So you want to be a dancer?

Adam Lickley in Sri Lanka

By Adam Lickley

So you fancy being a dancer, huh? And who doesn’t want to be paid to do something they love? Well, that’s the name of the game in the arts world. Only trouble is, that’s what everyone wants, right?

So, firstly, before you consider a career as a dancer, you need to be aware that competition is fierce. And I’m not talking just a little bit, I’m talking so fierce that those beautiful, somewhat dainty dancers are ferocious, sharp-clawed tigers inside. How do I know? Well, I danced professionally for about 10 years.

I was stung by the bright lights of theatre when I was 15 years old but had been ‘on stage’ so to speak, all my life. I started as a small child in amateur musicals that my parents were a part of, in addition to being thrust into the limelight in all the school plays and shows that were produced. So, you could say, I certainly wasn’t looking for the stage, rather, the stage found me.

those beautiful, somewhat dainty dancers are ferocious, sharp-clawed tigers inside.

I was a gymnast as a child and that equipped me well for rigorous dance training that I embarked upon, aged 16, along with singing and dancing at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London. Upon graduation, I was employed in musicals up and down the country, in the West End, abroad and across all the seas and oceans of the world.

I had a great time. But what are the pitfalls? What’s really goes on behind the scenes in the world of dance or musical theatre? What should I have known at the time which in retrospect, I didn’t?

Well, I suppose it all depends on how serious you want to be, what level you wish to achieve, and in what area of dance. After all, dance is as varied as music, with as many styles as there are dancers to perform them. There are, however, a few things that you really must be aware of before embarking on a pirouette of a lifetime.

An ideal body for a dancer would be a fairly short body in relation to long legs

Firstly, lets start with the body. After all, it’s that which is going to be telling stories through movement, not the spoken word. An ideal body for a dancer would be a fairly short body in relation to long legs. Long legs always look better attached to a short body when performing leg kicks, jetes and the like.

So, if you’re reading this and have short legs, I will be blunt, you will need to consider that this will not go in your favour. But if that has not put you off, consider the amount of constant hard work and training that is required to make it and stay at the top.

I was lazy. After I graduated, I kept myself in shape by working professionally and doing 8 shows a week, in addition to working out at a gym whenever I could. However, in hindsight, this was not enough.

While I was in the musical Miss Saigon in London’s West End in the early 1990’s, I was appearing with dance ‘legend’ (sic) Louie Spence, who also happened to be a contemporary of mine at theatre school. Whilst I was waking up late after a show and going shopping during the day, Louie was busy taking classes at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden. You see, he was already an amazingly accomplished dancer but more than that, he was committed to maintaining and improving his overall dance technique and expanding his dance vocabulary. In essence, he was in love with dance and for him, I’m sure, all that physical agony was pleasure and he seemed to live for dance. I can’t say the same was true for me.

Auditions can be somewhat degrading. You might get a moment or two to learn a routine and then be expected, along with countless others, to perform the newly learnt routine at your optimal, all the while hoping that you have been one of the lucky ones, noticed and plucked from the crowd. If you cannot bear the thought of that, then show business is definitely not for you. And the audition treadmill never ends. As soon as one, usually short contract ends, its back to square one again. You see, there’s no real career path for a dancer. Dancers always consider themselves to be lucky, just to be in work.

If money is your goal, then you should probably become a hedge-fund manager.

If you plan to make a lot of money as a dancer, then again, I feel I will have to disappoint you. Though there are possibilities to earn money commercially through concert tours backing current pop artists, these jobs are few and far between and never long lasting. So, once again, you’re back on the audition treadmill, unemployed and looking for work. If money is your goal, then you should probably become a hedge-fund manager.
All in all, if you have a desire in life to make plans, make money and have some stability then you should definitely not consider dancing professionally.

All that being said, if you have an unquenchable passion for dance, long legs, and would be happy to dance, even for free, then you probably have some chance. It’s an extraordinarily tough world out there. Good luck.

Adam Lickley is an English Teacher, writer and traveller. Formerly a dancer and actor in musical theatre and then a barrister,  Adam now spends his time traveling the globe teaching English while at the same time trying to find answers to the small and large questions of life.



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