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Career Counseling for Students: Does it exist?

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Over on the parents' forum, dbleon brought up the question of using "contacts" in order to get an audition, etc.


The thread started to get off track a bit, but I thought dbleon brought up some important points about what parents and students should expect from the professional ballet programs in which they've invested so much time and money.


Today the majority of colleges and universities do have career counseling and mentoring programs. Why they even give students the option of having their resumes critiqued. There are all sorts of networking devices out there in the academic world via what are called Listservs - they are basically email lists that one must subscribe to and it's a great way to compare notes, ask questions and network with one's peers and even those higher on the "totem pole" in one's chosen field.


But what about professional ballet programs?


As dbleon posted on that "contacts" thread, shouldn't parents and dancers expect some real guidance? Is it too much to expect that:


1. DK's have a working knowledge of the dance "business".

2. DK's informed of which companies they should audition for (body type /dance style, most naively hope their school company will offer them a position).

3. That DK's should be given the skills to form a "plan" after leaving the program.


Sometimes I wonder if there's been such an upsurge in ballet being pursued at such an intense and competitive level, that the schools just haven't caught up with the times.


I wonder if there's any literature available that compares the number of professionally driven ballet students today with those of 20 or even 10 years ago?


What experiences do you all who either teach in these programs, have attended them and graduated from them, or have children who have done so?



Fortunately there is an organization called Career Transitions for Dancers, but what about career counseling for the current dance students on the professional track within some of the more renowned programs in the US, Canada and Europe?

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I have had dancing kids who have attended 2 big name schools and there was a little career assistance that occurred for them. SAB had a conference with the dancers in the advanced levels prior to audition season to help them get their resumes in order, to advise them about pictures and a little about which type of company to audition for. The kids at SAB are always interested in dancing for NYCB but they could not tell them what the chances were of getting into the company, but could encourage them to audition. It helped give some of them the boost that they needed to get started instead of just "hoping" that they would be chosen for the company.

SFBS also holds conferences for the advanced students. They arrange for a photographer to come it to take head and dance shots for students who want to use them for a nominal fee. They also cannot tell the students who are going to get SFB jobs, but can tell them when they are ready to audition and what companies might be best for them to explore.

Both schools were very supportive of the audition process , my youngest had more issues because of being cast to perform with SFB during most of the audition season. But she was able to do most of the auditions that she wanted. The school assisted her in arranging company class auditions when she had to miss the major auditions for some companies that she was particularly interested in.

Although my kids started at a really good ballet school not attached with a major company that was wonderful at teaching ballet technique, my kids thought that finishing at a major professional school attached to a major company was a really important step for them to lead to a professional ballet job.

Of course, you must realize that these were each one time meetings, so it felt like we weren't getting the day to day information that we crave when starting through the audition process. WE always wanted more information, but used what we could ,and it worked out positively for us. Having recommendations from nationally known teachers and ballet schols is a very valuable resource but the dancer still has to do well in the audition to land the job.

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lillianna, what help your daughters got sounds great compared to what mine got, which was zip :rolleyes: ! I so wish that Kait had gotten some advice about anything! Anything she knew, she knew from me, from BA.

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  • Administrators

We are establishing a counseling program this year for the two Release Time classes. They will be divided into three groups and assigned to either Rebecca Wright, Rudolph Kharatian, or to me. We will meet with them as needed for counseling on whatever is needed.

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Anything she knew, she knew from me, from BA.

We here at Ballet Talk are aware of the shortage of career and technical counseling that is going on in the schools, and what we are trying to do is help fill a niche in the dance world that needs many people to fill it. If we have been of service to one student, or one parent, then there's always another one out there. We are here to help.

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VSA offers a class called "senior swimming lessons". As far as I know, this is a semester long course in resume writing, auditioning, etc. although since my daughter hasn't taken it yet I can't report on specifics. All students have a conference with the dance faculty in the fall and spring and this includes short and long term goal setting.

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Harid does offer career counseling for the junior and senior class which includes resume writing, audition research, and college application process, which is conducted by our Director as well as the academic counselor. No school is actually able to "place" students in any company unless they are a company affiliated school and the Director is particuarly interested in certain students. At this stage, the ballet teaching faculty is always available to help with any ideas or "connections" we may have to assist in the process.

