How to Become a Background Dancer

By Lindsey A. Frederick ; Updated September 15, 2017
Miley Cyrus performing on stage with background dancers.

If you love to dance on stage but don't love the spotlight, you may have what it takes to become a background dancer. To make it big in this profession, however, you need more than just great technique, as booking a job as a background dancer is as much about look and style as it is about talent.

What It Takes

The process of becoming a background dancer can be brutal, so you need to be both tough and talented. “Fleets of talented dancers who try -- at least three quarters… don’t make it and many of those don’t because they simply can’t process the ruthlessness,” says a 2011 article called The Truth About Life as a Background Dancer. Part of booking a job requires learning challenging choreography quickly and working long hours on stage or in a video shoot. This means that you should be in top mental and physical shape, as well as be able to remain calm under pressure. Additionally, you need to be able to work as part of a team to make headliners shine, so you should be detail oriented, reliable and consistent.

Train Smart, Dance Hard

Some of the best dancers on Fox’s hit show “So You Think You Can Dance?” never make it past the audition round, because they often are masters in only one dance style. It’s important to train in different styles to grow your versatility and ability to handle any choreography. A 2009 article in Dance Spirit notes that dancers need a specialty to stand out. Dancers and A-list performers in Hollywood flock to places like Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio and Millennium Dance Complex to learn ballet, contemporary, hip hop, jazz, popping, locking and more from top teachers in the business. Even ballroom and Bollywood can give you the edge you need to command the audition spotlight.

Hire an Agent

If you’re ready to start making the audition rounds, it’s time to find a new best friend: an agent. “Most auditions for backup tour and music video dancers are huge cattle calls," notes Dance Spirit, “though if you have an agent, it’s possible to be part of a smaller audition with other clients from your agency.” Make sure your agent has copies of your dance resume, head shots and a video highlight reel of your different dance styles to help give you a leg up on the competition.

Rock the Audition

The first rule of the audition is be ready for anything, but there are a few things you can expect. First, don’t plan anything else on audition day, as you’ll likely be there all day. Next, show up with head shots and look the part, while still showcasing your personal style. “If you prefer a sexy look, but the part calls for a more athletic persona,” advises Dance Spirit, “you could wear low-rise jeans, sneakers and a corset.”

Also plan on being asked to freestyle. This is the time to let your additional dance training shine. “I would rather have a dancer come in there dancing his butt off,” says choreographer Shane Sparks, “than someone who has mastered the combination, but has no feeling, no drive, no energy.” Finally, be confident -- the audition starts from the second you walk in the door.

Book the Job

Congrats, you booked a job! Relish that achievement, but know what to expect, as it may not be all glitter and flashing lights. If you’re shooting a video, this can take one to three days, dancers can be kept late into the night, and often only a fraction of the moves you shoot will make it into the final video. If you’re selected for a tour -- one of the best paying jobs in the dance industry -- rehearsals can take from weeks to months, with contracts ranging from one month to one year.

About the Author

Based in the D.C. metro area, Lindsey A. Frederick has been writing communications and career-related pieces since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "New Identity Magazine," FamousDC.com, Corporette.com, "Tomorrow's Business Leader," the Christian Writer's Guild, "Winery Weddings," "Christian Communicator" and more. Frederick has a Bachelor of Science in interpersonal communication and is the marketing and communications coordinator for an international charitable nonprofit.