Yes, Adults CAN Become Professional Ballet Dancers. Here's How.
By Veronica Viccora
Can Adults Really Be Professional Ballet Dancers?
If you've ever told someone you were interested in starting ballet as an adult, you've probably been met with the response 99.9% of late bloomers and adult ballerinas have been met with:
You're too late.
It comes in many different forms:
"Don't you have to start as a child?"
"There's no point at your age."
"You'll never go professional."
Aside from the fact that:
A. Making money from your art is NOT what validates it
B. It's perfectly okay to do things simply because you love them. (Hello, did we forget hobbies exist?)
& C. No one asked for your wet blanket of an opinion, thanks very much
It's actually one of the BIGGEST misconceptions in the dance world that you can never earn a living from ballet if you started anywhere past the age of -5.
Yes, it's true you may age out of certain programs and opportunities that want very specific types of dancers. Yes, it's true that starting late will make it much more difficult to land the principal role in world famous companies like American Ballet Theater (though it's not unheard of). But those are highly competitive positions that go to very few dancers to begin with. There is still a world of rich possibility, albeit a bit more unconventional, awaiting even the late bloomers that most people miss simply because they're stuck on this one, extreme idea of what a ballerina can be.
However, for those passionate and open minded enough to seek possibility where most people never will, there are many different ways to earn a living from dancing & become a professional ballet dancer, even as an adult.
STEP 1 TO GOING PRO:
Stop the "All-or-Nothing" Thinking
I started to get the hint that a lot of the traditional "wisdom" surrounding the dance world was a load of bull-shark when I moved to New York. As someone who was told at 17 that I was already too late to start ballet by a teacher I'd never even met in person, I was shocked to discover 10 years later that many of my teachers (who perform professionally) didn't start until 17. In fact, some of them were surprised to hear that anyone would even say such a thing. Now, as an adult ballet dancer currently training 5 days a week, learning pointe, hosting ballet workshops, designing a ballet clothing line & running a virtual dance magazine, I can tell you there are MANY different avenues to making money as a dancer.
However, the biggest problem I've observed plaguing most people along their ballet journey, is something known as all-or-nothing thinking. This is the toxic, perfectionistic mindset that says there is only ONE way to be a success and if it's not dancing the lead in Swan Lake at Lincoln Center, why even bother?
How likely is it that people would tell someone taking up running, or snowshoe-ing, or swimming later in life to just give up before they've even begun because they'll never be an Olympian? Not very likely. Because this is such an extreme way to look at these sports that it would seem silly, irrelevant and quite frankly, effing rude. But due to the perfectionistic nature of ballet and it's roots in royalty, there's still a very pedantic, antiquated and quite frankly, snooty view on what a ballerina can be.
Learn to look for opportunity instead of setbacks, seek solutions instead of problems & meet close-minded naysayers with open-minded curiosity, and you'll go very far.
STEP 2 TO GOING PRO:
Define Your Goals
Before You Find a Career, Find Your WHY
Before we officially discuss how to become a professional ballet dancer as an adult, you need to ask yourself a big question:
What is the ACTUAL goal?
So many of us are living under the rule of this hazy, undefined goal to become a "real" dancer. As I've shared many times before however, there is no one size fits all definition of what it even means to be a "real" dancer, and having ballet pay the bills is certainly not the only way to validate yourself. So why are we trying to earn validation from faceless people we don't even know or like? WE get to define what being a "real" dancer means for ourselves. If you do a little soul searching, you may find that you love for ballet may have nothing to do with being professional at all. And in fact, while going professional has been a wonderful experience for countless dancers, it's also ruined ballet for many others.
So what is your goal specifically? Most people wouldn't say their biggest goal is to "make money from ballet." It's more likely to feel the thrill of performing live, to be part of a community like a dance company, to be able to do what you love all the time. For the record, there are countless ways to perform on stages, build ballet community & feel the unique joy of being a human who dances without ever making a dime.
