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Ballet Talk for Dancers

College then Company-getting more common

Robin G

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For the high school senior age dancer that choice comes to decide on college or Company auditions. I see many going through this tough decision right now. Some have held off on college to pursue dance positions, some are having success, some are still trying hard. The good news for those who choose college is there are more dancers able to get good jobs after college dance. There is an article in Pointe discussing how dancers have been trained to do classical ballets and college dance teaches them the new component of modern and choreography. The goal is to be able to move in a new way to adapt to new choreographers. This explains why in college modern becomes so important. Desmond Richardson recently taught classical ballet dancers how to move in a different style than they were used to -and it was truely a whole new world. There will always be a need to dance Swan Lake but there's a new world of dancing as well. New choices and opportunities in dance.

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As the mom of a dancer who chose to go to college over joining a company immediately after high school, I read your post with interest. It's only been a couple weeks into freshman year, but my daughter has absolutely no regrets. Her knowledge of dance has expanded by leaps and bounds in a very short period of time. She is learning more about modern, learning to choreograph and much more, all while improving her technique in both ballet and modern. Personally, I don't think one has to start dancing right out of high school. It is a choice and I will admit we had a difficult time making the decision. Since, my daughter is looking to have a career in dance that goes beyond a performance career, we thought that the college route would benefit her more in the long run. I realize that everyone has a different goal, but for my daughter this has been a wonderful fit.

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As a dancer who had the option to either go to school or go pro, I think that dancers being able to go to school and still have a career is great! I chose to go pro however, because I thought, and still believe, that one cannot learn the tricks of the trade without getting "your hands dirty," so to speak. I'm not trying to start any arguments or offend anybody, just my honest opinion. With the companies I have danced with, you're starting to see more and more of the fellow dancers have some college or degrees...although the majority have been apprentices. I thought PK's article was very interesting and kudos to those who are going to school!

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There certainly are more options for career preparation than when I was a student. For those who need more work before hitting the audition trail, college dance is certainly a viable choice. Those who are entry-level right out of high school may "go pro" and at the same time do university work via distance-learning, or company-connected enrollment in extension division courses. It really boils down to what the dancer needs in order to prepare for the dancing part of life, and also the apres-dance. :thumbsup:

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Dnznqueen - Thank you for sharing your opinion. I am curious about your experience. When you first went pro, what level were you at? Were you trainee, apprentice or corps? How long have you been pro? What kinds of tricks of the trade did you learn? I don't find your post controversial at all. My daughter definitely had very personal reasons for delaying her entry into a professional company. Opon the advice of a former artistic director and some of her main teachers, she is going to reevaluate after one year of college. There were many who felt she should have gone pro and that she was ready to take the leap. In fact, she was offered an apprentice position vs. trainee. We sought the opinion of several who were close to her before making the final decision and as I said before, it was difficult. The biggest concern I have is with regard to age. Will she be too old when she graduates from college?

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Although my daughter is only in grade 9, we have already had this discussion with her and the artistic director at her residency program. There is limited choice of good post-secondary dance programs where I live. Teaching programs at ballet schools are another option. I'm watching this thread with interest. I am keen to hear the opinions of both sides.

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ddm- I started at the apprentice level, and now am a principal dancer after doing this going on 7 years now. It's funny- when I took the position, everything was set for me to go to school- money, scholarships all that. Then the job fell into my lap and I jumped at it. The biggest thing you learn is how to watch- everything! You learn from watching the principals take class, go through rehearsal, perform...not just the basic technical things mind you, but how they take care of themselves, artistry. I think the most important thing I learned was the political aspect.....like it or not, the ballet world is definitely not a democracy! Politics is something you'll find at any job, and I think that is what makes or breaks any entry-level dancer- can they handle it or not? Those who can't, usually quit out of frustration. Anyways, seeing college kids come to a company is great, but remember when they get out, if they are at the apprentice/trainee level, they are treated the same as their 18 year-old counterparts. Now you have companies like Ailey and Lines that have university programs affiliated, so the transition for those from student to company isn't so drastic, but let me tell you- it's a whole different world out here than anything you ever thought.

