Get a Job: Marketing Yourself to Dance Companies

When you’re a dancer, sweet sixteen isn’t just a birthday milestone, it’s the age you start thinking of how to begin your career. You’re two years from high school graduation, even less if you’ve sped up your courses. At sixteen, you might even start flying out to company auditions to gain experience and get seen by artistic directors.

It can be pretty intimidating to get started though – How do you make a dance resume? How do you find ballet companies where you might be a fit and stand the best chance of getting a contract? How can you put together an awesome audition package with sophisticated videos and photographs that will really help get you a job?

Rachel Neville, author of the popular and thoughtfully made Leotard Buying Guide, is here to help with these questions. A former dancer, Rachel is now a well-known dance and movement photographer in NYC. She’s going above and beyond to create free resources for dancers crossing this point in their careers. In her latest effort, Rachel talks candidly about a each step in the process from researching companies to ensuring you are presenting yourself in the most effective way possible. Subscribe to Rachel’s blog to be notified of new videos as they are published, and check out the latest edition below.

Ballet in Print: Raising the Barre

RaisingtheBarreAnyone who knows me knows that it doesn’t take much for me to quickly have my fill of all things Nutcracker. So I couldn’t have been more surprised than to absolutely love Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker, chronicling the author’s crusade to dance with a professional company in Nut after being deterred from the profession years ago as a child (by a teacher who’s name most of you will recognize.) Lauren Kessler is a fabulous writer, and on this journey she takes every advantage of the humor and drama that come along with her goal.

What makes this book so great a read for a dancer in training for the profession – aside from the very funny and thoughtful philosophies she points out about what we do – is the candid and fascinating insight into the mind of a ballet fan. Balletomane is an out of fashion word, but it absolutely applies to Kessler and the many devotees that consistently support the art – your future fan base, if there is to be one for ballet. And to learn how they view dancers, the ballet, dance companies, and what dancers are is nothing short of invaluable for someone who does or hopes to one day create that art. Her love and passion for understanding how and what professional dancers’ do what they do leaps off the page.

Raising the Barre is just the right prescription whether you’re burned out from performance (especially Nutcracker!) or just need some new fresh motivation to tackle your never-ending classes. This is actually one of the most interesting and entertaining books I’ve read about the ballet world, and I have definitely read way too many. Pretty surprising that it was written by someone from outside of the ballet world, though she’s certainly in it now!

Building a Dance Studio

2009.0142A number of students and colleagues of mine have recently decided to open their own studios. This was never my goal – I love the freedom of teaching without worrying about the hassle of owning a building or harassing parents for their tuition payments – but if your goal is to own your own studio one day, one of the biggest concerns will be how to build it properly.

Rory Foster’s excellent book, Ballet Pedagogy: The Art of Teaching (highly recommended for any aspiring ballet teacher!) has some wonderful tips on this as well as John White’s Vaganova-focused Teaching Classical Ballet. White has some useful comments on studio structure, making sure you have ample space for students to do homework, parents to observe, etc. If you are considering opening a dance studio, do yourself a favor and take a look at what these two books have to say about it.

For the dancing space itself, there are many demands: tap shoes, ballet shoes, pointe shoes, rosin lovers, bare feet… We all know what a great dance studio looks like – big windows, wonderful lighting, high ceilings, sprung floors covered in marley and preferably pretty and stylish! If you haven’t danced in one, go find one and do it. It’s like nothing else. One of my favorite studios that I’ve seen (only in photographs sadly, since it no longer exists) is the studio of famed New Orleans teacher Harvey Hysell, pictured above.

Fortunately there are guidelines available that go beyond the guesswork and which provide specifics for measurements, structure, and fabrication. If you are hoping to build your own dance studio one day, visit the website of the British National Dance Teachers Association, or NDTA, and take a look at their Studio Specifications. After years of experience, they have thought of virtually everything! Ventilation and HVAC, piano space, acoustics, lighting, accessibility, barres and tons of details in between. Lucky enough to have an architect? Harlequin Floors has a whole resource section just for them.

If you have dreams of owning your own school one day, make it the best it can be! Having and safe, beautiful, spacious dance space is incredibly inspiring for dancers and will make a big difference in their experience in your studio.

 

Auditions for Paid Studio Company Positions with Gelsey Kirkland!

Dale-Image-15The Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, studio company for the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet, is holding auditions this weekend for paid positions. Attendees will also be considered for the year-round professional and pre-professional training school. This is a must-go audition!

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet Studio Company is under the artistic leadership of Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov, whose vision is to maintain an ensemble company capable of realizing diverse and compelling theatrical ideas through specialized, comprehensive training and direction. Contracts are typically 32 weeks.

