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Journey: Two Roads Diverged....into a Company Contract


Momof3darlings

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A thread for discussion from a question posed by someone on another thread: The road to a Company contract is ever changing. I've personally seen 3 pretty major changes during my time here on the boards even though the road for the "chosen few" remains the same. But what about the majority of those dancing or with dancing kids? How have you seen the road change recently and what is the path now? Or has it changed at all really? Is the real issue that what you're told the road is and what it really is are two different things? What does the road look like in 2011?

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Great topic, Momof3. I've been reading this board for about 10 years now and, when DD was young, had a much different perception of The Path than I do now that she's of the age to actually work her way down (up?) that path.

 

I've expressed my frustration in the recent past about the apparent new trend in additional rungs in the ladder (summer programs as pre-requisites for consideration for trainee positions, trainee as part of school, trainee as part of company, apprentice, the oblique second company that seems to have sprung up everywhere, years of work that are not compensated, etc...).

 

When DD was young, it seemed that intense pre-pro training in the teen years was the precursor to seeking professional employment. The big question was, would the route be via a ballet collegiate program or directly out of a pre-pro setting. Now it seems that a whole new puzzle piece has been inserted into the equation and additional years in dance purgatory (the trainee/apprentice thing) are a necessity for those seeking a company contract. I just read about this year's graduating class from Indiana; a couple 2nd companies, a couple trainee positions, lots of apprenticeships (don't know if they're paid or unpaid). Only one company contract was mentioned. So even after that kind of commitment (financial, time) to training, the company contract is still years away.

 

So I guess my 2¢ is that the path seems longer, the route seems more congested, the economy is certainly different, and the arts feel less stable than the did a decade ago.

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Thanks for joining in 101driver. I agree with all you've mentioned. I would also like to add to that, the quiet nature of our "Congrats" thread this year. Certainly we've celebrated for many already in the journey who have either kept their positions, been promoted or allowed to stay on as Trainee/Apprentices a 2nd year. However, who we have not really heard from on that thread as of yet, are the Trainee/Apprentices or even 1st time Corp members who have come straight from high school. Which in prior years we did have a section of those coming in late April/Early May.

 

From that, I can venture to guess that either that group of folks is just quietly enjoying their successes. Or, I fear that there were less of those "guaranteed" offers than we've had in the past and therefore what used to be a little high school celebrating in April/May and then again in July/August has now turned into us waiting until July/August to celebrate for all of them. This would obviously make college more of a choice families were encouraging and frankly, pretty hard to pass up. I know that is what I would have pushed for.

 

Like you though, I saw the IU, Butler and OU threads, and while I am congratulatory and thankful for the jobs of those students. Like you, I see them taking the exact same positions as a high school grad, not increased positions so do not believe that it's a mature individual or dancer that is being looked for in totality. I do believe a more mature yet moldable dancer is what they are looking for. But I'm not finding that the mature (as in older) dancer is doing better, just equal.

 

There are a few successes from those in competitions, however, for the most part those dancers have taken a different path all the way through. The average dancer doing competitions still finds a job the way the rest of them do, through auditions. Those few who win and then receive positions, I believe would have likely gotten them anyway. You just don't place that high at Prix or IBC without having that "something". The competitions were merely an additional chance at their success to be seen actually dancing and not just in class.

 

Others?

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I guess this comment could be made into a separate thread, but since these thoughts about the latest path also bear on choices of where to go for the summer or final year round training... We have had advice given by veterans of dance who are teachers who underscore how important the training is to keep going as long as possible before auditioning for an apprenticship with a company. The point is that if a dancer isn't trained as intensely for as long as possible before stepping out into a company where rehearsing is their main activity, they may not end up strong enough to keep their contracts renewed.

