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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Jobs in ballet, present, past and future


learning.a.lot

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Noting the feedback from Audition tours this year in Europe, Diane said:

 

Yep, grim is the word, all right.

 

We have not yet heard of any contracts being given; most dancers appear to be "sitting tight", if they have a job.

For students it is not nice. Many companies either have no contracts or only want dancers with "at least two years professional experience".

 

After one audition - invitation only - where (still student) DD got to the end and was called in to talk to the AD, she was told that there were no contracts to be given,but that she should "come back next year".

 

-sigh-

 

And Swanchat noted:

 

I think our thoughts that 2% may have shriveled to 1% with the growth in supply of dancers and decreasing demand.

I do hope others will share what they are seeing out there. DD heard from her former schoolmates that it is quite grim for new dancers looking for jobs although the Royal Ballet has hired a record 5 students from the current RBS graduating class!

 

 

 

 

Being an optimist in general, I am curious, having read back several years on this forum, as to how it differed in "good" times compared to the hyper-competitive and bleak picture Diane and Swanchat reveal. It seems to have been this way back through the early 2000s, worsening in 2008, and never really getting better.

 

Did ballet auditions have less dancers show up 10 years ago?

 

Were there more positions offered 10 years ago?

 

Were there more companies, ...

or less well trained dancers looking for work?

 

Are there just more schools today turning out too many well trained and excellent dancers for too few spots?

 

If there are so many dancers looking for work, perhaps ballet has become more popular? More people who love it and will go to it...increasing revenue, then increasing jobs?

 

DD was told to be opportunistic by several professionals...and you never know where that opportunity shall arise. Planning a future in ballet has never seemed to be easy or certain. Or was it once?

 

A book I have said that a ballet dancer has a one in a million chance of being a professional. Similar to a child desiring to be a professional baseball player or soccer player. It seems true now. Was it always?

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It was always difficult, but yes, I do think it has become more and more difficult. While part of it is more dancers and better dancers, the economy is the biggest factor. The lack of support for the arts has made companies have to make cuts, use fewer dancers, use apprentices and trainees to supplement the ranks, some even have to cut number of performances, etc. etc. In a "perfect world", this country would support several large and great companies that could hire many dancers, and more smaller companies that could afford to perform more, tour, and pay their dancers living wages. Evidently there are many countries with the same economic problems.

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Ms Leigh has mentioned most of the things I have seen here, too. There are indeed fewer companies than even a few years ago here in Germany; and the ones there are have fewer dancers, or at least fewer PAID dancers.

 

I do not think that the schools, at least over here, are turning out more dancers; but there are more dancers coming here from across oceans for fewer and fewer places.

 

Cities are having discussions on how to save money and one of the first things discussed is cutting back on their (state-run) theatres, with usually the ballet /dance company being the first to go.

 

-d-

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The recession has changed funding in Europe. In the past, ballet companies enjoyed consistent and generous state funding; now governments are having to make decisions that include cutting funds to the arts. This means fewer full-time jobs. Royal Danish Ballet let several soloist/principals go in order to maintain the numbers needed for large corps heavy productions; others take the opposite approach and use fewer corps members- sometimes filling in with dancers on production contracts. Birmingham Royal Ballet has Darcy Bussell spearheading a fundraising effort to find sponsors for a new production. Their production of Aladdin is completely funded with private money; this is completely new territory for them! Europe is having to do what the US has been doing for years, sadly. In the past, I think non-EU citizens who were willing to re-locate and had the proper credentials could find work in Europe but the downturn in jobs may also make it more difficult for anyone without an EU card to find work in Europe because the EU mandates that EU citizens with the same qualifications be given the job before non-EU citizens. Here in the states, our immigration laws state the same; I don't know if the enforcement is the same though.

 

There are more junior and second companies as well as production contracts or guest contracts instead of full-time company contracts. Graduating students seem to be finding jobs more scarce with every passing year as companies are beginning to clearly state that they are looking for experienced professionals for their few open corps positions. It is grim and seems more grim now than even 2 years ago when dd was graduating. Two years ago seemed more grim than when she started upper school (five years ago). The year that dd graduated from the RBS (2 years ago), the Royal Ballet hired two students into the company only with private funding specifically directed for the donor's named student for the contracts. Yes, money greased the wheels for 2 students that year. It was shocking! Five years ago in Europe, graduates from her school were mostly being awarded jobs in the corps then over the following 3 years, this turned to apprentice or junior/2nd company jobs.