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While no school can actually place a student in a company, they can do a great deal to 'promote' a student to companies that they believe would be a good match. I wonder why the major residency schools don't have a career counselor on staff, whose only job is to coordinate the placement of graduating students? High schools and colleges have had such a position for years. For some reason, in ballet, students are expected to find their own way and make that big leap from residency to professional career with very little guidance. Traditionally, schools are only graduating 10-20 students in a year. It seems that this is not such a large number that they couldn't work diligently on the behalf of each and every one of them.


If a school has taken the money of a student for several years, continued to ask them to return to the school for subsequent training, etc. then why don't the schools make every effort to see that each dancer is introduced to the right companies for their body type, abilities, etc.?


If the teaching staff at most residency schools sat down and made a list of the ADs they knew personally across the country, they would likely be able to come up with a substantial list. Why don't they group their seniors according to their abilities/body type and assign them to companies where they think they are likely to be attractive? Then, the faculty member who knows the AD there could make a call and 'present' the designated students. Asking an AD to take a look at a given dancer, explaining why he/she would be a good match for the company, etc. is not unheard of. Why not make it a routine part of the services offered to students by a pre-pro school?


According to the couple of ADs I know personally, ADs like to get referrals for dancers. It is nice to have a personal recommendation and know that a dancer comes to you with the backing of someone you know and trust. It is a win-win sutuation when an AD is alerted about a potential dancer that they might never have noticed in the sea of resumes and tapes they receive each year. Why are schools so reluctant to do this?


I know that in the case of the Royal Ballet School, they meet with seniors and trainees during the first month of the final year and talk directly about companies that seem a good match for the dancer. The AD of the school and others on the staff, then start contacting those companies and presenting their candidates. They often invite the ADs to come visit a class, teach a master class, etc. in order to see specific students in action. The students are kept abreast of contacts that are made on their behalf and whether or not the AD seems interested. They sometimes arrange a meal where one or two dancers whom they are promoting for a given company meet with that AD when the AD is in town for business with the company. They follow up with the companies and often arrange for the student to come to the office of a faculty member to accept phone calls to discuss company offers. It seems that they view it as an integral part of their jobs to do all that they can to help their students find jobs.


So often, sudents are strapped financially and are unable to travel to audition for companies that are not close to their home school. Often, they focus their efforts on the larger companies that they know well, even if there is little chance that those particular companies will offer them a position. There are so many regional companies across the US that are never tapped as a resource by the major pre-pro schools. But, there may be numerous students who would be a perfect match for these companies, if the connection was made for them. While most students hope to dance with a major company upon graduation, if that is 'not in the cards' I am sure that they would appreciate some help in targeting the right companies for them. There are so many regional companies out there, no student can audition for all of them. But, an introduction to 2 or 3 that are a good match could be all that is needed to find that student a starting job with a pro company.


There is so much that could be done in this area, I really am befuddled as to why some of the major US schools haven't taken up the torch and blazed a trail in this arena. I appreciate the efforts being made by our Ballet Talk moderators in this area and the new counseling program at WSB sounds like a great step forward!

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For us, there is some counseling on a one on one basis. The director cares about her students and helps them when she can and however she can with guidance, phone calls to people she knows, etc. We are just beginning to get into that phase of her program so I'm at least hopeful that there will be some answers out there for us as we begin our Junior year.



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Thank You Balletbooster,

your post states many of my frustrations with the Pre-Pro Schools...they MUST have some responsibiltiy towards both the students and the parents in this regard??

Or STATE upfront that this is not a service they provide!

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Regarding this topic, a lot of it is explainable by the traditional role of the ballet school in relation to employment. In the days of the Ballets Russes, teachers and schools were a lot more plugged in to one another, and everybody could know what everybody else was doing. Today, the ballet world is so large and widespread, it's hard for anybody not following the jobs market fulltime to know where the work is. As society changes, I believe that the ballet schools should change with it in order to do the right things by their students.

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Major Mel,

I hear what you are saying about there being so many companies now and how difficult it is to know what is going on in all of them. But, individual faculty members DO know ADs at a variety of companies across the US. They can always call these folks and find out what their current job openings might be, when they have a student that seems well suited for that company. I know in the case of our local comapny, no job postings are ever made. When an opening arises, the AD starts looking at the sea of resumes he has received of late. Sometimes, he has no specific opening, but someone calls him with a good prospect and after looking at the person, may offer a job, when he had no real plans to add another dancer. (I've known of this occuring several times since I have been on the executive committee of the ballet.)