 

We also have advice from veteran dancers who have spent less time as teachers who feel the training is important but emphasize where it takes place and say it should be only at a school that leads directly into an option with a company where the particular dancer would fit. This adds another concern when decisions are being made in later teen years. If things are changing in terms of the path, a parent might wonder how current the awareness of the advice-giver is or how subjective their advice is, based on their own experience. The first advice allows for seeking the best training wherever it may be and the latter limits choices which may or may not even be there, since summer program schedules where auditions for fall take place collide and choices can become limited by that. Choices can also be limited by finances and geography or schools with or without housing options. Also, who knows if a student will fit into a company in a few years, based on numbers, physical aspects, artistic directors' latest preferences, etc.

 

Even if both sets of advice were able to be acted upon, there is the reality that the company school only asks one or two from their year round training programs to enter their companies anyway. So how important is it that a company affiliated school where a student finishes be affiliated with the company where the student's type is a fit? Or is it the training that is the most important benefit from the school? Then there is the consideration that a school will take a student, even at an older age and have no plans to groom them for their company at all. So knowing what the trend of late is, for the path in the bigger picture, would certainly be nice! It seems to me that both sets of advice I'm hearing sound good, so the old "road to Rome" conclusion has to be followed. :sweating::)

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I think this has been a difficult year for getting contracts (reflecting the state of the economy and its effects on the arts) and some students are looking into other options.

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additional years in dance purgatory (the trainee/apprentice thing)

 

I think "dance purgatory" sums it up very well.

 

Also with training I've seen pros return to the pre-pro school during layoffs to cleanup technique, get rid of bad habits and continue to improve. If the teachers are masters there is still more a pro dancer can learn. Just with any profession its seems you have to keep learning.

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I am laughing really hard at the reference to "dance purgatory.".

 

The only comment I can make is yes those IU, OU, Butler dancers may be getting comparable opportunities and contracts as some high school grads to dance as apprentices and trainees, but most of these young men and women have a college degree in hand and an idea of what they want to do in the future after they dance, especially those who had an outside field of study. There are many who are going through these trainee/grad programs/ second companies only to find they are not being offered contracts. I'm personally glad that whatever happens after my dd finishes at IU she will have a college degree and an idea of what she wants to do post-dancing.

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ITA with sqmca. I also think that this this economy, dancers are hardly the only young professionals who are finding that they are having to do something for little or no money in order to get their foot in the door (I hear this is the case for new law school grads, too). And while "dance purgatory" seems apt, I personally really can't blame companies for wanting to see whether someone is a good fit and has a good work ethic before signing them on for a full company contract.

 

Under both these circumstances, it seems to me the fact that college grads are getting the same positions as students straight out of residency or very strong pre-pro programs is actually a big step in the right direction---- I've been reading this board long enough to remember when it seemed that college was considered a decent option really only for those who couldn't get a job after HS, and that even then, college grads were at a huge disadvantage. Just thinking out loud, and hard to know for sure without statistics, I wonder if an increased emphasis on more contemporary repertoire as well as a certain maturity that comes with age has leveled the playing field somewhat.

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The only comment I can make is yes those IU, OU, Butler dancers may be getting comparable opportunities and contracts as some high school grads to dance as apprentices and trainees, but most of these young men and women have a college degree in hand and an idea of what they want to do in the future after they dance, especially those who had an outside field of study.

Which is a huge plus about IU, IMO. DD now rethinking her path and considering a collegiate program where a double major is actually a possibility. Yes, golconda, it's true that college grads with equal options is a plus. But after such a huge investment and often incurring a lot of debt, don't you think they should have a step up? I can't help but wonder, if the options seem to be same with or without a BA (or even BFA) in ballet, why college? I just think it's a sign of the times and a reality check about just how attainable dance contracts seem to be these days. :)

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*The post above was removed by the poster although, the comments below are general to where I felt, right or wrong we were going.

