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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career Counseling for Students: Does it exist?

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I understand your points, balletbooster, and I think that most us have been doing a great deal of this sort of thing for many years. While it may not be in a "formal" career counseling position, the teachers and school directors I know work very hard at trying to help our students find work. I know I have certainly done a lot of it, wherever I have been teaching. And, here at WB I believe that the founder/director has quite a history of placing students.


Having someone on staff specifically for counseling senior students is simply not financially viable at all, at least for our school. However, bringing in guest teachers and inviting AD's to see classes or performances is certainly a good idea. Also, presenting SENIOR students in YAGP is another way of helping them find work, especially if they make it to the NY finals. (I emphasized SENIOR, as I think I have made my feelings about competitions pretty clear in the past. My views have not changed, but, as a teacher I also want my students to find jobs. Therefore, I can see the validity of submitting seniors for these events.)


Vrs' points about students doing some of the work for themselves is also valid. But I have found that most of our students are well ahead of me when it comes to that! They come in with ideas about colleges or companies, and we discuss which ones might be best for them in terms of their goals as well as abilities.


The job market today, as vrs said, is not good. In spite of more companies, there are still fewer and fewer jobs. The small companies have very little turnover, and both small and large companies are hiring more and more dancers from out of the country.


Other factors that enters into this, in terms of teachers and school directors contacting AD's from companies are that some of these companies, and the directors, change frequently and they are looking for different types of dancers than they did in the past year. Personally, I know that I have to feel VERY sure about a dancer being really right and really ready for a certain company before I'm going to put my reputation on the line in terms of contacting them. Not every dancer who graduates from a professional school, no matter how strong and well trained, is professional company ready. Some continue through high school with hopes of dancing in a company, but with the knowledge that they do not have all of the facility to do this. They make the choice to go for it even when they know that the odds are not good. Naturally, these students need to be advised about colleges, and also alternative careers in the dance field. And that is being done too, here, so, I would have to think that the counseling is done in most or even all of the schools. When there is not a formal structure for it, then it is up to the students to ask for it. I can't imagine that the faculty and director of any professional school, residency or not, would not be willing to counsel and to help find jobs if the student qualifies. After all, those teaching in the upper divisions of these schools are there to train DANCERS! So, helping them find a job doing it is certainly a pretty important part of that. :)

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  • Mel Johnson


  • Victoria Leigh


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  • balletbooster



I believe that many company affiliated schools do adjust the number os students invited to their year-round programs, based upon their own company's expected needs. I don't think that the non-company affiliated schools can afford to do this, because they depend upon a certain number of students in order to fund the school's operating budget.


In addition, it is very hard to predict what the economic situation will be for the arts four years down the road. Having said that, I still think that there are jobs out there that go completely untapped by the major schools. I know that in the case of the couple of regional companies I am most familiar with, no contact has ever been made by most of the pre-pro schools in an attempt to have their students presented as possible candidates. These are both companies who have 15+ dancers, with 32+ week contracts, dancing in lovely venues to large audiences. They both hire 2-5 new dancers every year. That is just the couple I know about. There are literally hundreds more. I truly believe that there is a great deal more that could be done to match these companies with students who are graduating from schools where they have received excellent training and are well-prepared for professional work.

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Thank you for that insightful post, Ms. Leigh. I know that you and others here do much to assist your students and I truly applaud your efforts.


I would like to believe that every school does make a concerted effort to help every student find their way to a pro career or on to the right college, but I keep reading and hearing about those who have students in major schools who have received little or no assistance and I've heard from virtually no one who says that their student was walked through their senior year, with organized assistance from their teachers or administration, except for the one I mentioned earlier who is a RBS grad. I would love to hear more from those who have had students graduate from the major schools about how the job search worked for their dancer.

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One of the problems today is that many of us have no way of knowing about these companies. We never see them, and we don't know the current directors and what they are looking for. For instance, I have had contact with one director in OK, but only through phone and email, and we have never met. The other one I don't know at all. I don't the companies as they do not appear anywhere in this area where I could get to see them. The same would apply to the companies from Arizona, the smaller companies from CA, and many from the mid-west and even the south. While I am familiar with Ballet Florida, for instance, as I taught in FL for years, I still have not seen them in the last 11 years! How different are they now? I don't know. The proliferation of companies is great, and certainly the more jobs for dancers the better, but I don't think we can be expected to know about all of them! I wish we did, of course. :)

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Great perspective, Ms. Leigh - thank you. Maybe this opens up the opportunity for a new business for some aspiring entrepeneur! Wouldn't it be nice if there was a firm that did make it their business to stay in contact with all of the ballet companies in the US? Finding out who the ADs currently are, what their current repetory is, the current 'demographics' of the companies, current openings, etc. This could be accomplished by regional representatives whose full-time job it was to establish and nurture relationships with the companies in their area.


