What Percent of Dancers Become Professional?

There are a lot of people out there who do some sort of dance training, but how many of those people succeed in becoming professional dancers?

On Average 10% of dancers who actively pursue a career in dance become professional. The percentage of dancers who become professionals and are working artists having completed an arts degree is also 10%. This number can change to 90 or 100% of dancers who attend company affiliated pre-professional dance schools, but respectively, these schools accept less than 10% of those who audition for their schools to study with them.

The statistic of 10% was gained by averaging the numbers of our research below. The figure also coincidently matched research compiled by BFAMFAPhD regarding college graduates which are detailed further down the page.

What does it mean to be a professional dancer?

When I talk about someone being a professional dancer for the purposes of this article I’m generally talking about someone who gets paid to perform dance.

Shawn Renee Lent in her article ‘Am I A Dancer Who Gave Up?’ writes ‘I decided to be an artist in the world. I teach dance, I lead dance experiences, I choreograph, I manage and evaluate programs, consult, share, think, write. I’m a professional and a dancer, but you probably wouldn’t call me a professional dancer.’

It should also be noted that ‘turning pro’ does not always mean the dancer now earns enough to make a living off of dance, which is a different discussion and we have all the juice with real figures on how much professional dancers and ballerina’s earn in a separate article that you can open in a new window by clicking on the link to read later!

What percent of Dancers become professional? What the Experts Say:

Nigel Lythgoe, producer and judge for the successful TV series ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ gave his expert opinion to Backstage Magazine and said he believes only around 3% of all those who go into dance become professional dancers.

Nigel’s hypothesis would be supported knowing that in Russia, for example, thousands of young hopefuls audition for a place at the Vaganova Academy in Russia. Around 70 are chosen (which is 3.5% based on 2000 auditions) and from those 70 only 30 or so complete the program and enter the Mariinsky Ballet or other companies around the world. That is 42% of their original intake of 70 become professionals, but if 2000 auditioned that is only 1.5% of the dancers who originally auditioned for a place with the school.

The School of American Ballet has a similar intake to the Vaganova Academy. Fewer than 100 students are accepted every year into various year levels. The school states on average 20 of their students are successful in obtaining contracts with professional dance companies every year.

Megan Fairchild a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet says in a podcast for the Balancing Pointe that ‘obviously not everyone makes it’. From her experience, about 50% of the 12 other students in her class back home in Utah went on to dance professionally, but many of them left the ballet world after only a few years to further their education or start families and so only about 25% are still dancing today. She said this percentage was higher for her graduating class at the School of American Ballet where she believed around 60% of her fellow classmates went into professional work and are still dancing. She says the other 40% are either still working within the dance industry in various non-performance roles or began working in other professions.

Karen Bradley an associate professor and director for graduate studies in dance at the University of Maryland College Park concedes that in her experience ‘maybe 12 percent to 15 percent of any alumni from any program go on to perform  professionally, mostly in small local companies‘ but then points to the fact that many others go into teaching or other jobs that use their dance training such as many of the jobs. Not sure what some of those jobs might look like? Want to see and listen to people in those actual jobs?? Have a read of our article The Ultimate Dance Career Pathways & Future Jobs List which will open in a new tab to read later! 

The Colorado Studio Company is a pre-professional training opportunity which pays dancers a minimum part-time wage. They write ‘the program should not be viewed as a year-long audition for the Company (Colorado Ballet); as historically, fewer than ten percent of Studio Company members have been offered a Company position. The program is intended to provide young dancers with Pre-professional training and Company experience. Participants are introduced to the rigors and realities of life as a full-time dancer. Several Studio Company members have moved on to work for other dance companies, while some dance with Colorado Ballet and still others enroll in college or pursue other goals.’

What percent of Ballet Dancers become professional?

The following dance schools are some of the top ballet schools in the world. After researching their websites, most advertise that their students are 90-100% successful in securing contracts with dance companies around the world. Many schools state that thousands of hopeful dancers audition for their programs, but only those with the potential of a professional career are invited to train with them and therefore as this varies from year to year do not state annual intake numbers.

