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Companies: smaller vs. larger

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Just a hypothetical question for the group. Let's say your dancer had been involved in the professional dance world for a couple years and has now been offered two professional contracts. One in the corps de ballet of a very large and well known international company, and the other as a principal or soloist with a smaller but well respected regional company. What advice would you offer?


Let's assume that money and geographical location do not play a part in the decision, and that the dancer is equally familiar and respectful of the rep performed by both companies. Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish on a large stage?


I am also curious as to what advice teachers would offer to their students in this situation.



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Guest grace
Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish on a large stage?
from the *teacher's* point of view, the advice really would need to take in all the personal details which we cannot have, here.


but from THIS point of view, as an objective commentator, i suggest you consider questions such as:-


- is the larger company one in which the dancer might well expect to rise through the ranks (eventually)? and attain that soloist or principal ranking, eventually, in a company where it would mean even more?


- will the small company provide him/her with job security and proper wages and the job perks, such as physiotherapy, good teaching, good coaching, whatever else might go with being in a big company in america? (i assume we are talking about two companies in the USA?)


- what people will s/he be working with in each place? personal relationships matter a great deal in any field of work. a dancer wants to get classes they benefit from, coaching they respect, etc...not just 'any' class 7?or 'any' coaching.


- which position (small fish or big fish) would suit the dancer's personality better, at this stage in their life? and what about later?


etc etc! :)

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I asked my daughter this and her answer was that since she likes to experience new and challenging choreographies along with the classics, it would be best to find a company that does both. In that same breath, she also would rather be a big fish and be used a lot. (For everything!)

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Look at the number of performances per year and the financial state of the company. More performances are better for a dancer to grow as well as present more opportunities. It is better for a new dancer to do 45 Swan Lake corps than 1 or 2 prinicipal roles of a part. Beside, if she tires of the large, known company there is a great chance that she can join a small, local one and be the bigger fish with a fatter resume.


From experience doing ten weeks of rehearsal for one performance makes one a neurotic mess, especially when that one performance goes badly and the next chance is two years away.


Also look at the touring opportunities - paid travel is a good thing as is performing for different audiences in various size and shapes of theaters.


The financial state is obvious. No sense moving to a company that may or may not be there........

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I've asked a few dancers this question -- delicately! -- in interviews, and one gave me an answer I'd never considered. He had the option to return to his "home" company and be a "big fish" or continue in the corps of a Very Big Company as a small fish -- corps dancer, very few solo roles. He chose to stay a small fish, saying that he valued the opportunity to take those classes and study and measure himself against those dancers, to work and be challenged constantly at the highest possible level.


Not suggesting that's the only, or best, answer, but it is an interesting angle.

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Actually Alexandra in NY based companies that is the norm. Many corps dancers thrive on the classes and the chance to see such fantastic principals at work. It means something to be onstage with Julio Bocca or Alessandra Ferri in Romeo and dancing MacMillan. Whether it is more than dancing Juliet in a small production by the local director can only be answered individually.


Also the point about classes is great! In larger cities there is more opportunity to work with many excellent teachers (and coaches). I enjoyed that plus the chance to see other companies and dancers.


In the business world, Michael Porter speaks of an advantage where there are clusters of companies of the same industry in close proximity. I know it is true for ballet.

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I had a slightly different experience. I was a medium-sized fish in a small NYC company;) That meant that I didn't do the 45 Swan Lakes, but I had most of what NYC had to offer, including the opportunities to 'guest artist' with companies outside of NYC (ok, so there wasn't the '45 Swan Lakes', but hundreds of Nutcrackers, sometimes 3 different versions in one season:eek: ).

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You are asking this on the mom and dad board, so I will give you my "mom" answer. My youngest daughter is getting to the age to audition for companies, so doesn't have the years of professional experience and multiple offers of your hypothetical question, but is deciding which companies to audition for. Should she try for smaller companies that would afford her a greater chance to perform bigger roles sooner, or should she try for major companies? She has 2 older sisters who are pro dancers. One in a medium sized company and the other in one of the major companies. What we see as the differences are: the daughter in the medium company got to perform some great roles her first year. Her company rehearses for about 4 weeks and then performs for 2 weeks. Almost everyone in the company gets to do soloist/principal roles sometime during the year. She does not worry about whether she will be in a number or not--she will be--so will everyone else. There is not the competition for big parts, there seems to be a family type atmosphere and the dancers are happy to share roles because they all share. She works 6 days a week, but since 4 of the weeks are rehearsal weeks she has her evenings free to spend time with her husband.

