Someone who wants to become a principal dancer needs professional training and experience in a performing troupe to qualify for promotions to leading positions. This job requires not just the physical skill, training, and experience, but also a certain amount of leadership capability. Principal dancers work with troupes and choreographers to produce performances of the highest quality, and need to be able to work cooperatively with a variety of people. Companies may be reluctant to promote a very skilled dancer with a poor attitude, as this could hurt the troupe as a whole.
The first step is a vigorous training program. Most professional dancers started dancing at an extremely young age, and may have explored several types of dance before settling on one they like. A prospective principal could have a background in classical or modern ballet as well as modern, tap, jazz, and other schools and approaches. Dancers should build up skills until they are ready to graduate from high school, at which point they can apply into dance schools. In some cases, it may also be possible to apply directly into a troupe which also provides training, like a National Ballet.
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Applications for training require the preparation of an audition piece. Dancers usually need to appear in person for an interview and audition performance, although some schools accept audition tapes. It is also helpful to have a portfolio of work, as well as strong recommendations from instructors. Successful applicants can start training, and upon graduation from the school, they can apply into dance troupes, which typically also require auditions. This can put a person on the path to become a principal dancer.
Initially, a dancer may be accepted on a guest or provisional basis. After the artist becomes more established and clearly works well with other members of the troupe, the manager may offer a permanent position. From here, it is possible to become a principal dancer by working through the ranks to increasingly senior positions. It is important to demonstrate not only skill, but also cooperation and a flexible, friendly personality to attract attention when managers consider promotions.
An established principal cancer can potentially transition to a different troupe. Someone may become a principal dancer and use this experience and qualification to apply to a more prestigious company. While many companies promote from within, some do consider replacements for departing principals from outside the company. A talented dancer who has attracted notice may even be recruited by a rival troupe to become a principal dancer, in some cases.