What is a Dance Professional?

What is a dance professional? Seems like an easy question until you start scratching beneath the surface, trying to figure out what defines a ?dance professional?. Some organizations have a well-regulated process that allows a person to be called a professional upon successful completion of the program. Generally, the process culminates in some form of licensure or other widely recognized credential.

Doctors, lawyers, architects, electricians, golfers, cosmetologists, accountants, mechanics and a host of other professionals follow a well-established path to earn their stripes. Each program differs in the particulars, but all are designed to provide public confidence in the qualifications of the individual professional.

Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, very few people aspired to become a professional golfer. Up until the 1950s, star golfers such as Sam Snead and Ben Hogan had their shingles hanging outside country club pro shops. Golf professionals lived a double life, club pros by trade and tournament golfers when time and money allowed. Only a handful of people could pay the bills based upon tournament earnings. Golf professional earned living teaching lessons, selling merchandise, and organizing club events.

In the last half-century, circumstances have changed dramatically for the professional golfer. The life of golf pro is now considered a demanding and rewarding career choice, rather than a blue-collar day laborer. Over the years, golf professionals have made a concerted effort to improve employment relations and working conditions. A survival instinct compelled them toward higher standards of professional service that demanded not only a proven ability to score well on the golf course but also demonstrable knowledge of teaching theory, business management, and customer service.

In 1998 the American Society of Association Executives awarded The PGA an Award of Excellence in Education for the Golf Professional Training Program and its contents. This program emphasizes the practical application of state-of-the-art skills and knowledge, along with sophisticated work activities and is designed to give apprentices the skills to add value to their golf facilities.

When a golfer graduates from the GPTP, that individual is ready to provide exceptional service to customers, employers, fellow professionals, and the game of golf. The GPTP is the start of a life-long process of learning new skills, polishing old ones, and becoming even better at dealing with the people, the game, and the business of golf.

The entire program takes approximately 600-plus hours and the average person requires three years to complete it. Individuals leaving the GPTP normally do so during the first two years of the program. As a result of such training, the game of golf continues to grow in popularity and reach a higher level. Golf courses and the professionals that run them are successful business people who keep their customers, employees and vendors happy.

How does the experience of the golf industry translate to the dance world? What can dance professionals learn from golf professionals?

Like their golfing brethren, only a handful of dancers can pay the bills based upon competition earnings. Dance professionals earn a living in much the same manner: teaching lessons, selling merchandise, and organizing studio parties.

Dance, like golf, is a people person business. The ability to treat each person as an individual and catering to individual needs is essential. The dance profession is one, which requires professionals to work while everyone else is having fun.

In today?s age a dance professional is charged with providing a recreational atmosphere of fun ideas, parties, competitions, showcases and workshops. This means working on most holidays and weekends. It also means long hours.

Golf professionals learned that the ability to golf was important, essential in fact, but golfing skills needed to be supplemented.

The cornerstone of the dance professional is the teaching and the ability to dance well. Keeping one's dance skills honed is important even after working in the studio, organizing events and teaching all day.

In today's dancing world just about anyone can teach, be it an amateur, qualified or unqualified professional. Because there are no licensing requirements for dance teachers, it is sometimes difficult for students to recognize the differences between one teacher and another.

The lack of licensing requirements never hurt golf. Golf has prospered by developing golf professionals through an accreditation process that guarantees card-holding members possess in-depth knowledge and experience of the game of golf, as well as the business of golf. The golfing public has learned that a PGA member is a well-trained professional, not just a good golfer. Golf course owners have learned that PGA members are highly desirable employees.

With the ever-increasing popularity of Ballroom Dance and DanceSport, employers and students alike will begin to expect that professional dance instructors adhere to a certain standard of quality and experience. Like golf, dance professionals need not be licensed, but an organization of highly qualified members is necessary to raise the bar and set a higher level of quality for dance professionals.

Dance is a fast and dynamic business. The dance professionals of the future must be willing to make changes and improvements in order to keep up with the public's demand. Employers are looking for employees that make running the business portion of the dance studio easier.

Dancing, in many employers point of view, is ranked well down the list of the important attributes of the dance professional. Studio owners want employees that help operate the business at a reasonable profit, an understandable position.

Organizations like ProDIVIDA and USISTD are responding to the need for the accreditation of dance professionals through a rigorous examination system that provides demonstrable proof that a dance teacher possesses the ability to explain movement in words and the ability to give a high quality practical demonstration of the fundamental figures of each dance. In other words, these exams insure that the dance part of the dance professional is satisfactory.

ProDVIDA is also responding to the professional part of the dance professional equation. Through the development of a national conference, where dance teachers, studio owners, and aspiring professionals can focus on some of the skills that help make them successful professionals.

For example, a professional needs to develop effective communication skills both written and oral. A dance professional need to write effectively whether to promote the dance studio to outside organizations, or for more mundane tasks like thank-you?s and letters of sympathy.

Public Speaking skills are especially useful whether you're speaking before five people as a lunch date or one hundred people at a dinner banquet. The ability to speak clearly will serve you well in your capacity as ambassador to the world beyond your studio.

Learning to deploy strategies for managing interactions with supervisors, employees, customers, vendors and others you deal with as a dance professional will help you to develop a career path that understands the dance industry job market, meets your professional objectives, and helps you land a position suitable for your qualifications, interests and goals.

There is much more to being a dance professional than just teaching dance. A professional must also be aware of the many challenges the business of dance presents. A professional must gain an understanding of how to help in the operation of a successful dance studio. They need to know things like: How to motivate and recruit students; How to publicize the studio; How to reach special interest consumers like seniors, wedding couples, and juniors; How to improve retention rates; How to plan workshops and parties.

This movement to develop well-rounded dance professionals is long past due, but a giant step in the right direction.

By Wayne Eng