 

Please, please let's not make this thread about whether we personally like a college path or not as a first option, but rather keep to how the road has changed to make either decision more viable. The requested topic at hand is "The Path", and how it has changed for those wanting to be a part of it. Each person will make a personal determination about which way they choose to go to aim for it and what their life goals are post dancing. My only reason for mentioning the college grads is because like 101driver, I've been here a long time and when I first came here IU grads were getting corp contracts mostly with a distance 2nd Trainee offers. It was the one college where it appeared that finishing college in a dance program gave you a leg up dancewise if post college you still wanted to dance ballet. Butler gave that ballet leg up as well, but at that time, not in as big a numbers at IU seemed to. But if the fact that there is not a list of corp contracts for college grads, especially IU grads isn't a change in the path from when I first came here, then I don't know what a change is.

 

I remember very vividly the discussion held by an IU grad at the time that first shift began to appear when the graduating class was split about in half with 2nd company offers and and a few corp. (not alot of Trainee/Bridge companies yet, but the "real" 2nd companies) I remember it very vividly because this discussion was DDs Junior year just as she was on the cusp of really making a determination of what she wanted from dance. It was the first time those of us here were seeing that change in IU's graduating class and some of it's members as well. I also very vividly remember that wonderful, long term member stating "how dare they make us, college dance grads from one of the top ballet schools dance with 18 year olds." So where I see the shift is that now, the college grads are thankful for their education yes, but also thankful to have a job.....any job even if as a Trainee/2nd company member. This not because they chose college as their path, but simply because the path has leveled so that almost no matter who you are or what you've done, you will start on the "higher training" rung that someone else mentioned. It is both for economic reasons that I see this, but also for reasons that come with an AD knowing that you can be molded to fit his/her vision which may or may not be apparent without more time than a traditional audition allows.

 

As a note, it always gets worse before it gets better......

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As this is dd's first year for trying to find a job, I can't comment on the changes but I can tell you that the road is bumpy, unmarked and is filled with traffic and many rude drivers. There are simply more cars on the road than the road was built to handle.... :wink: Successful navigation is hit or miss, luck, and having the right people as a co-pilot and sometimes it feels like knowing how to drive (dance) is really unnecessary altogether.

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. It is both for economic reasons that I see this, but also for reasons that come with an AD knowing that you can be molded to fit his/her vision which may or may not be apparent without more time than a traditional audition allows.

 

Not to get the thread off-topic, but . . . . I really can't justify the unpaid trainee/apprentice one to two year requirement on the premise that it is an 'extended' audition period for the AD to determine appropriate fit. Given that the dancers ARE working and 'captured' (in the sense that they are at the AD's beck and call) for that time period and ARE on a year-to-year 'contract', it is not like the AD is 'stuck' with an employee/dancer that he/she ultimately decides won't be a fit for the company. In that regard, i.e., in terms of gambling whether his greenest employee will ultimately fit his needs, he's taking no more risk whether he pays that dancer a reasonable wage than if he doesn't.

 

But, that's another topic, as we all have debated often. So, don't mean to go off-topic; I just couldn't resist giving my view that THAT reasoning by the companies/AD appears sooooo specious and self-serving to me.

 

Now, overall economics and the fact that these dancers have no bargaining/leveraging power and are in abundant supply, therefore, will most likely cause the greenest dancers, be they college or pre-pro trained, to continue to lose ground on the entry level scale.

 

As a seque back to a more on-topic observation, I would offer that it is my impression that in the world of contemporary ballet (rather small that it is), it does appear that the trend has been for the college dancers to be favored on the audition circuit and that the college dancers (graduates or early exits) have been landing full corps positions with a scattering of second companies, but mostly in countries other than USA. I offer this with the caveat that I don't have a wide-spread sampling or extensive knowledge of the contemporary ballet world. There seem to be only a real handful of such companies in the US, but more in Europe. And as we don't seem to get much information about those companies here on BT4D, it makes me even less confident that I've come across a really good source of information from which to glean information and trends.

 

And as I've commented before, I've not been able to tell whether it is the maturity that comes from the added years of life experiences that the contemporary companies are after or if it is actually the degree (BA or BFA), but whatever it is, it does seem to dove-tail with having the degree. Of course, it is hard to continue training at that level outside of college for that long without benefit of companies or schools. So . . . .I'm not sure how else that level of maturity along with that level of life experience would be obtained.

