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Making Dance

Dance Professions: Who's Who?

There are many different professions within a dance company. In addition to the artistic team, including dancers, choreographers, designers and composers, there are also many individuals who work behind the scenes.

Members of the production team work in the theatre, wardrobe and workshop. They ensure the construction, support and facilitation of aspects of the performance. Members of the administration team work at the company offices and studios or at related organizations. They manage and coordinate the day-to-day operations of the company at home and on tour.

In large companies, a different individual fulfils each specific role. Depending on the company, there may be other roles required as well. In small companies, individuals may take on more than one role.

Below, you can read about some of the main roles in a professional dance company. Afterward, it's Your Turn to test your knowledge by taking the Professions Quiz.

Artistic Professions

Accompanist/Rehearsal Pianist

An accompanist or rehearsal pianist plays for daily class and rehearsals. Accompanists or rehearsal pianists are usually professional pianists or drummers/percussionists familiar with the specific protocol for dance classes and rehearsals. Pianists may learn a score for an upcoming performance so that the dancers can rehearse without the full orchestra.

Apprentice/Intern

An apprentice or intern is a dancer who works alongside the regular company dancers, learning repertoire and understudying roles. An apprenticeship or internship is seen to bridge the transition from dance student to professional dancer.

Artistic Director

An artistic director oversees and directs the artistic activities of a dance company. The artistic director hires artistic staff, such as dancers, choreographers and designers, and plans the season based on his or her vision for the organization. He or she is the driving force behind the organization. The artistic director may also be the resident choreographer.

Ballet Master/Mistress

In a ballet company, the ballet master or mistress fulfils a similar role to the rehearsal director, but may also teach daily ballet class, rehearse the corps de ballet and character parts, advise on proper technique and assist with auditions.

Choreographer

A choreographer creates and sets original movement on the dancers based on a theme, image, story, piece of music or movement idea. Many choreographers are also dancers or were formerly dancers. Choreographers may work collaboratively with the dancers through improvisation. They may also specify music, costumes, sets or props.

Choreologist

A choreologist is specifically trained to notate and document a finished piece of choreography for future remounting and archiving. The most common methods of notation are Benesh and Laban.

Composer

A composer creates an original musical score for dance. He or she may collaborate on the composition with the choreographer, or the choreographer may select music that the composer previously created.

Conductor

A conductor directs and conducts the orchestra and arranges the music (dynamics, orchestration, tempo, arrangement, etc.) in consultation with the artistic director or choreographer. He or she may also be responsible for hiring musicians.

Corps de ballet

A corps de ballet is a supporting ensemble of ballet dancers, who perform background roles such as peasants, party guests, swans or fairies in story ballets. In abstract or "pure dance" works, these artists perform ensemble roles. In hierarchical companies, dancers traditionally begin their careers as members of the corps de ballet before being promoted to soloists.

Costume Designer

A costume designer researches and designs costumes and chooses fabrics that complement and/or highlight the movement and theme of the piece and are suitable for the dancers to move in. The costume designer works closely with the choreographer.

Critic

A critic is an accredited journalist with a reputation and expertise in a particular field, such as dance, music, theatre or visual art. He or she is often familiar with particular artists' careers and the development of the field. A critic attends a performance and writes a critique, in which they analyze, contextualize and evaluate the work. Once published, a critique can affect public opinion about the production.

Dance Captain

In some dance companies, a dance captain is a senior dancer who is appointed to direct rehearsals, coach new dancers and give notes or corrections after performances. He or she can also be called upon to substitute when another dancer is injured. Dance captains are most common in musical theatre and in productions with large ensembles.

Dance Writer

A dance writer is an individual with a strong knowledge of dance, who writes about the work in a number of possible ways. A dance writer may be: a critic; a journalist, who writes previews, reviews and other articles for the media; a researcher/historian, who writes articles, books, reports and other documents about dance for the public or for specific organizations; a creative writer, who participates in the creative process and produces written texts that may be used by the dancers or the choreographer in process or in performance.

Dancer

A dancer is an individual who interprets and performs the movements set by the choreographer. He or she may also participate in the development of the movement. A dancer may work independently, as a freelance or guest artist, or as a member of a company or ensemble.

Dancer Representative

A dancer representative is a senior member of a dance company who acts as a liaison between the dancers and management with regard to dancers' rights and safety. The dancer representative will often attend meetings of the board of directors to represent the dancers' point of view.

Danseur Noble

A danseur noble is a male ballet dancer with many years of experience, who is especially gifted. He performs lead roles in the repertoire and partners the prima ballerina.

First Soloist

A first soloist is a dancer selected to learn and perform solos in the repertoire. He or she usually performs as part of the first cast and is ranked above a second soloist.

Lighting Designer

A lighting designer creates lighting states that complement or highlight the movement. A sequence of lighting states are then made into lighting cues and plotted on a diagram. The lighting plot specifies the type and number of lights to be used, their position, colour and intensity. Once the lights have been hung and adjusted, individual lighting cues can usually be programmed into a computerized lighting board. The lighting designer works closely with the choreographer.

