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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Is ANY contract/position better than no contract?


ifnotwhynot

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My daughter is in her graduate year and therefore in the exciting/scary position of looking for a job or post graduate position. So far, she has had one audition and has the offer of a postgraduate position that we would have to pay for. This in itself is not an issue as we believe that this is a very common first step. We do not, however, believe that the company that has made the offer is particularly selective and it is not what she particularly wants to do - but it is an offer!

 

Now, the audition season hasn't really started in earnest yet and with many more auditions to come, who knows what is round the corner but this has got me thinking..., what looks better in the long run - to have spent time with a company - any company - or to have spent some time attending a variety of open classes while continuing to look for work? All other things being equal, when a CV lands on the desk of an AD, which scenario would carry more weight?

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Quite honestly, speaking for United States ballet companies (from how you spell certain words, I don't think you're in the USA), it doesn't matter. What matters is the dancer in front of the person leading the audition.

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I'm interested in the international perspective because I think that dance is now an international career!

 

I agree that if you get to audition, a decision will be made on what they see. However, many companies hold auditions by invitation only and I would be interested to know if having been with a company - again, I say ANY company - looks better on a CV/resume than a time spent doing open classes and therefore increases the chance of being invited to audition.

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Has she talked with her school AD or her primary teacher? They are in the best position to know if she has a solid chance with better companies. I could not answer the question you ask without knowing and working with the dancer.

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Thank you, Ms Leigh, but I am not asking if she has a chance with another company. I don't expect you to know that! This is a generic question and has no bearing on an individual dancer - it is about the perception of ADs when they see the CV of an unknown dancer. It could apply to anyone and, in fact, it is relevant that the person answering does NOT know the dancer in question!

 

So, does it look better if that unknown dancer is with a company in some way or another (has experience, is doing something, must be kind of employable, other people have liked her....) or just doing classes, in which case they may think she hasn't received previous offers or is in some way not good enough!

 

As an example, let's say an AD gets two CVs. Both show a dancer with X years training at the same school. Both have an equal amount of performance experience etc and both look good in the photos. But he can only invite one to audition. Which would look better? Would he choose the one already on a graduate placement with a company, even though it is not a top notch one, or does he choose the one who has furthered her education by taking a good range of open classes for the same length of time?

 

Perhaps I am missing something but if she asks her teacher this generic question she will get one perspective only - hence the reason for asking on here! I was hoping that the combined knowledge of everyone who posts here may offer some insights that help guide a decision for a dancer faced with the choice of accepting a less than perfect offer or continuing to take class! I am hoping with many more auditions to go it is a hypothetical situation for us but I was just wondering what if....

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First off, it would be incredibly rare for an AD to invite a dancer to audition off of a resume/cv without seeing at the very least photos and more likely video footage of the dancer. I've never heard of that happening. What you have to remember is that the ballet world does not function like a typical job placement would. For instance, during a large company audition a director will often not even take a resume unless you are the last handful of dancers still standing after all cuts. A resume can be helpful if a director sees a teacher or school they know have produced quality dancers or that they know personally to ask about the dancer applying. Like Victoria Leigh and vagansmom have stated, 99% is based off the dancer in front of them.

 

In regards to training in a trainee position or open classes, I personally feel consistency is important and a trainee program would probably provide that more so than a series of open classes. Also you are establishing a working relationship within the program that would probably be more apt to help with recommendations and auditions. Open classes would generally not provide you the personal relationships gained in a structured program. One of the reasons Ms Leigh probably had in saying that a teacher is the best one to ask was not necessarily meant only for your dancer but in general. Someone who has worked closely with a dancer is in the best position to advise what that specific dancer needs more of: intensive training to get them ready for a more professional contract, or perhaps performing experience and working in an environment that is more consistent with company life. That would be different for everyone and each dancer has their own weaknesses and strengths that would dictate the right path. I don't think anyone other than someone who can see a dancer can really advise what is the best course of action. If you feel that her teacher would be too biased one way or the other you could always take her to an unbiased source and ask for a professional evaluation.

 

I wish your daughter luck with her journey. I know it can be a very special time as well as very stressful. Navigating this profession is hard even for those who have been in it for years.

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Thank you, Fraildove. In Europe there are, in fact, many auditions that ask for a CV and photographs only to help make a decision about whether to see the dancer. Some may choose to send footage anyway but I have been led to believe that this won't be looked at unless requested.