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

The Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet is proud to announce that we will be holding an audition for our PAID Male & Female Studio Company positions and our year round professional and pre-professional academy programs.

When:
Saturday, August 17th at 12:00pm

Where:
Gelsey Kirkland Academy
355 Broadway, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10013
(212) 600-0047

What To Bring:
Please bring proper audition attire, pointe shoes, and an 8×10 headshot along with an action shot in arabesque. $35.00 Audition Fee. DVD auditions are accepted.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet at (212) 600-0047 or by email: misha AT gelseykirklandballet DOT org

Ballet in Print: So, You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer?

KronenbergBookIt is all too rare for an experienced professional dancer to provide career guidance to students. The average professional dancer’s hectic schedule, necessity to focus on oneself, or lack of interest in reaching out to aspiring professionals in order to stave off competition all may play a part in that. Even from those who share their knowledge through teaching, there is typically a lack of basic insight on the professional ballet experience that is provided to their students.

Fortunately for us, Miami City Ballet principal dancer Jennifer Kronenberg is not your average professional dancer. Gifted not only in dancing but also writing, Ms. Kronenberg has openly shared her perspective on professional ballet, the story of her rise to ballet fame, and insights on how to prepare in her recent book, So, You Want to Be a Ballet  Dancer? – not to be confused with the revered Thalia Mara’s book from 1959 of the same title, sans punctuation.

A small, pocket-sized read, So, You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer? is divided into 20 easily digestible chapters that focus progressively on essential knowledge relevant immediately prior to and at the start of a ballet career. Early training is also covered briefly along with longer-term concerns such as retirement savings and dancers’ frequent periods of unemployment. QR codes and urls cap off many topics with videos of Ms. Kronenberg’s colleagues addressing the issues in more detail or from another perspective. Ms. Kronenberg has no illusions on the limitations of her personal perspective and consults colleagues and other professionals as contributors when necessary, for instance in the chapter on men in ballet.

This is one of the most useful books about professional ballet in publication at the moment, littered as the market is with books focused more on the basics of instruction and getting started with beginner training or beginner pointework. I held off on posting about this book while it was in e-reader form only, but it has recently been published in hard copy. Go buy it today! I found one at BN yesterday and it’s up on Amazon as well. (Now, for a book focused on men’s ballet! Maybe something that expands on this.) Enjoy!

Ballet in Film: Two PBS Specials!

I am thrilled to see that PBS is making dance, particularly ballet, a big part of their fall and winter line-up. Starting this month, they will be airing programs from major American ballet companies that most of us would never have a chance to see otherwise. Kicking off the series is none other than Miami City Ballet, fresh from it’s blockbuster trip to Paris, with a mixed bill of crowd pleasing Balanchine and Tharp works on October 28. I don’t know about you, but I always prefer to see Balanchine performed by Balanchine style dancers, so I’m doubly excited for this show.

Later in the season on December 16, look for San Francisco Ballet’s newer ballet, The Little Mermaid, by John Neumeier – but remember they used the Anderson version of the story, not the Disney one. Local air times for both of these programs will be available at www.PBS.org as the dates get closer. Just click “TV Schedules” (on the black navigation bar) and enter your zip and provider to get your local schedule. Once there, the easiest way to pull up ballet programs is just to enter “ballet” into the guide’s search bar (not the “Search PBS” bar). Bring on the ballet, PBS!

Ballet in Film: First Position

Have you heard the buzz about First Position? This widely anticipated documentary follows six Youth America Grand Prix competitors. Director Bess Kargman’s experience as a ballet student is apparent in the footage, which films dancers with a real understanding of what makes dance movement something worth watching.

First Position premiered in Toronto earlier this month and is headed to film festivals in Boston, Vancouver, DC and New York City. A handful of stunning and intruiging trailers have been released, including this must-see extended version:

Youth America Grand Prix is the largest and probably best-known student ballet competition. Dancers compete for scholarships at international-level schools such as The Royal Ballet School and La Scala Ballet Academy, higher education scholarships at colleges such as Julliard and even apprentice or corps positions with world-class companies. Even those who do not medal are vying for the opportunity to be noticed by some of the most important and influential decision makers in dance today. Winners at YAGP often go on to rise to the highest levels in companies around the globe.

The stakes are high at the Youth American Grand Prix, but as YAGP founder and artistic director Larissa Saveliev reminded in an interview with Dance Magazine, “The medal doesn’t mean anything. We try to send that message as often as we can. The most valuable experience is the preparation for competing. It’s one thing when you take class and another when you rehearse a variation. And you have to learn as a dancer to able to perform under pressure. But when you are able to overcome your nerves, no audition will be a big deal.” Like the tagline says – Ballet is not for sissies.

