Teaching Tips

5 Ways to Prepare Your Dancers to Be Marketable

Dancers await to audition for Ballet West. Photo by Jim Lafferty.

Do you have students considering a career in dance? The reality is that it takes more than just good training. Lisa Rumbauskas, co-founder and co-director of Moving Youth Dance Company in Cranford, New Jersey, danced professionally before teaching and choreographing full-time. Getting hired takes more than being a good dancer, she says.

Here are five ways Rumbauskas says dance educators can prepare students for success.


Give them a strong foundation.

No matter what road your student goes down, proper technique is crucial. I cannot stress enough the importance of ballet. If your students are seriously considering a career in dance, make ballet a requirement. Even if they do not wish to become ballet dancers, this foundation will improve their technique. Along the same lines, hire professional faculty who are qualified and knowledgeable with the style of dance they teach. Do not attempt to teach what you don't know inside and out. This will better your students AND your studio.

Offer a variety of styles.

These days, dance worlds are colliding. Ballet is being performed on Broadway, modern works are being performed by classical ballet companies and musicals are being broadcast on commercial television. To be a working dancer, you must be open to and capable of many styles of dance. The more versatile dancers are, the more they will work.

Offer classes in all styles of dance and encourage your students to move out of their comfort zones. Consider bringing in voice and acting coaches. Today's theater dancers are expected to be triple threats. If they're serious about working professionally, they need to be prepared for this.

Practice improvisation.

Dancers need to have this skill. Period. Many choreographers want to work with dancers who can add to what they are given, produce a vision or just be willing to play in order to find the right movement. This can be incredibly scary and intimidating for some. Start teaching improvisational tools and techniques at an early age to curb the natural inhibition we tend to develop as we get older.

Teach audition preparation.

Just like many smart students do not test well in school, many great dancers do not audition well. Auditioning is a skill and something one does get better at with practice. You can help your students with this by holding mock auditions. Teach them how to present themselves and how to write a resumé. Test how quickly they can pick up choreography, and give them individual feedback.

Prepare them for reality.

It takes much more than being a good dancer to be a successful dancer. The harsh reality is that it is a very competitive field, and there are so many talented dancers. An audition call looking for one person may have hundreds lined up in hopes of being the one chosen. This is a discouraging fact. Simply informing your students of this reality will prepare them. Teach them to persevere and be self-disciplined. Most importantly, remind them of why they started dancing in the first place. Often, when we feel like giving up, being reminded of our "why" is enough to reinspire our spark.

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Cynthia Oliver in her office. Photo by Natalie Fiol

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