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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career: Jobs and US Trained Dancers


dufay

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This post is a reflection of a sad, but true comment made by nlkflint on the "Careers" board below. Too many dancers in training, and dwindling job opportunities.

In so many companies- big and small- there are quite a few dancers from outside the US. Now, maybe I can understand that for men, as I do not know if there are enough men in training in the US. However, why aren't the ranks of female dancers being filled from within? What is superior about the training elsewhere? I know Clive Barnes commented on this a few issues back in "Dance", but I would love to solicit opinions from this group.

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That's an interesting comment, Dufay. I know here in Canada dancers and parents worry about visa requirements to the US when it's time for company auditions...So I'm curious as to where you see the non-US dancers coming from, and whether they enter at the corps/apprentice level or above?

 

Some companies (such as PNB) make it very clear on their website that most company dancers are a) graduates (I assume this means have spent some time in advanced level training) of the school and :D US citizens. The website does say that they might look at someone of soloist or principal ranking with an international reputation /experience. Other websites don't go into that much detail.

 

It's doubly frustrating for Canadian dancers who train in the US...they get acclimated to life and dance and then hope for the best when it's time to audition for companies!

 

My own kids are dual Canadian/US Citizens, so it's not a predicament we are in as a family. I have one daughter who is in her senior year at HS and while she isn't auditioning for companies many of her friends will be - it's tough out there! Last year of the three more well-known Canadian companies (NBOC, RWB and Alberta Ballet) only two were hiring.

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There are several factors involved in this, dufay. First, with male dancers, your theory is right in that there are not enough really good men trained in this country, so the companies often have to hire from abroad. However, some of the same things that apply to female dancers might apply to males, in terms of the theories I'm about to explain.

 

First, let me say that I am generalizing here, and it does not apply to everyone. But, the things I see happening are as follows:

 

1. We are training more and more very good dancers in this country. So, even without the hiring of Russians, Europeans and Asians, there would still be more dancers than jobs. But, there are even less because of the hiring of these dancers.

 

2. More of the dancers trained in the places mentioned above are highly chosen for the training, meaning that they start out with more natural physical facility. Then, they are given intensive training from a very young age. Therefore, while our dancers are good, it is only the exceptional ones who will get a job because there are more exceptional dancers from the other countries.

 

3. Asians in particular are seeking work in this country, and they are very strong dancers. IMO, having worked with a number of young Asian dancers and students, they have a focus and commitment, and an incredible work ethic that is definitely different from most young people in this country. It seems to be innate in the Asian people, or at least it is in all the ones I have worked with. They seem to have a confidence and a strength, and especially a determination that our dancers do not have. It's almost an arrogance, but not quite. It's like they know they can do it and there is a lack of fear and nervousness. It works in getting them jobs. They are really quite a delight to work with. We have several in our company and school from Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Phillipines, etc.

 

4. I do not believe that the training abroad is superior, but I think that there is just a different focus and work ethic, and more support for the talented dancers. The Asians in particular seem to have the financial support to come to this country and live and study here, enter all the major competitions, and get jobs.

 

5. We are turning out lots and lots of very good dancers in this country, but the lack of support for the arts in general, government and corporate, as well as private, simply does not provide enough companies to give contracts to the numbers of dancers. Knowing this, most young dancers are looking at college programs, or their parents are insisting on college. Therefore, the difficulty of the high school years, especially the last two years, with AP and Honors classes being stressed, taking SAT's several times to get best scores, and hundreds of hours spent on college applications and interviews and auditions all take away from the intensity of the training during those years. It forces the students to think in two directions, instead of keeping the total priority on the training. Don't get me wrong, I'm not AT ALL against college, and recommend it for a LOT of my students. However, there are some who have what it takes to go directly to a company who would have a far better chance if they were not forced to spend two of the most crucial years of their training focusing on college.

 

Education IS important, however, with a dancer it really does need to be second priority. The good part of that is that the opportunity for that will always be there, and the opportunity to dance will not.

 

Having said all of that, there is still the fact that we train everyone in this country, not just those with the natural facility. And many of them come out very well, with a strong technique and definite ability to work in a company. However, there are always those who have that PLUS the legs, feet, beauty, musicality, artistry, etc., and those are the ones who will get work. Many years ago almost anyone who could "do" the work could get a job somewhere, but today the directors are able to be much more selective, and they WILL look for body type/legs/feet/face/height/expression/musicality/artistry/speed/quick brain....in other words, EVERYTHING in one package.

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What a great answer Victoria! :) About the only thing I can think of adding, that may be controvertial, is that in the schools outside of the US, teachers are permitted to instill the very high standards of the top companies of the world in their students. Ballet may be taught to everyone, but ballet is not for everyone. The rigors of training have more to do with teaching the student the difficulty one must be confronted with when challenged by the human body than the actual technical aspects of the training. The emotional aspects of training in major schools outside of the US are quite different than what is permitted in our country. This is a fact, not a judgement. Foreign students may be selected for study more so than in the US, however those who remain throughout the study process are those who also survive the emotional and physical challenges which are inherent in the study of anything at the highest level. IMO, our society does not encourage young people to be confronted by the difficulties that many foreign ballet students find just part of every day life.