So, I guess what I am saying is that it really seems to be a matter of priorities where a pre-pro school is concerned. If they want to make finding EVERY senior a job that wants one, a real priority of the school, then there is a tremendous amount that could be done by the faculty, just utilizing their own contacts. Even more could be done if a career counselor was on staff, developing his/her own contacts on behalf of the school, setting up venues and inviting ADs to visit throughout the senior year, etc. etc. Sure, some of the major residency schools invite ADs to visit their end of year performances and some ADs do come to these schools and hold auditions. But, where are the job fairs, the on-site interviews, the school-sponosred intern programs, etc. that are so affective in other settings? If a school decided to really make this a priority, there are all sorts of neat ways that a school could get their students seen by the right companies and increase the number of students who are offered contracts by the end of their senior year. :)

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Very lovely post balletbooster. At Harid we do handle the junior and senior classes just as you have posted. We however are not able to get the jobs for the students. Also you may be surprised to hear that many seniors do not take responsibilty for themselves to actually pursue jobs. It is difficult to recommend dancers for jobs when they themselves do not take the the bull by the horn. Personally, I do make recommendations, when I am asked by students who do a bit of leg work for themselves. Ballet companies are interested to hire independent, mature dancers, not dancers who need to be lead to the water. We, in the schools, residency or otherwise, are able to teach them how to dance, how to do research for jobs, make the phone calls to those we know, advise on body typing (which, in my experience, many dancers and parents do not want to hear), invite AD or other higher ups in the company community to guest teach, but the bottomline is the students must pursue the jobs, just like the rest of the work force in the USA.


Today dancers are faced with more dancers than ever before, as well as international competition and very few actual paying jobs. The facts are, there are not always jobs for every dancer leaving school. It may take a few years. This is where survival of the fittest really does come into play!


Harid does invite ADs to the December and year end shows. It is difficult to find jobs in December as well as in May/June. In December they are dealing with Nut and by the year end/spring most jobs are filled. It is rare that a AD will attend our performances, even when offered complimentary tickets. We also invite ADs to guest teach. Their schedules are tight! Some, however, do make a point every year to hold auditions at Harid.

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Just a thought!! But seems to me in every other job market, if there is a downturn( i.e., no jobs in that particular market) then programs are scaled down....shouldn't pre-pro schools do the same...Now this would mean fewer paying students, thus less money for the school, but shouldn't parents and students be informed upfront that the market is not there!

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Thank you so much for sharing about the assistance offered at Harid. I do understand that students need to be pro-active on their own behalf. I was assuming that all of them would be, if their goal was to have a job by the time they graduated, but I know in reality, that this is not always the case when it comes to teenagers. :)


I also appreciate what you are saying about some dancers not wanting to hear which companies they are most likely to be attractive to. In those cases, you certainly cannot MAKE a dancer pursue an opportunity. But, by and large, when it comes time to find a job, aren't most students interested in applying where they think they will be hired? I guess this is not always true, but I have to believe that when it is down to spring of your senior year and you want to dance professionally, it makes sense to listen to the faculty who knows you and audition where they tell you makes the most sense for you.


I do understand that there are many talented dancers graduating every year and that the number of entry level jobs is dwiindling. However, I just wonder if there aren't lots of jobs that go untapped by the major schools, because they exist in smaller, regional companies that the school never recommends to their students and that have no direct relationship with the school's faculty.


I really do understand that there is no way that a school can guarantee their grads a contract, nor do I think that they should. I do think that they should provide the students with every opportunity, contact, suggestion and support that is at their disposal.


As for the larger world of graduating seniors, there are so many ways that colleges open doors to jobs for their students. In my own case, coming out of a state university during a major economic downturn, I got my first job as a result of the school giving a list of students to a company that they felt had leadership potential. The company contacted me for an interview and I was subsequently hired. I had never heard of the company at that time (they are now a very well-known firm within their industyr) so I would not have applied to them on my own. If I had, my resume would have likely been lost in the hundreds they receive each year. But, because my school's career office took the time to make a list of the students who might fit this company's profile and sent it to them, a valuable contact was made. I didn't ask my school to do this for me. I had not even met with anyone in the career services office. I just was a hard-working student who was in the 2nd semester of my senior year. If this can be done at a huge university, why can't it be done in very small, private schools that are dealing with only a handful of seniors each year?


I'm asking this rhetorically. I'm not really expecting any of our fine teachers here who are associated with schools to answer these questions. I just would like to see this subject examined more closely by the major schools in the US to see if there are not new ways that they could approach this vital issue.

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