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Ballet Talk for Dancers

After College?


trythis

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I would like to hear from parents and older dancers who pursued a dance degree for undergraduate studies. What happens after college?

 

My DD loves dance, and wants to continue, but I think a performing career is probably unlikely. This does not mean that she will not perform...I hope that she will always find opportunities. But I do not believe she will financially support herself performing.

 

My fear is that she will go to college and get a degree in dance, and then end up after school taking a job with a company somewhere that will lead to a career doing a "job." Rather than her finding a career with a passion that equals her passion for dance.

 

I would like for her to double major. But reading the threads here it seems like a double major can be very hard at some of the schools because the requirements of the dance program rehearsals are so demanding.

 

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My DD just graduated with a degree in Dance Performance. Her studies included a semester abroad at Taipai National University of the Arts in Taiwan, which was absolutely instrumental in her training process that we believe helped her to get an apprenticeship with a ballet company. She was unable to double major due to the rigors of the dance program. She just missed having a minor due to the study abroad. It seems that college dance classes are worth less credits than regular classes of the same duration, and of course, constant rehearsals are the norm. My DS just entered college fortunate to get a dance scholarship and he is going to try to double major. Biology and dance. I have my doubts, but his dance program is a little less intense than where my daughter went for her dance degree, and because he doesn't have to take pointe, and because he went into college with 12 college credits earned during high school...he just might be able to do it! It will probably mean summer school to get a few extra credits here and there. At this point, he is not looking for a professional dance career, but is aiming possibly for a career in physical therapy for dancers (Lord knows he's had enough of that in his lifetime to know that there are not enough PTs around here that know the needs of dancers). My daughter keeps telling him that he would be snatched up by a ballet company if he tried....but he is determined to make money! He sees his sister struggling financially as a dancer and has no desire to go that route. Maybe he will change his mind... Struggling professional DD works 6 days a week, 8 hours a day at her ballet company dancing; then she teaches at a studio in the evenings 4 days a week to pay for her pointe shoes and college loans and gas. She operates at a level of exhaustion that is sometimes overwhelming. It is a harsh reality that DD did not anticipate. Many of her college classmates that got dance degrees (maybe 10 or so) are not dancing currently. Some are still trying. Some had no plans to dance after college. One other got into a ballet company and is living the poor dancer's life also. Most of the dancers in DD's company work 2nd jobs, some related to dance, many not.

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My post-BFA viewpoint is: If one can go through a BFA without loans, then great! If not, the reality can be limiting.

 

The reality is---as it always has been---very few jobs exist in the company world that pay a living wage. (I have NO experience with commercial dance, so I am not referencing that road). Therefore, many of the BFAs may get apprenticeships, traineeships, second company positions, but two years later, a large majority of them are no longer dancing. And that may be for a variety of reasons, such as: injury, disillusionment, lack of financial and/or job stability, and tired of burning candles at both ends trying to pay expenses with second and third jobs.

 

According to one of the graduates, of the twelve dancers that graduated IU two years ago with plans to dance, only four continue to do so. Our friend promptly got a job after graduation, but her contact was not renewed when there was a change in directorship. She'd been with two other companies as trainee and apprentice prior to going to IU for a BFA, so she's now in a Masters program for something other than dance.

 

DD graduated two years ago with a BFA. Of the eight in her graduating class, two have company contracts. The one who is dancing in Europe has had a recent director change and the number of dancers is being decreased. She has not been offered a new contract, but she also has not been told she won't be. So, she's in limbo. Luckily, she had no school loans. Her plans are to come back to the States, audition for a few companies, and if nothing comes of it, finish her GYROTONICS training.

 

The others in DD's class, one took a job immediately following graduation with the school in its marketing department (or something like that). Several others are doing project works and continuing to try to audition. Some have significant student loans, so they have jobs at grocery stores, restaurants, spas, coffee shops, retail stores to pay the rent and expenses. The hours, of course, make it very difficult to maintain their dancing levels due to scheduling and their expenses make it difficult to travel for auditions. They feel stuck. Some have considered returning to school, but their current expenses and debt level make that almost impossible---even to take training courses like yoga, pilates, or gyro training.

 

DD did not have school loans (thank heavens!!!), but was injured her senior of her BFA program. She missed the entire audition season. She had completed her GYROTONICS training, so she was certified as a trainer. She immediately started a post-baccalaureate program to take classes needed for either med school or physical therapy school, but she was able to rehab her ankle to return to dancing, so she walked away from the pre-med program. (She found she was bored with the sciences). She auditioned last spring a bit, but there were few contracts. She has paid her own expenses (with us paying her rent, car insurance, medical needs, and phone) by working first as a barrista, then as a GYROTONIC trainer, so she has had the luxury of being able to take appropriate classes to continue working to rehab, strengthen, and increase her skill level in dance.

 

But she now has a torn hip labrum---after a torn shoulder labrum---and an impingement in her hip. So, she has come to realize that her body cannot handle a full day of dance, day in and day out, anymore. So company plans are, once again, out the window. She can probably handle project work.

 

She will take the LSAT in December and (hopefully) enroll in law school next Fall. She has a plan and has come to terms with where her life is headed. She still craves dancing, but reality is, her body simply can't continue.

 

DD also has several friends that did not go to college, but rather went to training programs. They have fared no better. Some (mostly males) did land in companies and have been able to make a go of it. Others had contracts for one or two years, but for various reasons (as with the IU graduates) are no longer dancing. Some are still hoping to land a contract or work into a situation that they can pay their expenses and dance. Many are disillusioned and, without the BFA or any other degree, have to start from scratch in terms of higher education. That is daunting at their age and with their finances. Not that it can't be done, but for some, it seems financially daunting and overwhelming. They are now young adults and most no longer have financial help from their parents.

