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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Auditions: not making it, then what?


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What happens to the people who audition, audition, audition, and simply don't get jobs? After spending a year in Europe, I think that this is a bit more prevalent there, because the companies tend to be very stable, and very good. (There aren't really the very small regional companies with short seasons and super low salaries like in the US). These are people who have gone to good (often residential schools), are good dancers, and are not able to make a living dancing after working their entire lives to do that and nothing else. Then there are those of us in the States, making some money (making us technically 'professional' dancers) but who might work 30-35 weeks a year and don't make a living wage, though we are full company members. While we might say with pride, on occasion, to a non-dancer "yes, I am professional ballet dancer", the truth is, not all of us feel that way. The prevailing wisdom on this board seems to be that, as the years progress, dancers simply sort of understand and assess themselves out. The ones who aren't going to make it because of body, lack of technique, or any number of factors, simply drift away and into other things. What about those who don't? What about those, who have enough talent to possibly make it, and the passion that makes doing anything else impossible and the drive to do whatever it takes...but just aren't quite good enough or special enough to make it into a company that feels "real"? It is easy to feel like a failure-- and yet that is not terribly productive. What do the semi-failures do? (And please, please, no one be offended by this. I hope I am speaking from my own experiences and observations only, but I fear I am not and that I am not the only one who is thinking this)>

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I guess I am a semi-failure of which you speak. I have been auditioning for companies for two seasons now, and don't have a contract. I was offered one though but it was with a company that I did not think would be a good match for me; that is as specific as I need to be. So, what do I do? Stay in college, finish my degree-I'll be done December 2006, and I plan to move to a city that has my favorite company of the moment and also has more dance companies touring through it than where I live now, after graduation. I tell friends that I still want to be a professional ballet dancer, and plan to pursue my non-dance career full time after I graduate, and dance on my off days. I don't have a family of my own at this point, so its still feasible. And I have realized that I don't have to have a contract to be happy, I have to dance to be happy, and I wasn't born with the ideal body, so really, I've come a long way. So, I plan to still be dancing when I'm 80. One of the teachers, of advanced ballet, at my studio is in his 80's--he's incredible.


But will I still pursue training to a professional level? No, not after next spring probably. I think I will give up. It is hard on my body, my finances, and my spirit. Enough is enough. But atleast I was offered that one contract. That was more than I ever thought I would get, realistically.

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The difficulty of being one of these dancers, IMO, is adjusting to the recreational level. I feel at my best physically when I dance at least 4-5 days a week, or as close as I can get to my civic company days. Even after five years of not dancing and rehearsing everyday, my body hurts and is stiff if I don't dance. It's definitely hard on the finances to keep up those levels, but I find that dancing less, I'm injured more, physically and mentally. There's something hollow about a day without dancing. If a animal is bred to run, it must run every day. My body has been conditioned from a very early age to dance and without it, I fall apart. I don't feel like a failure at all- I was lucky, I danced on the stage, many don't get that far. This November, I may dance in a choreographer's showcase. I also plan to take class as long as physically and financially possible.

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  • 1 month later...

I am not an expert by any means, just a parent. But I have seen a lot of classes, SIs, dancers, teachers, body types, technical levels, studios over the years. I know I am not an expert because I am so frequently at a loss to understand the hierarchy/status/standards that determine who gets jobs, plum school casting, or at the most basic level, correction and attention in class. I claim no objectivity when it comes to my own children, but this is where I first got stumped. My lack of ability to predict/understand who will be the chosen ones continues.


One problem, I believe is there are not enough slots for the number of people (qualified by both talent and training) who can fill them. There can only be so many Claras. I think this is similar to college acceptances in that highly selective schools (that's what makes them highly selective) regularly turn away spectacular candidates. I also think all performing arts careers generally have an element of capriciousness, some would call it luck.


My question is how to know when you are on the path to become one of the "ones who don't make it"???


This is especially hard when we know that persistence is an important part of success. When do you decide to give up and switch gears? When do you become your own nay sayer after you have spent years turning a deaf ear to these ubiquitous voices? When do you switch from believing in yourself and persisting despite the insecurities that plague all perfection minded dancers? When is it time to answer your own "negative self talk" with the response--yes this is just too hard; I don't have what it takes, and it's time to give up on my dream of a professional career???


I hear many people say there is a place out there somewhere for everyone who really wants it. You just need to find your personal path. I'm not sure I've ever really believed this. I also don't know how to trust my own assessments when I see dancers in the corps/shadows, etc. who seem as good or better than those in the spotlight. Michael Jordan was cut from varsity basketball; Julie Kent was in the ABT corps forever; Judith Jamison was too tall to ever have a dance career; Albert Einstein had terrible problems in school; so many gifted and accomplished people have stories to tell about dire signs and predictions early on that suggested they should have quit long before they decided to persist and eventually become spectacularly successful.


