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Going professional


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#1 learning.a.lot

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 08:57 PM

As a parent of a child interested in dancing professionally, I wondered what were the top challenges/changes for those who have made the transition from student to professional?

#2 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 09:50 PM

Learning to dance in a corps de ballet. At least for those who have not had that experience in their schooling. Hopefully, they have. But, many of the most talented have been doing solo roles at their school, and not had the corps training that would help them enormously for their early years in a company.

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#3 diane

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 02:33 AM

Definitely corps work!

Also, depending on what the company is doing, many forms of character-type dance is not often what one had in school. (depending on the school, of course; some have more spanish, some more russian, etc.etc.)

-d-

#4 lovemydancers

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 07:28 AM

Not dancing at all! And making the most of your time in the back of the room. :yes: There will be a lot of it. Those who can maintain concentration, learn every spot in the ballet and take responsibility for their own continued training and improvement will be happier and more successful than their counterparts who view that time as "waiting".

#5 cheetah

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 08:01 AM

Trying to understand the artistic intent of choreographers.
Adapting to dance styles (though still called "classical") for which you have no experience - and may not like at all.
Maintaining technique with limited access to classes, studios, etc.
Working with sometimes very diverse and possibly difficult personalities.
Adapting to the politics that are inherent in every workplace.
Realizing that while dance is an art, now it is a job - and has to be treated as such.

#6 BalletGrace

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 10:49 AM

Wonderful, insightful, helpful posts! Thank you and keep them coming :yes:

#7 Clara 76

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 12:58 PM

I want every dancer to take a good, hard look at a dancer's real life- it's not all tutus and tiaras, and even the ones who come to the game blessed with all of "those" qualities still have a hard go of it sometimes. Yes, because of those natural gifts they may have an easier time getting a job. But do they realize that each and every spring, they may not? Once they sign that initial first contract, it is euphoric! But the reality soon hits.

Every day, waking up early and slogging into class 1/2 hour early just to work out the kinks leftover from rehearsal or performance the night before. Bone-tired, sore, aching muscles that have to be put to their test day-in and day-out. Outside of classes and rehearsals, being disciplined about doing exercises to strengthen the weaknesses inherent in our bodies. Rehearsing Don Q corps work for an hour in the morning; heading to Carmina Burana rehearsal with Dwight Rhoden before noon, and he hasn't yet cast the work, so everyone's on edge. Then a short lunch which must sustain and fuel your body for the rest of the day, followed by a visit to the PT to help with a troubling ankle that you still feel like you have to dance on. Then it's on to one hour of a barefoot, untitled work with a nutty choreographer who wears a thong leotard, and 2 more hours of heavy pointework for Sleeping Beauty that won't be performed for 4 more months, so you have to memorize it all now because there may only be 2 weeks later to put it all together.

The next day is guaranteed to be just as schizophrenic, and the closer one gets to any performance, the more tension in the air that you must learn to shrug off, because tension is a dancer's enemy. Then there are all of the head games that a dancer must be careful not buy into. "Oh no- the AD just walked by me in the hall, and she/he didn't say, "Hi" to me..... what does that mean?" Or in rehearsal with him/her while she's/he's trying to re-work their own choreography that they aren't pleased with, and they get grumpy with you because you took your piqué on the wrong foot. They dress you down in front of everyone. You check the cast list and find your name is not there- you panic.

What becomes very, very difficult is to handle all of those things when you are tired. You have to learn to be the one to say, "Hi!" to the AD in the hall, and let everything go if they don't answer. You have to learn to say a quick, "I'm sorry. I have it now" in rehearsal, and then don't make that same mistake again because they'll be watching you now. You have to have faith in yourself more than everyone around you may appear to have, and you have to have faith that you will redeem yourself in the next rehearsal. Then you go home and, exhausted, practice that choreography in your tiny living room/bedroom/kitchen. You have to learn to ask for 5 minutes of the AD's time when you don't see your name on that cast list, and be able to say to them in a calm, confident manner, "I just saw the cast list and noticed my name wasn't there, and I'd really like to have an opportunity to dance in this piece as well as others- what do I need to improve on or work on at this time?" And then listen, take in what is helpful, disregard the rest.

