October 5, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
The University of North Carolina Greensboro
Case Western Reserve University
The Ohio State University
California Institute of the Arts
Grand Canyon University
Loyola University Chicago
National Endowment for the Arts
Wright State University
Slippery Rock University
The University of North Carolina Greensboro
UNCG School of Dance
Janet Lilly: When we look at a resume, the skills that stand out are evidence of contiguous training in several areas of movement practice. There is a bit of a sweet spot involved in these considerations. We look to see that a dancer has studied with a teacher and/or in a specific style enough to support an embodied understanding of the form. We also know how much time it takes to really understand a movement practice both physically and mentally. A good example of this would be yoga. Lots of dancers say they practice yoga and/or teach yoga but have they really taken the time to investigate the practice beyond a superficial "looking good" in the asanas. It can also be too limiting for a contemporary dancer only having studied one dance form, which may result in ingrained movement patterning that is hard to let go of.
Janet Lilly: Soft skills that come to mind are interpersonal communication and the quality of openmindedness in new or different situations.
Janet Lilly: In terms of dance technique, building alignment from the floor up with a clear understanding of dynamic alignment, that is, how their alignment moves as the dancer moves through space. There can also be technical skills involved in the creative process. Dancers who are comfortable improvising and making compositional choices with phrase material are valuable contributors to many choreographers' processes.
Janet Lilly: Consistency and perseverance!
Not taking things personally and being willing to self-reflect, improve and advocate for yourself.
Case Western Reserve University
Department of Dance
Karen Potter: Performance experience - literally names of dances and the choreographers.
Karen Potter: Listing the styles/techniques on a resume and the names of teachers with whom a dancer trained.
Karen Potter: Versatility in contemporary/modern dance and ballet
Department of Dance
James Robey: Training and performance experience stand out the most on a dancer's resume. Potential employers scan a dancer's resume looking for the level of training and performance and the duration. I believe most dancers are aware of the level aspect but not as aware of the duration aspect. For example, a dancer with sustained training in a structured program, be it a conservatory or college dance degree, demonstrates commitment over a dancer who piecemeals training from several drop-in classes. Also, a dancer who spends a year here and a year there hopping from company to company could possibly signal an issue of sociability. The level and the duration both stand out.
James Robey: I don't like the term soft skills and much prefer calling them essential skills. Critical thinking, creativity, communication skills, collaboration, and compassionate thinking are essential. The hard skills of a dancer's technique are important, but when hiring a dancer as a performer, teacher, or choreographer for a sustained period, they must demonstrate strong collaboration, creativity, compassion, and communication skills such as writing, speaking, and presenting.
James Robey: The technical skills for a performer consist of their dance technique, for a dance teacher, their pedagogy and understanding of technique, and for a choreographer, their composition and creativity skills.
James Robey: I have repeatedly seen that it is a combination of depth of craft (technical or hard skills) with the essential skills of critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, and compassion that lead to the most rewarding careers in the dance field. Some excel in craft but lack in the other skill but achieve great success. Our culture loves stories about difficult, temperamental artists. In reality, when I look at those thriving in this field, whether a teacher, performer, choreographers, directors, administrators, or therapists, they almost always have a combination of all those C skills.
Damian Bowerman: -The Ohio State Dance Department is a contemporary dance program. Through our BFA program, we're committed to exposing students to an extensive range of movement - our goal is to create versatile dancers that can do a variety of styles (Cunningham, Taylor, Martha Graham, Doug Varone, Mark Morris, West African, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company) - in fact, many of our faculty have trained with these companies).
-Our movement practice is contemporary-focused, with other traditional styles such as West African and ballet.
-We also offer several electives - e.g., jazz, tap, hip-hop, etc. - as support for building students' dance knowledge.
-In addition to providing intense dance training, Ohio State Dance also teaches students to write about dance, talk about dance, and be engaged citizens in the world. We are in the business of training savage entrepreneurs.
-The Ohio State Dance curriculum and experience is focused on building the whole artist. Our students are not only trained to be performers; they also round out their education by learning about:
-Production: In our black-box theatre, students learn about lighting, staging, and running a show.
-Technology: In our media lab, students learn how to shoot and edit video/sound design/Photoshop.
-Entrepreneurship: Our students are required to build e-portfolios where they can share their research and showcase their artistry. Lots of our students also minor or take classes in the Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy, where they learn about arts administration and managing the arts.
-We offer one of the broadest BFA programs in the country because our program structure lets students explore their academic and artistic interests. For the first two years of the BFA program, students follow the curriculum the department outlines that will build and grow the foundational skills they need as dancers. For the last two years, students tell us what THEY want to explore through the many research and interdisciplinary opportunities available to them. (And, they often receive funding - through grants and scholarships - to do this.) For example, in the past, students have explored the impact of dance/movement in aging, technology and dance, education and dance, etc. Because of this, every student leaves with a different BFA.