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I agree, contemporary ballet and modern generally desire a more mature (in all aspects of dancing and life lessons) dancer. Part of this is the maturity that comes with age and experience and part of that is in the education and inclusion (or lack thereof) of modern and contemporary ballet as a part of the training process for young students. In other words, the exposure of an 18 year old to contemporary ballet is in most cases limited to choreography for RDA and the like because the time spent in class is on the teaching of classical ballet. While in college, exposure to modern and/or contemporary ballet comes from not only choreography but also guest teachers if not a faculty member.

 

In terms of years of "service" to and AD. The unpaid thing rubs me also. However, the 2 years does not anymore. Having seen in two different companies plus the friends we have followed, I do see how much dancers change from being in the professional environment on a daily basis vs. the school environment. And I also have seen dancers who were the "promised" not live up to anything further than that as well as dancers who were "possibilities" come full circle and actually get the contracts at the end of the 2 year time because of how much they grew. Also, having seen dancers during the 1st year given specific things they need to do to retain their contracts and have them work toward them but not yet achieve them. I can see where an AD might offer the 2nd go round and keep them on. A friend of DD was just released after a 2nd go round because while he was a phenomenal dancer and highly desired, he was missing one very important thing needed to hold a spot in a smaller company. He was given time to work on that. Unfortunately while he became better at it, it was never achieved it (not sure if he could not or chose not to) and had to move on. Sure he could have been let go after a year, but he was one who needed more time and both he and the AD deserved to allow him to continue the process. As well, the time that more than one dancer was deserving and the promise of more than one opening in a year's time was evident. (Such as known pending retirements) Therefore wanting to keep a dancer around has also been apparent. It then becomes the dancer's choice what to do with that information. In those cases though, the dancers were aware that they were desired but nothing available right that minute. Some ended up with positions, others not. In the end, the idea of "worth it" is personal based on too many things to discuss unless that person is you.

 

Right or wrong, besides the economy and the need to fill spaces for free. (Yes, ick!) I also feel that it is in part linked to the vastly larger number of dancers to choose from who are technically qualified these days. In terms of the unpaid thing though, I believe we are the ones who need to begin to think differently. A few years ago we termed being invited to become an unpaid Trainee the start of a professional career. If we change our thinking to go along the lines of what most unpaid Trainees are (another rung on the training ladder) then possibly we won't be as offended by the unpaid position because we simply consider it more training at hopefully a higher level.

 

To bring it full circle on how the path has changed? There were not as many Trainee/2nd companies when I first came here and I"ve seen them become more and more over recent year and therefore, more room for the thought of abuse. The more they have cropped up, the more we have felt abused by them. The less money there is for additional positions, the more this will continue to be an issue. And the more dancers hold on to their jobs (instead of company hopping like some used to), the less openings we will see anywhere. The last hired, first fired thing is perfectly frightening in this economy.

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The unpaid thing rubs me also..... If we change our thinking to go along the lines of what most unpaid Trainees are (another rung on the training ladder) then possibly we won't be as offended by the unpaid position because we simply consider it training...There were not as many Trainee/2nd companies when I first came here and I"ve seen them become more and more over recent year and therefore, more room for the thought of abuse. The more they have cropped up, the more we have felt abused by them.

 

I think the unpaid trainee idea is great IF they are receiving training. But to throw a new dancer in with corps or as a demi-soloist just seems like exploitation. Either pay them as corps or really train them. I might have made different plans in supporting DD had the road been what it is now when she started out. We really thought getting quality training and paying the equivalent of college during her high school years would get her a paying job. That changed over that period of time.

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My struggle with this, and probably a different topic, is how Visas can be granted to non-U.S. dancers when, as pointed above, there is an abundance of well-qualified, unemployed dancers here. The whole premise of a work Visa is that there are not a sufficient number of qualified citizens available to fill the positions. Like Swanchat eloquently stated, there are already more cars on the road than it was built for.

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