Then, pre-pro schools and individual dancers could contract with this business to get assistance in finding a good match. :)


This isn't really so far-fetched, as there are a number of firms who do just that for students looking for financial aid from colleges, and a ton of others who do this for those in the business job market and of course in other art forms there are agents who do this exact thing. Like every other new business start up, the cost of getting established and developing a client-base are high. But, I can sure see how such a firm would really be useful to both students and schools! It iis hard for a school and certainly for an individual dancer to know about all the companies in the country. But, a company whose resources were focused on this one pursuit could certainly make a substantial contribution. The business side of the dance world affects dancers so directly. But, there is so little training or assistance given to help them manage the business realities of this career.

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Great idea, balletbooster, but who pays this organization? Can the dancers afford to do that? Perhaps, if one thinks of it as much less travel to various auditions and putting the money into the agency. :unsure: I don't think the companies will pay, simply because there is an overabundance of dancers for every job, and they just don't really have the need for someone to supply them directly. :dry:


Keep in mind that professional companies, and usually their schools, are .org organizations. They are not .com people, and generally just do not have the budget for absolute essentials, much less adding on things like counselors or agencies to provide dancers. :)

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I think that many dancers (actually their parents :) ) would pay for this service. Honing in on the right 2-4 companies to audition for could be worth the money. This money will likely be spent in travelling to and from the WRONG auditions otherwise.


I would also like to believe that schools might find a place in their budget to purchase this firm's services. I know that they are already strapped, but I also know that a very modest increase in tuition could pay for such a service. Again, the parents would ultimately bear the expense, but I think that most are spending large amounts of money to assist their students in getting a job, that could be far better placed, if they were given better direction. As a parent of a student in a residency school, I wouldn't object to yet another fee attached to her bill, if it was for something as tangible as this!


I wasn't really thinking that companies would purchase services from this business. I was thinking that would supply information to them, in the hopes that they might bring well-matched candidates their way for future employment needs.


Of course, this is all just pie in the sky wishing - but wouldn't it be wonderful???? :dry:

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Guest balletandsynchro

As a parent of a child at a residency school this topic has been very illuminating! Based upon what Ms. Leigh, and Ms. Schneider have said about their schools, it seems the best approach for the student is:

1. Educate yourself. Start doing this perhaps in the fall of your Junior year, just to see what is out there, and where your interests are.

2. In the spring of Junior year/fall of Senior year make appointment to discuss your ideas and your teacher's recommendations for you.

3. Be realistic, and use your teacher's recommendations about style/body type/college ect. as additional tools to help yourself when chosing where to audition.

4. Be proactive. You must make the first move yourself.


balletbooster's idea is fantastic! It would be nice to have such a service to provide career guidance.


Thank you so much everyone for this instructive topic! :)

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  • Administrators

Yes, and with that we can also dream about things like Pilates trainers, fitness rooms and equipment, and Physical Therapists, to protect and improve the dancers in the schools and companies. We could wish for a ballet library in every school, teachers qualified to teach history and music, theory and criticism, and time and space to develop choreographers and teachers in every professional program! :)

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I would like to continue the discussion on a topic that Ms. Leigh touched upon:


Not every dancer who graduates from a professional school, no matter how strong and well trained, is professional company ready. Some continue through high school with hopes of dancing in a company, but with the knowledge that they do not have all of the facility to do this. They make the choice to go for it even when they know that the odds are not good.


Speaking specifically about the major residency schools, that have far more applicants than places in the school, I have to wonder why they would retain a student whom they did not beleive had a good chance of landing a pro contract upon graduation? I do realize that not every grad of these schools can expect to dance in a major company. But, shouldn't they all be of professional caliber and equipped to get a job with a smaller regional company?


For other students, shouldn't there be other options available, such as a college-bound program or a teaching certificate? For those who are asked back year after year, are given good evaluations and performance opportunties, shouldn't they be marketable, even in a tough economic market? When you look at the number of students that actually fall into this category, the numbers are not large. It seems that these students should feel pretty confident that upon graduation they will be able to find work in the profession that they have been training for.