Damian Bowerman: Ohio State Dance celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018. Because we have been around so long, our alumni network is strong and large. The university also has over 500,000 living alumni, so the global reach of the university alumni base is too extensive.
Because of our broad approach to the discipline and our alumni network, most of our alumni are working full-time in dance and dance-related fields in major U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.
Department of Dance
Ann Cooper Albright: There are more and more online classes happening now that folks cannot go to studios in person. We have seen a rise of interactive dancing online; children's programming, and more work in virtual settings, such as retirement centers. (Note: the technology in demand for these is the "play and go" options and streaming resources). Art and expressive movement can be a balm for situations where people cannot be touched. In addition, many of our recent grads are working in nonprofits, focused on fundraising and community engagement. Also, the practice of being an artist at this moment in time insists on a certain nimbleness and agility, and improvisatory spirit. This is what dancing teaches us!
Ann Cooper Albright: Many of our students are double majors in dance and neuroscience, psychology, etc. They are focusing on the latest research in embodied cognition, and their background in dance gives them the perspective to ask questions about how space impacts our experience of balance or how movement can affect the parasympathetic system. How we move in the world influences how we think about and experience the world.
Ann Cooper Albright: Needless to say, the need to rethink our educational system in the wake of this pandemic will be crucial, especially for younger children who may have missed crucial developmental steps. Movement educators will be much in demand as our country works to undo the year-plus quarantine.
Danielle Dreis: The skills young graduates need, when entering the workforce in the coming years, highly depend on the individual's long-term goals. If they are pursuing a career as a performing artist or company member, they will need versatility, good training, communication skills, an understanding of anatomy, and performance experience. If they are pursuing a teaching or choreographic career, they will need skills in pedagogy, understanding of dance history, movement capabilities, and ability to understand and apply technological developments, choreographic creativity, Dance Studies, some stage production knowledge, and Repertoire.
Danielle Dreis: A good place to find work in the U.S. is any place you can find the opportunity. It depends on the preference of location, availability of positions, and the abundance of studios/companies in the area. After graduation, if seeking a career as a performer, it is important for graduates to research dance companies and arrange to send their resume or attend a company audition. There are several companies looking for dancers each season, but it is the responsibility of the graduate to reach out and make contact with companies they are interested in dancing/working for. Major auditions are often held in big cities like L.A. or N.Y.C., but private auditions give the individual more of a chance to be seen and hired rather than open call auditions. Professional companies usually have a point of contact or audition dates listed on their website.
For those seeking teaching jobs after graduation, there are many dance schools constantly looking for teachers. Graduates should search for local dance studios, companies, or colleges they are interested in teaching at. Then send their qualifications and interest in a position via email. I suggest applying to several locations and schools to allow more opportunity and choice.
Danielle Dreis: Technology has already had a huge impact in this field recently, and I believe it will continue to have a large impact in the next five years. This is due in part to the Coronavirus pandemic, as schools and studios have had to make adjustments in order to continue practicing safety through the use of video software. Technology has been helpful in aiding these changes like the cancelation of many seasonal performances or replacement with recorded live streams or previously recorded productions.
This adjustment impacts dancers because they are not performing, this impacts students because they are not getting as much hands-on feedback in classes, and this impacts audiences because they do not get to experience live art. I don't think an audience member can truly experience a virtual show in the same manner as a live show. I would compare this concept to listening to a live concert and the impact it has versus listening to a CD or recorded version of the same song. These experiences are just not the same. On the one hand, we are using technology in a positive way, staying connected, and making the best of the situation. On the other hand, technology is replacing our live performances, and the general public doesn't realize how many virtual performances are taking away from or negatively impacting the performers.
Glen Eddy: Dance is one of the universal art forms, everybody dances, during the pandemic dancing "online" has blossomed, everyone is dancing on TikTok and YouTube; social media is alive with dance. People are taking dance lessons in their homes, ballet, hip hop, contemporary, the social dance of all stripes, the field of professional concert dance - dance performances in theaters - is on hold until theaters can open up again safely, but when they do there will be more opportunity than ever.
Commercial dance - in music videos, on film, in Broadway shows, on cruise ships, and theme parks - is also on hold. Still, as soon as those venues can open up again, there will be a surge in performance art and site-specific dance. In art galleries, using architectural locations, public spaces will also rebound when public spaces become safe. I think the most significant trend may be more outdoor performance venues for dance.
Glen Eddy: A platform like a Zoom that allows people to interact from a distance safely, but with the possibility of more synchronicity; dancers have to move in unison, the lag in Zoom makes this almost impossible. Dancers have been very creative in making dances and working together with distance, but the lag needs to go! This is also very important for musicians.