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vrsfanatic, would you mind expanding on this part of your post:

IMO, our society does not encourage young people to be confronted by the difficulties that many foreign ballet students find just part of every day life.
I'm not sure that I understand exactly what it is that your referring to here.
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I've also been concerned about the increasing numbers of non-US-trained dancers in companies. Some small to midsized companies now have as much as half their rosters foreign trained.

 

In addition to the excellent points made above, I've been told, in interviews with several artistic directors over the past few years (by no means a scientific sampling) that they are finding inadequate training generally among dancers at auditions. One could not offer a single dancer out of 100 a contract because of what he/she felt was inadequate training. And I know dancers as well as directors who agree with what Barnes wrote.

 

There are, of course, excellent teachers and excellent schools, but it's a big country, and there are also the opposite. One company director I spoke to flatly said it was obvious that dancers at his/her last audition had been trained by people who had no idea what they were doing, and blamed it on a new generation of teachers, people under 40, perhaps under 50, who had not received good training themselves, or who were mixing methods without really understanding what they were doing. (And this doesn't mean that any teacher under 40 doesn't know what he/she is doing!!!!!!)

 

I also wonder if the fact that some schools put equal emphasis on non-ballet training (modern, jazz) -- which, of course, the same companies who are rejecting their students are demanding they take, because half the repertories of "ballet" companies now are not ballet.

 

And, last but not least, there is the "teaching for competitions" that happens at SOME, though, of course not all, schools. (Meaning that instruction is focused on training a dancer in a particular variation rather than general training, placement, strength building, etc.)

 

But the point that's been made about the big schools of Europe having a higher batting average because they can be selective is a very good one. Claude Bessy taught a seminar in NY a few summers ago, and to many of the questions she got from teachers about how do you correct for this, etc., her response was that she didn't know, because they would not accept that pupil and so would not have to make the correction.

 

What's a parent to do? And The Victorias can correct me, please smile.gif But I'd first check how many dancers the school had placed recently -- forget how many gold medals their students had won -- and where, and talk to other parents.

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As my daughter's teachers are Bolshoi grads (I'd say about 10-11 years ago), we're well aware of the differences between schools that take a select few- and discard those that change by the wayside- and those in the US. In fact, the ballet mistress was afraid she would be thrown out when she went thru the usual teen changes. Partnering was not allowed if the ballerina was over 95#!

One big difference I perceive when I see them perform is the acting ability, and the ability to project a character so completely. I wonder if this is part of the problem here? So much emphasis on technique, and not on the complete dancer?

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Interestingly, though many countries like China, Japan, the Phillipines, Spain, Italy, which produce terrific dancers don't or don't yet have world class ballet companies. But the USA, which absorbs many styles and influences has at least two. Not quite sure why but it is interesting.

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I think that we're seeing a phenomenon not unlike that experienced by Russia in the 1890s. They had the "Italian invasion", which shook up an Imperial system which had become stodgy, complacent, and self-satisfied. The outlanders woke things up!

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Therefore, while our dancers are good, it is only the exceptional ones who will get a job because there are more exceptional dancers from the other countries.

 

How great is this difference between the “good dancers” trained in the US and the "exceptional dancers" trained in other countries? If the exceptional dancers from outside the USA are a 10 ( scale of 1 to 10) where on the scale are the USA and Canadian trained dancer?

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I really can't answer that, driver, except to guestimate. But there are certainly US dancers who are "10's" too. What I'm saying is that the exceptions are getting the jobs, even corps, apprentice and trainee jobs, because of the numbers of dancers available from here and everywhere else. The dancers who fall below that 10 are having a much harder time finding a position than they used to. Some do, of course, but I think fewer than in the past due to the influx from other countries.

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Thank you Ms. Leigh for responding to my question. I was trying to determine if the difference between a good dancer and an exceptional one is enough to justify the current hiring practices. You mentioned in a previous post that there is a lack of government, private and corporate support for companies. IMHO, tax payers will not be encouraging their elected officials and employees won’t be asking their employers to give money to ballet companies that don’t have dancers who reflect their constituents or labor force. It might behoove the company directors to reconsider the US trained “good dancer” before hiring the foreign trained “exceptional dancer”. Again this is just my opinion. :)

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It might behoove the company directors to reconsider the US trained “good dancer” before hiring the foreign trained “exceptional dancer”. 

 

This can be said about every industry in the US that is currently outsourcing it's workers jobs to places where it can be done quicker and cheaper.

 

Political beliefs on outsourcing aside, companies have to compete with each other and therefore are going to do the same as any other business, get the best they can, regardless of where the best come from. Perhaps a company could benefit from a "All American" cast if advertised correctly, but the idea has my doubts. Most ballet goers wish to see the best dancing/choreography available and they will go watch the companies that provide that.

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However, "domestic content" is hard enough to legislate into automobiles! How do you think it would work with a ballet company? Tax breaks for "hiring local" maybe?

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