SchoolCountryNumber of students who began trainingAmount of students at end of training% of all initially enrolled students who became professional % of finishing students who became professional
Vaganova AcademyRussia703042%100%
The Royal Ballet SchoolEngland Varies each year.23 in graduated in 2017.?100%
Australian Ballet SchoolAustralia Varies each year.??90% (within 6months of finishing)
San Francisco Ballet SchoolUSA Varies each year.??100%
Princess Grace AcademyMonaco Varies each year.? ?100%

The rate of success for students studying dance at schools that funnel their students into their own company or that are the best in their country is extremely high as shown in the table above. But this is possible because most schools have a re-enrollment policy which means dancers ability and suitability is constantly assessed and schools cull and cut from their programs accordingly.

As I researched and the hours passed it was evident that apart from these highly selective schools not many other schools are willing to put out exactly how many of their alumni are successful each year with many schools showcasing a few students success, for example the Alberta Ballet School in Canada’s Alumni and Student Stories Page or by listing the companies that some of the students’s from their schools have worked with such as on the website for The New Ballet School in California.

If more dance schools willingly shared their statistics I would have a better answer to the question of what percentage of dancers become professional, but unlike The Vaganova Dance Academy which is funded by the government in Russia, Dance schools are businesses and although it would be incredibly helpful, openly giving these statistics could hurt their student intake, profit, and business.

What I was able to find some information on was the percentage of dancers accepted into various pre-professional courses or training which they hope will lead them to a professional job one day.

School, Course or EventNumber of AuditioneesAccepted% of Dancers Accepted
Tap Attack6008013%
Apprentice Company: Shechter II150080.5%
English National Ballet School300 for first year.3010%
Julliard Bachelor or Fine Arts (Dance)Many sites report that Julliard have a 6.7% acceptance rate which means if they accept 24 students they recieve around 358 applications which seems quite loww .246.7%
Point Park Univesity (Pittsburgh) Degree in Dance 1000909%
The Wooden Floor (children’s afterschool dance program)3507521%
Fiorello H Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.Fewer than 6% of candidates pass the audition.
Southern Methodist University Dance Degree 20122737126%
Youth America Grand Prix Event Competition 80,000 ballet dancers have competed since 1999 450 past competitors are currently working in dance companies. 0.5%
NederlandsDans Theater Summer Intensive for Pre-Professionals2506024%
Canada’s National Ballet School20001507.5%
School of American Ballet (summer Intensive)200020010%
What Percentage of Dance College Graduates Turn Professional?

The percentage of dance college graduates who turn professional in their field of study is approximately 10%. The following Venn diagram was developed by the BFAMFAPhD who developed a report called Artists Report Back. The report is ‘A national study on the lives or arts graduates and working artists.’ The study is not just about students who major in dance, but about all art graduates and includes those with performing arts degrees and who work as performers, dancers, choreographers and entertainers amongst other artistic professions.

They also created a chart showing the employment diversity of the 2 million Arts graduates.

What Percentage of Dancers Become Professional?

If we go by our definition of what it means to be a professional than anyone who auditions for and is paid to dance can be considered a professional dancer. Therefore to work out a percentage I found as many facts on how many people auditioned for a dance job and compared that to how many people were actually accepted or needed for the job. I only used sources that stated actual numbers rather than alluding to a statement such as ‘hundreds auditioned and only a few made it through’ which limited what I was able to report on and even the following numbers are most probably estimates or rounded out by the authors of the source articles all of which have been linked to.

ShowHow many auditionedEmployedPercent of dancers employed
Janet Jackson1500 in person, (30000 online)Janet has 14 dancers for her Metamorphis Show in Vegas0.93
Cougarettes1002020%
Buffalo Bandits351234%
Dance Moms Season 8100011 (or less)2%
Rockettes500 or more a year for the summer intensive which since 2001,more than 75 participants have been hired from doing.80 are needed so this percentage would be if all roles were being replaced but generally auditions are for cast replacements so the percentage would be less.16%
Queensland Ballet (2013)18095%
Pilobolus (American Dance Company) 30 Males
100 Females
1 Male
1 Female
3% of Males
1% of Females
The Arts Centre of Coastal Carolina Production of A Chorus Line.850232.7%
Miami Heat Dancers500244.8%
THE MATH WORK – How I got to 10%

To be able to give an answer to our article question, I averaged all the percentages of how many dancers obtained jobs or were accepted into schools and courses – not that scientific but it produced something if not a number to start conversations.