Glen Eddy: Dance is perennial, has always been and will always be, and it is also a calling, so a person who wishes to get a degree in dance is probably not making a choice but responding to a powerful drive. People who love to see performances of dance are also responding to a basic human need. It has never been the wisest career decision, but parents want their kids to be happy, fulfill their dreams, and enjoy life.
So students will continue to go to school for dance degrees, even though there are very few job opportunities, theaters, or dance companies hiring dancers anywhere in the world. But this also means that there will be opportunities for the dancers with degrees graduating in the next few years as companies, theaters, and other public venues become safer and start to open up. I believe there will be a renaissance of dance, fueled by the need to do the opposite of what we have been forced to do during the pandemic; isolate, stay in place. People will want to get together and move!
Susannah Keita: In addition to choreography, performance, and teaching, which comprise the focus of our degree programs, I'd cite 21st-century skillsets like collaboration, creative problem-solving, and civic literacy as well as intercultural communication, socialization through the arts, advocacy, public relations, writing, team-building, to name just a few of the skills that our graduates will apply in the future.
Susannah Keita: Generally to cities, where the arts and entertainment industries are most developed. Arts funding varies greatly state by state.
Susannah Keita: It's transforming the area now. Dance is at the forefront of change. Anyone who has heard of TikTok would have to agree. In this time, when theatres are mostly empty, our phone and television screens are full. Aside from helping us feel better daily, the ability to dance to communicate messages of hope and resilience is undeniable. In the realm of concert dance, artists have continued to produce work, sharpening their focus on working outdoors and onscreen and offering virtual viewing opportunities. Many are collaborating with architects and cinematographers, composers, graphic and film artists. It seems the future of the performing arts and technology are very much linked. It will be essential to build alliances for a healthier future.
Sandra Kaufmann: Emerging professionals in dance need technique proficiency in Ballet and Modern dance and skillsets in improvisation, pedagogy, and composition. Dance majors need excellent time management skills, initiative, and applied skills in injury prevention, nutrition, and wellness. They will need leadership skills and drive to create new ways of working.
Sandra Kaufmann: Typically, dance performance thrives in larger cities, but we see an immense decentralization of concert and community dance practices, making just about any community a viable place to begin a dance career.
Sandra Kaufmann: Well, Zoom has taken over for now. What we will see is much more dance filmmaking as well as more interactive performances.
National Endowment for the Arts
Sunil Iyengar: Finding employment as a dancer/choreographer can be difficult in the best of times. Their wages are typically among the lowest for all arts occupations, and they historically have had higher rates of unemployment than other workers in general. But in 2020 their unemployment rate, from July through September, was nearly 55%. This compares with 8.5% unemployment for all U.S. workers over the same period
Joe Deer: Graduates from Theatre programs need to develop a wide range of multi-media skills. For actors, the foundations of acting, voice, and movement skills need to translate into stage work, films, television, newer media, and audio performance. Design and Technology students must be proficient in imagining and creating the many imaginative worlds for these media, as well as in serving as crews for all of them.
Joe Deer: The traditional appeal of major market cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago will probably endure. But, many young performing arts workers find great satisfaction in cities like Pittsburgh, Boston, Orlando, Atlanta, or Dallas (among many others). As the film and television industries decentralize from the major hubs, it's increasingly viable for serious entertainment industry professionals to create rich lives across the nation. Industries like themed entertainment and the cruise industries tend to depend on warmer climates for year-round audience access and have made Southern California, Central Florida, and Las Vegas major employment centers in these fields.
Joe Deer: Cheaper video production, the many channels seeking original content, and the emergence of newer avenues for content distribution have created an explosion in opportunities in the entertainment field. We can expect to see the democratization and niche marketing of new content creation spread across the entertainment industry. While it may become harder to monetize content initially, the more easily artists can create and distribute their content, the more possible it is to have an off-market success that can lead to mainstream opportunities.
Slippery Rock University
Department of Dance
Nora Ambrosio: Dance has always been a prominent part of many cultures and societies and can be traced back to the earliest recorded history. Dance has been able to sustain throughout many centuries, proving that dance is necessary and valued. Those of us in the dance field are certainly seeing an impact now, in terms of not being able to have live performances, and many studios and universities are teaching through virtual means. However, I am sure that dance will be back, even better than before, as soon as it is safe. The dance will endure as it has for centuries.
Nora Ambrosio: Urban, suburban, and rural areas all have opportunities for dance, particularly teaching opportunities. Even the smallest towns have dance studios, many of which have substantial student enrollments. Being in a large urban area might provide more opportunities for performers, but even smaller cities have robust dance communities that offer employment opportunities. Also, dancers often look for jobs beyond the teaching and performing fields. Many of today's universities are doing a great job preparing their students for many dance and dance-related careers.
