Ballerinas and dancers train for many years to master their craft. So how many years of training might it take your child to become a professional dancer or ballerina?
On average it takes 9 years of disciplined training to become a professional dancer. This is based on a dancer becoming serious at age 9 and turning pro at 18. Becoming a professional can take less or more time, can occur earlier or later and even ‘professionals’ continually train to become more professional.
What does it mean to be a Professional Dancer?
Being a professional dancer or turning pro, in simple terms means getting paid to dance rather than having to pay to learn to dance. It could also be argued that whether you are paid or not, being chosen to dance with others who are professional means that you are good enough to be a professional and therefore have the right to the title as well.
For example, when a dancer is first accepted into a ballet company they are generally accepted as an apprentice. Which means they are no longer an amateur but are generally not getting paid yet to dance. They no longer pay for their training or their shoes or other equipment needed to perform and rehearse with the ballet company they are apprenticing with, but within the ballet company, they haven’t exactly turned pro yet, as they are still apprenticing and learning. To others being accepted into a ballet company basically connotates that you have reached a professional level as you are performing at a professional level.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Professional Dancer?
The 10,000-hour mastery rule.
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University amongst other researchers theorizes that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master almost anything. Simply put over 9 years this would equate to 1111 hours per year, or 21.3 hours a every week of that year (52 weeks) of deliberate, intentional, focused and strategic training. Training for 21.3 hours per week from such a young age would be quite unrealistic for most people, even the most diligent and committed dancers.
The following two tables outline the 10,000-hour mastery rule in action. The hours danced are based on our recommendations in our guide‘How Many Dance or Ballet Classes?’ which you can read by clicking the link.
The first table shows us the rule in action with a dancer starting age 9 as we have specified in our answer to this posts question ‘How many years of dance or ballet does it take to be a professional?’ The second table begins with a dancer starting age 4 as so many dancers today are starting younger and younger so that you can compare!
For a dancer starting dance at the age of 9, training 21 hours a week would take intense commitment, which is why dance companies take on dancers as apprentices first around the age of 18 and why all dancers in all industries continually practice and train daily until the end of their careers (many continue to train even after they finish dancing professionally!).
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You will note that the following table begins with a dancer starting at age 4. They are doing the exact same hours of training from the age of 9 as the student in the previous table, but as you can see by following our guide for the number of hours a child should be training for per week, if a child does start earlier for example at the age of 4, they will have only gained 420 more hours of practice over those first five years.
For an in depth discussion about these results and an answer to the question ‘What age should you begin dancing lessons for a professional career’ click on our link here.
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These table calculate the hours annually based on a school year or dancing for around ten months (Hours x 42 weeks) The amount of hours are not exactly how many hours your child should or might be dancing per week and don’t include extra training such as school holiday intensives or camps. For a more complete guide on how many lessons your child should be taking refer to our post how many dance or ballet classes – An Age and Class guide.
Some dancers begin their journey to become a professional at the age of 2 or 3, which means if they are accepted into a Ballet company at the age of 19 it will have taken them 16 years of training to reach their goal of becoming a professional dancer. Another dancer might begin at the age of 7 and get their first job in a professional musical production at the age of 17, so their training will have taken them 10 years. The Vaganova Academy in Russia begins training students at the age of 10. By the time their students are 18 they hope to have developed dancers they would welcome into their parent company ‘The Mariinsky Ballet’ (formerly known as the Kirov Ballet).
What Qualifications Or Education Do You Need to Become A Professional Dancer?
You do not need any qualifications or education to become a professional dancer. What you do need is good dance training from an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. You need to put in the hours and hours of practice to master the skills of dance.
Professional dancers need to know how to look after their bodies physically and mentally. They need to be knowledgeable about fuelling and caring for their bodies to be able to stay in peak performance. They need to continually train and condition their muscles and muscle memory to be able to perform complex choreography. Professional Dancers also need to be disciplined, resilient and passionate to meet the demands made on them by their art.
How Many Hours a Day Does a Professional Dancer Practice for?
Professional dancers during performance season can be dancing for more than 10 hours a day. A dancer never stops training even as a professional. Ballet company members continue to attend technique classes 5-6 days a week before continuing onto 3-5 hours of company rehearsals and then either onto more rehearsals or a performance. A dancer in a musical production or dancing in music videos will also keep up their dance training by doing daily classes as well as rehearsals and performances. Therefore all training previous to turning Pro needs to reflect this, so that stamina and resilience are built within the dancer allowing them to healthily and sustainably dance for these long days well into their future.
What Do Professional Dancers Do?
Professional dancers are paid to perform and entertain audiences. They learn choreography and movement from a choreographer or take direction from an artistic director to portray a story, emotions or a vision to an audience who has generally paid to see their performance.
What Careers or Jobs do Professional Dancers Do?
There are many different jobs a professional dancer might do:
- Ballet Company Member
- Contemporary Dance Company Member
- Cruise Ship Dancer
- Show Girl/Boy or Burlesque (EG: dancing in a Las Vegas Production or for the Moulin Rouge)
- Musical Theatre Dancer
- Theme Park Dancer (Shows or Parades)
- Commercial Dancer (film clips, television, etc.)
- Cheer Leader
What is the Best Age to Start Dancing?
There is no best age to start dancing. The age most conducive to begin learning ballet is around the age of 9 when a child is able to best internalize and apply the correction to their movement without as much direction to do so. If you or your child want to dance, there is no better time to begin then now if that will bring you or them enjoyment. Check out our article ‘What is the Best Age To Start Dancing’ for more information.
What percent of Dancers Become Professional?
Around 10% of dancers who pursue a career in dance turn pro. For a clearer answer check out our article What Percent of Dancer’s Become Professionals? here for more information on our the answer to that question.
How Much Will Training For A Professional Dance Career Cost?
Dance lessons cost on average $10 US an hour. If you only take this into consideration (not dance shoes, attire, exam entry forms, private lessons, costume fees, etc..) and apply it to the 10,000-hour mastery rule than that is approximately $100,000 just for lessons. The costs are better explained in our article ‘The costs of Ballet ‘.
How Do You Become A Famous Dancer?
The best way to become a ‘real’ famous dancer (not like the backpack kid who popularised the floss) is with hard work and becoming the best at your craft – by becoming a professional as we have outlined in this article.
Famous dancers are famous for their talent and hard work, they are admired for what they can do, how they perform and they develop a following of loyal fans because of this.
Do Professional Dancers Make Good Money?
Most professional dancers do not make what many would call good money. Professional dancers in full-time employment with senior positions within a dance company will make enough or more money to live comfortably off. It takes time and sacrifices to get to these highly competitive positions. For more information on the salaries of dancers, you can check out our dancer and ballerina earnings guide here.
Can Adults Start Ballet?
Adults can absolutely start ballet with or without any prior experience. Many dance schools offer adult beginner ballet classes which you can do for fun and exercise or to learn a new skill. David Zurak a professional dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company took his first dance lesson as an adult. He began dancing at the age of 23!