Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies - A Program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

CPANDATransitioning From a Professional Dance Career

About this Quick Fact

The aDvANCE Project [United States], conducted by the Research Center for Arts and Culture, was undertaken in order to assess the transition of professional dancers to post-performance careers. The survey, conducted by mail in 2003, consisted of a random sample of 220 dancers in the United States, drawn from a list of organizations such as the U.S. Career Transition for Dancers organization, unions, and dance companies. The sample of dancers included 49 current dancers and 171 former dancers.

How Long Do Dance Careers Last?

According to the aDvANCE Project, on average, dancers begin their professional dance careers at 19 years old and end their active dance careers at the age of 34. This indicates that 15 years is the average duration of a professional dance career in the United States. However, when former dancers were asked in hindsight how long they expected their professional dance careers to last, the average response was 37 years old. Current dancers said they expected their professional dance careers to last until the age of 40.

Why Do Dancers End Their Professional Performance Careers?

The aDvANCE Project compared the reasons why former dancers' professional performance careers ended with the reasons given by current dancers as to what might cause their dancing careers to end. While 35% of former dancers stated health reasons for ending their careers, 43% of current dancers expected health-related causes to intervene. Only about 22% of former dancers stated that age ended their careers while 41% of current dancers expected age to be a career-ending factor. Interestingly, while just 1% of former dancers stated that "wanting a new career" contributed to ending their dance careers, 45% of current dancers expected it to be significant reason.

Graph: Why professional dance careers end. (Source: The Advance Project [United States])

Fewer Challenges in Career Transition Than Current Dancers Expect

The aDvANCE Project also compared the post-performance career transition challenges faced by former professional dancers with what current dancers perceive will be the challenges of career transition. Former dancers experienced a "sense of emptiness" related to career transition at a similar rate as expected by current dancers. However, for most other post-performance transition challenges, significantly fewer former dancers experienced challenges compared with the expectations of current dancers. For example, while 44% of former dancers actually faced physical or health challenges in career transition, 55% of current dancers believed that physical challenges would be a significant factor. In addition, "deciding what to do next" was a career transition challenge for 42% of former dancers in the study, while 55% of current dancers expect it to be a post-performance challenge. "Loss of income" was an actual challenge in career transition for 40% of former dancers and an expected challenge for 49% of current dancers. Finally, despite only 32% of former dancers having experienced "loss of status" as a significant post-performance challenge, 41% of current dancers perceived it to be a future career transition challenge. In nearly all categories, a substantially smaller proportion of former dancers experienced challenges in post-performance career transition than the proportion of current dancers who anticipated challenges.

Graph: Dancers' post-performance career transition. (Source: the Advance Project [United States])

The data from the aDvANCE Project [United States] can be accessed through CPANDA for further analysis. Other questions that might be analyzed include:

  • What was your income from dance at the highest point of your career?
  • What was your income from dance at the lowest point of your career?
  • Overall, how would you rate your preparedness to meet the challenges of transition, when it occurs?

Explore these and other questions through FACTOID.


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