 

So, in my opinion, a BFA without loans provides a much better platform from which to pivot a life change, but a BFA with significant loans can be a crushing situation. A training program is much less of a financial burden, but if a career change is needed, it provides less opportunities and one must 'go back to the beginning' at an age that may not have much financial support from parents.

 

Each family and dancer will need to decide what scenario their family dynamics, expectations, and finances best fit.

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Joann-why is your professional DD paying for her pointe shoes? She is in a company where she must provide her own?

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Thank you. We live in a state that has lottery sponsored tuition scholarships for state schools. So DD can attend an in state college and provided she maintains her GPA, her tuition will be pretty well covered. There is one university that is attempting to build a stellar dance program. The program is not currently as rigorous as some other dance programs. But the list of faculty is impressive.

There is an out of state school that will offer her instate tuition. Which makes it more attractive, but we would still have to borrow in order to make it work. Not a huge amount, but she would probably have about $25,000 in loans when she graduates.

The in state school would also be easier for a double major, most of the dancers there are doing that. The out of state school would not be possible at all.

The in state school's training is at a level that I do not think DD would advance in her technique in order to enter a training program or anything like that after college. DD would probably be accepted to a training program, but I suspect we would have to pay the tuition for it. With DD2 heading to college, I don't think we can offer her that level of support. But perhaps with a degree she could find work that could support herself. All of that remains to be seen.

DD needs to put some serious thought into what she would want to do IF, she doesn't get a dancing job, or IF she were to be injured in her dance program, or IF she went to graduate school.

 

I really appreciate the straight forward feedback!

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Momof3darlings, the company provides shoes as they are financially able, and this season, it was just 2 pairs for apprentices. They have an "Adopt a Dancer" program to help with shoes, but my DD has not been "adopted." Dancers may apply for reimbursement for shoes, but so far no go. Some company members are getting paid enough that they have been there for 10+ years! I think it is common for the smaller professional companies to struggle due to lack of funding. Should we be glad that they offer health insurance?

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Thanks for the clarity. Sorry, I missed the "apprentice" in your first post even though it was there staring me in the face. :) Sometimes the rules are different when not a full company member. Be very happy about the health insurance!!!!!!!

 

trythis--a couple of things. Be sure to do your research on the alumni of any school you plan to get a dance degree from to see what they did with their degrees afterwards. Most will have an alumni page/listing and this will give you some indication of whether the dance degree ended up with any sort of dance work of any kind post graduation. You may be both surprised and dismayed in state with what you find. So take 10 dance majors and ask whether it will be a successful major. The answer will be in the eyes of what their initial goal was to begin with and whether in the end they were able to use their degree in any way.

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Also note that in the long list of companies where alumnae danced, it may very well be a handful of the same dancers moving from company entry position to another company entry position (i.e. trainee at one company to trainee or apprentice at another company, etc) rather than individual dancers representing ALL those companies. Those listings also don't give any information how long an alumnae actually danced post-grad. As before, one to two years only is not atypical----for either training program graduates or BFA graduates. It is still a small, small world out there for contracts, especially living wage contracts. And I believe it is tighter than ever these days, including in Europe (where most of DD's classmates and school graduates and associated training program typically found contracts).

 

DD is quite happy with her BFA. It has allowed her the option to pivot to other opportunities and continue moving forward. BUT, if she had had significant loans to go with that BFA, it would be another story. Even those who have received contracts, paying significant student loans is arduous on a dancer's beginning 'salaries'.

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I'm willing to allow DD to attend either of these top two college choices she has in mind, and in addition I am offering to her that she can live at home and attend a local commuter school and attend classes with the big professional ballet school in the city.

 

I'm at a place where the reality is that DD will not support herself with her dancing, but she loves it so much she wants to keep doing it. And I don't want to force her out of that dream. The alumni of the program really isn't a factor for us, because DD has some physical limitations which mean that a classical career is not in the cards. I'm looking for a way for DD to still continue dancing on her own terms. But I don't want her to get a dance degree, and then work retail or waitress because that degree doesn't translate into anything else. I work with people who took these "jobs" and then were good at them, and hard workers, and got promoted, and they are now working in a field that is not a passion but is a well paid job. There is a fair amount of dissatisfaction for them, and I would like DD to find a passion in her life that is equal to her dancing.

 

I would prefer for her to attend the in state college. The list of faculty in the dance department is growing and they have excellent resumes. And at this school I feel a double major would be easier to achieve. The school does have a performing company, and the company has received some recognition. They have performed in Washington DC after winning at a college dance festival. It is quite contemporary based but they have done full length ballets as well.

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This is a very good thread - very informative and eye opening! I think its no longer the norm for companies to supply shoes for their dancers, with the exception of the big companies. I wonder what the outlook is for commercial contracted dancers!

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But I don't want her to get a dance degree, and then work retail or waitress because that degree doesn't translate into anything else.

 

A dance degree is going to be as good, if not better, than most liberal arts degrees at translating into jobs. I agree with dancemaven that a BFA provides a solid basis from which to "pivot" into something else, if for no other reason than for getting the "sheepskin." Many jobs list a minimum qualification of having a "bachelor's degree" - ANY bachelor's degree. The rest of their qualifications come from either experience or various office and computer skills.

 

Most college students do not make full use of their career services offices, including taking advantage of internship opportunities. Many non-profit organizations would be delighted to accept BFA grads as interns and volunteers. That hands-on experience, combined with the BFA, is what launches satisfying careers outside of dance. Learning how to create resumes, write individualized cover letters and prepare for interviews is also very important. But as dancemaven also pointed out, the burden of repaying student loans may prevent many such students from seeking such valuable, but low-paid, entry-level work. A good job search is a full-time job for any kind of graduate, so it takes some financial resources to do it well.

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