7 Proven Qualities of a Leader and Successful Dance Captain

Receiving a compliment about your abilities, work ethic, and natural leadership qualities can be uplifting, but there’s no better feeling than receiving a promotion! When a dancer is promoted or voted into a dance captain position, whether it’s for the latest Broadway show or a high school drill team, the promotion comes with a few changes to your role description: added responsibilities, a pay-increase, and knowing that your venue trusts you to preserve the integrity of their show.

If this is your first leadership role, please do not immediately start hollering show notes and resorting to the response “…because I’m the dance captain!” Successful leadership requires combining your years of dance knowledge with admirable qualities of a leader that you may either already possess or need to build into your existing skill set. Whether you’re high-kicking in a musical theatre show or jeté-ing in a ballet performance; understanding your cast, your company, and yourself is what makes a good captain lead performers and performances to success. Below are seven valuable qualities that have helped me succeed and will push you to your fullest dance captain potential!

Be the adaptable one and change your approach

1. Passion

I’m positive that passion is already flowing in your veins, otherwise you would not be the dance captain! It is easily the most important of all qualities of a leader, but can easily get lost in the daily rehearsal grind. Use your passion towards making the show your first priority (but second to the health and safety of you and your dancers!) If you are continually considering what is best for the performance and how to maintain the choreographer’s vision, the correct solutions will be obvious. For example, a left pirouette may not be popular with the cast but if it’s what the choreographer wants and it transitions well into the next step, a left pirouette is what stays. What’s best for the show may not always be the most popular with the cast, but listening to their concerns will help you navigate each situation. 

2. Resourcefulness

Immediately learn your territory, your chain of command, and the people to go to for help. Some dance captain positions have one reporting show director or manager, and others require you to be the liaison between the talent and different production teams. Approaching the right person about the problem will cut down your problem-solving time, i.e. your director may care that a costume was ripped, but going directly to the wardrobe supervisor will get it sewn faster.
It is impossible to have all the answers, and no one should expect you to. However, your casts’ questions will now be aimed at you, and while it is fine to not initially have an answer, it is now your job to hunt down for it. Making something up merely to appear smart in the moment results in having to saunter back to correct yourself, thus weakening your cast’s trust in you.

3. Consistency

Make your expectations clear and be sure to hold everyone to that standard, especially yourself. Anything you ask of your dancers, you should already be doing. If you ask your cast to sign-in first thing when they arrive, and you lollygag for ten minutes before signing-in, that is a problem. Being the example of a desired behavior is an easy way to get cast members to follow your lead.
Inconsistency in standards or expectations forces your cast into a daily guessing game, prohibiting a thriving, steady work rhythm. Perhaps you had a difficult day and your plan of action is to march through the rehearsal doors armed with a feisty morning-commute story. We all have our bad days, but is frantic energy best for your cast to begin rehearsal? Be very aware of how your energy sets the mood in the room.

Being the example of a desired behavior is an easy way to get cast members to follow your lead

4. Confidence

It’s easy to tell someone to have confidence, but in what magical land does confidence grow on trees? I had to slowly build my confidence from knowing my choreography backwards and forwards, much like a swing position would. My cast saw this and, therefore, began trusting and respecting me. Having this initial credibility allowed me to focus on growing confidence in the areas I felt less equipped.

This is showbiz baby, and it is guaranteed that captains will make quick, on-the-fly decisions. Always remain calm, look at all possible options, and be confident in your final decision. Trust yourself because you were chosen for this position for a reason. Dwelling between choices wastes time and frustrates a cast who may only want the solution. Evaluate your decision-making later because right now you may have a performance to focus on!

5. Professionalism

Remaining professional in previously foreign areas, such as managing your direct peers, can feel uncertain at first. True friends and dependable colleagues will agree to make the job easier for each other. They should view your position as a job that you must take seriously, and in turn, you should view their performances objectively and not deliver favors. Perhaps a friend is acting up and interrupting when you’re speaking because they think they can misbehave with you as their dance captain. You should address the behavior with an unbiased, and professional response and make them aware of the tough position they put you in with their behavior.
Being promoted also comes with the territory of leading others who were also up for the position. They may be on board with you being in charge, or less than supportive. If someone is noticeably undermining you, be professional and harness their energy elsewhere. Occasionally delegate a task to acknowledge their leadership potential, while reminding them that you are on the same team as them and, therefore, have the same goals.

understanding your cast, your company, and yourself is what makes a good captain lead performers and performances to success.

6. Adaptability

Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” You may find yourself continually repeating the same correction with no clear changes in anyone’s behavior. Be the adaptable one and change your approach, as every performer has different needs and learning styles, you may not be hitting the one that will make it click. You may want to try watching them demonstrate the correction, filming them to watch themselves, or my favorite: giving a reason behind the corrections. Instead of a correction such as, “take a step forward,” try saying, “take a step forward because you are out of the light and I can’t see you from the house.” Dancers will then connect a note directly to how it affects their show, instead of just hearing an order. And may I add again, “…because I’m the dance captain” is never a valid explanation.

7. Courage

Having “courage” may sound a bit extreme; you are perhaps operating a feel-good musical theatre performance, not an army! No leader looks forward to handling the tough moments, but possess the tools to navigate these situations bravely. Regardless of severity of conflict, one must always view problems objectively and listen to all sides. When having to confront a performer, tackle tough conversations at the most convenient time for them, potentially at the end of their day. Listen openly, put yourself in their shoes, and allow them to vent if that’s what they need. Having open discussions can easily prevent cast members from becoming heated or defensive.
Dance captains who avoid individual confrontation often resort to “blanket statements” and choose to lecture an entire cast about something that may only apply to a few individuals. This can make your hardest workers feel devalued, because who wants to sit through a scolding that does not apply to them? Through my own experience, I learned to avoid “blanket statements” during my cast’s note sessions because clouding everyone’s brain with a thousand notes that aren’t for them caused the crucial points to get lost. “General notes” can be effective if multiple people need to hear the note, but having the courage to clarify and individualize corrections can heighten the chance that it will get corrected.
A new promotion as dance captain is certainly a task one must learn to navigate, but can be a promising way to build additional skills while still being completely involved in the art you love. Don’t initially expect yourself to be the perfect captain because growing and learning about your personal leadership style will take time. Have fun with your cast and enjoy the responsibility you now have in supporting your dancers through each successful performance.

About the author

Cleveland mid-westerner Chelsea Hupalowsky spent most of her youth in pointe shoes, then earned her BFA in dance performance from The University of Akron and came out a contemporary dancer. Alongside performing she has taught dance in public schools, rehearsal directed for universities, and has produced shows across the nation. She currently resides in Orlando, performing and playing dance captain at Universal Orlando Resort and Cirque Magique/Cirque by Night. With her leftover spare time, she manages a bar and runs her apparel brand, Concept Hissyfit. Chelsea has been a freelance writer and blogger for over eight years and is ecstatic to be sharing her obsessive passion for dance with anyone who will listen.