Student Dancers Wanted for Moscow Ballet Nutcracker

Moscow Ballet is looking for students to perform with the company for its perennial classic Nutcracker in multiple locations across 22 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces. These openings are a unique opportunity for young dancers to gain audition and performance experience with a professional company at a young age. The company is looking to fill the following positions:

  • 12 Party Guests (ages 8-11): 6 girls and 6 boys (or girls dressed as boys)
  • 10 Mice (ages 8-11 or 12): No taller than 5’
  • 12 Little Snowflakes (ages 7, 8 and 9): Must have ballet training
  • 12 Angels (ages 8 to 11): Graduated heights from smallest to tallest; No taller than 5’
  • 4 Butterflies: Older, taller girls from 12 to early teens; Off Pointe unless very strong on pointe.
  • ACT II Variations: Corps de ballet with company soloists. No taller than 5’2”.
  • Spanish: 2 young dancers ages 8-10; 2 older dancers ages 12-16 Pointe optional
  • Chinese: 2 young dancers ages 8-10; 2 older dancers ages 12 –early teens Pointe optional
  • Russian: 2 young dancers ages 8 – 10; 2 older dancers ages 10 –early teens (allegro dancers)
  • Arabian: 2 older dancers ages 12 -16 (Involves floor work) Pointe optional
  • French: 2 young dancers ages 7- 8

To see details and requirements and schedule an audition in a U.S. town near you, visit http://www.nutcracker.com/Audition_Dates.php and follow the simple instructions to register. Canadian auditionees, visit http://www.nutcracker.com/Audition_Dates.php?canada=y.

Update 8/17/11:  Check out this article, out yesterday, about young dancers performing with the company in Romeo & Juliet and other ballets.

Dear CBT: Does No Scholarship Now = No Contract Later?

If a student is accepted into the last two years of a selective company school without a scholarship, is she less likely than those who did get scholarships to be considered for the company? Is it more likely that she will mostly serve to benefit the school as a paying student? Or will she be considered to have equal potential for entrance into the company or second company?

I have been warned that only scholarship recipients move up into the company past graduation from these prestigious schools and have noted that most biographies of company dancers list their scholarship wins. My daughter was not present for the summer session that would have made her eligible for a scholarship. She was offered a scholarship for two consecutive years at another program but did not attend.

How important are acquiring scholarships and making it to the YAGP finals for determining whether a company will seriously consider a student at their school for their company? If these accolades are not in place, will the student be overlooked for advancement, no matter how hard she tries??

Thanks,

– Concerned Mom of a Determined Dancer

Dear Concerned Mom,

The short answer is: No, going to a company school without a scholarship or competition placement does not generally affect a student’s chances for employment overall. And here’s the longer answer! –

Scholarships are only one indicator of a school’s interest in developing a student and their belief in her potential at that specific point in time. We cannot extrapolate that out to years in advance because future events depend on the student’s continued development. Students who are expected to do great things will sometimes disappoint, and students who seem average sometimes work their tails off and take the lead. While many pros list scholarships, many do not. Finally, artistic direction can change in a heartbeat, leaving former favorites looking elsewhere for jobs.

YAGP and the various IBCs are a subject onto themselves. There is an endless amount of debate on their worth. Suffice it to say that they are one method that is great for particular types of dancers in particular situations (Vague enough for you? I’ll do a post on sometime to explain.), but a huge segment of the professionals did not participate in those competitions during their training.

Accolades like these indicate how the student performed during a snapshot in time. Certainly, those that succeed habitually tend to continue to succeed – that is why you see so many pros with such records. But these are not prerequisites to a good career, just indicators of possible career potential. Scholarship or YAGP placement or not, a dancer must continue to work hard, show her worth and improve. At the conclusion of training, the directors will decide whether the dancer should enter the company based on her capabilities at that time. I have cautioned people before that scholarships are great indicators of a school’s enhanced interest and the projected potential of a student at a particular moment in time – but they are far from a guarantee of anything. The same goes for the your situation. Getting into a top school without a scholarship (which is great on its own, by the way, and still show interest), is a valuable opportunity.

Not getting a scholarship has no bearing on whether a dancer will be accepted into the company. Grimly perhaps, all students are facing those slim odds from an equal standing. What matters at the end of the training road is: Is the dancer fully prepared to give the current artistic director what the AD wants and needs in a performer at the same time that a contract spot is available?