 

So... other than sounding like the voice of gloom, how can this information be useful? Well, if you are a young dancer trying to get a foot in the door it might help to reset your frame of reference. Like learning.a.lot's dd was told, become opportunistic. In addition to hoping to land a full-time apprentice or corps contract, be open to junior companies with a history of their dancers moving into the company, look for production contracts or guest contracts to get a foot in the door. Then be the best swan, shade, snow flake you can and work to be known as dependable, smart, and versatile as well as a good dancer. Several of dd's very classically trained classmates are currently working in London's West End in musical theater. She also knows of one who is working on a cruise ship and seems happy as a clam and a couple who are either attending or planning to attend very prestigious universities and have hung up the shoes. Bottom line: Be open to unique situations, be versatile, be in the know and always keep your options open.

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Swanchat's final paragraph echoes exactly what Chartel Arthur, well-known Joffrey Ballet mistress, told my daughter 10 years ago when she first started professional ballet auditions in the USA: Don't give up, research constantly, go to auditions for everything you can, use every contact you've made throughout your ballet life (why I think SI's are important not just for the training itself) and send videos to all the others. You have to get your foot in the door somewhere. She said that even though the market was tight, the dancers who succeed at finding work are the ones who stay open to all kinds of work. That was 10 years ago. From the accounts I've been reading and from the USA dancers I know personally who have been dancing with ballet companies in Europe the last 8-10 years, what was our USA reality 10 years ago (pre-crash, but it was looming large) has now become theirs.

 

Learning.a.lot, I wasn't sure if your questions were meant to be just for the European dance scene or in general. I'm going to reply to your question about audition numbers 10 years ago, but keep in mind I'm discussing only US companies from that time. If your intent was only for the European market, I'll come back and delete this next paragraph.

 

My daughter did quite a few auditions for USA ballet companies over an 18 month period 10 years ago. Because of our proximity to NYC, that's where most of them were. She usually did 2 auditions in one day because most of the companies hold their auditions over the same period of time here. 200+ dancers was the norm for the more well-known ballet companies. 150 - 200 dancers was about right for smaller, but highly regarded companies (like Sacramento Ballet at that time), and about 100 dancers at auditions for companies with shorter seasons. Keep in mind that was just the NYC audition site. Most of the companies also offered an audition on the West Coast and many allowed auditioners to come to their home studio. I hope this helps as a comparison.

 

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In 1989, more than 10 years ago but thought it may be interesting to compare, I auditioned with 60+ at a cattle call in the home city of the company. Only 2 contracts were offered as a result of that audition. There was 1 other audition in New York and it had well over 100 in attendance. Upon arrival my first day there were only 2 of us that were new to the company of 39 members. All the apprentices were new and none from the previous year were hired. So in a company of 39, 2 dancers were hired.

 

Fast forward 5 years to my second company...the year I was hired 3 apprentices promoted to corps and 1 new from the "outside". I was the "outside" hire and was not common for this company at the time. Actually 5 months earlier there was another new hire from the "outside" so technically 2 new and 3 apprentices that year. (I tend not to count that hire since it was Carlos Acosta and even if the company was in the red, they would have hired him. :)) This company was 55 dancers strong. At the end of that year the company reduced its numbers drastically. 9 dancers were not re-engaged, no new hires, and only 1 apprentice received a corps contract. Stressfull time to say the least being the newbie the previous year. Over the remainder of my career I can't recall any year where there were more than a couple new hires each season and it was always preferred by the AD to hire from within (the apprentices) when possible.

 

In the early 2000's I was a Comapny Mgr. Each year we would receive 100+ video submissions and the open auditions usually resulted in 100+ at the home city and much more at the New York audition. Most of the time we were looking to fill only 1 or 2 contracts.

 

So even "back in the day", competition for contracts was tough. Supply and demand play a large part but the economy is the biggest factor.

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Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

 

Vagansmom, I appreciate your US comparisons as I meant in general over all markets. The ballet world is so small, that it seems that what happens on one continent affects all others.

 

It is interesting to note the number of dancers at a NYC audition 10 years ago was 150-200 people. Were there more jobs offered then?

Would the number of auditioners have been less in Europe at the time, or more?

 

It may be more a funding factor, given Diane's statement about there not being more dancers and Ms Leigh saying that it is the economy and a reduction in government monies.

 

I do feel like there are a lot more dancers and a lot more knowledge and interest in dance than years ago. Yet, I live in a bubble of sorts due to dd interests. For example, the popular television shows devoted to dance such as Dancing with the Stars, So you think you can Dance, The Ballet West show, etc. Will this increase interest and more ballet patrons to support the art? Will private funding be the way to go, as Swanchat noted?

