Blinded by the Stage Lights

By Mia Lyndon

If you make it to become a professional dancer, you’ve succeeded. You’ve nurtured and refined your talents for dancing- scooping up the ultimate performing career. To dance professionally is to have won the most coveted job-role within the industry- because, apparently, no other dance industry job quite lives up to the prestige of being on stage.

Professional dancers, and rightly so, are often idolised- their names glow from the inside of paper programmes to the outside of theatre billboards, attracting a wealth of young dancers wanting to be just like them. We stalk the internet, hunting for the stars of the recent West-End show we’ve watched and wait with bated breath for our favourite prima-ballerina to post her next Instagram shot.

Dance bounds about and leaps out from almost every corner: dancers pirouette onto our phone screens, cha-cha onto our televisions and jazz-pounce their way onto our bedroom walls. We consume professional dancing at a lightening rate, because it’s everywhere and it’s highly influential. More than ever, professional dancers are gaining celebrity statuses, as they cast images of rehearsals shots and back-stage candids to their thousands of followers.

Young dancers can see the same passion, that fuels their own bodies, within professional dancers- and become mesmerised, often leading to sudden realisations that they must follow the same career-pathway, too. With dance being such a visual artform, it’s little wonder that so many young dancers aspire to achieve the job role that they can so easily see.

Yet, despite the magnitude of young dancers who want to take to the stage, only 10% of those who aspire to make it as a professional dancer, actually make it.

It seems that the dance industry is that of an iceberg shape- according to One Dance UK, ‘estimated 30,000 people employed in the dance sector, only 2,500 are performers’, meaning that the dance industry stretches far further than those who perform on stage.

With the dance industry so heavily weighted upon the shoulders of those who don’t dance professionally, why do so many young dancers aspire for a career onstage?

The culprit could be this: we absorb photograph after photograph, video after video of professional dancing, stage shots and modelling shoots. We watch as dancers fill up entire shows on TV and take to the stage at our favourite music gigs and festivals. But, we barely see anything of the other dancing job-roles that make this happen.

So we don’t aspire to be like them.

Young dancers are fed glorified stories of professional dancing days, curtain calls, press nights and costumes changes, but not that of other dance-related vocations. Professional dancing is glamorised and bedazzled, with young dancers believing that no other dance-industry role quite lives up to its prestige. We hear, see and witness the revels of a performing life and are led to believe that turning our hobbies into our careers is success of the highest calibre.

With so few dancers achieving these desires of dancing professionally, there should surely be more emphasis on the mass of other dance career opportunities. To dance professionally is an incredibly successful career option and should still be aspired towards- but aspirations shouldn’t be limited to just this. Following a career pathway that is right for you, letting go of following a professional-dancing route just because it’s what you peers consider to be prestigious, is surely what young dancers should be doing.

The beauty of the dance industry is that there are opportunities within the details and chances where chances are looked for. Despite recent adversities, the creative industry is growing, blurring the borders that used to surrounds creative job roles. Dancing professionally needs no longer to be the unparalleled be-all-and-end-all of ultimate dance careers- social media is already beginning to insight us into the worlds of dancing professionals who don’t actually dance professionally.

Glorification of certain jobs should be let go of- mantras of ‘those who can’t…teach…’ need to be lost and forgotten. There is a career within the arts for all creative and committed young people, even when there’s no space left on the stage. A career is a career regardless of its placement- chasing a job that fulfils you wholly should be the only reason underpinning why you’ve selected it.

Never feel afraid to branch out and explore options off of the stage. The dance scene is evolving, dance careers are becoming remoulded, and so should attitudes towards pursuing what is right for you. There are now so many ways of chasing the bright lights, without having a physical spotlight shun on you from overhead stage-rigging.

The dance industry is a tough one- it’s a place that is often fogged by mental health and exterior pressure, so choosing the correct pathway for you is of high importance. Stop believing that pursuing the pre-constructed goal of dancing professionally is better than other fantastic job roles that this industry possesses.

If you love to dance, learn to write, learn to teach, learn to organise and learn to manage- explore every avenue and choose what is right for you. Don’t just get blinded by the stage lights.


On Average 10% of dancers who actively pursue a career in dance become professional

Dance Parent 101

Samantha Bellerose

‘estimated 30,000 people employed in the dance sector, only 2,500 are performers’

‘A Guide to Careers in Dance’

One Dance UK

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