Alternately, sometimes people's big dreams are altogether unsuited to their actual abilities (note the audition process in many recent reality talent shows!). These are pipedreams. What is the real reality for any particular dancer? How can you tell the differencce between a dream and a pipedream? What sacrifices/compromises are reasonable? Do you sign on to something attainable but less than ideal as a stepping stone? Are you being realistic, strategic, patient or are you settling? Please help, share, whatever... :wink::shrug::o:unsure:

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I wish I had a crystal ball. I would just charge 1 penny per reading, but I know I'd be rich :wink:


This discussion has been touched on before on Ballet Talk For Dancers. Unfortunately, there are no clear cut answers. You might try looking around the board under 'Career General' or any of the 'Parents of' threads.


The reason I am suggesting it to you is because the topic of this thread relates more to dancers who are currently or recently "out there" auditioning and trying to obtain that elusive contract. The previous threads may relate more to your particular situation as a mom.

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My DD and I have discussed this lots this last year as she has met more and more students in London who graduated from vocational dance schools and cannot get dance jobs. There is the point of diminishing return and you have to find that. If you are getting close but not getting the jobs (final cuts etc) then there is usually something specific that you can fix, improve or work on. I find that the longer you are in the auditioning loop, the less joy you exhibit as a dancer and therrefore the less 'special" you seem. IT is a vicious cycle and a hard one to watch as well as be in.


When do you know? That is the most personal question in the world. We have always told DD that we are there until SHE is done. Anytime before that would plague us all with the what might have beens.



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Swanilda, I know what you mean. The ballet profession is a very strange one in that respect, that professional status does not necessarily mean you're making a living. There are other professions like that too --- do most professional magicians really make a full-time living of it? What about mystery novel authors?


Even those dancers who do make it --- I've known far too many dancers in their 60's and 70's who, although they were paid a "living" wage by top well-known companies, were never actually paid enough to achieve a normal middle-class existence by that age --- funds to own your own home and build a nest egg for retirement. Even top-rated companies don't pay much today; I've heard that NYCB pays under $30K salary for entry-level dancers. And that is just NOT enough to get ahead in NYC. In this respect, you will most likely be better off financially, in the long run, if you spend a lot of your time on something other than dance.


I prefer to focus not on the finances, but on what you actually produce or accomplish as a dancer. Are you working in an environment with high artistic standards? Was your show effective as a piece of theatre? Did it reach the audience? Do you believe in the mission, goals and results of your dance organization? If so, it is deserving of your participation, in whatever way you see fit.


In the end, we remember dancers not for how much money they made, or for whether they had to take a second job to make ends meet, but rather for what they accomplished on stage.

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Thank you Clara76


Searching around I just found a thread on parents of 13+ "when is it time to stop?" that also speaks to my point and is maybe where I should have posted to begin with. I was just drawn to this topic becuse it sounds so much like my older dd's current situation. I am always in the parent mode (fortunately for the dds, not always appropriate elsewhere)


I still find these dancers comments very useful in terms of seeing what the dancers themselves are saying about their own choices as opposed to posts geared more closely to providing support as a parent. Of course, reading the dancers' own comments helps me be better informed when I try to give dd support.


Our most recent dilemma is the college/dancing one. I was feeling guilty for directing older dd to college, and seeing that after graduation doors that were wide open are now barely ajar--despite the fact that dd's body and technique are better now than on entering college. This last year since graduation has been spent on intensive training and auditioning with excellent results in every way (teacher and others feedback, feeling of accomplishment, getting close in auditions--down to last cuts) except landing that job.


DD says having finished college (continued to dance in college although not a dance college per se) and attending pre-pro SI's every summer of college (ballet and modern) has allowed her to be wholehearted about dance now in a way she thinks would have been impossible if college had been eliminated. I breathed a sigh of relief (dd's confession eased my guilt) and continue to try to be involved in ongoing decisions for this upcoming second year. Also importantly, dd is open to contemporary ballet, jazz and modern.


My best wishes to all those out there struggling to keep dance in their lives in other than a living wage professional status. I continue to be fascinated by the variety of ways to make this work. Thank you dancers for sharing. Your personal stories and choice to share strategies and experiences are helping more people than you know. Best of luck with your versions of this very personal journey.

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Well. The decision about whether one has 'made it or not' is all a matter of perspective.


Dance is for life.

It is a frame of mind.


You are you, and no other person can dictate your commitment or involvement.




Edited by rozin
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The posts where we got off topic into "when to stop supporting a dancer" have been moved to:


Supporting a professional dancer


Please continue the discussion here of "the ones who make it and the ones who sort of make it". Although in today's time, if you're dancing and have a title of trainee/apprentice/corp or higher. You've made it!

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Bless the moderators, and please forgive the newbies.


Sorry I veered us away. I am going to check the new thread.


Thank you Momof3darlings for spinning this off. I think this making it or not making it divide is often a "family" thing given the many entry/early (and late!) stage jobs that don't pay a wage one can live on -- even in a modest way.

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No problem, 2dds. That's what we're here for!

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  • 1 year later...

I bumped this thread up as it relates to some of the discussions we are having here right now. Please note however, that this is an older thread and some of the dancers who have been talked about above have in fact found work dancing since the thread was posted.

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Um, April 4th will be your 7th year anniversary as a member. That doesn't count lurking, but welcome to the Group: Oldies! :clapping: Wear your badge with honor, I certainly do!

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