes are carefully chosen to help tell the story or present the spirit of the piece being performed. Makeup artists apply makeup and other material to dancers. Costume directors select and help create the costumes for dance performances and oversee the production of the costumes by designers and seamstresses. Costume directors work closely with the choreographer and must be able to design costumes that don’t interfere with dance movements.
Dance companies with large administrative staffs also may employ managers to handle marketing, public relations, fund-raising, and development.
For those fortunate enough to be employed by a single company for the long term, the typical schedule demands travel. Dance companies often travel around the country or around the world for weeks or months at a time.
Road production managers oversee and coordinate the business and operational aspects of a dance company while it is on tour. They arrange with local unions to hire stagehands and with local officials to secure the proper performance permits. They inspect theaters to make sure that the theater’s facilities are appropriate for the production. Road production managers have various administrative duties, such as accounting for expenditures and receipts, paying the company and crew their wages, and arranging accommodations for the company and crew.
Typically, dance productions have several nighttime performances a week, with one or two matinee performances. Some performances may be held only once or twice. Rehearsals are often during the day.
A career in dance, like most other arts, requires a passion for dance itself. Most people start taking classes at a very early age and continue into adulthood and throughout their careers. Dancers usually are hired through an audition, either for a one-time production or to be part of an ongoing company. Some companies have apprentice or trainee programs, which allow dancers to work their way into the full company. Most choreographers start out as dancers, as do company artistic directors.
Because there are relatively few dance companies that contract dancers or choreographers all year, professional dancers often must supplement their income with work in other professions. For example, dancing talent is used at and by summer resorts, on cruise ships, in gambling casinos, at state fairs, and at amusement and theme parks. Many dancers and choreographers also teach dance, either in professional studios or at schools and universities.