This average came to exactly 10.165%.

I stopped looking for more resources after it had been a couple of days of not coming up with many other sources of reliable information and also once the search engines I was using could not come up with any other articles for our ‘wildcarded’ search phrases. I did not stop when I had numbers that gave us this percentage, that fitted nicely with other research such as that from BFAMFAPhD , although it was a happy coincidence!

Unfortunately for the dance world, exact scientific or statistical research on the question ‘what percent of dancers become professional’ does not exist, nor do I believe it ever will.

Funding for research into the subject would be extremely hard to secure because training dancers is a money making business and who wants to tell a future customer that the chance of them actually succeeding is quite small, especially for those about to take out student loans and debt to pursue their dream.

CONCLUSION

Training dancers for the sole purpose of becoming a professional dancer from this research (albeit not very scientific) seems irresponsible, but it is also not the responsibility of any institution to kill a dance student’s hopes and dreams. Hopefully, we can instead develop in our future dancers a mindset that learning to dance and be a professional using their knowledge of dance is just as worthy and if not more rewarding than the later as shown by Shawn Renee Lent.

RELATED QUESTIONS

How do you get paid to dance?

Dancers get paid to dance by being the best dancer for a job. Becoming one of the best can take many years of training and you can read all about what it takes in our article ‘How many years of dance or ballet does it take to be a professional?’ Dancers are chosen for jobs through an audition process or through networking connections, word of mouth, or reputation. These jobs might include becoming a member of a Ballet or Modern Dance Company, working as a dancer or as part of the entertainment for a theme park or on a cruise ship, dancing in music film clips, in television or film, dancing in musical theatre or for a production company.

What percent of professionals have careers vs jobs?

I have no idea, and couldn’t find an answer on this one – but an educated guess would be 50% or more. A professional dancer with a career is someone who is making a good stable living from dance. A professional dancer can also just go from job to job and be unemployed as a dancer for long periods of time, working several other non-dance jobs to support themselves.

Why do so many professional dancers quit?

Some professional dancers quit because they are burnt out or unable to recover from injury. Dancing takes an incredible amount of training and time and once a dancer reaches their goal of turning pro they sometimes realize it hasn’t made them as happy as they thought it would or it isn’t what they expected. Another reason is that when a professional dancer does not have stable employment they will generally look for other opportunities within the field of dance or in a field other than the arts which they then pursue instead.

How do you become a professional Ballet Dancer?

To become a professional ballet dancer you need around 9 to 10 years of disciplined and consistent ballet training. Attending a pre-professional course at a school affiliated with a company reaps the most chance of success for a potential ballet student.

How do you become a professional Contemporary Dancer?

To become a professional Contemporary or Modern Dancer you need a strong background in classical ballet and therefore you would be looking to gain around 9 to 10 years of disciplined and consistent ballet training. In addition to ballet lessons, you would want to attend lessons in contemporary or modern dance. Attending a pre-professional course at a school affiliated with a modern or contemporary dance company reaps the most chance of success for a potential student.

How do you become a professional Tap Dancer?

To become a professional tap dancer you need to train for as long as it takes you to master the art of tap dancing. This will take a non dancer longer than someone who has danced before, but can be complicated even for a dancer as learning to isolate the muscles of the feet to produce tapping sounds requires different muscle memory to what one might be used to. Secondly tap is all about creating rhythms and beats which is another skill not always easily mastered. Once at a proficient level you can audition and join a tap dance company or troupe.

About the Author

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha is a wife and mother of four kids aged 1-9. She danced and acted from the age of 5 and performed in film clips, on television, and in musical theatre professionally. She also taught dance, but after leaving the profession to backpack through Europe, Canada and the USA with her husband for three years, she then completed an Education Degree and taught within primary schools in Australia. Today she is a business owner with her husband and the creator and writer for Dance Parent 101 where she hopes her previous experience as a dancer, current experience as a dance parent and the research and writing skills she gained completing her education degree will help enlighten parents on their journey with their child through the world of dance.