Hopefully, they'll never be exposed to "the weight" talk, but I think every dancer needs to be prepared to handle it, alongside being prepared to have some sort of answer when asked to dance sans costume. Both of those scenarios are likely. It becomes very important for a dancer to really know themselves, and to know ahead of time how they will answer to those scenarios.

Hopefully, knowing themselves well, they'll see which companies are most likely to have ADs who are concerned about thinness, and they'll sort through quickly whether they can fit with his/her image, or whether they need to find a different company. They'll need to learn to ask for absolute specifics, should the "weight" talk happen. I think this article addresses it perfectly:
http://www.dancemaga...When-Words-Hurt

They'll need to answer for themselves whether they are willing to perform without a costume, and then they'll need to stick with that decision regardless of what it means. They can even have written into their union contracts (and probably should have) what their position is and whether they will or won't.

Now, it is more likely to have the nudity issue in Europe, less likely here. But still, a good thought process to have at the proper age.

"A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor"- (Currently poking Poseidon in the netherworld with his trident)

"Christian Louboutins are uncomfortable, but I screamed the first time I put on a pointe shoe." Mila Kunis


#8 learning.a.lot

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 01:29 PM

Gulp! I hadn't thought of that Clara! : ) Thank you all for your reality-checking thoughts. I also continue to read with interest!

#9 Twinkle Mom

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 01:44 PM

Ms. Clara,
Your post should be required reading for every aspiring dancer. It is excellent!! I am sending it to DD. Thank you! :flowers:
And though she be but little, she is fierce!--Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

#10 Mousling

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 02:05 PM

That was a brilliant and extremely accurate description of a dancer's day...life.

#11 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 02:14 PM

I would like to put a different perspective on it. Perhaps it is that I am just a freak, or something, but those were not my experiences as a dancer at all. Are there some ups and downs and frustrations? Sure, sometimes. But I don't remember ever struggling out of bed to get to class, because I loved class and couldn't wait to just start dancing today. I loved rehearsals, I loved performances, and I even loved one-night stand bus tours! I was doing what I wanted to do and getting paid for it. It wasn't even much of a living in those days, but it didn't matter. We made it work. The words "tired" and "exhausted" were not in my vocabulary. Seriously. Aches and pains? Yes, that would happen, especially with new and different works, but that was just part of it. Dancers develop a high pain tolerance, and they don't have time to be sick.

Reading that, I know it sounds weird, and I know some things are very different today, but I would not change one thing in terms of my life as a dancer, nor as a teacher for that matter, although the word "tired" did appear shortly after I started that full-time! :wink:

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#12 cheetah

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 02:20 PM

What I would also add, Clara, is learning to keep your head down and how - and when - to simply stay out of the way and say nothing.
Learn about your legal rights - then decide in advance where and to what degree you will compromise. (See my comment about this being a "job.")Know how to accept that there is life outside of ballet - and your company - and be willing and able to find new friends. It's like attending kindergarten all over again and learning to make new friends - forging interests, finding common ground, remembering that there are things you like outside of dance. As students, friends are often those you find in the studio. In a company, dancers have lives. They have husbands and wives and children. They have dogs to walk and college classes to attend. They may have second jobs. That ready made group of friends from the dance (class) studio may not be there anymore. DS has seen dancers really struggle with this. They end up in their apartments sad and lonely. Ballet has consumed them and they struggle getting out into the "real" world and making the most of where they are living.