I know that some schools do not offer a diploma to every graduating senior. RWB and RBS provide a certificate to some students who do not successfully complete their final ballet exams. While this seems pretty harsh, it does indicate that these schools are very careful about who they actually award a diploma to, thus indicating the credibility that they believe a diploma from their schools should carry.


I know that for non-residency programs and some residency schools, finding enough qualified candidates to meet their financial needs is not likely. But, for the major programs, where the talent pool is very deep, finding qualified candidates and only asking back those who continue to be qualified for a pro career should be the norm. (I'm not saying that other students might not continue in these schools, but instead be enrolled in a different category of dancer, maybe even taking the same classes, but with the clear understanding that they are not on the same training track.) For the purposes of this discussion, those who have been counseled that they do not have a good chance of landing a pro contract are excluded. It seems that students should not have to ask the faculty to tell them if they are wasting their time and their parent's money. It should be the responsibility of the school to provide this assessment to them and to keep the dialogue open at every step in their training, as this assessment might change over the course of high school.


And yes, I do understand that no teacher or school can be expected to predict the future with absolute confidence. But, shouldn't a grad who is awarded a ballet diploma from a major residency program be pretty sure that they have been given that diploma because they have what it takes to dance professionally?

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I've always wondered about this aspect, as well - the retaining of students who "don't have what it takes" and not coming clean with them. As balletbooster has explained, we know that many schools can't afford to accept or retain only those who do "have what it takes"...and there's nothing wrong with students studying ballet for the sheer joy of it, but in this thread we're focussing on the students who believe they do have the all encompassing "it".


I'm glad to see this thread is resonating with so many (even those who are just reading) and, even if the questions raised are more rhetorical in nature, if nothing else - the realities are being aired and just maybe some will be helped by reading the thoughts expressed. As Mel, said earlier - this is one of the reasons why Ballet Talk is so important to so many.


No back to the dialogue! :)


P.S. Good strategies balletandsynchro - and maybe even before junior year, if possible.

Edited by BW
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Guest ap's mom

All I know is what my daughter has experienced with Tulsa Ballet Center for Dance Education, so here goes.... My daughter is 18 and is in the top level of

TBCDE. Her early ballet training (not at TBCDE) was poor, however her jazz, modern, etc, was excellent. Her contemporary ballet is strong IMO, but her classical would require more training. At the end of the summer intensive she

did a great deal of personal searching and knew she wanted to dance, but wanted to be realistic. She had two options; she could ask for an appointment with the artistic director, or she could e-mail him with her conserns. She felt that she could convey her feelings (without crying) better in an e-mail. Within a few hours she receive an e-mail back from this very busy AD, who is running a ballet company, a school, and trying to have a family. He was so very encouraging, but also agreed with my daughter that she should pursue more contemporary dance, as he felt she was gifted in that area. He also expressed that he admired talent in all dance forms, not just ballet. He told her she could be excused from classes for auditions, as it was the intention of the school not to hinder the student, but rather to help the student achieve their goals. But he also noted that her continued ballet training would only enhance her abilities in other areas. He could not of been nicer, but his honesty and directness was what my daughter needed to hear. So the next week my daughter was off to NYC for a Broadway audition (open call) for a new show called "Good Vibrations". She was not cut and even got to sing. She felt that she was very well received in the audition and will know if

she gets the show in a few weeks. I am very thankful that my daugher goes to a school where the directors are available. She has received encouragement from

many of the company members as well. I guess my point is sometimes you have to ask! But be prepared for what you get.

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This is why students are not cut from programs.


There are many students out there who will not be professional classical ballet dancers, but will be very successful dancers on Broadway or in modern companies. Their continued training in a high level ballet program will give them an edge over those dancer who did not have the same quality training through high school. So the residency program retains the dancer and then advises them to pursue other dance opportunities now that they have so much great training.


I think one of the disconnects here is that the schools feel like they are giving as much advice as they can to the particular student, but many students do not hear the advice given to them. For instance:


We had a student several years ago who was a very nice dancer but was very small. She was told to audition for every company that came through our area because her height would be an obstacle to her getting a job. She did not take our advice. She thought she was too good to be dancing in a small regional company so she only auditioned for the "big" companies. Consequently, this very nice dancer ended up with no job offers and other not as accomplished dancers did. Why, because the other dancers went to EVERY audition and some AD decided they were a good fit for his/her small company. Stupid girl. One of those jobs could have been hers if she had gone to the auditions.


You parents would be amazed at how much good advice is thrown aside because it isn't what the student (or parent) wants to hear. The ones who take our advice are the ones who are now working.


We can teach them to dance, but we can't make them smart. They are after all....teenagers.

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