If you dream of being a commercial dancer, you probably hear terms being tossed around all the time — like agent and representation and manager — but it can all be a little overwhelming, not to mention confusing. So if you hope your dancing will take you to movies, TV stages, or dancing backup for Beyoncé, here’s what you need to know as you embark on the world of being a professional commercial dancer — and whose professional help is worth your hard-earned money.
Step 1: Get an agent!
When it comes to enlisting people who can help you achieve your dance dreams, a dance agent should be the first person you seek out. “Getting access to a dancer generally happens through the talent agency,” says Pete Engle of Clear Talent Group, one of the premier agencies for dancers and choreographers. “It’s different than if you’re an actor who could build relationships with casting directors and at general meetings. Choreographers don’t necessarily need or want to meet a dancer individually — that’s not usually how they’re hired. You have to audition. Direct bookings do happen, and relationships with casting teams and choreographers can help. But when you’re starting out, an agent will be your best ally in helping you find auditions and get cast in roles or jobs you’re right for.
The best way to get an agent is through a referral. If you have a connection to a dancer or choreographer who is already represented and can vouch for you, have him or her directly connect you with the agents.
You probably don’t need a manager — at least not yet.
“In a traditional sense, managers work with clients on a one-on-one basis to help create his or her career,” says Engle. “Agents traditionally negotiate contracts, procure opportunities, and help with employment.” But dance, of course, isn’t a “traditional sense,” so many dancers may not have a strong need for a manager, at least at the start of a professional career. “Choreographers don’t call managers to book dancers — they call the agents,” says Engle. “So a manager isn’t really a necessity for a new-to-the-industry dancer.”
But if you want to transition into acting? Consider hiring a manager.
If your long-term goal is to broaden your performing horizons and get into acting, for example, you may want a manager to come in to help guide your career in that area. But if you’re sticking to dance, finding the right agent to represent you will be key. “Over time, dance agents have really functioned as both managers and agents,” says Engle. “Instead of just being the contract creators or opportunity seekers, we become career advisors as well.”
What about a publicist?
“Most dancers don’t need a publicist,” says Engle. Publicists are for publicizing specific press-worthy things. So when Travis Wall, who is represented by Clear Talent, is embarking on Emmy season or is appearing on So You Think You Can Dance, he knows he has something to publicize! That’s when he’ll enlist a publicist to help get the word out. “Not many press outlets will be interested in a singular dancing performing on the MTV VMAs,” says Engle. “They’re going to be interested in larger-scale things, like a major role or film or if you’ve developed your own TV show. Those are things that will get you wanting a publicist.” (Even Engle’s most high-level clients don’t have regular publicists. And a good publicist will tell you not to get one until you have something to publicize!)
How are all these people making money?
Generally speaking, an agent is making money off the jobs you book. So the agent doesn’t make money unless you work! Most agents get 10–20 percent on jobs their dancers book (and the fee is negotiated on top of the talent fee, so you won’t get paid less). Plus, agencies are pretty tightly regulated, especially in California, where many commercial jobs take place. You don’t have to worry about anything shady going on — if you sign with a reputable agency, you’re in good hands!
Managers aren’t regulated by law, so they can charge and take whatever they want, and rates vary quite a bit.
And publicists are generally paid on retainer, so you’ll hire them on a monthly fee ranging from $2,500 to $6,000 per month.
OK, so I’m going to get an agent. What else should I know?
Here are Engle’s top tips for working with a dance agent:
- “Working with an agent is like any other relationship in your life,” he says. “You build them — they don’t happen overnight. Getting signed is the first step, but that’s just the beginning. A good agent-client relationship is something that both sides are equally invested in. Build trust and connection, because the dancers who are most active in building that connection are the ones who will come to mind when an agent is putting a submission together for a choreographer.”
- “Be an active participant in your career,” Engle says. “Don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring. Dance is very competitive, and if there are thousands of commercial dancers trying really hard, you need to try even harder. It’s a challenging career — it takes gumption and talent and luck and persistence and perseverance and having thick skin — but it’s also very rewarding.”
- “If you don’t live to dance — if you don’t love it so passionately — don’t do it, because it’s going to take that to be successful,” he says.
- “Commercial dance isn’t the whole world of dance,” Engle says. “Everyone sees So You Think and Glee and gets the impression that to be successful at dance means being a commercial dancer. And that’s a great fit for some people! But you can also be a company dancer, a dance writer, a dance teacher. There’s so much you can do in this industry.”
Some advice from the JJ Team:
Once you have found an agent and you start attending auditions, make sure that you always rock eye-catching dancewear to catch the choreographer’s eye. Not only will you stand out with your flawless technique and personality, but a cute outfit will make them even more drawn to your talent!