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Company taking advantage of students


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Do any of you have kids who are "paying" to dance with the professional company attached to your school? I recently met a young lady who had a partial scholarship to a certain company affiliated school. Because she was home schooled, she was available during the day - and the company took advantage of this. Long story short. She was asked to dance with the company and so was expected to take company class and attend rehearsals all day/every day. But she was also told she must attend her regular school class in the evening in order to maintain her partial scholarship. In addition, her parents rented an apartment for her and a parent to stay in during these rehearsal/performance periods. She danced in virtually every performance as if she was a full corps member and even covered for sick or injured corps members as she is a quick learner and takes on the responsibility herself to learn a role that she has been asked to step into at the last minute. She was given no stipend (even when performing out of town) and she supplied her own pointe shoes.


She asked to speak with the AD so she could determine if she had a future with this company. Seven artistic staff members surrounded this 16 yr. old between shows and totally intimidated her. The first thing out of their mouths was to reaasure her that she would be used in the next production (not a question she was going to ask). But when she asked if they were considering her for a trainee or apprenticeship in the next contract period - they point blank told her NO. End of conversation.


What kind of company uses people to "fill out" their company at the dancer's own expense and ask them to risk illness/injury by over working them? HAS ANYONE ELSE ENCOUNTERED THIS?

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Are you 100% sure about this story? Hearsay is an "iffy" thing, at best. If this did happen exactly the way you've heard it, and if this young lady wanted to speak to the AD then that is who she ought to speak to and still should, in my opinion.

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BW.et al.


No this is not a union company, but it is a very well known AD. And I'm sorry, I wasn't clear, the AD was one of the people who spoke to her. And yes, this is absolutely true. I have a feeling that it happens in some form another more often than we might think, but I don't know that for sure - only this one case. Just curious if it had happened to others - primarily in non union companies - but there are a whole lot of well regarded companies out there that are not union.

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AT my daughter's former school, advanced students are routinely used in corp roles in the pro company productions. The best students often dance in all the company's productions during the year, sometimes with substantial roles. They are paid no stipend or given any payment for their performance work. All continue to pay for and attend the top level classes at the school. All of these students are not offered either apprenticeships or corp contracts, although some are. This is not a union company.


I think this goes on in many mid-size and small companies all the time. These dancers are honored to have the opportunity to dance with a pro company and get this kind of experience during highschool. Most of the dancers in the school would gladly trade places with them! I guess they aren't being used, if they are happy with the arrangement and no promises have been made that aren't followed thru with. Once they are offered apprentice positions, they are under contract and paid both a monthly salary and for each performance.

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Our top level students are also often used in company productions, however they are given extra pointe shoes for this. It is an excellent experience for them while they are still high school students, and no pay is expected.

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It's so interesting to read balletbooster's description, as well as Miss Leigh's description, and now that I think about it a number of other well known program's top students' opportunities - again, with some pointe shoes thrown in for good measure, all of which seems quite normal and acceptable as compared to your friend's, oyoyoyoyoy. Is the difference that your friend or your child's/dancer's friend's experience was so upsetting or that she was surrounded and intimidated...and that her family had to rent an apartment? Maybe the key here is caveat emptor! Or, find out the details before one agrees? :)

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Yes, you all bring up good points. You're right. A number of reputable companies/schools use students for no pay, but I think it's unconscionable for several reasons. When I am paying $60 to $75 for a ticket to a performance, I don't want to see students. Even at ABT and NYCB you can tell when there are students filling out the corps. But in these smaller companies, it's really obvious. I also don't believe in the concept of "the honor for the student to dance with the company." Sorry, that's just a personal opinion. I think it misleads the student into thinking they may have a future with this company. My guess is that some students and their parents wouldn't participate in these performances if they were told at the outset that the company had no future interest in them. Yes, she should have asked up front what the deal was. She was told she would get a stipend and a couple of pairs of shoes, but over the course of almost two years, this never materialized.