Ballet in Print: Bunheads

Multi-talented artist Sophie Flack has authored her first book, an intriguing novel about the world of a young corp de ballet dancer in a fictional company, Manhattan Ballet. Sophie is a former dancer with the New York City Ballet and surely drew on her nine years with the company in creating characters for the story. (She once said that she’d like to write an updated version of the famous memoir called Winter Season from another NYCB dancer.)

Ms. Flack was open to the press about having tough time departing from NYCB a couple years ago, as she was included in the controversial layoffs of early 2009. I could not be happier to see that she has made it through that transition and is fostering her creativity in new ways!

Swan Lake Samba Girl Tonya Plank was on location at a recent book signing with Flack, where long lines of blossoming balletomanes created an atmosphere of excitement. Check out her report on the event, and pre-order or pick up a copy of Bunheads through Amazon, GoodReads or select bookstores!

Follow Me!

That’s right, birdies, you can now follow me for musings, posts and all the ballerina-in-training news that’s fit to tweet! Check out the instant feed at right and click the “Follow Me” button below it to get in the loop.

As always, thanks for reading!!

Inspiration: Sharon Wehner

Sharon Wehner has been delighting audiences with her beautiful technique and dramatic, intense interpretations since 1995 at the Colorado Ballet. A California native, the 5-foot dynamo trained with the Studio Roxander Academy, San Francisco Ballet School, San Jose/Cleveland Ballet School and pre-professional company San Jose Dance Theatre. Described as energetic and riveting to watch, Wehner was promoted to Principal of Colorado Ballet in 1999. This spring she is dancing concurrently with the Oakland Ballet Company, with whom she just completed a successful run of their exciting premier program, Forwards!, which featured contemporary ballet and visual arts collaborations.

The repertory of the Colorado Ballet includes an enormous variety for a company of its size, including full-length classical standards, many full-length modern classics such as Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast and Dracula, and an assortment of works by twentieth and twenty-first century choreographers like Tudor, Balanchine, de Mille, Forsythe, Wheeldon and Liang. These opportunities seem to have provided a superb palette for the Wehner to express herself and grow to become the capable artist that she is.

If you can’t make it to a performance of Colorado or Oakland, you can find beautiful shots of Ms. Wehner and other Colorado Ballet dancers in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book of the Colorado Ballet, available here.

The Truth About Company Auditions

Ballet is full of risks. Giselle lift, anyone? Hopefully most are calculated, as in, Yes, You learned to balance in retiré before trying to pirouette so you are less likely to fall on your tuckus. But some risks in ballet are not as easily controlled. For example: pursuing a professional career. Starting a professional dance career is very tough for most dancers. Most dancers do not win international competitions and go on to their dream company at 17. Most dancers are … average. Not average as in, “blah” – Average as in, pretty darn comparable to the thousands of other dancers that have made it far enough to realistically be prepared for company auditions. At that level nearly everyone has top technique and performance ability, making it very tough to stand out.

Auditioning for companies was the scariest part of my training, and I am not alone in that experience. But it was also extremely exciting and memorable. In fact, I probably should have kept a journal to share with my younger dancing sister before she began auditions. Well I never did, but another young dancer named Tara Gragg (pictured in Balanchine’s Rubies, above) created a blog diary about her auditions from this spring. Her goal is to move from an un-paid traineeship and subsequent apprenticeship with City Ballet of San Diego to the almighty Paid Contract. Tara writes about the excitement and stress of auditioning, the high rejection rates, her thoughts on the possibilities of living in various cities and the hard truths of decisions made by the companies. Check out her musings and follow her beautifully-crafted blog with the cute name, Gnarly Toeboots.

Gnarly Toeboots is now on the blogroll here at right. If you want to start reading it from the first post, click here. Also, I’d like you to take special note that even though this dancer trained locally for most of her career and earned a college degree, she is keeping up quite well with her audition peers, thanks to smart planning, good training and hard work.

BalletScoop Visits Dance Advantage for a Guest Article!

If you aren’t familiar with Dance Advantage, you are in for a treat today. I just contributed a teacher’s article to DA about my favorite ballet movies – I hope you’ll check it out!

Nichelle Strzepek makes sure to keep great dance articles coming at Dance Advantage. There’s something for everyone – teachers, choreographers, students and professionals. Click around while you’re there and you’ll find technique tips, dance history, dance news, dance games and way more for students. I always keep a link to this great site on my blogroll for you guys. Enjoy!

Bolshoi Ballet to Hold Auditions

I never thought I would see this in my lifetime, but the Bolshoi Ballet is holding company auditions for the first time in its 235 year history. Invitation is required. To assist dancers, Youth American Grand Prix is now accepting submissions from YAGP alumni for recommendation consideration.

I think we can safely say that this is an unprecedented historical development in the dance world. Sincerest merde to all participants.