Daughter number 2 went directly into a major company. The company performs close to 200 times per year. She also works 6 days a week. During the day, there is class and rehearsal and then most evenings there is also a performance--with 2 shows each day on the weekend. There is time for little else besides dance. Performing is what they love to do, but Swan Lake loses its charm way before the 45th performance especially if you are the 4th swan from the left in the 3rd row. She did get to do some nice parts by her second year and the potential for advancement was certainly there.

Taking classes with a major company is nice, but after having spent a dozen years taking class before landing the contract, the performance is what most dancers are looking for.

So daughter number three is looking at the quality of life that she would have with each size company. And deciding if she would rather be the 4th swan from the left in the 3rd row for a few years in a major company or have the possibility of being Juliet next year.

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I value in the long-term investment, always sacrificing the present for the future.


I really believe, therefore, that the dancer should do what will make him/her the best DANCER in the long run, IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. I mean best dancer. Not most famous dancer, or dancer with the best-known company, or dancer next to the most famous, or best paid dancer.


That means evaluating the opportunities provided by the companies in question. Ideally, ballet is a process of continual learning and improvement; landing an entry-level job is just the beginning. Therefore, at the entry level, I believe the company's possibility to improve the dancer is much more important than, for example, salary. (If a company makes you into a truly great dancer, then you can command more money later on).


I think that others have adequately described some of the factors that go into making a job good for a dancer's long-term development --- classes, performance opportunities, repertory, etc.


I imagine that corps (or principal) in Swan Lake after 45 shows is no more fun than it is in Nutcracker. But that is where so much growth happens for me --- re-examining again and again how I can improve it. And believe it or not, I really can continue to improve roles even after many dozens of performances. So many times, on the last week of a 5-week run, I will re-do everything in a new way. If you only perform it once or twice, you are never forced to examine the role for something new the 45th time.

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Here's a reply from someone who has absolutely no experience with any of these decisions: I'd cast my vote along the lines of mbjerk's, Cabriole's and Alexandra's sources' responses. I'd go with being a little fish and then, if I decided I didn't like it...I'd change "schools" ;) and become a big fish.


Appreciate the orginal post and all the answers - good food for thought.

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Thank you all for the replies.


Part of what prompted this question was the dancer bios while browsing the SFB web site. Of 18 dancers listed as principals or soloists, only 6 had been promoted from within the corps while 12 had been hired from other companies specifically as principals/soloists. (only 2 of the 18 had been apprentices with SFB)


While I certainly understand the excellent training opportunity that a dancer would have while dancing in the corps of a large company, isn't there also an advantage to the experience, confidence, and stage presence that they could develop as a principal with a smaller company?



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Guest grace

lilliana - i very much enjoyed reading your real-life experience story. i don't think there would be many families in a situation like yours. congratulations to ALL your daughters! :)

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and, aside from the fish/pond issue .... I believe it was last week's Sunday N.Y.Times that had an article on performances by two smaller companies -- on the theme of the more varied repetoire .... slant toward more contemporary works, etc.

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I heard from a dancer who had danced many years for a well-known company. She felt she would develop better in a smaller environment with more personal attention, and she moved to a smaller company. In this case, her hunch was correct --- she really did improve a lot more once she moved.


Problem is, the OTHER dancers in the company weren't so hot. So the OVERALL level of dancing was much lower. Maybe the personal attention didn't work for them.



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I think that the biggest truth of all, is that for most dancers, there aren't dozens of contracts available to them to pick and choose from. Even the really great dancers, especially entry level great, will get a job offer and have to make a decision about whether or not to commit to signing the contract to that company. It is a lot like the rolling admissions to the summer course. Once you commit , either yea or nay, you have made that commitment. So, if the first offer is the offer of your dreams, all is well. However, if the first offer isn't your first choice and you have to decide before you can even audition for your first choice, the decision is painful. If you turn down an offer, it will most likely, never be open to you again--at least I think this would be more likely than turning down a summer course offer. Most companies only have a few openings and if they choose you, when you have auditioned for them, and then you turn them down, I doubt that you would be high on their happy list. So, as our dancers get old enough and advanced enough to begin auditions for a professional contract, the auditions that they choose to do must be well thought out by the dancer and family before the process begins. So, if you haven't had to make these decisions yet, they may be in your future if you have a very serious dancer in your home.

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