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Adjustments: Path curveballs and re-grouping


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The thread on "The Path Changes" is an ongoing discussion that is invaluable. I have opened this thread so that we can take what we've discussed and help put that into action for our future dancers. There are many voices of experience and wisdom here and I hope the sharing will continue.


What advice/wisdom would you give the next 2 classes of Juniors and Seniors, who will be making decisions on how to proceed over the course of the next two years? (Ok, so don't say run.....that isn't an option because they really do want this!) We've agreed there are some changes to "The Path" but, they are changes not deal breakers. So given what you know about the year, what can you do to help those dancers and/or parents and teachers be ready for what may be coming and to still reach the successes we know they can have in dance? And what would you tell the 14 year olds? The ones for whom the word "potential" is being spoken often. How can we help brave their path as those who were here before us helped us brave ours?


*Again, it's important to note that the golden hand of Ballet reaches down all the time and picks a few. While we can't know ahead of time who those few will be, we also should not live expecting that we will be that one. So the focus of this thread is for both that blessed person but also for what is the vast majority of those auditioning and desiring to dance even if they are not that "one or two". Ballet blessings can come from many directions.

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  • Momof3darlings


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  • ellajuliet


Thank you Momof3 for the last really interesting discussion and for opening this one. I have a question: Given that so many of these Trainee programs won't eventually lead to a job with that particular associated company, which trainee programs are the best to try to start with? The big name ones, where one might assume that they have experience really teaching and honing dancers' technique, or the smaller ones, where one might assume one's chances of being taken into that company are somewhat greater?

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To answer Denipark, we have seen that, in this economy, with companies not hiring, it might be wiser to go with the bigger trainee program and not do a trainee program with a small company in hopes of being the chosen one. I can't speak for all trainee programs, but DD is just completing a year with Joffrey Chicago trainee program, and she feels that the training served her and others well (see Joffrey trainee thread for a list of positions taken by current trainees). There are few company positions being offered across the board these days, so, if second company and apprentice positions are the new reality, Joffrey has done well, and I'm sure that there are others which have done well, too. Maybe, in this economy, with dancers in a sort of waiting/holding pattern for economic improvement and hiring, it's a good idea to stay trained well so that one is ready when hiring happens, or can get one of the second company/apprentice positions being offered.

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For a more general response to Momof3's question, I would say that we have learned to be open-minded and take any and all auditions that one can attend, even for companies that one might not have originally considered. She's right that ballet blessings come in various ways. We have seen dancers audition for companies not really expecting to be offered anything, thinking that they weren't a good fit, and get good offers, anyway. As DH puts it, "It's a numbers game." DD and her colleagues in her trainee program were told at a pre-audition-season meeting to take any reasonable offers that they could afford to take, in this economy. For some, that might have meant a lowering of their dream. I would say that humility is essential, now more than ever. For our DKs who truly love to dance and "have" to dance, that now often means bringing their best and their love of dance to a different community, maybe a smaller one, but those audience members will be blessed by seeing good dancers who radiate their love of dance and brighten many lives with it.

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denipark, I don't think you can make the generalization that 'big name ones"=really teaching and honing and "smaller ones"=greater chances of being taken into the company. If you do that, you are starting with a flawed premise.


The answer to that question is the same as the answer to 'which company', 'which auditions', etc.: Research, research, research, and oh, yeah, research. The dancer must research: the nature of the program, the purpose of the program, what is the structure of the program, the history of the program/company, where do the dancers in the company actually come from, what is the recent attrition in the company, what is the age of the dancers in the company, is the company new, is the company growing/contracting, where is the corps coming from, where do the trainees/apprentices actually go, etc.


Included in those questions are specifics like, if the trainees/apprentices don't move into the company, where do they go? Do they get corps positions at other companies, or do they continue as trainees/apprentices somewhere else? Do the trainees/apprentices get dedicated classes, corrections, coaching, etc. Or do they attend company class only? Is company class full of corrections or is it more warm-up for company rehearsal?


