If you love strutting your stuff in front of a crowd, then being a professional dancer might be a dream come true. The trouble is, though, that many dreams don't come true. In fact, many dreams are like evil fairies that seduce you with their beauty, but then lead you to your doom.
Here's the deal: The vast majority of people who try to make it as professional dancers work their buns off for nothing. They strive and struggle for years until they're eventually crushed by heaping mounds of soul-crippling rejection. The very few who do make it, don't last that long. Dancing on the regular lays waste to your body. Prancing onto a dance stage is like entering a war zone. Well, it's unlikely that someone will shoot at you, but the point is that injuries are pretty much a given.
You can do everything possible to avoid getting hurt, and you still might not be able to stop it. Maybe some stagehand spills his smoothy and doesn't feel like cleaning it up. Next thing you know, you've got a fractured leg, and you're off the international tour that you struggled for years to be a part of. One bad break and the career you've given up everything for is over, and all you’ve got to show for it is the happy-face-dotted signatures on your cast. Even if you remain miraculously uninjured, you've only got a few years of dancing before your body just plain gives out, and you're herding around 5-year-olds in tutus to make ends meet.
Did that scare you off? No? Okay, let's talk turkey.
First of all, to be a pro dancer, you've got to be talented. Like really talented. Like when you busted a move at your 5th grade dance, everybody stopped and stared. It's not all just about talent though. You might've been born with your dancing shoes on (which made for some interesting ultrasounds), but if you don't work at it, you'll never have the skills to pay the bills. Most dancers start training in their pre-teen years, and some even start Creative Movement classes as early as three years old (the thought of which gives us a Children of the Corn kind of vibe).
If you haven't already been training since you were a kid, just know that this is the kind of competition you're going to be dealing with. You need to find a studio ASAP, and maybe put a mini fridge and a cot in the back room so that you never have to leave. The demands on your time are never going to let up, either. There's no such thing as a slack dancer who's actually employed; to make it in this biz, you have to be on point all the time (literally and figuratively). Don't expect to have any kind of a personal life either. If you imagine your late teens/early 20s as a lot of OK Cupid dates and making the scene with your friends, then maybe you should just plan on working retail.
To be happy as a professional dancer, you've also got to be the kind of person who thrives on performing in front of people. There's a huge difference between getting down in your room when no one’s looking and doing a routine in front of hundreds or even thousands of people. Having all those eyeballs watching your every move can be seriously scary. A little stage fright is normal for everybody; it can even fuel your performance, but if you're the sort who will have a total mental breakdown every time you go on stage, then you’re making a terrible mistake. You've got to be the kind of person who is filled with energy by a crowd, who lives for the adrenaline rush of kicking it in front of tons of people.
If you have the passion, talent, dedication, and work ethic, you might have what it takes to be a professional dancer. The field is cutthroat competitive, but there are a lot of different types of jobs out there for dancers. For example, there are all styles of touring dance companies—modern, ballet, jazz, hip hop, folk. Then there's the whole pop music scene as well. If your dream is to be a backup dancer for Beyonce, the jobs do exist. You might very well be shaking your thing in stadiums around the world with thousands of people cheering you on. Just don't expect it to last forever. Better make sure you've got a back up plan stuck somewhere in that leotard.