 

I am reading "Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear" now and discovering more about how a company works. It seems like private funding is a big item in the budget, as is endowment. And ticket sales do not meet costs.

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Thanks for sharing gcwhitewater...very insightful as well.

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Not only does it seem that it has become more and more difficult to find jobs, especially for the females, that very factor has caused it to become increasingly difficult to find an adequate training program or trainee position.

 

What is happening in the school my dancer is attending is, students are staying in the Grad program additional years since they can't find jobs as an apprentice with a company, can't find second company positions, and can't find trainee positions. Ironically, the ones who received the most performance opportunities with the company in this program are the ones not auditioning much or at all, and the ones who have not been provided with sufficient performance opportunities with the company are auditioning more.

 

It seems that more and more dancers are willing to remain as students for additional years and are willing in essence to pay the school/company for the opportunity to perform. This has a domino effect on new students coming into the Grad program since they get less and less opportunities to perform. This used to be a 1-2 year program. Now many of the 2nd year students, who received most of the performance "finishing" training, are supposedly coming back for a third year.

 

Students in these programs can't afford to switch from program to program to get the training they need, so it is really a dilemma. Is this a trend in other pre-professional/grad programs as well?

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For example, the popular television shows devoted to dance such as Dancing with the Stars, So you think you can Dance, The Ballet West show, etc. Will this increase interest and more ballet patrons to support the art?

 

Quick note: Vagansmom--did you ever have your lunch with your friend? It might be nice to open that discussion back up again on the other thread also given this question. If you're ready there, I'll bump it up. :)

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Learning.a.lot, even 10 years ago, those "cattle call" auditions were just looking for 1 or 2 dancers; remember, too, that they hold at least 2 auditions, one on each coast, a third possibly at their home studio, but it's still just that one or two positions open. Sometimes, they didn't even know if they had any openings yet, as auditions occur before the company contracts are returned.

 

Mo3D, thanks for the reminder. She and I have been meeting often for other business matters, but one or the other of us keeps pushing off our ballet meeting as other conversations have had to take precedence. I'll remind her today. I go on vacation next week, so won't be in my office for a couple weeks. Maybe we can fit it in before then. I recall that you spoke with someone yourself who does fundraising; how about posting that person's replies in the meantime?

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Gladly, although I admit I was hoping to see if the NYC area groups felt differently than the people in other areas.

 

For example, the popular television shows devoted to dance such as Dancing with the Stars, So you think you can Dance, The Ballet West show, etc. Will this increase interest and more ballet patrons to support the art?

 

learning.a.lot--from the conversation I've had with a Marketing Director, The direct answer seems to whether the shows have equated to support long term is: not really. The person I spoke with stated that they did believe that they had reached a younger teen market because of the TV shows and that Ballroom classes at the school seemed to have higher enrollment due to TV shows, but that it has not directly as of yet equated to increased funding or support except through ticket sales. In order for that to work, those teens must grow up and have money of their own to track. She felt increased support in terms of specific funding dollars seemed to more come from the use of many different Social Media outlets, also targeting very specific groups in the community and using what the community itself has to offer to supplement ballet joining with other art forms is what has seen a pretty bit increase in funding and support in this particular community.

 

Private funding will be needed more and more as government funding through Endowments for the Arts, etc decrease. But many US companies have always functioned on private funding.

 

I will admit to having a pretty heated discussion recently with a local dance teacher whose family has Season Tickets to two different sports teams in our area but does not have Season tickets to the ballet. :wallbash: She's a longtime acquaintance and we have engaging discussions often, but I could not believe her when she told me that.

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Thank you Momof3 for that insight. One would hope that it would lead to more patrons for the arts, and specifically ballet, when these young adults/teens grow up. Especially the young people who train in dance. It seems to work in the work in the sports world that those who train in a sport become life long enthusiasts of the sport. Ancedotal, but observed.

 

I also have a daughter interested in soccer. She will never be a professional, but she has an abiding interest and enjoys watching others play. And soccer has grown immensely in the states since I grew up...slowly teams are forming and financed. I believe in part to the number of youngsters who have played it, grown up, and are now watching games.

 

Also, I never really "got" ballet before dd trained in it. Now, having had the opportunity to see several pieces and MANY Nutcrackers, my husband and I have become fans. I understand more of what goes into it and appreciate what I am seeing. The deceptively simple is extremely hard.

 

In the meantime, our support of the dance world is imperative. We have been supporting it through dd training to the extent that we have been unable to do the season ticket choice because of expense of training a dancer and putting others through college. But that is for all events, not just ballet. We hope to be able to do that when able. But your example is a good reminder. :yes:

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