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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Adjustments: Path curveballs and re-grouping


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Yes. But school would be an additional thing to manage that those who are out of school do not always need to manage. Possibly for a different thread but it is part of the curveball or re-grouping for some.

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ellajuliet, those are factors that go into the 'research' scenario. It appears to me that the days of the 'baby ballerinas' are past (and yes, there are still those very exceptional exceptions, but they are very few and very far between in reality). So, my point being----the younger DKs need to know where they are going, and figure a path for how to get from here to there, BUT they don't need to do it all in one fell swoop or all at the same time. Dancers still need to be 'slow boiled' and that includes those last steps. Can't just turn up the heat from 15-19 and voila! Dancers in high school are still high school age kids/students/people. Just like 'normal' teenagers, they still have a lot of growing up, maturing, personal exploration, and self-awareness to go through. Yes, many of the DKs seem much more mature than their peers; but there are still areas where they are no more mature, less mature, and less experienced. Give them the need time to grow in all areas. They won't know any better, but we as parents/adults/former kids do. We know there is still more to learn, even at that age.


Finishing high school before embarking on the concentrated trainee/apprentice/intense immediately pre-company training is not a hinderance. In fact, those years provide much needed maturity, life skill training grounds, and personal awareness. Don't let the DK be in such a rush or the parents in such a rush as to push through those formative (and yes, those are still formative years in terms of who the child will become) all for the sake of a company position. There is time for that. Really, there truly is.

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I agree that there is no reason to rush. I am curious because DD's school does have a couple of high school age apprentices and I hear this debated within the school. So I was looking to become better informed in the context of choices a junior or senior could possibly be faced with. Some parents seem to feel that you can't turn down such an offer if presented and others say you should continue the slow boil until graduation. DD has even overheard teachers within the school debate this, so I was wondering how this fits into overall considerations of a "path" and how others may have handled a "curveball".

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The answer to the question will depend on the student. We let DS go sooner than many thought wise. He learned a lot of hard lessons along the way. For him, it was the right decision, because from an early age he was independent and made it very clear that he would learn best through his own mistakes and through life experiences. I think he is an exception, though, and particularly resilient when faced with some of those lessons he's had to learn. I've seen other dancers, older than him, crumble when faced with much less daunting problems. He has adapted better than we thought he would.


The one thing that always sticks in my mind, though, is something a teacher once told DS - you can never go back to being a student again. The period of training is very, very different than training a professional receives. At least that's what we've seen. And it's hard to maintain that knowledge base once you are in an environment where you aren't exactly dancing your dream choreography. So there has to be some part of the plan that includes maintaining your skill level, because company life is not a guarantee that will happen. My DS is happy with his ballet masters and the classes they give, but he will admit that his jumps aren't where he would like them to be. Those aren't practiced in class because they aren't used on stage. So it's something he is having to work on independently (though honestly there is no time or energy left at the end of the day) but he knows it's essential for the future. We realize now that his plan needs to include some summer refresher training. Oh, except there is no time this summer.


That's just something extra to keep in mind when looking at different options, especially if choosing a route that is perhaps more modern or contemporary for 9 or 10 months with the hopes of landing a more classical position later - some of the technique might slip away and you have to know how you are going to keep it in check before those next auditions. If that makes sense.

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That makes perfect sense and helps to answer my question. It does seem to be an important idea that "you can't go back to school again". Also important to consider that a company class for professionals might focus on different things than a school class.


This is good timing for this thread because so many of DD's fellow students are debating their options for their junior and senior years right now.

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Excellent and very important point about "you can't go back (to being a student) again".


It is often so hard to maintain a high level of technique when a (full-time) member of a company.


Company classes depend on so many factors: repertoire, ballet master and their moods, other dancers and their moods and your ability to "get on with it" regardless, nearness to an opening night, skill of the pianist (!), physical properties of the studio/s, etc. etc.




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These are definitely good points and we've had a brief insight already enough to know how true they are, as DD has already spent a little time this year finding out what this is like. Academics, even online, mixed with ballet classes is tough to pull off at this level, but adding rehearsal schedules and company classes, while trying to keep up enough technique training additionally is very hard. I'm sure something that shouldn't be would have to be sacrificed there over time. And it would depend on what exactly that traineeship is all about, as well, and how often they would perform.


cheetah and diane, thanks for the reminders! Now if they could just eat and sleep at a studio and not need time to travel... have to be careful to not decide to let a student of this age be devoured. It's clearly a tricky line to walk, accepting opportunities and keeping training at the level that a dancer needs. And the point dancemaven makes about not being able to get all this in one swoop is a good reminder, as well. They have slow boiled up to this point and that's why they are as fine tuned as they are.


