Hello dancers! I often get questions about the differences between concert and commercial dance (which are titles that might need some revamping). Sometimes dancers don’t even know that there are two models of performance in our industry. And that’s OK! It’s difficult to know what is out there, especially before you’ve had a chance to experience the workforce as a performer.
The question of whether to pursue a career in commercial dance or concert dance is something that many of us wonder as we navigate the waters of our future. In this article, we will consider the main differences and type of work that one avenue would offer in comparison to the other.
In simple terms, commercial dance refers to performing in music videos, touring with musicians (think Lady Gaga), Broadway (kind of another league), TV commercials, films, and other gig-to-gig type of work. Usually, dancers in this industry would want to work with an agent who has connections and relationships to producers and venues. Agents get first notice when a job becomes available. In many instances, this type of work typically pays more than working in concert dance, but when the run of shows ends, so does the job. This makes for an inconsistent financial landscape, which could be thrilling for some and difficult for others. These types of jobs could be looking for dancers who are skilled in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, modern, acro, etc. Though many of these jobs hold a strong emphasis on traditional jazz/tap (think Rockettes) or pop jazz, heels, and hip-hop (think music videos). There are union organizations that offer benefits and protection for gig performers such as these. In certain cities like LA and NYC, the chances of frequently finding auditions becomes more viable, though in a saturated industry.
Concert dance is often in reference to dance companies and traditionally falls into the styles of modern, contemporary, and ballet. It is important to note, though, that the diversity in style of companies with a concert format is shifting. Tap companies like Chicago Tap Theatre and Dorrance Dance are making their mark on the concert stage, as well as jazz companies like Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and hip hop companies like Renie Harris. The model of a concert job typically involves a dancer auditioning for a company and hired as a company “member.” These dancers work regular rehearsal hours (maybe 3 - 5 days per week with frequent performance opportunities). Companies typically offer a local series of shows for their home city as well as engage in touring performances. These dancers might be employed by the company and in some cases, offered healthcare benefits. This type of work tends to pay less than commercial work, but tends to be more stable/regular. A company model may allow retired performers to be hired into administrative positions. This is usually ideal as the dancer is familiar with the work of the company which makes for a smooth transition. The concert model tends to offer opportunities to work thoroughly in a choreographer’s style or in a canon of works from various choreographers (company repertory). Companies offer regularity,, so the opportunity to grow with the same group of dancers/directors can develop strong relationships, contributing to a sense of belonging and community. Once hired, these dancers don’t tend to be required to audition again.
In a nutshell, this offers an overview of two different models of performance work for dancers. If you want to know more about this topic, please reach out to me at email@example.com to schedule a mentorship session (for students and parents) or a seminar (for studios and organizations). I am happy to speak with you or your group about carving pathways for the future! No path is identical and no model of business is all encompassing. The gap between these two models has closed a bit in recent years, which is exciting news, but can be a lot of information/opportunity to sift through. I am here to help. Stay curious!
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Jodie Randolph is a choreographer and dance educator based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a recent graduate of Jacksonville University where she received her MFA in Choreography and director of Jodie Randolph Dance.