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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Company Life: Semi-pro Limbo


Momof3darlings

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I don't think I could have come up with a better title for what today's Trainee loop is. But here is a current article on the state of Trainee/Apprentice programs. Any thoughts?

 

Semi-pro Limbo

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Great article, but not sure if it is encouraging or not. We are seeing this way too often as it seems to continue to snowball from just a few years ago. As a mom of a dd that just embarked on an unpaid apprenticeship this past fall, it feels quite frustrating. Netherland...limbo... fitting descriptions.

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Very good article. Perhaps it is wise to think of the apprentice/trainee years as "college" years while the dancer learns how to be a professional dancer. Just a thought. Unfortunately it can turn into an abusive situation in which companies do not have to pay to get corps dancers. In fact, the dancers often have to pay to dance the same roles that other dancers get paid to dance.

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Pointetheway, that is how I've always thought those years should be regarded, but for many parents, those come with the potential of at least 8 years of supporting one's child beyond the age of 18: 4 (or more) dance years plus 4 (or more) college years afterwards. I know that played a huge role in the choices my daughter made as we were a family who didn't have the financial ability at the time to shoulder such a burden.

 

Consider too, that many non-dancers coming out of a 4 year college are having to accept stipends, internships or low-paying entry level positions for a couple years before attending a normal salary. It can be a l-o-n-g road to financial independence for dancers who do a 4 year circuit of trainee/apprentice/second company experiences followed by college.

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Teachers and experienced moms

 

How much time do you think most students actually "need" in a second co, etc to be company ready? In other words--Is this just a free labor pool for small companies? (Seems like it with Richmond). Or is it really a valuable learning experience (and if so, for how long do you really need the "learning")?

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I think the answer depends on several factors, not the least of which is the maturity level of the dancer. The age range for when the myelin (coating on the neurons) in the frontal lobes are laid down is from 18-25. Emotionally, many young people in that age range are still very, very young. So one mature, talented, capable dancer who's already had performing experience, perhaps in a student company, could be ready at 18, while another, at age 23, could still not be ready to handle the vicissitudes of ballet company life.

 

Technique readiness, performing readiness, maturity, ability to be a team member are all important factors that vary from one dancer to another. So, while from a company management perspective, the truth may lie mostly with not having to pay out contracts for all corps members (just use the trainees/apprentices/ second company - whatever they're called in any given ballet company), it's also a wonderful opportunity for many dancers to finish their maturational process as they would have in college.

 

I feel sorry for the dancers who already have all that together, yet still have to move through that process. However, if this is what companies need to do in order to continue to exist, well, there we have it; keep buying company ballet tickets and bring someone new to the ballet!

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Excellent post, vagansmom!!! :yes: And may I add, please factor in the fact that the company members last longer, leaving no space to hire the multitude of qualified dancers out there. I have always thought that as a company member, a dancer is still supposed to grow and mature even more and come into their own. I never imagined they had to wait and practically be finished with growth before entering a company..... thought the AD was supposed to mold you....but it has been my experience as a dance mom, this isn't the case at this time. DD has been told many times she is company ready, but there is just not enough space. :yucky: And though some were probably just empty words, I am positive some were not. I also would not say the article is encouraging. And I totally disagree with Mr. Vasterling. You cannot expect someone to stay on indefinitely and wait for you to decide to hire them. To me, it doesn't seem to be fair. I think the bulk of these companies feel this is what they would like, but how can you expect someone to stay on with only some encouragement? A lot of times there isn't a definitive way to figure out if you are being considered or not. It's really hard for a dancer in this climate to even figure it out if the AD likes them or not. I have seen dancers expect to be hired after staying 2,3, even 4 years, only to still not be employed. I will say however, it does seem that these programs were originally designed to only last 2 years (at least most perhaps). But dancers sometimes have no where to go and so they ask if they can stay on another year. Then the companies are trying to be helpful by giving the dancer a place to be - maybe not to hire them, but so they can get hired somewhere else the next year. I mean, it's just a very difficult situation no matter how you slice it. So keep buying those tickets and supporting the arts as much as you can. Get your friends and family to come see the shows. The more we support them, perhaps the more of a chance they have to find a job. :rolleyes:

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It makes me wonder how much these dancers and their families are giving up and for what? These dancers are often giving up their entire high school experience (going to one of the many day programs that are popping up everywhere lately) to be pushed into a tuition program where they are promised that they might get hired someday after high school graduation. It seems like we'll have an entire generation of dancers who have given up everything for the art form to never be at a point where they can be out of their parents financial support. It seems like it would be better for these dancers to just be told, no you don't have it and you need to look at option B instead of stringing them along for tuition and free/cheap labor.

