Fields of Study - Dance

Definition and Nature of the Field

Dance is both a physical activity and an art form that is enjoyed by people of many ages who live all over the world. People are involved in Dance as a career, as a leisure activity or a way to learn about the world, history, culture and other subjects. Dance forms include modern, ballet, contemporary, jazz, tap, ballroom, creative dance, improvisation, hip hop and cultural dance. Careers in dance span a range of professions that include, an educator, a performer, choreographer, dance therapist, historian, critic, writer, costume designer or production designer and technician. Dance educators teach in schools, private dance studios, and community agencies/organizations such as the YMCA, recreation departments and the local community centers. Dance artists are professional dancers and choreographers who perform in a variety of stage environments for different types of audiences. 

Dance Educators

The dance educator provides an educational dance program that addresses the National Standards and includes assessments in the psychomotor, cognitive and social/affective domains. The dance program may include a variety of dance forms as well as dance history, dance writing, choreography, dance health and production techniques. The dance educator may teach dance in a performing arts school or teach dance in a Pre-K-12 public or private school. They may also work in a commercial dance studio or a recreation department or a community agency or organization. In this setting, the dance educator generally focuses on dance technique, dance as exercise and dance performance. Professional Dance artists may be invited to teach classes or workshops as a guest artist and collaborate with the dance educator to teach and or prepare students for a performance. There are many ways to become a dance educator. Some educators take undergraduate or graduate courses at a college or university studying in a variety of dance forms, dance science, history, choreography, dance production and teaching pedagogy to become certified dance educators. Upon graduation and after student teaching they are awarded college/university degree and a teaching certificate. Individuals desiring to teach dance as a permanent fulltime teacher in the Pre-K-12 schools must hold an undergraduate degree such as a BA, BS or BFA, MA, MFA or PhD from an accredited teacher education program at a college or university and receive a teaching certificate awarded by the State Board/Department of Education. Those dance educators who want to teach dance in a commercial studio or community agency/organization should have several years of dance training and performance in a variety of dance forms and may have a college/university teaching credential.

Dance Artist Performer

The professional dancer, who has studied dance for many years, can find employment opportunities as a member of a professional dance company or in other dance opportunities such as a dancer in local and national productions, musicals, television programs, theme parks, cruise ships, and film. A professional dancer's performing life is comprised of daily dance classes, learning choreography, rehearsals, strength and conditioning programs, dance health programs, costume fittings, maintaining good nutrition and collaborating with other dancers as part of a dance company. Many dancers also choreograph dances, become writers, costume designers and some may teach dance along with their performing career.

Career Opportunities

There are a variety of other careers for those interested in dance beyond being an educator or performer. They include:

Choreographers are artists who create dances for dance companies, television, movies, videos, musicals and other stage production. Most choreographers have experience as a performer and/or educator and their choreography represents their preferences for a personal movement style, a specific culture or time period. Many dance programs at the college and universities offer courses in choreography, improvisation, and dance production. 

Dance Administrators manage a dance company or a dance theater, work for an arts council, market dance products, and/or handle public relations. The BA degree with a minor in courses in business marketing and management courses as well as communication courses are helpful in developing skills as a dance administrator.

Dance/Movement Therapists use dance movement as a means to help people. e They work with a wide variety of individuals including people who are diagonised with physical, emotional or cognitive disabilities, and individuals who want to use dance to enhance their personal growth and wellness or to increase their social interaction with others. Dance Therapists are employed in schools, community centers, rehabilitation centers, psychiatric hospitals, in programs for seniors and in programs for persons with disabilities. A bachelor's degree in dance or a related field, and dance therapy certification is required for this career. Advanced degrees are also available for further study. 

Dance Historians study and write about the history of dance and its importance to and functions in society. Historians conduct research, writes papers, articles and books about dance in different cultures and time periods. They also study prominent dancers and choreographers who are identified as the foundation of dance in many cultures along with courses in writing, research techniques, history, notation and anthropology.

Dance Critics/Writers have a strong background in writing and dance. This career involves attending performances, interviewing dancers and choreographers, researching dance history and then writing a critique, essay or article. They may write for dance publications such as journals, books or for newspapers, magazines, blogs, or other social media type of communication. Most critics/writers have studied dance or may be a former professional dancer or choreographer. Courses at a college or university would include composition, creative writing, history, and other related arts courses. 

Other careers in dance can include costume designers, set designers, lighting designers, dance exercise specialists, people who study dance injuries and prevention, strength and conditioning coaches, computer technicians for choreography, videographers, marketing and graphic designers and dance musicians and sound coordinators.

Education Requirements

A bachelor's degree is required for many entry-level positions, however educators and dance therapists need additional specialized courses, certifications and an advanced degree may be required. Both the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and the Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degrees prepare students for careers as dancers and choreographers. It is important to take a look at the program requirements for a selected college or university dance degree to see if the required courses meet your interests in a dance career. 

Career Related Experiences

Gaining experience in dance whether as a dancer, choreographer or volunteer in a dance program will prepare you for a future career in dance. These experiences will help you to make an informed decision about your choices for a major or minor in dance when you go to college. Participating and volunteering with your high school dance group or private dance studio, volunteering with middle or elementary school or community dance programs and attending dance clinics and workshops is recommended as a way to provide you with a variety of dance experiences.