Backup Dancer Career Information

Lorie Witkop
Contributor: Nadia Santiago
Backup dancer

Backup dancer career information can help you make the right choices when it comes to creating a plan for working toward a successful career as a dancer. It will also provide you with the facts you need to figure out if this job path is right for you.

Training

Education is a key element of developing the necessary skills and knowledge you need in any field. As a dancer, you'll need basic training in a variety of modalities.

  • Classical training in ballet, tap, and jazz to improve your overall understanding of technique, such as proper body alignment.
  • Style-specific instruction based on the type of backup dancing you plan to specialize in, such as hip hop or latin dance.
  • A consistent exercise routine, complete with cardio conditioning, strength training, and flexibility work.

Some employers may also require a four year degree and look for skills related to acting and singing. For this sort of work, diversity and versatility is key. What else do you have to offer? Seek out opportunities for enriching your skills whenever possible and continuously practice your technique so that you are ready when your moment comes along.

Agents and Managers

Although working with an agent is not required to secure backup dancing jobs, having one can be invaluable in supporting your career.

How an Agent Can Help

An agent can help:

  • Negotiate contracts
  • Guide you to available auditions
  • Ensure that you are properly paid for your work

Most agencies have enough potential clients without seeking out more, so be wary of agencies that approach you. They typically take on new dancers through a formal audition process or by accepting headshots and resumes. Avoid agencies that ask you to pay upfront for services. Instead, Agents should get paid when they find you work by receiving an established percentage of your income from dance.

Take Responsibility for Your Success

However, dancers should realize that an agent will have dozens, if not hundreds, of clients, and is not solely responsible for their success. If you want someone to devote herself totally to you, then you're really looking for a personal manager rather than an agent.

Auditions

Hip-Hop Dancers Having Training

The term "cattle call" is often used to refer to large-scale auditions with hundreds of dancers hoping for their chance. Auditions offer you a chance to show casting directors what you have to offer. The process looks something like this.

  • Search your local listings or online sources, such as Backstage, for casting call notices.
  • If applicable, check in with your agent. He or she may be able to secure a spot in smaller, more exclusive casting calls.
  • Create an online portfolio with a collection of videos showing your work. Include that with any materials you send to those casting. The more evidence you can provide of your skills before the audition, the better.
  • Arrive to your audition ready to perform, with a headshot and full body photograph, if requested.
  • If you are successful, it can be a long day of callbacks as you progress from one stage of the audition process to the next.

Style

No matter what technical skills you bring to the dance floor, backup dancing also requires a certain amount of style. Overall, this can be the personality and spirit that you bring to your dancing, showing everyone that you love what you're doing and you feel the beat of the music.

Be an Adaptable Dancer

On another level, this also means presenting the right style for a particular performance. If you look too casual or too chic for the director's vision, audition staff may not even give you a second glance. Experienced dancers recommend bringing additional clothes with you, including shoes, so you can make last-minute changes once you've had a chance to scope out the audition scene.

Performance

Backup dancing is hard work. The experience on the job my seem glamorous and exciting from the audience, but for dancers it takes immense physical effort and dexterity.

Common Jobs

There are a few types of jobs that are common for backup dancers.

  • Music videos/film - If you're working on a video, you may spend the entire shoot repeating the same 30 seconds of moves. You will also likely work long days and nights, with lots of time sitting around waiting for your turn in front of the camera.
  • Performing on tour - Dancing for tours is the best way to secure steady, well-paying work. This means, however, that you may spend long periods of time on the road and away from home.
  • Live events - Trade shows, fairs and festivals, live television spots, etc. are one-time gigs.

Best Locations

As you can see, there are benefits and disadvantages to each one, but there's nothing quite like getting paid to do what you love. You might find that you have a preferred type of job or that you a mix provides the variety you need to make a good living. Los Angeles and New York City are the key locations for backup dancing gigs. Serious dancers will be afforded more opportunities if they relocate to one of these cities.

Salary

According to Pay Scale, dancers make an average of $33,154 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly pay is about $17. However, this is just the middle of the spectrum, with the low end sitting around $15,000 and the high end at about $100,000. These numbers include a variety of dance careers, including choreographers, teachers, performers, and others. Bizfluent notes that backup dancers in particular tend to get paid per gig, which can range anywhere from one to eight hours.

Have a Backup Plan

As in many creative fields, you may not be able to support yourself on dancing alone, especially when you are first starting out. It's a good idea to find employment as a dance teacher, so you can share your love of dance in between auditions and gigs.

Build Your Career as a Dancer

Backup dancing can be a fun and exciting career path, as long as you understand the reality of the field. With some planning, dedication to your craft, and a commitment to finding jobs through social networking and other means, perhaps you can be the movement behind a future musical sensation!

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Backup Dancer Career Information