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Entering the "semi-pro limbo" dancers (and families) research the best fits for rounding out the resume or the offer that will give the "best chance" for a dancer to be hired. But it is hard for a dancer to predict if they have a chance of "making it" when they are "in the moment", hoping each day that they will be given that "chance" (without that hope, I don't think you could do it!). But, not all programs give timely and honest feedback. Sometimes a dancer stays too long in a dead-end situation. Sometimes, as in the article, a dancer chooses another program and keeps trying. Or, at some point, depending on the toll it takes on the dancer's emotions, finances, and the attractiveness of "plans B, and C and D", the choice is made to stand back and applaud the effort, be grateful for the tremendous opportunities (and fun!) along the way, and change course to another path that is a better fit. Some who have the physical facility to make it don't have the emotional toughness (harsh self-reflection, competition, rejections, need to focus through the distractions-social as well as professional) or the financial support. You have to admire the tremendous strength it takes to navigate the ballet course in the current job climate. I don't know if I would have been able to do it, in so many ways!

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One of the things that might be important for parents of younger dancers is to think about what this part of the journey means for you financially and support wise. And then determine what this means to you in terms of support for college or dance or both. By that I mean, is this support in exchange for support for college or as a personal deferral to support for college? The flip side of that is: if college was the initial post high school choice, then how many years post college will you support if any. Once that is firmly in your mind, then set some parameters early on with the dancer. Every family will have a different view of that but setting the parameters is important and then sticking to them unless there is something that comes along to make you change your mind. But if you have these parameters set then the dancer is able to actually work the system to see how it best fits their circumstances.

 

For my belief system and circumstances, 8 years is too long to continue to support lateral moves within the Trainee/Apprentice market. This is different than vagansmom's example which includes some moves that are not lateral in nature. (college then dance or dance then college) What I am speaking of is 8 years in the Trainee/Apprentice loop only without upward movement and the circumstances I live in. I might feel differently if there was upward mobility with each position or a position was gained along the way. And certainly there have been dancers who finally got that upward movement after 8 years. But I'm talking now simply about moving from Trainee to Trainee to Trainee position for 8 years, without ever receiving a dance contract and whether I would recommend it. I just have been in this journey for a long time and know that at some point, someone who wants to dance professionally needs to determine that it may not happen and that walking away is okay. (or finding another way to dance that is not within a ballet company itself) These are the kind of parameters I'm speaking of. You may differ in your timeline than me or you may be able and willing to offer more/longer support but set whatever parameters seem logical to you just as you might set with a college student who wants Master's after Master's then a Doctorate. You may support all the way through or you may support part of the way and then release the child to realizing the rest of their dream on their own.

 

*I will add that I do know 2 dancers personally who did 2 programs, both having gone to college first. Then both took a year off to reflect/work and returned or one more try (3rd) and achieved positions that did create upward movement after a year in a Trainee program. Both did so self-sufficient though.

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Teachers and experienced moms

 

How much time do you think most students actually "need" in a second co, etc to be company ready? In other words--Is this just a free labor pool for small companies? (Seems like it with Richmond). Or is it really a valuable learning experience (and if so, for how long do you really need the "learning")?

 

Just to clarify, Richmond Ballet II is the second company of Richmond Ballet, and is certainly not free labor. It offers 32-38 week contracted competitive salaries and includes health insurance. The Richmond Trainee program is the top level of the school, designed for 16-18 yr olds. The two are very different.

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I have to say, as a trainee myself, watching my peers audition and not get any offers is very discouraging. It has definitely made me question the feasibility of getting hired in the next few years. There is one girl I know who is extremely talented. She seems to have it all: technique, stage presence, gracefulness, personality. We all thought that she would be hired. Even the principals in the company were expecting it. The reality is, however, there were no available positions, and even though she auditioned for just about every company in the U.S., she had not received any offers. It is heartbreaking when situations like this occur. It has made me think, if a girl like her can't get a job, what chance do I have? Also, this dancer has already gone to college (for dance), and has spent three years with various companies in trainee/apprentice/second co. positions, so it is probably very difficult for her to change her career path as she is dealing with college loans and has generally been financially dependent on her parents.

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Hang in there PhoenixFlames360. Sometimes it really is being in the right place at the right time. Is it sad to see dancers passed over when it's not the "right time". But having a position to offer is a part of that timing. Best wishes to you!

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I just saw a news release from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre that I thought was relevant to this conversation. They announced four new PBT company members. One was formerly at Silicon Valley, but the other three all came out of PBT's own graduate program. One of them had been there since 2013. So while that's not the path for everyone, it's a case of patience with being in professional limbo being rewarded. Just thought it was interesting.

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I also feel that I have to add on this. My question is, is it moral if a company keeps hiring apprentices, with no intention to hire any? This particular company I am talking about didn't hire any of their 6 apprentices in the past 2 years.

On the other hand, too many "semi-pro" dancers had their eggs in one basket. I know a couple friends who didn't get promoted/contract renewed so that they are in a bad position. Most of them heard it too late to apply for schools this year. And trying to audition for companies all around the country (and very infrequently hear something back) definitely made it hard both financially and emotionally for these dancers and their families.

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