Pro Tips for Young Dancers – 4 Things You Need to Know

Marshall Ayers Career Advice, Dance, Getting Started, Performing Arts

Featured photo by Tomasz Rosa, Bodytraffic

Guest Post by Jeff Slayton

Dance in Los Angeles is as diverse as the city’s population. It includes over 100 dance companies and over 300 dance artists ranging from ballet to hip hop. Since the early 1900s, California has trained a large majority of America’s dancers with its vast network of colleges and universities that offer degrees in Dance. Here are some tips to help young dancers navigate their early career choices.

Lula Washington DT Photo by Jon Deshler.

1. Aspiring young dancers looking to get their training in college should do their homework.

Research online to locate the college or university that best meets their needs. I suggest they research the faculty’s performing and teaching background. Examine the dance department’s course titles, descriptions and requirements. Study the institution’s catalog to make certain that they will be receiving a well-rounded education. If one wants to be a jazz dancer and the department does not offer strong jazz classes, keep looking. The same holds true for all the different styles of dance, remember, however, that you need a balanced training in ballet, modern, jazz, choreography, performance, body science, along with backstage experience.

“Take music and lighting design for dance if offered. These are all necessary tools in case one decides to become a choreographer.”

2. The myth that a dancer’s life ends at age 30 was disproved decades ago.

After graduation, continue to train well beyond securing a dancing job. Go to every audition you possibly can and be ready for rejection. There are no guarantees. Continue your education by attending dance concerts, theater productions, music concerts and visit museums. A well-rounded person is the most valuable dancer, artist and teacher.

Invertigo Dance Theatre – Photo by Souheil Michael Khoury

3. Yes, a career in dance is hard work, but it can be extremely rewarding.

If a dancer is lucky, they get to travel the world, perform in beautiful theaters, meet other artists, explore different cultures and cuisines, while the airfare and housing is paid for by the company. Salaries are not always high or consistent, but the experience is invaluable. When a dancer decides to stop or slow their performing life, with a good education, and a solid performing and teaching resumé, they have a better chance at securing a faculty position.

Sarah Elgart – Everywhere Nowhere at LAX2 – Photo by Jorge

4. Be focused, be consistent with your training and most importantly, put the Art of Dance first by leaving your ego outside the studio.

Dance is bigger than any of us and there are hundreds of very talented dancers waiting to step in if someone is not giving their best. There are online websites to find out more about dance. Make use of Google search and, of course, read dance magazines such as this one for information on where to study, audition, attend performances and discover other dance related adventures.

Finally, one more piece of advice from someone who has had a career in dance for over 50 years; have fun. Always remember why you fell in love with dance. Most likely it was because you love to move.

Jeff Slayton performed in New York with the Merce Cunningham and the Viola Farber Dance Companies.  After moving to the Los Angeles area he was the Founding Artistic Director and sole choreographer for his LA based company Jeff Slayton and Dancers from 1978 to 1983.  His has choreographed for dance companies and university students throughout the United States, Europe, South America, and in Seoul, Korea.  Jeff was a faculty member in the Department of Dance at California State University, Long Beach for 21 years (1978-1999), and on the dance faculty at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC from 1988 to 1996. He is the recipient of three NEA Choreography Fellowships, the 1991 Outstanding Faculty Award for Teaching at CSULB and Jeff is the author of two books, The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber (2006, AuthorHouse) and Dancing Toward Sanity (2014, Dorrance Publishing Co.). Most recently he was on the Review Staff at and now writes for L.A. Dance Chronicle and BachTrack.

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Marshall Ayers
Arts education specialist with 25+ years experience in non-profit organizations and public educational settings. Marshall founded Artzray to create a community of young, multidisciplinary artists who are seeking professional, practical and personal career resources. Marshall lives and works in LA with her family, but hails from the east coast. When she's not working on Artzray, she would rather be sailing, reading or listening to her son play cello.
Marshall Ayers