How To Prepare for Your Pre-Professional Dance Education

Transitioning from dancing for recreation or competition to a professional dance career can feel daunting at first, but many dancers have successfully made the switch and you can too!

Pre-professional programs are a great way to dramatically elevate your training, make new connections, and get a portfolio of work experience before you make your professional debut. Oftentimes, dancers attend these programs even when they’ve already begun their professional careers because they are seeking the consistent advanced training and networking opportunities they provide.

You can also choose to train independently. This might look like drop-in classes, more cross-training, online dance classes, or taking other courses such as working on acting or singing if you are pursuing a career in musical theatre. If you’re diligent and can hold yourself accountable, this is a great option too. But if you need that extra push and structure of routine, a pre-professional program might suit you best. 

Whatever your path, there are some changes you might want to consider making as you prepare for this stage in your career. We’ve listed a few below.

Two women journaling on yoga mats in a dance studio

Setting Clear Goals

Look at your long-term and short-term goals. What classes or teachers will help you get there? If you haven’t thought about your dream gig, you’ll have a hard time knowing which classes or jobs will bring you closer to it! Your long-term goals may change, but they can’t change or propel you forward if you don’t even have them! Dream big, and then do the work to get there! Your short-term goals might give you information about what you’ll need during your training as a pre-professional dancer.

Begin Your Training Now

If you know you want to pursue dance as a career, or maybe even a specific type of program, then you need to start preparing yourself for what that will require. Do you want to be a touring dancer for Justin Bieber? Start taking hip-hop classes and work on your performance skills. Do you want to go to Juilliard? Look into what styles are in that program and sign-up for a few in your area. If you dream of dancing on stage at the NYC Ballet then you might want to start attending a ballet school. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, everyone starts at the beginning! You’ll need to be at the advanced level of the styles in order to make those dreams a reality, so it’s important to start training consistently as soon as you can. 

Start taking classes in the styles of your choice online

Dancers sitting on stools with their hands on their heads

Cross-training, recovery, and injury prevention 

If you are going into a rigorous training program such as those in New York or our very own CLI Conservatory, it will be even more important to start to understand your body as a professional. It is your instrument and your life force! Stretching and following along without being curious won’t cut it anymore! A serious dancer will focus on strength training, begin to create warm-up rituals, and have an injury prevention routine that they fiercely adhere to! This will make you stand out as a mature dancer in any program that you attend. Be the dancer that is always warm and ready to go!  Start training sustainably. Cross-training and supplemental techniques like Yoga and Pilates will come in handy and are a popular way to make money if you get the proper certifications. 

What is Your Brand?

Start creating or getting curious about your brand, your message:  No need for any answers right away, but as you move into a world of auditions and decision making regarding your future career, it’ll be helpful to start to get a clearer picture of who you are as an artist. The clearer your image of yourself, the better an agent can submit you for certain roles, for example. Your style and personality on and off the stage matter now more than ever before with the evolution of how we perform and present ourselves in the public. Being in classes with other dancers that are discovering their message and mission as well is one of the best things about being part of a pre-professional training program. Find what makes you unique, define it, and lean in. 

Dancers holding hands in front of pink and orange backdrop

Evolve your training

Now is a good time to get serious about your chosen style of dance. Whether you are seeking a training program with a focus in your style, or you expand your training to include movies, literature, interviews with the change-makers in your field, it helps to start expanding your knowledge on the field you want to enter. On the flip side, it’s really important not to limit yourself early on in your career. Maybe you didn’t love the idea of being in a company, but you meet the director and company members and click right away! Learn from the best in the field, and be true to yourself. If you feel drawn to jumping rope, someone out there is dying to collaborate with you on that exact thing. Get serious about your niche, and don’t be afraid to continue exploring, it’ll help you stand out.

Location

These days, there are movies and commercial work on the East Coast and N.Y.C., concert dance in L.A. and the West Coast, and the ability to be a bicoastal dancer once your network is big enough to support it. But, the general stereotypes of the work found in each city still hold true in many ways. Broadway is New York, and there is a lot of gig work in L.A. There are many professional concert companies and programs in Europe,  where they’re known for having slightly better benefits for artists as a whole. With technology, you can easily connect with artists from around the world— but, there is something to be said for setting up your training in the home base where you can see yourself continuing your career. Ideally, you are training somewhere where you have the ability to be auditioning and working as well. “Pre-professional” doesn’t have to mean ‘not working until I’m hired by my dream company!’

When you transition from a home studio to a pre-professional career, no matter your path, you will be expected to act with more agency than before. You won’t always be given time to warm-up before class, so knowing to show up early and creating your own way to warm-up will be essential to a healthy career.

Of course, there are differences depending on where you take your training next. If you go to a training program that has a course load already set for you, it can take some pressure off of having to change your schedule to fit the classes you want to take. Most training programs will be time-intensive though, so you will have to prioritize your free time if you need to work part-time or want to pursue anything in addition to the program. Conversely, you can continue to train and pursue your goals on your own time and dime.  It’s smartest to do this in the city you are looking to work in, although if you cannot do that, a little creativity and a lot of motivation are often all you need to make your dreams come true. 

As a professional dancer, the relationships you make will be so important! If you aren’t in training in a big city but you are a CLI Member, use that to your advantage! Our community is international, and by posting videos and taking interactive classes, you have a way to get noticed by choreographers that would not have been possible before.

Above all, take advantage of this moment in your career. If you are privileged to not be tied to any one location, this is the perfect time to expand your network and get out of your comfort zone. Wherever you go and whatever you do,  keeping your long-term goals and ideas about the stories you want to tell in your heart, and keeping the discipline to train often and sustainably in your brain will serve you well. Add that to a respectful, generous, joy-to-be-around rehearsal and audition attitude, and your pre-professional career will be turning professional in no time.

Learn more about the CLI Conservatory – a rigorous 9-month training program for pre-professional dancers.

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