#13 Momof3darlings

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 04:39 PM

While I've not done it myself. I would venture just on DDs experiences that the hardest thing for many students transition is the realization that they may have had a wonderful string of experiences/favor at the home studio and may have had a wonderful set of experiences/favor at SIs but that in the end, when in the company environment every person there truly does bring a similar ability to "put on the show" so to speak. For some, they quickly learn that they loved "being the best" but don't so much like the shift to everyone being similarly equal and "best" doesn't exist. Even at SIs one goes back home to being the strongest in many cases and if one thrives on that, you can quickly struggle with all that surrounds equal dancers in a company. It can be a reality check when your so called credentials no longer matter, the AD won't care where you trained anymore and what their reputation was or how many student successes you may have had, they will simply care if you can do the job they want you to do in their vision for what that job is. While a competitive environment, a company truly is a group who has to work together to put on a show. That's their job despite casting lows, or aches and pains or any of the other day to day things that aren't the most fun for you. No one is going to force you to work, they will expect you to work because you care about your product which is your dancing.

Secondly, I believe the hardest thing is understanding that this is a job. Hopefully one you LOVE. But it is a job with all that entails including a lack of job security and having to see others come and go if you are lucky enough to get to stay on. And with that, the ADs vision of who will perform is all that matters. While a home teacher may threaten removing you if you can't get it, an AD truly will.

I agree with Ms. Leigh, that even though there are the warts that Clara76 has described, what important is how you process that, work through it and dismiss it because the greater portion of what you're getting to do you love with all your heart. To learn to fight your battles and learn when they are not battles worth fighting. And I love what cheetah stated:

is learning to keep your head down and how - and when - to simply stay out of the way and say nothing.


Balance in everything ballet!

#14 Clara 76

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 11:20 PM

I kind of decided not to list the great things, because I felt those were obvious! I haven't yet found a dancer who would ever trade one moment....

"A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor"- (Currently poking Poseidon in the netherworld with his trident)

"Christian Louboutins are uncomfortable, but I screamed the first time I put on a pointe shoe." Mila Kunis


#15 swanchat

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 06:38 AM

Great conversation! DD is just finishing her first professional year and everything stated here is spot on. The aches, the pains, the highs and the lows.

I leave the ballet stuff to dd as she is the expert in the family on this. My concern is always her health as a person. As cheetah said, it's very easy for a dancer to become lonely if they have their ballet blinders on 24/7. For those who dance in a foreign country with a different language, making new friends outside of balletworld is very hard and it can be isolating. It takes genuine effort of the individual to occupy their free time with activities that enrich their lives personally or academically or professionally- and this after the kind of day that Clara 76 described. How that time gets filled is important. Too many nights filled with too much partying will affect a body eventually and thus the job; while time spent learning a language, soaking in other art forms, taking a flamenco class, or simply reading good literature feed the artist as well as the person. This is why it's important for young dancers to develop a curiosity for learning while in school. The "bunhead" image that some embrace at very young ages just isn't realistic or helpful for adult dancers.

I would add that for me as a parent, it's sometimes hard to remember that my very responsible, career driven dd is only 19. While my friends are dealing with transition to adulthood with a child in university (a sheltered and somewhat controlled environment), my dd has a job. One of her peers who is now a freshman in college, said, "Wow, it's like you are all grown up... you have a job and everything!" As she left home at 15 to train, I keep wondering if we've covered all of the parent to child conversations that needed to happen and pray that she still wants my thoughts/advice/experience to guide her personal life. I think we've had parenting condensed into a few short years. That's ok but it means that the quality of the parenting had to be top notch and conversations have sometimes been short but packed with information because skype was being temperamental. It helps to be open minded culturally as well because dancers work in with so many people from so many different cultures. Sometimes the culture clashes are quite amusing but It is also quite possible that dd will fall in love with someone whose first language is not English and certainly not the "boy down the street."

And yes, I've just learned that dd's company is thinking of doing "Bella Figura" next season. After I was able to speak coherently, my dd said, "Mom, it's art and it's a really beautiful ballet." I don't think we are going to give her dad the information and certainly, not her grandparents (too much culture clash for them). I've now watched a bit of it on youtube and I agree it is art and it is beautiful but I'm not sure I'm ready to watch my own dd dance this.