What provoked my anger in this young lady's case was several things. The company knew her parents had to rent an apartment in order for her to do this - yes, that was their own choice but it was very expensive. Insisting that she take class at the end of a full day and ignoring her in that class. (She herself was concerned about injury due to fatigue.) Not paying for a minimal number of shoes or honoring their promise of a stipend was totally unprofessional. Not paying her when she was stepping in for full corps members. (They didn't even ask their trainees/apprentices to do this, because she was better at it.) But the biggest problem was the fact that they were completely insulted that she had the nerve to request a meeting with them. She was simply supposed to be used, be grateful for it, and move on when they were finished with her. Apparently no student had requested this before and they did not know how to deal with it. (I think seven staff members standing in a circle around her with arms folded across their chests was six too many!!)


I appreciate this discussion. You brought up really good points. I think parents should be aware of this practice in companies so that they can make an informed decision if they are in this situation. I don't know of any parent or student who is going to go to the AD and complain because dancers are taught to be submissive or at least follow diirections, and parent's are terrified of "ruining" their child's chances by angering an AD.


Thanks for the forum to vent!!

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Just a thought - the original post mentioned that the girl asked if she would be considered for the company "in the next contract period." Is it possible that they thought she might be too young next year at 17 to be offered a contract? Might she be considered the following year? Does this company have 17 year old trainees or apprentices?

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I have to tell you that the only thing that seems really out of the ordinary about your description, is that they promised her a stipend and did not honor that commitment. There is no excuse for that.


You made the comment that if students knew that they didn't have a chance with the company, they would likely not participate. On that topic, I beg to differ. Many students at my daughter's old school know that they will never be asked to join the company. But, I know very few who would not jump at the chance to dance with the company, when asked to participate in a production. For some, it is just viewed as excellent experience and an opportunity to dance more demanding roles than they normally get to do as a student. This also gives them excellent entries on their dance resume. Whether they go on to dance professionally or apply to colleges, dancing in professional productions in a corp role will set them apart from others who have not had this experience. Others are just thrilled to get a moment when they can live the dream that they have been working toward for many years, realizing that it may never amount to anything more than that.


I know of dancers who have rented apartments, moved across country, paid thousands of dollars, etc. all for a ballet opportunity that had no guarantees. This is a very competitive business and many make choices that they think might further their goals, without any promises or understanding about how the arrangement will work out. There are hundreds of dancers right now who are in just such trainee positions (expected to both take student classes for which they are paying and rehearse with the company during the day) with well known companies and ADs, who will never be offered a job at that company. That doesn't mean they will not dance professionally or that this experience will not help them toward that goal. (Many of these arrangements provide no stipend or shoes, but the arrangements do vary greatly from company to company.)


I do understand the issues about subservience and the ballet culture, but I must tell you that the scenario that you describe is all too common. I do think it is important that both students and parents are realistic about such arrangements and that they go into it with their eyes wide open. I will also suggest that at the outset, the AD really doesn't know what his/her plans might be for a student such as this. Often, decisions are made only after a period of time and sometimes for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the student. Needs change, economics fluctuate, etc. Also, as time goes on and the student works more closely with the company, it is possible that the AD sees things that cause them to decide that the student is not a good match for the company. That doesn't mean that they are not competent to continue to fill in corp roles, but they may not be one whom the AD wants to spend their very limited dollars on with a contract. And, who knows, that decision could change too. I've actually seen this scenario happen. An AD tells a student that they will not be offered a contract. Then, dancers leave unexpectedly and all of a sudden, there are openings he didn't expect and this student, while not his top choice, is available and a known entity and they get a contract. It is a very whmsical business and you have to be prepared for all sorts of unexpected events.