 

As it happens, although at vocational school, my daughter does attend some open classes and has a very good relationship with some teachers but at this stage, that is not the point as I am not asking for help with making that sort of decision. if and when my daughter HAS to make such a decision, she is very well placed to get help and advice from a number of sources and I was simply wondering what an unknown AD would think of the two scenarios given. Given that an AD does not know a dancer, and has not seen footage of her, would he be likely to favour someone who has been with a lesser company or someone taking open classes?

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I don't audition applicants for dance, but in another area of performance training. They give us a brief CV, but really, as others have said, it's about the person in front of us.

 

And sometimes ... The person in front of us can compare underwhelmingly with a CV with all sorts of stuff on it. On the other hand, certain experiences and/or qualifications give us the evidence that the person in front of us has the depth of training & background knowledge & understanding that we require.

 

I think that you should ask around about the reputation and good standing of the trainee/postgraduate year and the company offering it. I know you can't be specific here, but it sounds more like a postgrad year with performance opportunities than a company - because basically you're still paying, rather than your DD being paid.

 

Is this postgrad year in good standing in the profession? Will the teaching be good, so that there is continuous improvement & no bad habits? (The first year out of full-time training, adapting to being responsible for one's own training & improvement is always a tough one). Are the people who lead this of good reputation in the rest of the profession?

 

Your daughter's teachers may well be able to answer those questions. And a look at further destinations of former trainees would also help, I'd imagine.

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You say that this company is not particularly selective and that it isn't really what she wants to do. Therefore I can't think of any reason to accept. Unfortunately there are many smaller companies now that have initiated graduate training progammes, which as far as I can see are really to give the company the benefit of the income and some extra dancers.

 

When applying to audition for a company, I think the photo and video are what will be looked at first. Is the dancer the height/weight/style that would fit in with the company? The main vocational training will also be taken into consideration. I don't really think a post-graduate trainee position will add anything unless it is with a prestigious company.

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My son is a similar age. I have 2 thoughts that may or may not be helpful since my dancer is a boy and we're in the US, but I'll share them with you just in case.

 

1. DS and I recently spent a day going through all the bios of the corps/apprentice men hired since 2012 into the thirty largest ballet companies. We took notes and organized it into spreadsheet to make it easier to see the big picture.

 

The pattern that emerged was that about 75% of new hires were recent graduates from Trainee/2nd programs. The other 25% were already professional dancers from a different company (usually a smaller company).

 

Some companies (especially the largest ones) primarily hired from their own 2nd company. Other companies primarily hired dancers who were already professionals.

 

It was helpful for my son to see to the hiring patterns of the companies that most interested him. This data that we generated might not be directly helpful to your daughter, but you might find a similar research strategy to be helpful.

 

2. The advice my son has frequently received from professionals is to get the best training you can receive for as long as you can receive it. Once you are hired into a company, your growth as a dancer slows down. That is, an 18 year old still intensively training as a student will often experience greater improvement in technique than an 18 year old in a company. We know dancers who regretted joining a small company so early and ended up going back to a student situation (trainee/2nd company) when they realized they had limited their potential by settling so early.

 

 

Like I said, I have a male dancer on the US, so this may not be applicable to your daughter, but I hope you do find some advice that does help. I know it's a stressful time, helping our children navigate from student to professional!

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Ifnotwhynot, I do understand your questions and will give you the little bit of experience my DD had---which is a few years old.

 

My DD was planning to audition primarily in Europe when she graduated her BFA program--about 4-5 years ago. She was injured that year and didn't get to do a full audition tour, but did audition a little over the next two years. She also had many friends auditioning in those years, so knew what the scoop was as she evaluated and planned her strategy. Keep in mind that these particular years were the years when dance contracts were getting even tighter than usual because of the recessions occurring both here in the States and abroad. How that may have changed for more recent years, I :shrug:

 

At the time DD was looking to audition and participating (sparingly), there was an increased reliance by the European companies of pre-screening prospective applicants prior to issuing an invitation to audition. So, there were photos, resumes, and sometimes videos sent. An invitation to audition would be extended (or not) based on that pre-screen. Even with that invitation, many of those auditions were still 'cattle calls', I.e, upwards of 200 dancers attending. Some were more limited and some were very small numbers in the audition. She always received her invitation, but she was always cognizant of applying only to companies where she met the qualifications listed (and she had interest in).

