Vocational Guidance

So You Want To Dance

Entertainment is probably the hardest profession around: classes from the age of 3; possibly a dance-orientated boarding school from 11; three years of vocational training in your teens; daily class, either with a company or those that you find yourself; the never-ending round of auditions; not knowing whether, if you fail an audition, it is because of your ability, your appearance or even your height; your body no longer able to cope at the age of 30 or 35! Then there is the money, or lack of it, and a very strange social life if you manage to find the time at all. Despite all this, the rewards are there in other ways - you earn your living doing something that you absolutely adore and you get the unbelievable high that comes from performing in front of an audience every night.

What Do I Need?

Regardless of the dance career path you wish to follow you will need to have received a sound classical ballet training. This is the basis of any dance training and all vocational colleges will expect you to have studied this genre to a proficient standard. Thereafter, apart from purely classical ballet colleges, you will need to have achieved a high level of modern theatre (jazz) training and, although there is seldom a prerequisite level, it is suggested that a good indicator is to have gained your Intermediate examination. Tap dancing is an added bonus, but is not generally considered essential. If you are looking for a musical theatre career then you will need a good singing voice. It goes without saying that you need a natural musicality and are well co-ordinated. Your physique will be appropriate to the style of dance; all dancers need great flexibility and classical dancers, more than most, require long limbs. You will need to be physically in proportion - neither too large nor too small. The latter is particularly dangerous and many colleges and companies will not consider a dancer who is too thin

Who Can Succeed?

With the correct training, and the right physique you are well on the way. However, a career in the theatre is not an easy option and you have to be hardy, both physically and mentally to succeed. Almost more essential than anything else, is that you really want to dance. You will have been “eating and sleeping” dance from an early age and still be hungry for more. You will have attended any and every course available to you and have grabbed every opportunity to perform. You will have attended classes, despite feeling “off colour”. Moreover, you are not put off by failure and will indeed be spurred on if you have not achieved as well as you would have liked in, say, an examination. Finally, you need to believe in yourself that you WILL achieve, and be able to demonstrate a confident approach in auditions.

I Still Want To Dance

What is your best style - ballet, modern, tap? Can you sing or act? There are many career paths to consider: a ballet company; West End shows; in cabaret in night clubs or hotels, on cruise ships or in holiday camps, anywhere in the world. The style of dancing that you want to do will help you choose the most appropriate vocational school at which to train.

What Next?

Having decided on your style of dance and, of course, discussed your potential with your dance teacher, you then make a short-list of vocational schools that offer this training. You will need to obtain application forms from each on your short-list, read through the information packs and complete the forms for those that are of the most interest, arrange for any photographs that are required to be taken (see menu above) and then send everything off, together with the appropriate audition fee. If you are lucky, you will be offered an audition. If you are really lucky, after an audition you may be offered a place. Do remember that a place in year 1 does not guarantee a place in years 2 or 3 (students do fall by the wayside) or in a company at the end of the course.


With courses costing many thousands of pounds, together with the cost of travelling and accommodation, a great deal of money has to be found. There are a few sources of grants and bursaries (see menu above), and some of the schools also have access to funds, but it is inevitable that some or all of your needs will have to be met within your own family or friends. Many students take part-time jobs to assist with their costs - waitressing, pub work etc - but this is not ideal, especially with such physically demanding work during the day.

Academic Work

As many as 80% of students from a vocational school will still be out of work a year after graduating and so academic and/or dance teaching qualifications are also important. If chosen carefully, such subjects can give you another line of income when you are “resting” (ie between dance jobs). Many of the vocational schools offer this.

I Have Graduated . . . Now What?

Auditions, auditions and auditions. Do not be put off by not getting through. While it is possible that you might not have achieved your anticipated potential, despite your training, there are many other reasons for failing to be accepted. It could be your height, your hair or other aspects of your appearance (not only too large but also too thin), or it could simply be that the management or choreographers were looking for similar set of dancers and you did not fit the mold on the day.

What Is An Audition Like?

Auditions vary tremendously, depending on what type of performer is being sought. With a classical ballet company it usually comprises a classical class, a prepared solo danced by you followed by a chat with the panel. For musical theatre you may be taught a routine, sing a solo and then work on an unseen piece. The panel (usually more than one person is involved in the decision) is looking for many things: are you technically capable, are you quick to pick up routines, will you fit in (a happy company is very important) and will you fit the image of the show or company? One day you could be up against lead performers from a West End show and the next you could be competing against students still in training.

Where Will I Dance?

This again varies tremendously. You could be in a small ballet company doing “one night stands” in provincial theatres; a cabaret team dancing in a nightclub somewhere on the continent or on board ship; a major ballet company presenting a season in London or one of the other major centres; in a major musical “in town” or on tour. For many, a career in dance, means visiting different towns in the UK or even travelling abroad.

When Do I Retire?

Early, is the usual answer - age 30 to 35 is normally the limit for dancers, while those in musical theatre can achieve a longer career.

What Then?

Have you had enough of dancing? If the answer is yes, or you feel that if you cannot dance you don’t want to be around the business, then you fall back on your academic training, possibly with extra studies as a mature student, and move into a “normal” job with career prospects, a family and a home! If the answer is no, you can move into choreography, teaching or some other activity closely connected with the profession - Tracy Corp, Tracy Fritschy & Julie Brown (former teachers with The Weston) and Marie Francis & Susan Lilly (current teachers with The Weston) are all ex-dancers; Elaine Mason (renowned dance photographer) was previously a dancer; Karen Bruce (ex-Weston) is an award-winning choreographer and directed Footloose in the West End; Kate Simmons (former soloist with English National Ballet) is principal of her own full-time vocational college; many of the dance and musical theatre shows have ex-performers running “the corner”.

Will I Be Rich?

Probably not. With few exceptions a performing career is poorly paid - in fact, most of the time, you will probably be struggling to make ends meet. However, you will have a richness of experiences, will have visited many places, experienced great camaraderie and had the great privilege of doing something you really enjoy.

What Next?

Contact the office by telephone (01245) 287638 or email if you would like to talk over your plans with the Principal, Miss Elisabeth Swan, or chat to one of the ex-dancers who are teaching for the School. If you decide to try for vocational school do contact us - we can help in your choices and suggest alternatives more suited to your personal strengths or weaknesses.

Whatever you decide to do, we wish you all the luck in the world.