Is the trainee/apprentice program designed to 'apprentice' dancers for this company or for a company? How effective has the program been? That is, do its selected trainee/apprentice(s) more often than not move into the company or do they more often than not move on? What is the general reason----e.g., no room (think NDCT, a very stable company, not much movement/attrition) or the company offers its available contracts to outside dancers. Where do the trainees/apprentices of the program actually end up??


There is absolutely nothing easy about ferreting out a job or finding the magical 'match'. The dancer absolutely MUST put in the research effort and that means really, really, really doing their homework. It's not enough to go do 'cattle call' auditions. The dancer needs to know about the company, the trainee/apprenticeship programs, the studio/second company programs, how they operate, where they lead AND the dancer needs to be actively mapping out a strategy of 'how to get from here to there'. Luck comes from being in the right place at the right time. Being in the right place at the right time can be improved upon by doing good research.


And there is nothing easy about doing the research. One must keep ones' eyes and ears open at all time. You must listen to every little tidbit of information, store it, analyze it, fit it into the puzzle and be open to information. Weigh it, check it out, turn it this way and that. But the DK must also be honest about abilities, strengths, weaknesses, open to fluctuation, strong in belief in one's self, strong in respect for one's self, and go looking in the right places. If the body or the technique aren't there, it is self-defeating to go looking only for the traditional classical ballet company. If the body and movement quality are better suited to contemporary ballet or modern, why go looking via classical company 'cattle calls'?? Know which companies are more of a 'match' in terms of body type, movement quality, technique and artistic levels. Know which ones are 'reaches' (but within the appropriate categories for body type, movement quality, technique and artistry) and know (and accept) which ones are simply 'no likely' in those terms. If the DK wants to give it a shot, great! But, do one's homework so as not to be just beating one's head against a wall.


Doing that research is tedious, time-consuming, and (often) very difficult. There is not a one-stop shop or book or website that lays it all out prettily. It takes years to accumulate the appropriate information and it changes like shifting sand as you go along. Therefore, you must start early so as to watch and identify trends and changes in the programs and companies. Some change slowly, some change abruptly.


I can't tell you how many seniors I've talked to who have been out auditioning----without much of a concept of where they would fit or what they are looking for. Their response is always "I don't care where or which company. I just want a job." Great! But that means they are looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. To me, it means they really didn't give much thought to how or what they really are suited for in terms of companies , styles, or philosophy of dance. They are using the 'shotgun' approach and hoping something hits. Not very efficient and not as likely to really get them what they ultimately want.

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Oh boy, denipark-you had to ask.......


That is a wide open question and a hard one to answer. While pointeprovider's answer (to think training) is a good one and the one I would offer as well. Her answer also has a tricky side to it. The program she mentioned costs thousands of dollars not including housing in a major city and while it has shown some promise with this graduating class, it is not the goal of every dancer to continue paying for training post high school. Mine as an example, refused that option. She said we had paid for enough. This not stated to dismiss paying for a program, just that not every dancer nor every family can make that option a reality or wants to. So, it has to be important to keep the long and short term goals of the dancer in perspective.


So look at the dancer's goal, long term: Is it to dance until retirement age, let's say 30? Or is it to dance until marriage and the age they choose to have children? Or maybe while they take the slow road through college? Is it to give a Trainee/Apprentice program at a smaller company a chance while continuing to work toward the bigger company? Is it to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? All of these weigh in to what the answer is while knowing that you must continue to progress upwardly to continue to reach the goal.


For my dancer, at the time she graduated high school, her plan was to dance about 5 years and then move on. She has since amended that because she truly does love what she does and is not yet ready to give it up. Five years would be up the end of next season. (Wow!) However, when she graduated that meant looking squarely in the face the opportunities that were presented to see which of those might allow her to move up the ladder to achieve the success she desired within the 5 year time period she set. (I kinda knew that 5 years was unrealistic in the scheme of ballet progression but hey!) Had she had a longer plan in place, then I would have encouraged her to use pointeprovider's suggestion and go for the training first and the immediate chance 2nd. She is one who has a life plan that does not include dance forever. But this is also counter to a few friends who have the opposite way of thinking. They will dance ballet as long as they can, then surround themselves by either working with a ballet company, teaching ballet or other ballet oriented goals. Their life goal includes dance forever. It's all the different perspective of individual dancers. Just like some people want no children, some 2 and some 10.