I believe there are some parents on this board who have students in second companies who have not yet finished high school. I wonder how they are handling this.

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Ironically, when DS was in a second company, the schedule was about twice as demanding for them as it was for actual company members. Days could go as long as 16 hours. No joke. So make sure you know up front - to the degree you can - what will be involved.

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DD hasn't yet been in a second company, but she knows many dancers who are or have been, and she would agree with cheetah that often the second company members work longer and harder hours on some days than the company. It's all part of the training...

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Time to remember that all second companies are not created equal. Some are the top end of a school and others the entry level to a company. I know younger, High School age dancers do get accepted in II companies but I also know of 23 year old's getting first year II contracts.


Diane, I actually disagree with the 'you can't go back' philosophy. Dance magazine had a very good article on an apprentice who did just that, she went back to her old school with it's junior company after she did not get a full company contract and was therefor let go. Obviously no other company picked her up that year. The article was talking of her new success with a new company. In the current market with few jobs more and more dancers who may have easily been promoted a few years ago are having to be let go as there are no openings in their company. Dancers are holding onto jobs. For the gifted dancer cut loose after a two year apprenticeship, sometimes the only option to keep dancing and to be ready for the next years auditions, is to put pride aside and keep dancing hard wherever they can. My hats off to them and they give other dancers the strength to do the same and God willing get a paid contract the next year.


Regarding company class, it's not a way of training but much more a warm-up. Training happens in schools by the time you are in a company you are expected to be trained. Some companies don't even make class a requirement and I know of dancers who took/take advantage of this. Fool hardy in my opinion but it happens. Occasional corrections may be given in company classes but, class is a different animal for the professional.


Cheetah, I agree that the lower levels of a company works so much harder than the ranked dancers in a company. If it's a union company there are limitations, however the II's, apprentices and entry level corps dancers really earn their wages and learn how to work very hard. The lower you are the more you work.

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Thank you for stating that not all second companies are equal. The same as all Trainees (when not called a 2nd company) are not equal. Crazy really but what it is.


While company class is a warmup, that too is important to understand is different everywhere you go. For some, especially a small or medium company where they ADs are continuously trying to improve the level of their company. Company class can still be a teaching class with a purpose other than simply warming up although still not the same as when a student. And shame on the companies who don't make class a requirement, I know of a few as well. But I also know some where the class is so large that while it's not a requirement, it doesn't mean the dancers are not in class somewhere. Especially at the soloist and principal level, they may be in a class with a mentor/teacher so that they can continue to grow also. I would venture not so much that the higher levels don't work as hard but that they work differently. If they get a way with not working hard, then that is a company's ill-fated structure. It will show up.


The hours in most 2nd companies are long but if the structure is doing what it should, there is no way around that. There's nothing to take away. Restructure maybe but not take away.

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Advice for Juniors and Seniors...If they are very talented and have the potential to dance professionally, and have been receiving scholarships and or positive feedback from professional schools with companies, I advise my students to double up on academic classes and try to graduate early. Audition for the second companies or school. My Academy does not have enough boys to offer partnering and that is so imperative at this stage of training. A student can begin doubling up on classes in tenth grade as well as take classes over the summer.


I agree that High School years are very informative years and maturity happens, however, the mentality that some students at age 19-21 are considered too old for companies is still out there.


It is truly and individual decision however, expensive and risky. Research, research.


My dd is in a second company and did graduate early as well as two other students of mine. I say early as in graduated as a Junior. I can't tell you the rigorous schedule these second companies have and as far as trying to finish High School online, near impossible. Several dancers are older and have not graduated yet.


My dd chose this path, researched and just had this determination to venture away at age 16, almost 17. I gulped and somehow we are managing to finance her. The experiences she has had this past year are invaluable towards her career and how she has grown as a dancer is amazing. She would not have had this in her hometown.

