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The overall goal of the dance industry is to communicate a message or idea through dance, or to provide instruction to children or adults who wish to learn to dance. Some dance students use the activity to lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight, while others wish to take part in competitions or improve their skills.

The dance industry can be divided into two primary sectors: professional and amateur. The professional dance industry is made up of dancers, choreographers, rehearsal or master dancers, costume and set designers, makeup artists, publicists, and others behind the scenes.

There are many types of professional dance companies, but the most widespread are ballet and modern dance companies. These companies typically perform during a set season, usually beginning in the fall and ending in the spring. During the off-season performers and others find work at resorts, cruise ships, and similar places. Dance companies are usually not self-supporting organizations. Often they are nonprofit organizations and depend on three types of funding to sustain them: ticket sales (usually representing about one-third of their income), private donations (usually representing up to 50 percent or more of their income), and grants and government support (can represent up to one-third of a company's income). Since private donations and grants are uncertain and unreliable, some companies struggle when the economy is slow and have to shorten their seasons or reduce staffing.

Amateur dance relies solely on the popularity of dance in the culture. It consists primarily of private dance schools that teach both children and adults how to dance. Some schools encourage their students to enter competitions and some eventually may become professional ballroom dancers. However, most students take dance lessons for fun or to improve their abilities for specific events such as weddings. Children at dance schools can also compete in dance competitions specific to certain types of dance and age ranges. Dance schools for children teach ballet, jazz, contemporary dance, and tap. Adult dance schools primarily teach traditional ballroom dances such as the waltz, jitterbug, and the tango.

Humankind has been dancing for various reasons for thousands of years. Earliest organized dances can be traced back to early tribal societies; they were part of ritual ceremonies held to ask spirits or gods for success in hunting or in battle. Some anthropologists have also theorized that dancing and music originally came from the same mating-display impulses that occur in other species. The early Egyptians danced to honor their leaders. They also danced during parades, funerals, and religious ceremonies. Ancient Israelites performed circle dances, processional chain dances, and energetic stamping-and-jumping dances at religious festivals. Other civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, taught their children to dance as part of their education. Dance performers are the most prevalent workers in the industry.

Whether they dance for a specific company or in competitions, they dance to earn their salaries. Dance instructors, professors, or teachers make up another large segment of the industry. They teach students to dance at private studios or public or private schools and universities. Choreographers and master or rehearsal dancers are also commonly employed. These employees often start out as dancers and then become choreographers or master dancers. Other employees that work in the industry are set and costume designers, lighting crew, stage crew, makeup artists, publicists, grant writers, and fund-raisers.