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dnznqueen -


Thanks so much for your honest post. The insights it gives into the world of company life can't be found on company websites or in dance magazines. I'll be sure to have my daughter read it. She's 19, and heading out to auditions next spring. Congratulations on your success - thanks again.



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Yes, dnznqueen. Thank you so much for your recent posts. We appreciate your being willing to share of your journey with us.

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Thank you for this thread. DD is in 8th grade but is already interested in this discussion. So many questions surround this issue. It's like trying to look in a crystal ball and predict the future. One of our many questions is: what is the true value of a degree in dance? If the best case scenario happens and a graduate dances in a company for several years, is that graduate better positioned for post-company life than a post-company dancer without the college degree? One of the things I see is that college-age kids who go into companies routinely go into those companies as trainees or "company II" levels. If I understand these levels correctly, they are great for more training but not much in the way of pay. Other than exposure to the company itself, this sounds a lot like college but college might be more helpful in the course of the dancer's life.


If the worst case scenario happens and a dancer goes to college but isn't able to find work in a company for whatever reason (age?) are they able to find work in the field? What do they do?


We know Company II or trainee positions also carry no guarantees for the future but seem to hold so much interest for the most promising dancers but if they don't make it into companies, there is no formal education to fall back on. Is it really a question of who can tolerate deferred gratification?


Another question: Do all dancers with college degrees who join companies start with the 18 yo's as trainees or do some come in at a higher level? Also, is there any thought about how those with degrees (and a broader dance training) advance within the company to those without the college education? Is there any hard data out there or is it all anecdotal?

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Any hard data that WAS out there has probably been shot to the hills with the changes over the past few years of how the trainee/apprentice programs grown to be used as channels into a company. There are so many variables that must be considered and there certainly is no crystal ball. It is rare that any dancer goes straight into a company position these days without at least some time as a trainee or apprentice. But it does happen, just not often enough for anyone to bank on.


My DD deferred college and like ddm3's dancer she has no regrets. One week into her apprenticeship and she knows that deferring was the right choice for her. She is the youngest apprentice where she is and yes, she is dancing alongside college graduates who have the same position she does. But,I am not one to look at that with any deep meaning or interpretation anymore, their paths to their goals were just different. They will meet at the same place and then the paths will be different again. My DD will eventually go to college (it's just her nature) and she will be the older college freshman among 18 year olds. I think for this journey, you just have to find what works best for you and your plans/goals and go for it.


I guess my question would be: Is it really that college then company is getting more common or is that with fewer positions out there the past couple of year if high school students/parents are seeing this and pushing college more than they used to?

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I think that even if dancers are opting to take trainee/apprentice contracts right after high school, or continue with training instead of going through four years of college, they are finding ways to take college courses part-time. There are so many on-line options today that were not available even a few years ago. Also, sometimes a dancer will begin as a college dance major, and leave before graduation to take a company position. I guess our kids have to make their choices, and see how they play out from there.

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Dnznqueen- Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your successes! I think that there are many different pathways to one's goals especially since everyone has a different goal or more than one goal. It is very helpful to have a clear sense of what that goal is before having to make the decision of what to do next. My daughter's goals have changed considerably over the years. As an example, 4 years ago she was enamoured with a certain company, but now has no desire to dance for that particular company. She has experienced different styles of dancing other than just classical and and has become more familiar with different companies in the U.S. and abroad. She now has a clearer idea of the companies she would like to dance for. After doing the research, we decided that her best route to those companies would be through additional training. How much additional training will she need? This is still a big question and so we are taking it one year at a time. We are hoping that when she is ready, she will not have to start at the trainee level. The companies she is shooting for do not have an actual trainee level. We do know of several girls who trained for a couple years after high school at various local schools and who have acquired corps position jobs at various U.S. companies. So, we are hopeful that this is indeed possible. By going to college we are trying avoid the trainee level altogether.

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