Always, always look at your best options for what your goals are. Look at them squarely. Look at the positives and negatives of each and decide what you want from the road and what you will accept from it. Most times the answers begin to focus. But always remember when you are looking at things squarely to factor in the what if's of injury, job loss of your support network, and actual job procurement at the company where you are training as well. It also means looking yourself square in the face and knowing if the program/company you are looking at will offer you what you want and need. We all come to the table from different places and at different points. Someone from a small school may be perfectly happy in the same training program that someone from a larger well-known school is not. Larger well-known schools while known for their training are also known for bypassing (and depressing) dancers who if they had been in a smaller environment would have flourished. Looking yourself and your dancer square in the face with no sugar coating is the only way to go to find the answers.


*replying at same time as dancemaven.

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Oh dancemaven--you have been on a roll lately. Another wonderful post!


It reminded me of something as well:


And there is nothing easy about doing the research. One must keep ones' eyes and ears open at all time. You must listen to every little tidbit of information, store it, analyze it, fit it into the puzzle and be open to information. Weigh it, check it out, turn it this way and that. But the DK must also be honest about abilities, strengths, weaknesses, open to fluctuation, strong in belief in one's self, strong in respect for one's self, and go looking in the right places


The research and thinking doesn't stop when a contract is received either. If it does, then these are the people left scrambling when contracts aren't renewed and they failed to audition or when companies fold without notice. Yes, it's partially because of the way companies do things. But the flip side of that is it's because the dancer did not put the protection of self first. If they are putting self first, then they never stop working toward what they want their next step to be even when they are comfortable where they are.


To touch on pointeprovider's 2nd post.

I would say that we have learned to be open-minded


I wish we could convince ALL dance parents to do this sooner. It would make the road less rocky for those who do not have an easy walk into the professional ranks. Unfortunately, it's a process and what we believe at 10-13, then 14-16, then 17-18, then 19-22 are all very different.

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Dancemaven brought up good points! Momof3 is right that our DD's trainee program was expensive, and I would add that we chose that path because she needed more training. In accord with dancemaven's advice, know yourself/ your dancer. DD did what she needed to do, even with the price tag, because, if she hadn't, it would have been the end of the ballet road for her. For another dancer who is completely company material but is in a holding pattern due to this economy, more training might not be the answer, but carefully researching which company is a good fit for them when it can afford to hire, and maybe signing on at a lower level with them in the meantime.

We did do the research that dancemaven speaks of. It turned out to be pretty reliable for us and for others that we know of, but there were still surprises and unexpected offers, so, if one can afford to attend long-shot auditions, it might help increase chances.

Sometimes I view this whole process as a big game of Musical Chairs. When the music stops, just get your derriere into a chair, any chair. If you don't, game over for you. Maybe this is wrong, but that is how it seems right now.

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What do you think about performance experience for a dancer who is still a few years away from feeling company ready? If a trainee option in a small company offers that, as well as plenty of training during that period, is this possibly a better preparation than what one might have if they performed only marginally in a full time school? Since it seems that performing may help a student develop as an artist, are these early trainee positions offered, albeit with no pay, potentially a better thing than what a large company school could provide for development? And what kind of schedule of non-company classes do you think a trainee should have to get what they need, while being part of a company in that role?

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Very good point marigold. Although from a small school, DD had extensive performing experience and extensive partnering experience and although her training was excellent it was not the training of some of the big name schools. However, some of the dancers we've met from the big name schools while having that edge up technically had no performing experience and rarely got to partner because the guys in those levels were always moved up to use with company. So in the end, both met somewhere in the middle of that thing we call "company ready".


Your point is another good point, as well as the recent addition by pointeprovider, that knowing your dancer and them knowing themselves (this is not as common as one might think) is hugely important and goes to the looking things squarely in the face and plotting the path that truly will give the greatest chance for the individual. Being clear, by looking at things squarely, it means seeing oneself and one's child in the big picture. That doesn't have to be discouraging, just honest. It's very easy in this thing called dance as a student to believe the "big fish in a small pond" that schooling is. One step outside the door though and one can still believe that or find one's true place so you can progress and move forward and hopefully up!