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You asked for tips: (Not claiming expert status here, just tips based on what we did, what smart things we saw others do and what we would do differently)


1. Learn as much about as many companies as you can.

Dancemaven is right about doing your research. Ask everyone who might have information about the company. Research the physical characteristics of the dancers, styles of dancing, repertoire, number of performances, length of contract, quality of company class and opportunities to continue to improve. If you are an entry level dancer, find out if trainees, 2nd company members, apprentices are paid. Many companies do not pay these dancers at all or the pay is very low. It's helpful to know if you have other means of support in advance if you audition for these unpaid positions. If possible, find out if the dancers are treated with respect from the director and ballet masters/mistresses. Sometimes you can find this out from contacts who will be candid but other times you will have to judge by the audition process. The more you audition, the better you get at getting a sense of the company.


2. Just because a company holds an audition doesn't mean there are jobs.

There are companies that hold open auditions every year. (Hint, look on the website and see if they post an audition long before it's reasonable to know what staffing needs will be). Before you spend your hard earned money and travel to one of these auditions, try to find out if there are really jobs available and if so, are they are corps jobs or 2nd company jobs or trainee, etc.


3. Many contracts aren't offered until late spring, and on into summer.

It seems that because people who have jobs aren't moving like in the past, many companies didn't have as many positions available at all and didn't know what their needs would be until late in the season.


4. Timing is important

(See #3) This gets very tricky. If you are fortunate enough to receive an offer but you aren't sure that the company is a good fit for you, what do you do? There's no right answer. Companies will want to know within days of the offer if you are going to accept and it's hard not to take a contract because of fears that you won't get another one. This is where your research comes in very handy. Look at the offer and judge it on it's own merit.


5. Have a back up plan that you can live with.

Think outside the box. If you don't find a job you can live with, there are ways to keep dancing or training. Decide for yourself what you can afford to do and what you can live with. If you know that you will not be happy dancing with anyone but your dream company or well-known companies in large cities than be aware that you are limiting your chances of getting a job. That's fine, but a backup plan will mitigate the anxiety part of trying to find a job.


6. Be prepared to be shocked, upset, angry, and disappointed.

But it's not personal! Companies can get by with rude behavior because they can right now. There are way more dancers than jobs and some companies will not even respond to e-mails, some directors will behave badly during auditions, some will invite you to audition and then just not show up. After great expense and effort, you may show up to an invited audition only to be told there are no jobs. (They may just mean no jobs for you.) But remember, it's not personal. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to audition with them again-ever or support them in the future if you find yourself in the position to do so.


7. Even if you are the best dancer in the room, someone else will get the job-many times. Accept that this will happen and move on.

This will happen for many reasons: hair color, height, a certain quality that a director sees, a contact that is promoting the dancer behind the scenes (this can include financial sponsorship), prior knowledge of another dancer, completely inexplicable reasons as well.


8. Network, network, network!

This is not unique to ballet but this is how you will learn the real stuff like who's leaving a company, how the dancers are really treated, what the "corporate" atmosphere is.


9. Chances are better for jobs and for job stability in financially stable companies and in companies that aren't undergoing budget reductions.

Not-for profit companies in the states must file form 990's with the IRS annually. This is public information. Check the bottom lines of these companies. Look for companies in countries that either haven't been as affected by the recession or have already started recovery.


10. Be adventuresome.

Consider living somewhere you've never been, consider learning a new language and culture, consider learning new choreography, consider being in a smaller but more personal community as opportunities to enrich yourself as a person and a dancer.


Coming up with this has actually been therapeutic. :P Now, I'm going to try very hard to follow our own advice. :)

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Swanchat--you certainly are the expert! We all are in our own right, we are all experts on the road our child has taken once they've taken part of it! That's why wisdom is imparted on those who've lived and not given earlier. :P Thank you very much for your list of tips, they are excellent! I hope others will add to them.

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Our best advice is to always have a backup plan regardless of where you are in the process, including being in a paying job. We watched three dancers be dismissed mid-season last year. The reasons were very weak. The reality was those dancers were left with nowhere to go - and it wasn't even January. Sadly this can happen in non-union companies.


While DS currently has a job, we have a backup plan in case something happens, such as unexpected cuts to his company, visa problems, health problems, etc. He doesn't necessarily know this - and may have plans of his own - but we know where he could go to continue training until such time as he could reaudition elsewhere. We've operated this way from the first time he went away to residency. I guess it seems pessimistic and that we assume the worst will happen, but I call it being pragmatic and trying to cover all the basis and just trying to provide options for as many "what if" scenarios as possible.


So when you are evaluating that traineeship or second company audition, think about whether there will be options if your DK accepts the offer and, for whatever reason, it doesn't work out a few months into the program.

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