As to your contention that you can tell when students are dancing corp roles, I agree that sometimes this is the case. But, it certainly is not always. I've seen numerous older teens dancing corp roles next to seasoned corp members and heard many comment on the fact that they were doing a better job than the paid professional next to them. AT this age, many dancers are already paid company members and in smaller companies, where money is not as prevalent, it is a common practice to use the most advanced students. HOwever, I think most ADs are pretty savvy in selecting only those students who are really up to the task. When they make an obvious mistake, the student is not asked to participate in the next production.


I do agree that it was not professional of the AD to tell others of the meeting request and then hold that meeting in 'group fashion'. That really is not appropriate and seems a bit strange. I'm wondering if the timing of her request could have been handled better, to avoid such a situation? I'm not trying to excuse the AD for this, but rather bringing up the issue that many ADs do not take kindly to students or company members questioning them or pressing them for answers such as this. I think it is a realistic question, but I've seen more than one AD really bristle at this same scenario and handle it rather poorly. I think you have to know the AD and their personality and figure out when and how to approach them to discuss such matters. I don't think that backstage at a production or even during a production week is a good choice. Several dancers I know have had good luck with sending a very well thought out letter, explaining their goals and their questions, and asking that the AD consider these things and then schedule a time that is good for him to discuss them. This gives the AD time to mull it over and hopefully handle the discussion more effectively. It also should result in a one on one meeting where the two could really talk about the issue and the student would feel a bit more comfortable asking questions, if the answers the AD is giving are not what he/she hoped.


I truly am sorry for your friend's situation. I can well understand how upsetting and disappointing all this is for her and her parents. But, I think you have to be pretty realistic and not enter into any such arrangement with too many high expectations. I hope that she finds a better situation soon and will be able to continue toward her dancing goals.

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I'm curious what the trainees/apprentices at this company receive. The swarm of official beings withstanding. It was or is a learning experience for this young dancer and why many on the brink of careers decide against them at the last minute. It is financially alot of money to waste, that might be a year in college, on a maybe. Hopefully it works out and you are "picked up", but if not then alot of money has been spent that cannot be recouped. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the game though and you may have to play it to get what you want.


The dancer in question should schedule a private conference with the director and express her concerns or requests. If they are not met to her satisfaction then it is time to look for a new company/school. If she has been performing in corp parts she may well be "ready" since that is what most apprentices/trainees take those positions to become.


And a horrible lesson for verbal contracts, abeit a valuable one. However, there are positives to look at as well. This dancer has received a wonderful resume, training that many would only wish for, and possibly the polish that will make her pass over the trainee stage and walk right into company status somewhere. These are things that should be remembered as well.


My biggest concern with this practice as a whole is that these students are worked from daylight to nighttime either with the company, and then on top of their own classes. The protection of the body to be able to last long enough to receive the nod of a contract should be protected as well. Not many people can keep that schedule without injury especially chronic ones. I would hope that while company directors give these youngsters their chance, they also leave a chance for them to have. At what point does ability and readiness in reality become survival of the fittest or the less injured?



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I understand your concern for your friend and you have received some good advice. I would just like to add that maybe it is time your friend started looking out for her own well being. After she completes this performance obligation she should decline the next one and start getting her resume/ portfolio together and begin auditioning for a traineeship or apprentice program elsewhere.


However, there are positives to look at as well.  This dancer has received a wonderful resume, training that many would only wish for, and possibly the polish that will make her pass over the trainee stage and walk right into company status somewhere.  These are things that should be remembered as well. 


I agree with momof3darlings. It seems unlikely her current situation will change. It is probably time to move on, viewing this pass year as a valuable learning experience.

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Balletbooster's comments are very insightful.


The story does raise a troubling point.


This dancer works very hard, is very committed, and most likely devoted to the company.


It must be crushing for such a person (still a teenager) to approach the artistic staff (respected adult figures) with a concern that is near and dear to her heart, and to have it handled so poorly.


She is expected to accept such behavior gracefully.


I really wish it didn't have to be that way.

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