I cannot tell you how many times lately, that people are e-mailing me how their all consuming passion for Ballroom and Latin dancing is now an obsession (as well as now beyond their budget, life savings and second mortgage). So they want to dedicate their lives to dancing and become a Professional Dance Instructor… Oooh, the prestige, the glory, the dancing! And they pay me to do it, is not this great?
Hello!!! Wake up Call. If you ever thought this was what you wanted, read the rest of this article before you decide. It can save you a lot of time and heartbreak, as well as help guide you in a solid course of action and the required actions to take to make a living at it if it is truly for you.
Sadly, most people who have no idea what they are truly getting themselves into. I will outline what seems to be the general scenario I have heard from those who’ve asked advice on this matter. I will follow that with the four biggest reasons and/or misconceptions people have about becoming a Professional Ballroom and Latin Dancer.
An Aspiring Professional:
“I’ve been a student xxx years at the XYZ Studio, and I do several competitions a year. I feel I have all the talent needed, and I love it with all my heart. I would love to make this my profession so I could do what I love and get paid for it.”
Man Who has Been There:
First of all, an aspiree thinks that someone is going to just train and pay you to be an incredible dancer for years? Not likely. First, they want something back, which is for you to sell lessons; and they are not always that concerned about how you make the sales, so long as they keep coming in. Often this is something that over time causes you to eventually compromise your integrity. I will say no more on that issue.
Second, training in this business is like being in a witness protection arrangement. You only get a free ride for the intro, then you’re on your own. The better you are, the more a threat you are to Dance Studio owners’ clientele and business. I know, you say “no, I’d sell more lessons by being a better dancer and knowing more”. But, the Big Business sees you as someone good enough to get a job at the competitor’s studio with their hard paid training. Taking their client base of students with you (so you have to see their point too, especially because it does actually happen more often than you can imagine.
Second, if you started as a student, and have been one for 2 or more years, the odds are this isn’t for you. Teachers can be spotted from the beginning of their training and are generally natural to the dance. There are exceptions, but rarely. Students also over time develop a “student”mentality that is seldom overcome. You just never get comfortable with the numbers (dollars). To you it’s still “WHAT! $4,000!?!?” but to someone who has what it takes to make a living at this, that cost is nothing in comparison to what you will get in exchange for it, and they can tell you enough to make you believe it’s worth it. If you’re that second guy or gal, this gigs for you. If the dollars freak you out, you won’t last even two months there.
Third, realize that you will have to teach even if your goal is to dance and perform professionally! This may not be what you imagined, nor what you are necessarily apt towards. I will explain. I know many instructors who are truly magnificent dancers, many of whom I’d once envied greatly. However, they did not have an ability to impart that knowledge easily and in a fun way. Needless to say, those kind don’t last long. If you have to teach, you have to teach well. I am not the greatest technician in dance, I certainly don’t have the most impressive lines or perfect form, but I love what I do, I care about my students and about taking care of their dance needs, and most importantly I have an ability to teach! This is crucial to earning an income and getting to your goal down the road. Also, as a teacher, you spend most of your time working on other people’s dancing, and little on your own.
Finally, if you take no heed to the warnings above, or just feel you have what it takes in spite of the above, then become very familiar with the guidelines/suggestions below for how to become a Professional Ballroom and Latin Dancer. This lists is not only the safest, but it is also the only realistic way to accomplish your goals. Good Luck from Ballroom Bliss and here we go…
How to Increase Your chances of Success:
Don’t quit your day job just yet. Find and investigate EVERY dance studio, college and night school within 1/2 hour to 45 minutes of your area. Apply for an introductory instructor’s position. Emphasize people skills, love of dance, and years of even freestyle dancing. Most importantly, Enthusiasm!!! That’s what sells and that’s what can get your foot in the door. Most studios need or want part timers for nights and weekends (they don’t have to pay benefits that way) plus that’s the time of heaviest demand student wise.
You’ve got the job, now what? Practice, Practice, Practice. Learn what you are taught, imitate what you see both in movement, and in instruction technique. These are what you will take out on the floor with you on your first lessons. In time, you will develop your own style and personality in instruction, for now just be patient above all else, especially with your students and with teaching. The biggest single mistake new instructors make is teaching too much too quickly. Remember this is a muscle memory, a movement is learned through the repetition. Do not rush to move on just as soon as your students have the rough idea. These are building blocks that your students will need to develop, and thus grow in confidence with you, and buy more lessons from you. IT is a vicious cycle, I know.
3. The 4 Steps to a Perfect Lesson:
A. Preparation – know the material you are going to show and know it well (know both man’s and woman’s part!).
B. Presentation – know how you will introduce and breakdown the steps to the student. The introduction is referred to as “selling the sizzle”, while the breakdown is the actual way you demonstrate to the student how to perform the step.
C. Application – apply what you have learned. Practice over and over with the student and let them do some by themselves.
D. Check the results – this is where you fine tune anything out of what, and show the student their progress in the step.
How to Sell – believe in what you provide, listen carefully and always to what your student truly wants. Do everything possible to give your student what they want (within reason), explain patiently what it will take to achieve their goals, and let them know over time what services you can provide. This usually has them wanting to buy as opposed to you trying to make them buy.
I sold a few dance packages, now what? Now you continue to follow steps one through three for about 6 months, building your base clientele. This core group will be your paycheck, as well as be your most likely prospects to start getting you into competing (although it will be with your students for the first 3-5 years on average). Take advantage of this time to advance your training on your own by taking coaching with top pros who the studio invites in, well worth the money and saves months of work and time. Also spend it scoping out prospective future professional dance partners. This is often a long search so start as early as possible.
Pro/Am Competitions – get your students involved in comps. The more practice you get in these, the more comfortable you will be competing as a professional with another professional. I cannot help in how to get them to go, your own style and integrity will guide you over time. Doing at least 3, preferably 5-6 comps a year if your studio permits. This goes on with your teaching from above for about 3-5 years at about 24-30k full time, 19-24k part time (really hustling though).
You found another Pro! – now decide whether you’ll compete International or American Style, then whether you’ll dance smooth, or rhythm category (nobody truly masters them both at the same time). Begin getting coaching and choreography from the best judges, and coaches available. You are much more likely to be scored by judges you’ve worked with than people whom the judges have never seen before.
Work for about 1-2 years on the routines and begin competing in every comp you can. You will pay your dues for a while, not even making a final your next year to 3 years after that. The next several years you should begin to start placing and making moderate income ($100 to $1000 per comp) from the professional prizes. Unfortunately, this usually does not even cover your expenses. That’s why you still need to teach. Your students pay your expenses in their markup price. They are all aware of it, even if only subconsciously.
We’re winning Pro Comps, now what? – Hopefully, while you were working your way up, you were also making connections along the way; working with every judge and top coach/competitor possible, and mingling with the owners of the more prominent studios at the various competitions. These studios are your future bread and butter. Once you’ve established your credentials, you can now judge events and go around the country coaching other professionals, as well as students with their instructors. You can also do Professional Exhibitions. Often, you end up doing a combination of all three for a studio. This type of consulting is the only truly attractive financial opportunity in this business (unless you can afford to open your own studio, or organize your own competition).
Hopefully this has been helpful as a basic guide to making a living in the ballroom and Latin dancing profession. Written by By Christopher Pilarchik, a 12 year Ballroom Dance Professional.
Author’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author’s Notice: This is a guideline only. It reflects the opinion only of myself and is based upon what I have seen and experienced in my 12 year career as a Ballroom and Latin Dance Professional.