Going Prefessional

No, that’s not a typo.

I constantly emphasize the importance of setting goals, and when I started my own dance business this past February, goals were an important start of the process. I knew what I wanted from the business, and what I didn’t want. For example, I didn’t want to endanger my amateur status for competitions. I didn’t want to get in trouble for violating my non-compete clause with my new studio. Nor did I want to harm business at my new studios. On the other hand, I did want to provide quality dance instruction. I wanted to help people without having to be a pushy salesman. And I wanted to make enough money to pay for my own lessons.

That last one was the key goal. It told me how much revenue I needed the business to generate. Which, surprisingly, wasn’t that much, and was a goal I met after just my first month.

There’s a concept in the world of dancing that doesn’t have a name, but should so I’m going to name it. I call it a “prefessional dancer.” A prefessional is a dancer who generates revenue through some aspect of dancicng, but is not yet a professional; which is to say they’re not making a career out of dance nor are they competing at a professional level. There are a lot of dancers out there who should consider going prefessional. Maybe you’re one of them.

The first thing you need to consider is how can you use your dancing to generate revenue. Traditionally, people do this by:

  • Teaching

  • Performing

  • Judging

  • Partnering

We all know what teaching means. You can teach group classes or private lessons, advertise a great deal or by word of mouth, and rent space in a studio or make do with lesser dance spaces. Regardless, however, you must know your material. If you don’t already have a syllabus, get one, both the written and video syllabi. You should know every aspect of what you’re teaching for both the man’s and lady’s parts. Try giving a few free lessons to your friends and family before you start charging, to see what you need to improve on with your teaching.

Performance is any occasion where you dance for other people. This can mean a stage performance to a talent contest with a prize. My favorite performances are window dressing performances. These are events where you and your partner largely serve as mobile decorations for an event. These events may not pay as well as teaching but they go over great at fund raisers in which case you may be able to claim the cost of your services as a tax deductible charitable donation instead – remember, you don’t need to get cash to profit from your dancing.

Judging is a very difficult area to get into. It requires extremely high levels of certification, but can be very lucrative once you break into the field. If you’re interested in becoming a judge, speak to your teacher.

Finally, there’s partnering. While not very common in the US, some people will hire dancers to either practice with them or serve as escorts to events. If you’re dancing is at a high enough level (at least silver, gold is better), consider being a paid dance partner.

Keep in mind, however, that while these types of gigs pay, there are numerous other ways to profit off of your dancing. If you want a vacation, for example, cruise lines often offer discount cruises to amateur dancers who can teach a class. Even if you only make a little money through dancing, if you start a business to promote yourself then many of your dance expenses, including costumes, videos, and travel costs, become tax-deductible business expenses (NB: I am not a tax expert. See an accountant before trying this).

Above all, stay open to new ideas. Think about how you can make dancing work for you. If you compete, be sure to carefully read USA Dance and the NDCA’s distinctions between athletes and professionals – and recognize that some competitions use entirely different definitions.

Lastly, I highly recommend Bob Thomas’s classic article, “Swinging For Cash,” on how to get started as a for-profit dancer.

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