Nora Ambrosio: Virtual teaching over platforms such as Zoom has been both a blessing and a curse. While we all know what the negatives are, these platforms have also provided us with opportunities. Even when it is safe to be face-to-face, I do not believe that Zoom and virtual teaching and performing will ever go away. For example, in my university, we have developed a semester-long virtual guest artist series, which has allowed us to bring outstanding talent to our students that we may not otherwise be able to accommodate. In our dance pedagogy course, we are adding virtual teaching to the course content to prepare our students for this technology. The dance field has embraced technology in numerous ways, and I predict that those who work in the area will continue to use these new technologies for years to come.
Erich Yetter: Have faith. Work hard. Become as versatile as you can. Know your strengths. Identify your dream and follow it with all your being. Be willing to relocate (go where the work takes you, that's why we're called gypsies). Give 100% to your art at all times. You can learn something from everybody, no matter who they are. Be prepared (write down your ideas and thoughts) because you never know when opportunity will knock. Never burn a bridge if you can avoid it. Keep smiling. Always hope.
At Anderson University, we have five tracks to our Dance Major: Dance Performance, Dance Science, Dance Pedagogy, Dance Business, and Dance Complementary. The titles are self-explanatory but allow students to choose a focus area within the dance industry to prepare themselves with alternative career paths better after they graduate.
Erich Yetter: Currently, dancers must become familiar with using video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype Meet, Google Meet, Facebook Live, Youtube Live, Cisco Webex, Jitsi, and others, to access classes and group discussions on dance.
In my opinion, other technologies like computer imaging, green screen projections, and virtual reality performers may be trendy for a while but tend to fade from popularity because of the unrealistic, non-life like qualities of the animated experience. There is something "false" about it, and sound art strikes us as fundamentally correct. Essential qualities a dancer can develop in the next 3-5 years would remain versatility and determination.
Erich Yetter: The COVID-19 pandemic requires dancers to adapt to socially distanced training, with performances limited to recorded or live streamed solos and duets. But this will be short-lived. Long-distance dance training is not a viable alternative to in-person dance class due to a host of issues (musical lag time, blurry feedback, dancing out of the camera view, misleading shadows and angles, inability to see up close, lack of tactile interaction, etc...), and taped or streamed performances are artistically unsatisfying because they are two-dimensional counterfeits of a live-action event (the presence of a screen often interfering with the impact of an immediate gesture or movement). Certainly, filmed productions are better than nothing, but the arts are meant to be spontaneously enjoyed. The participants in a dance work are the creator, the dancer, and, perhaps most importantly, the people witnessing it. "A choreographer creates to communicate something, and the only way a dance can communicate is if it is performed before an audience." (Nora Ambrosio, 2010)
Students graduating in dance this year face unique obstacles with limited need for traditional theatrical dance shows and many mid-size to small dance troupes folding altogether. Jobs will be scarce. However, there are some artists and companies that are daring to start new projects. They are all over the map, literally, from coast to coast and in between, so geographic flexibility will be an asset for future dancers, as will be racially diverse and stylistically adaptable.
Christine Thacker: None of us could have possibly imagined embarking upon a career at the start of a pandemic. All of the traditions and formalities of our business disappeared and changed overnight! My advice would be to lean on what you were provided within a college program: Technique, Business Connections, Self Marketing, Persistence, and Perseverance. All of the 'extras' that come with a college dance program (masterclasses, internships, guest choreographers, Professional Praxis classes) are now your most valuable tool. Use them to create, foster, and enrich professional connections that turn into jobs. Connections are key. Patience is going to be a must, as companies are in a state of suspension and near hibernation mode due to COVID-19. Stay in shape, Stay connected, and Stay ready.
Christine Thacker: Digital dance and computers are our newest ally. I make sure every Performance Dance major graduates with a personal website stocked with resume, photos, and dance reels to market themselves effectively. Now, more than ever, the computer is our tool. We need it to conduct virtual classes, share choreography, connect with companies for auditions, and collaborate. Digital Dance Companies are popping up, creating, marketing, and sharing art in previously untapped and totally new formats.
Christine Thacker: I think the pandemic will have lasting effects on our industry. Companies are in a holding pattern. With little to no revenue coming in, hiring new dancers is difficult. Jobs may be scarce. When the theaters finally re-open, we will have lost many dance companies who couldn't survive without their traditional theater seasons and income. What I know is that the generation of dancers graduating and going into the business during this unprecedented time are some of the savviest, most creative dancers I've seen in many years. I've always said, if you can't find your path, you'll have to carve one for yourself. I think this generation of dancers will surprise us with the roads they carve out and reimagine, recreate, and revive our industry in ways we couldn't have imagined.