Commercial vs. concert dance: How to choose

Commercial and concert dance used to feel like entirely different industries.  Today, the two worlds overlap a lot in terms of dance styles, choreographers, projects, venues, and more.  Still, in thinking of your career goals and dreams, you might be wondering which track is right for you.  Here’s our quick and dry breakdown of commercial versus concert dance. Remember that for whatever your professional pursuit, strong technique, versatility, and hard work will get you far no matter your industry.

When we talk about commercial dance, we’re generally referring to styles like street jazz, stiletto heels, and hip-hop—but other genres like contemporary and even musical theatre are quickly seeping in.  Think of this track as dance that’s done for companies or events with big commercial profit…pop star performances, televised award shows, and movie blockbusters. Pursuing a career in commercial dance is similar to what you might think of as freelancer in the business world.  Gigs for TV shows, film shoots, music videos, commercials, and live events can spring up at a moment’s notice—with rehearsals and performances to follow immediately after.  Unless you’re a backup dancer on a big tour (like for Katy Perry, J. Lo, or Beyoncé), most commercial dancers hop from gig to gig, taking drop-in class, working flexible side hustles, and attending auditions when they can.  The life of a commercial dancer can seem unpredictable, but because of unions like SAG/AFTRA, these performers make good money and receive important benefits for their work.

Concert dance typically refers to company work done on a concert stage—ballet, classic jazz, and modern dance styles reign, but again, the lines are becoming fuzzier by day.  Some concert dance companies you might have heard of include Complexions, Ailey II, Lines, or Hubbard Street, to name just a few.  Being part of a company means you will be taking class and rehearsing with the same group of people pretty much every day.  Performance tours will have you traveling across the country—or even the world—dancing repertoire (a canon of the dance company’s new and more classic choreographic works) for new and diverse audiences.  Concert dancers aren’t typically “rolling in the dough,” but being a part of a company can actually feel more stable than other dance careers—both in terms of a consistent schedule and paycheck.  Also, once you join a dance company, it’s not likely you’ll have to audition over and over again.

Do you have any questions about commercial or concert dance?  Which field do you see yourself pursuing in the future?  Do you think dancers can have a career in both?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

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