Prima Ballerina

A prima ballerina is a female ballet dancer with many years of experience, who is especially gifted. She performs lead roles in the repertoire and is partnered by the danseur noble.

Principal Dancer

A principal dancer is a dancer who has reached a very high level of technical ability and artistic maturity. A principal dancer performs starring roles in a company's repertoire.

Rehearsal Director

A rehearsal director schedules and supervises rehearsals to ensure that the dancers know and interpret the choreography as set by the choreographer. The rehearsal director also gives notes (corrections or changes) after a performance. Rehearsal directors are often former dancers with the company or the choreographer. A rehearsal director is different than a repetiteur in that he or she is not necessarily an expert on the work of the choreographer and is generally not authorized to teach or rehearse a work in the absence of the choreographer.

Repetiteur

A repetiteur is authorized to teach and rehearse choreography in the absence of the choreographer. He or she may be invited to teach or rehearse a work at another dance company on behalf or in place of the choreographer, if the choreographer is not available or is no longer alive. A repetiteur is different than a rehearsal director in that he or she is considered an expert on the work of the choreographer.

Resident Choreographer

A resident choreographer is a choreographer who is "in residence" with a dance company or dance institution and who is engaged to create works for that company over a specified period of time.

Second Soloist

A second soloist is a dancer selected to learn and perform solos, duets and trios in the repertoire. He or she usually performs as part of the second cast and is ranked below a first soloist.

Set/Décor Designer

A set or décor designer researches and designs sets that complement or respond to the theme, storyline or setting of the choreography. The set designer will also advise on the materials to be used and the colour scheme for the décor. The set designer works closely with the choreographer.

Props Designer

A props designer researches and designs or sources props that respond to elements of the theme, storyline or setting of the choreography. Props are manufactured to look authentic but are often larger or lighter in weight than they would be in reality. The props designer works closely with the choreographer.

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Production Professions

Assistant Stage Manager

An assistant stage manager supports the stage manager in preparing for performances. He or she communicates with the stage manager by headset backstage during the show to ensure that sets, props and performers are ready for their cues. The assistant stage manager may be one of many stagehands working backstage during a performance.

Cutter

A cutter has specific knowledge about fabrics and how they "fall". He or she cuts the fabric for the costumes with an eye for movement and economy, according to the design or pattern specified. He or she works closely with the costume designer or wardrobe manager.

Dresser

A dresser helps dancers get into and out of costumes. A dresser may assist dancers during quick costumes changes and may also help with additional pieces, such as hats, headdresses, gloves and shoes.

Front of House Manager

A front of house manager works for the theatre administration and coordinates the "front of house" (entrance, lobby and seating area of the theatre). He or she manages and directs the ushers, coordinates the start of the show with the stage manager, and records the start and end times of the performance, as well as the size of the house (number of people attending the show). In the event of a fire or emergency, he or she takes charge.

Head Carpenter

A head carpenter sources the material and executes the design of the set designer and props designer according to their instructions. The head carpenter usually has a workshop attached to the theatre, where he or she directs the construction of the sets and props.

Head Electrician

A head electrician wires and installs the lights and sound equipment according to safety standards. He or she is also consulted about the purchasing, upgrading and maintenance of the lights and sound equipment.

Head Flyman

A head flyman rigs and flies (secures and suspends) lights, props and sceneries in the fly gallery above the stage, according to safety standards.

Head of Properties

A head of properties supervises all sets and props created and used during the season. He or she ensures that the sets and props are built, installed or available, in good repair and stored properly between performances. The head of properties keeps a catalogue of all sets and props so that they may accessed, recycled for other productions or rented by other dance companies.

Milliner

A milliner creates, repairs and maintains hats and headdresses according to the costume designer's directions.

Seamster/Seamstress

A seamster or seamstress sews, mends and alters costumes. He or she "builds" costumes from scratch or creates new costumes by modifying existing street wear or vintage clothing items. The seamster/seamstress knows how to make costumes look authentic but still accommodate movement and be breathable, easily removed and maintained.

Shoe Coordinator

A shoe coordinator sources, purchases, fits, stores and maintains shoes for the dancers. This is especially important in ballet companies, where dancers require several pairs of expertly fitted pointe shoes per performance or multiple changes of footwear such as character shoes or boots.

Stage Manager

A stage manager "calls" cues in the show. He or she usually wears a headset during the performance and directs members of the cast and crew to ensure that all aspects of the production - sound and lighting cues, the placement of sets and props on-stage and off, and the exits and entrances of the performers - are executed at the right time and in accordance with the choreographer's directions. The stage manager is also responsible for the safety of the performers and crew while in the theatre.

Technical Director

A technical director oversees all technical aspects of a production and has knowledge of many aspects of stagecraft, such as lighting, sound and rigging. He or she is often required to problem-solve in the days leading up to opening night. The technical director writes the technical rider for the show. A technical rider details what facilities and equipment are required to make the show happen. The technical director may also adapt the lighting designer's plot to suit other theatres when the production goes on tour.