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Marigold, we have been in this situation. DD has concentrated a lot on getting training, but she didn't always get the kind of performing experience that might prove necessary. Most schools perform some type of show for families around the holidays and in the spring; she did those, but not always in the best roles. Partnering often goes with those lead roles, and might not go to lesser roles, depending upon how many males are in the program. For some, especially those with little partnering experience, it might be important to attend a program with many male dancers, and that often ends up being a company school, usually a bigger name.


Some programs double and triple-cast lead roles (and other roles) but others let the same person dance the role in all performances. If performing better roles is something that you need to do to get that experience, you might do well to ask around and research and see how the different programs do their casting.

Programs which do a lot with daytime outreach, usually done by trainees/apprentices/second company can be an excellent way to get performing experience, and often in better roles than one might have for those few family performances during the year. I highly recommend those.


No matter how great the training and how hard a dancer works within that training, there is still an element that only performing experience in a wide variety of roles and styles can give, which will prove of interest to a future A.D. Having lead roles teaches stamina, artistry, acting, partnering, and many other things which are so important and can't be easily obtained any other way. A substitute, which DD has done, is learning a variation for a competition, but you still don't develop a character throughout an entire show and through several solo and partnered variations, which is an important skill that very few dancers get, since these roles only go to a select few (or only one) in a program. I'm not sure how to get to be that one; that's probably a topic for a different thread.

But, in today's market, most dancers are going in as corps or lower. They can expect to dance Snow Scene and Waltz or be a Willi or a swan in the corps. That is another kind of performing experience that A.D.s look for, early on, so you might want to make sure that your program is large enough and performs the kind of works that will give your DK that opportunity. Also, make sure that there will be contemporary experience, as so many companies are performing that type of dance now, and it is often done at the auditions.


It's a long list of things to look for, I know. No one program seems to deliver it all. As has been said, look at your dancer squarely and honestly, and seek to fill in the gaps. I teach music, and we constantly tell students, "Practice what you CAN'T play." This is because it's fun, gratifying and tempting to do what one already does well. Growth only happens when you step outside the comfort zone and take a chance.


Edited to add: Non-company classes are very important, because they allow one to keep training and honing skills. Company classes are inspiring and good, but company members have different needs and often adapt combinations to their own needs, so it's different. I think both are helpful, but I think it's good, at the stage that you describe, to have a daily non-company class.

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Yes, I can see how performing opportunities benefit... and also how one company would not be able to provide all the type of opportunities needed. Still, I am sure it is good to make the most of what is offered.


How many hours of regular class, in addition to company classes and rehearsals, do you think a dancer should have who is still developing, in an ideal trainee scenario? How do trainees who want to make sure they have enough technique classes with instruction avoid burn out from the additional required rehearsals and normal company classes and not end up injured from too much of everything?


And on another track, how does a dancer know when a big name school has expressed interest during her last few years of high school, that she is not just a tuition feeder? Are full scholarship offers the only way to tell? Or do their reasons for being offered vary so much that it's not the main indicator? Quite off topic, this one, but wonder what your opinion on that is, as well.

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I am grateful for this thread. I have some of the same questions and am finding difficult to get the answers in our local community. I am also wondering how someone such as Marigold's DD would balance company classes and rehearsals along with outside training and finishing high school.

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Ellajuliet and marigold, in both of DD's most recent experiences (1 as trainee), company class was only open to them once per week, so most classes are not company classes. Also, in her case, the A.D. rarely taught company class; that was mainly the balletmaster/balletmistress. This is important to know. Maybe this isn't the case everywhere, but you should at least find out. It seems, unless hidden cameras are used, that A.D.s see very little of their non-company dancers. Much can still be learned from the balletmaster/balletmistress, and maybe the A.D. relies heavily on input from them when hiring decisions are made. ??? As for balancing it all, traditional schooling would make it nearly impossible for most, especially if daytime outreach performances are a part of your program. Expect to stay up late doing schoolwork, and try to be efficient so that you can get enough sleep to do well in dance the following day and avoid injury.

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ellajuliet, if a company has a school, they provide the training and dancers who are not yet finished high school usually finish through online schooling or homeschooling.

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