But don't worry, if making money from ballet is important you, I'll show you exactly how you can become a professional ballet dancer below, so keep reading.
Just be sure to get clear on your reason for pursuing this passion and you'll be able to find joy no matter why, what or how you're dancing.
How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer as an Adult
1. Look for Smaller Ballet Companies
Many people assume the only way to become a professional ballet dancer is to land a role in a major dance company like New York City Ballet. However, there are countless smaller, indie ballet companies all over the world that you could audition be a part of, with more & more cropping up all the time. While still competitive and hardworking of course, smaller, less traditional companies may not be nearly as concerned with age and therefore more accessible.
2. Dance Freelance
Being part of a company full time is not the only way to dance professionally. Many companies need special guests for their performances and therefore call in dancers for a limited show run. This is one way dancers like Raquel Beauchamp, who's only been dancing on pointe for the past 6 years, earn a living as a freelance professional ballet dancer.
3. Start a Ballet Blog
This is like the create-your-own method of professional ballet dancing because it's so versatile. Anyone of any age, body type or talent level can start a YouTube channel, share on social media, build a blog and ultimately work towards securing sponsorships and affiliates. While this is a much more roundabout way of earning a paycheck through ballet (and a TON of work) it's also fun, highly accessible and a great way to connect with ballet brands, companies & other dancers.
In fact, it was choosing to show up online, even as a green, imperfect dancer that lead to my first Nutcracker performance, countless free dance classes & ballet gear, ballet modeling gigs, and an entirely new career that's fast tracking me to dancing full time.
4. Start Your Own Professional Ballet Company
Who says you have to dance for someone else's professional ballet company when you could create your own? This is certainly not a simple path, but I'm a big believer that if you don't see what you crave in the world, it might be a sign that you're meant to create it. The best part is, if it's your own ballet company, YOU get to call the shots. If you're a visionary & a self starter, this could be the perfect option for you.
5. Become a Choreographer
Maybe you don't want to go as far as creating your own ballet company, but maybe you do dream of choreographing your own musical numbers. Perfect! You could be the brilliant creative mind behind things like dance focused films, music videos or other forms of media.
6. Dance Commercially
But maybe you don't care for choreography and you just want to dance. Cool. As previously mentioned, live theater is not the only kind of theater that calls for professional ballet dancers. Film, television, music videos, etc. all need back up dancers and you could be paid to be one of them.
7. Model for Ballet Brands
If you love the aesthetics of ballet, this could be the perfect role for you. With a worldwide ballet Renaissance currently happening as we speak, more and more brands are taking their notes from the dance world. However, not every brand has the budget or connections to work with top ballerinas like Isabella Boylston and would actually prefer to work with lesser known dancers who have an understanding of technique.
8. Teach Ballet
This is perhaps the most obvious one but still worth mentioning as it's a wonderfully rewarding profession for so many people. In fact, I'd argue the world needs more professional ballet teachers who started later in life. Why? Because dancers who started at the age of 2 can't always understand the unique struggles that come from learning ballet as an adult. But teachers who understand their students because they've more recently been their students can often explain things with a different level of compassion, attention & and clarity that others simply can't.
BONUS TIP: Explore Other Dance Styles
While the traditionally professional ballet world can be a tough nut to crack, there are countless other dance styles that are much more open minded when it comes to the dancers they choose to work with. Contemporary, hip hop, jazz, theater are just a few style that you may find you can more easily make a professional home in. And many of them still take their roots from ballet which means your training and expression of the dance may often still include some of the elements that drew you to ballet in the first place.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas. Living in the age of the internet, there are more ways than ever before to find creative ways to make a living doing what you love. From one ballet misfit to another, there are incredible opportunities available to those who are willing to take them. If there's anything I've learned from pursing a professional ballet career as an adult, albeit an unconventional one, it's there's undoubtedly space enough for everyone.
So keep seeking your own trail, and if all else fails and you can't seem to find it...