Usher

An usher works for the theatre and takes tickets, distributes programs and seats audience members. An usher also monitors audience behaviour during performances, escorts audience members in and out of the theatre and ensures that fire exits are not blocked.

Wardrobe Assistant

A wardrobe assistant supports the wardrobe manager in carrying out his or her work. The wardrobe assistant may also work backstage during a show assembling and steaming costumes, assisting dancers with costume changes and making last minute repairs or alterations. He or she may also be responsible for ensuring that costumes are collected and laundered after each performance.

Wardrobe Manager

A wardrobe manager supervises all costumes, including shoes, hats and headdresses created and worn during the season. He or she ensures that the costumes are available for use, clean, fitted to the dancers, in good repair and stored properly between performances. The wardrobe manager keeps a catalogue of the contents of the wardrobe so that costumes may be easily accessed.

Wig and Make-up Supervisor

A wig and make-up supervisor sources, purchases, fits, stores and maintains wigs, make-up and body paint for the dancers. He or she also advises on how wigs should be worn and attached to the head and how the dancers should remove make-up.

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Administration Professions

Archivist

An archivist collects, catalogues and preserves all ephemera associated with a dance company, such as programs, newspaper clippings, posters, designs, flyers, photographs, slides, videos and sound recordings for posterity. He or she has an in-depth knowledge of the best preservation techniques and practices.

Board of Directors

A board of directors is a group of interested individuals who ensure that a dance company is soundly governed, sufficiently funded and adheres to good business and fiscal practices. Board members may be business professionals such as lawyers and accountants who will lend their expertise, supporters of the organization's artistic director and donors or patrons of the dance company. The board assumes ultimate legal and financial responsibility for the organization.

Box Office Manager

A box office manager works for the theatre administration and coordinates the box office. He or she tracks ticket sales, manages box office staff, deals with patron complaints and reports box office earnings to the dance company.

Business Manager/Bookkeeper

A business manager or bookkeeper maintains the books and financial records for a dance company. He or she manages accounts payable and receivable, payroll, banking and investments and reports to the managing director and to the auditor.

Company Manager

A company manager goes "on the road" with a dance company and oversees the smooth day-to-day administration of a tour. He or she ensures that all performance obligations are met and that the company receives payment after each engagement. The company manager's main concern is the welfare of the dancers and production team.

Development Manager

A development manager oversees fundraising for a dance company. He or she researches and applies to foundations and funding bodies for support, directs fundraising events such as galas or auctions and executes direct mail campaigns to solicit donations. The development manager also liaises with donors, issues tax receipts and maintains the donor database.

Managing Director/General Manager

A managing director or general manager usually has many years of arts management experience and works to support and realize the vision of the artistic director of a dance company. He or she directs the administrative and financial activities of the company, hires and manages the administrative staff, reports to the board of directors and aims to ensure the organization's stability and longevity. The managing director may also be called the general manager.

Marketing Manager

A marketing manager coordinates the marketing and promotions of a dance company. He or she aims to brand the organization through consistent and eye-catching media campaigns, the company's website, newsletter and house programs, as well as its logo and letterhead. He or she will book advertisements in the print and broadcast media, arrange and distribute posters and flyers and coordinate photo shoots and media calls.

Promoter

A promoter develops opportunities for and increases access to dance events in his or her community. A promoter aims to raise the profile of dance by working with venues and presenters to build relationships and nurture an audience for dance. A promoter may create local dance festivals and competitions, highlight dance programming within other community events, or invite dance artists into the community to teach and perform.

Producer/Presenter/Curator

A producer/presenter/curator has an established relationship with a performance venue, festival or presenting group. He or she invites artists and companies to perform as part of the venue's season or as part of a dedicated festival. A producer, presenter or curator selects artists whose work he or she considers entertaining, innovative, appropriate to the size and technical specifications of the venue and suited to the tastes of the target audience. Depending on the budget and mandate of the venue or festival, he or she may travel internationally in search of artists to present or may focus specifically on presenting artists from a particular region. The producer may provide the entire fee for the artist or may co-present with the artist or other partners and share the costs.

Watch a video interview with Cathy Levy, Producer, Dance Programming, National Arts Centre

Production Manager

A production manager oversees the entire production, including coordinating and setting the production schedule with the designers and the choreographer, hiring technicians and troubleshooting the production. The production manager works to keep the entire production on track and on budget.

Publicist

A publicist is hired to promote a performance or tour. He or she writes and distributes press releases and photos to the media, creates press kits, recommends appropriate avenues for promotion and ensures that journalists and other invited guests receive complimentary tickets to the performance.

Scheduler

A scheduler coordinates the daily schedule, usually in a large dance company. He or she must balance the availability of artistic staff - dancers, choreographers, production staff, rehearsal directors, repetiteurs and accompanists - and studio space, with the need for adequate time for classes, rehearsals and breaks throughout the workday.

Tour Manager

A tour manager plans and organizes a tour. He or she books accommodation and transportation, ensures the signing of performance contracts and technical riders, and coordinates the itinerary between the company and the presenter.

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