 

Over those next few years, additional limitations were also included in the audition notices. For example, more began requiring EU membership than had previously and many began stating 'professionals only'---which meant only dancers who held or had previously held a professional contract would be considered. Recent graduates would not receive an invitation to audition. She did not submit applications for auditions where she did not meet these requirements. There seemed to her to thus be fewer auditions open to new dancers starting out.

 

So, in that regard, yes, it made a difference whether a dancer had had a contract, regardless of whether it was a selective company or not, regardless of whether it was a company the dancer loved or not. It was professional experience and it was one easy way for the audition applicants to be culled down to something somewhat manageable to review. At that time, a lot of the European companies were folding due to lack of funds, so there were a lot of previously-contracted dancers on the hunt for a new contract. Lateral hires were prevalent.

 

In the States at that time, she did not see the 'professional only' limitation for audition requirements. And there were seldom (if any?) pre-screens and invitations required. The auditions were typical 'open call'. The difference was, however, that dancers who had or had had a professional contract would have the audition fee waived. So there was that cost-savings. Professional courtesy, I guess.

 

So, to answer your question, I would suggest your DD mine her network of friends that are already on the audition circuit, as well as friends who have gone before over the last couple of years and get a feel for how the audition market is working now. (As I said, my DD's experience is from a number of years ago; so it is experience that may very well be outdated. The audition waters change a bit each year depending on various financial and artistic circumstances).

 

Once she has the current intel from the dancer network, she will be in a better position to evaluate whether the benefit of taking that first contract with a company she's not thrilled about outweighs the options of waiting for a better offer. Sometimes, it is best to take the not-favorite company's offer and . . . . Sometimes it is not worth it. Only you and she can answer that question. But, to answer it, you and she do need to get a feel for the current market and what it is looking for generally.

 

Keep in mind, pretty much everywhere, it's that first contract that is hardest to get. That goes for most any job. BUT, there are some jobs/contracts that are not worth taking. That part is an individual evaluation and decision.

 

Merde!

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Just another thought...if you have to pay for her training, then I would think that the contract is with the school, not the company. If that is the case, then that trainee position would not carry the weight of an actual company position. Even though she may well perform with the company, she would not yet be considered a professional unless that contract came from the company.

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Do you have a good read on the company besides that it doesn't appear to be very selective? Do you know of their rep? When you think of the school your DD is coming from, do you feel this company will help elevate her in ways other than what performing in a professional environment will. Meaning can her technique continue to flourish? What are the credentials of the ballet master or mistress, etc.

 

DDs first company was successful for her in some regards and not in others. It was not a place she wanted to stay long and she didn't. But what she did learn was what type of environment she wanted for her next contract. Qualifiers like organization, dancer friendly, outside rep and not just in house choreography all became important in one short year. What any dancer has to be careful of is not pushing themselves to be ready for the next step be that moving up within a company or moving to another. With any company, the dancer MUST continue to work to be ready for the next job/situation because you do not have any control over if/when you will need to be ready for it.

 

It is very easy to get used to a city, friends, comfort in one's place in the sun, etc. So more than the company itself, I would say that the dancer themselves and how they will react in any given environment may be the answer to the original question. The hard thing is, until they leave us and truly do become their own self, do they know how they will react to these situations.

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Dancemaven, thank you so much for taking the time to give a meaningful reply to my questions - what you have said is very helpful and makes sense.

 

Ms Leigh - you are correct, in this particular scenario, she would not yet be considered a professional bug that is not relevant to my questions. It is not about my daughter and I do wish now that I hadn't even mentioned her as I am interested in the perception of ADs when faced with different scenarios on the CVs of unknown dancers!

 

I should stress again that this is not about making the decision about whether to accept a particular offer. Any decisions that we personally have to make will not have to be made for several months and, when they are made, they will be backed up with huge amounts of research!

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So sorry, ifnotwhynot. Did not intend to be irrelevant, but, going back to your original post, I thought that you were trying to decide what is best for your daughter in terms of accepting an offered trainee position, which she is not really pleased about, or continuing to audition. My response is meant to show that it would, or could, make a difference on the CV, if the contract offer was with a company, not a school. Should have worded the post differently to reflect that.

 

We do not, however, believe that the company that has made the offer is particularly selective and it is not what she particularly wants to do - but it is an offer!

 

...if this IS the only offer she gets before the end of the academic year, what looks better in the long run - to have spent time with a company - any company - or to have spent some time attending a variety of open classes while continuing to look for work?
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