Dance Like a Pro: A Rundown of How to Become a Professional Dancer with Courtney Ortiz

This is the type of career you can’t do forever, so why not take the chance and do it now? It’s tough, but what job isn’t?
— Courtney Ortiz
© Spinkick Pictures

© Spinkick Pictures

Becoming a professional dancer is a unique and amazing career choice -- but trust me, it’s not as easy as it seems. Most professionals grow up dancing and have been doing it since they were little kids. They are born with a passion for it. It's very rare for people to continue to move on into the real world of dance after they graduate, mainly because they’ve heard how hard it is to get work in this industry and how inconsistent life can be. All of those things are very true, however, if you have a dream, you go for it. Dancers, being some of the strongest people I know, will do whatever it takes to make their dream come true.

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to become a professional dancer, continue to read on! Dancers are athletes and most start training at a young age in all genres to gain solid technique and foundation of all the basics. Being versatile in multiple styles of dance is key to becoming successful in this industry. The more you can do the better! I am grateful that I grew up training in all styles at my dance studio in Maryland. I feel like it prepared me for everything I needed to know once I stepped foot in the real world.

The next and hardest step is making the big move! You definitely want to be based out of a major dance city like New York City or Los Angeles in the United States. These 2 cities offer different types of careers in the industry. New York City is very Broadway based, with auditions for tons of musicals around the country, production shows, live events, and more. Los Angeles is more commercial based, with opportunities to dance behind pop artists, on television shows, music videos, commercials, etc. Depending on what you hope to achieve out of your career as a dancer determines which city would best suit you. I have been in New York City pursuing Jazz and Broadway opportunities for the past 5 years. I am currently looking into making the move out west to experience the commercial side of this industry too!

Going to auditions every single day is a strenuous, exhausting process. All the dancers in town are at that very same audition. Sometimes up to 300 people are all going for the limited number of spots in each show. Everyone is each others' competition. Get ready to wait around all day long with the possibility of maybe not even getting seen -- or as well call it in the biz, “typed out”. “Typed out” is when casting will make a cut based on your look; depending if you fit what is needed for the show or not -- most likely without dancing. Sometimes you’ll get typed out just by your headshot or resume. Sometimes you'll go into the room and do a double pirouette and battement one at a time. Sometimes you’ll stand there in a line, just like you’ve seen in <em>A Chorus Line</em>. Yes, you thought it was all part of the show, but it's really how it goes down in the life of a professional dancer.

Another thing that dancers have to learn while auditioning is that we can’t let things bring us down. We get judged and critiqued every single day of our lives, and we have to learn how to be strong when we get cut at auditions. It happens almost every day for most of us, and usually it has nothing to do with your talent. It probably has to do with how short you are (happens to me a lot), what color your hair is, if you have strong vocals, if you can do back flips... the list could go on forever. That was unquestionably one of the hardest things I had to realize when I first started auditioning. It's a tough part of this lifestyle because sometimes you get SO close to getting that dream job, and in the end, they cast someone else. In your head, you knew you would have been perfect for the show and you gave it your all at the final callback. It’s always a hard pill to swallow when that happens. We as dancers put so much effort into our craft. We're constantly training in all different types of dance classes, spending countless hours (and $$$) on voice lessons, shopping for the perfect audition outfits, networking with as many people in the biz as we can... and sometimes we feel like we’ll just never book a show.

BUT: I truly believe everything happens for a reason and I always try to stay positive when looking at the future. And when you do book that first BIG show you’ve been working so hard to get for so long, everything leading up to that moment is absolutely 100% worth it! I love the spontaneity of the industry. I love not knowing what I’m doing in a month from now. I love the hustle about it! Some people don’t like the financial insecurity, and we all definitely have our fair share of “survival jobs” while we're in between gigs; but I swear it's all worth it. This is the type of career you can’t do forever, so why not take the chance and do it now? It's tough, but what job isn’t?

I am so happy I decided to take the chance and become a professional dancer. It's such an amazing feeling waking up every day knowing that I’m making a living doing what I love. I’m very grateful for every single opportunity my career has presented so far. It's been a roller coaster for sure, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve grown so much as an artist, I’ve performed around the globe in a dream show, I’ve met amazing people along the way, and I truly can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next.

My words of advice to all aspiring dancers: Never give up. Never stop learning. Take risks and challenge yourself. If you want something bad enough, go for it and definitely live your dream!