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.

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Great FREE Webinar for Dancers!

Photo by Brian MenginiDancers, don’t miss an opportunity like this one. Boston Ballet’s lovely Shelby Elsbree joins dedicated Health Coach Jessica Spinner from The Whole Dancer for a pre-Nutcracker gear-up for professional dancers and serious students.

This online seminar will take place November 19, 2015, at 5pm PST / 7pm CST / 8pm EST – but even if you can’t make it, you’ll still get a copy of the webinar if you sign up!

Learn about mitigating seasonal colds, improving self-care, creating dance/life balance and ensuring you have the right fuel intake for your demanding schedule. Join live or watch it later at your convenience, just don’t miss it!

Ballet in Film: Dance Academy

If you liked Center Stage, you’ll love the Australian series Dance Academy, which follows heroine Tara Webster (Xenia Goodwin) from her rural home to the fictional National Academy of Dance in Sydney. In each episode, Tara faces (mostly) believable challenges as she pursues her dream of becoming a principal ballet dancer. A former big fish in a small pond, she discovers quickly that her fantasies about life at the Academy must be discarded as the realities of intense competition and a higher standard become part of her daily life. She and her newfound friends – and frenemies – together manage the challenges of the Academy and the complexities of teen life with humor and, often, guts.

This is a must-see show for any aspiring dancer. The dance scenes are choreographed well and in a variety of styles, the characters are enveloping and the costuming is great. It’s slightly bubblegum feel keeps the show fun when topics get heavy. The downright addictive Season 1 (trailer below) has concluded but can be purchased at the ABC shop. Season 2 starts in December.

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!

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.