New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago… most professional hopefuls immediately flock to popular “dance cities” after saying goodbye to their hometowns. These cities provide an abundance of opportunity, and increasing amounts of dancers are adding Orlando, Florida to their list of potential relocations. Orlando can be an intelligent move for many careers, attracting those who not only love the Orlando theme parks, but also enjoy high-energy entertainment shows and the stability of a full-time performing job. Orlando’s dance jobs and supplemental performing work are worth considering in one’s performing career; and beginning to navigate the auditions in Orlando and successfully booking roles can be doable with some insider information!
First, we must discuss Orlando’s largest companies, which are the parks supplying the most jobs to dancers. The biggest franchise, Walt Disney World, has the most variety of opportunities to dance. From parades and seasonal offerings, to equity-only stage shows, there are plenty of dance roles to fill, and a full-time contract at one of the equity shows can be an immediate gain of your equity card. Universal Orlando Resort has multiple parades and dancer-only shows across their two (soon to be three!) theme parks, and is continually creating new shows, so be on the lookout for Universal auditions posted on their website, as well as on the DancePlug Auditions page. Sea World Orlando opened its Sesame Street Parade in summer 2019, creating countless jobs for dancers, who simultaneously get the chance to learn other performance skills. Legoland and Busch Gardens are additional parks with dance roles, they can take you about an hour or more out of the city, but can be a great option for additional variety and temporary holiday work. Orlando is also home to the Holy Land Experience, a Christian-based theme park with impressive stage shows.
While it’s impossible to fully explain every company’s method of hire, I’ll certainly discuss general trends and options that Orlando theme parks present to dancers. Some roles offer “contracts,” which means you have guaranteed hours in a role every week, but the downside here can be the loss in variety. Disney “character performers” do it slightly differently, offering full-time work without having to devote everything to one single show. Achieving full-time status or a full-time contract means guaranteed weekly hours and, are you ready for this?... benefits! You heard me correctly! Full-time (some offer part-time as well) benefits can include medical, dental, vision, PTO, 401k, etc. Benefits are unfortunately rare in arts professions, which is why so many dancers have made Orlando a permanent home.
Many dancers have fulfilling performance careers in Orlando without ever being full-time at one single theme park or show. With many available options, one can simply “super sub” and fill their week with a variety of different shows for different companies. Sometimes this means having a keen eye for scheduling, and other times this means staying on your phone to pick up the show shifts that others are giving away. With multiple jobs, scheduling can get tricky. However, a lot of performers love the variety, and the many sources of income, since we never know when a show will close! Some performers prefer performing the same show everyday and some performers choose jumping between working multiple theme park jobs. Whatever your preference may be, in Orlando, you can build a career that suits your performance needs.
Orlando holds a plethora of dance opportunities, some just recently opening in the last few years
Dancers also supplement income and fulfill any need for variety and creativity with an onslaught of side-gigs, and gigs that keep you still dancing! A large variety of dinner shows bring extra work and utilize a variety of dance genres. Most can be layered nicely with day shifts, as dinner shows typically run in the evenings. A large number of impressive production companies also consistently hire dancers for one-time corporate events, shows, and appearances. Other dance opportunities include sports teams, community theater, concert dance companies, burlesque troupes, and the longest-running Fringe Festival in the United States.
One great way to break-out in the Orlando theme parks is to book a holiday offering, which are temporary shows that typically run from October through early January, for the large crowds that arrive during Orlando’s peak travel seasons. These can be easier to get cast in, you’ll immediately have hours, make industry connections, and be able to continue learning about your new surroundings.
Regarding an audition season, Orlando has multiple! For shows that perform daily (called daily operations, or “daily ops”) there is typically an audition held near the beginning of the year, and an additional one in the summer depending on each show’s budget. Visit during a busy audition week, or take the plunge and make the move first, as some jobs prefer you already live in town. For the standard holiday shows, spring and summer auditions cast the fall and winter shows, respectively, though other holiday offerings may hold later auditions if roles haven’t been fully filled. Plenty of cruise lines and touring shows also hold their auditions in Orlando, or to other neighboring Florida cities, which are simply one car-pool away. As with any audition, research the role for which you are auditioning, and plan what would be the best appearance to embody that character. For example, most Disney dancer auditions cast shows for children, therefore you should avoid an edgy or sexy look.
Just because you’ve received a “congratulations!” and are scheduled for rehearsals, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will immediately be given full-time hours. Other amusement parks in the country do this because they must hire performers who reside elsewhere, Orlando doesn’t because it has enough local talent to fill their rosters. Everyone typically must “work-up” to earning a full-time status in a daily operation role, so definitely ask those questions once rehearsals are offered to you! But occasionally, one may get lucky and arrive exactly at the time when someone else is leaving or when the park is opening a new show that hasn’t yet been staffed.
There are always a few downsides, and luckily high rent is not one of them, at least comparatively to the other dance cities. It goes without saying, Orlando is extremely hot. If you’re working for the parks, you will most likely be performing outdoors, sometimes in direct sunlight, and sometimes on concrete. Also, just like in all dance jobs, shows can close which can put you out of work, so continuing to audition and having other backup jobs can be your best friend. One last warning, and this goes for everyone that resides in Florida, get ready for everyone you’ve ever met to vacation to see you, and potentially ask for tickets!
Though not on all dancers’ radars yet, Orlando can be a fantastic full-time dance city to reside in and have a fulfilling career. Though not the exact fit for every professional dancer, as nothing is perfect for everyone, Orlando holds a plethora of dance opportunities, some just recently opening in the last few years. If you have a friend who calls Orlando their home, be sure to ask plenty of questions, as Orlando has developed its own culture that may seem foreign to other dance cities. Many more will soon be discovering Orlando as a fantastic city to dance full-time, receive a variety of jobs, and one dance city that is continually growing in size!