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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Future of Dancing Opinions Wanted


Oreo

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For those of you with senior age dancers about to graduate high school, what are your dancer's plans going forward this coming year? I guess what I am asking is are kids graduating high school even trying to get company contracts if the companies are no longer allowed to perform? I haven't read anything anywhere about this topic. Will companies even be hiring apprentices/ trainees in the Spring if they are still all shut down?

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Sockerbit

Good question Oreo. I came on this board tonight specifically looking to research this question. My child is a senior and had planned to do gap year with trainee offer. But in the past month she's decided she will go straight to college, so it's really changed her plans quite a bit.

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Our experience is that companies here aren't necessarily shutting but have certainly restricted any hiring to previously known dancers (dancers who have returned after just leaving to free lance) and those who had contracts signed preCOVID.  Any new hires are definitely more experienced than usual. No 17 or 18 year olds.

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I guess that is what I am asking Sockerbit. I wonder if Covid is making people adjust their plans about college and wanting to dance at all in general since there doesn't seem to be any support to open up the arts. This is a really bad time for our kids who are graduating high school. All those years of training now possibly for nothing if you can't even try to pursue a dream that no longer is able to exist. Some companies seem to be more ambitious to perform live than others.

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Sockerbit

Some companies are definitely more creative than others, but I still think the loss of performance opportunity has a severe impact on the entire industry. I don't think there will be large revenue generating performances for all of 2021. My daughter's home studio is getting very creative with filming their version of the Nutcracker and I suppose will charge a fee to watch virtually. It's mostly parents who will be paying though. Not sure you can get the donors/audience members to really pay big money for virtual performances at professional companies. 

I think in the long run this will hurt the bigger companies that have higher costs and depend on patronage more than the smaller companies.

So sad for our seniors!!!! For the younger kids it will be interesting though - this will really weed out who wants to do this in the long run. Zoom and masked ballet won't work well for those who were on the fence anyway.

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As in many things in the professional world, Oreo, whether and how a company offers any sort of contract depends on many factors: the productions planned/need for dancers; what the AD sees in the dancer; the character of the AD of the company (is he or she risk averse?); the financial strength/stability of the company; the company's community support; and, currently the very unpredictable incident rate of Covid-19 in the region of the country (at least in the U.S.), and whether or not the company will see any money flowing from performances.  This last bit is quite a worry.

From what I've witnessed in my own DD's company, the ADs are facing several challenges to offering live performances and breaking even (much less making a profit).  There are (of course) an enormous amount of moving parts to a theater dance production (dancers, choreographers, stage/house management, music, set, costumes, marketing, audience) and ALL of those pieces are quite complicated to plan at the moment, as they are all unpredictable.  In addition to keeping the dancers as safe as possible, many of the performance places (theaters/stages) are not opening, and there is question on whether or not any audience would come, even if they were open -- all of which would cause any planning a production to hesitate to commit.

I know some companies are trying to offer a subscription to digital performances, either historical or new works.  I am uncertain how successful that has been. 

In my family, at least, the financial budget has been quite tight lately, and unlikely to loosen in order to cover more than the very basics (food and shelter).  That means "art" subscriptions/tickets will not be accommodated this year for my family.  I imagine others may be in similar circumstances, which means that companies of any kind who depend on consumers paying for art might be challenged -- the audience is smaller.

I agree that now is a significantly challenging time for those dancers graduating from high school and determining their next course of action.  This reminds me of the time when the United States was facing the latest recession (2008), and jobs and contracts were similarly restricted.  There were some amount of contracts offered then (if you read through the thread), but very few.  

So -- here is my advice -- if your DK desperately wants to dance, they need to find a way to dance.  That advice sounds trite, but I sincerely do not mean it to be.  As a parent, you need to help them figure out their priorities without your own priorities and fears and desire for security getting in the way.  If dancing professionally truly is their goal, they are going to have to take some risks.  Is this time of our lives riskier than it was before Covid?  Probably, but it's the same kind of "life measuring" you'd have to do anyway.  

In my opinion, if your child desperately wants to continue dancing, and hopes for a professional career, and you can afford it, a college that offers sufficient dance training and academics is probably the least risky avenue.  There are risks in that path, but "less" (or maybe just "different"?) than others.  Off the top of my head, those risks include whether or not your DK can actually keep his or her body in the peak mental and physical shape necessary for the professional dance world and also handle a full academic load.  Can it be done?  Absolutely, but it's difficult (and therefore "risky").

If you choose the college path, does that mean you shouldn't encourage your DK to audition for companies for a trainee/second company/apprentice/random name for limbo space where your DK is not "paid" a living salary?  Not necessarily... that's a family financial decision that you need to weigh.

What hasn't changed is the fact that for MOST dancers, there exists a "limbo" phase of usually two to five years.  In that limbo phase, your DK is dancing without making a living wage, and is possibly PAYING to train.  It is my opinion that even in this financial time, companies are still going to offer trainee positions where the dancer pays a fee to train.  In fact, there may be MORE opportunities and positions open for "paying trainee" because the companies may need this sort of income in order to pay teachers/admins. So, to answer at least one of the questions you've raised, it is possible for your DK to continue dancing after high school in a gap year.

The question then becomes how will that happen?  How will your DK live?  Are YOU supporting your DK during that time, paying (at least some portion) of their training, housing, food, clothes, etc.?  Or, are you discussing that path with your DK, but requiring your DK to support themselves? Or some combo there of? 

For what it's worth, this last option is what we recently did -- we paid for a year of housing/food and some amount of training (she received a partial scholarship for training).  But after that year, my DD had to make a choice to continue or not.  After the initial year, she chose to continue without our financial support, and so got a "civilian" job and continued training and supporting herself until she got a professional contract.

So -- yes, your DK can still take a "gap" year -- the financial risk is possibly greater right now (depending on whether your family financials are super strong), but it's not really "different" than the same risk that every other DK (and supporting families) has faced in the very long past since this "limbo" phase has happened.   Finding a way to financially afford the "limbo" phase is going to be a different answer for each family.  If their DK desperately wants to continue dancing, some families choose to invest in college, and some families choose to invest in a training opportunity with a company.

What the parents of graduating DKs are facing is the same type of dilemma we've always had to face.  By saying that, I'm not making light of your question or perceived angst in any way.  The competition for any kind of a paying position always has been and will continue to be quite fierce.  Given the financial uncertainty of the entire economy and dance companies within that, the competition may be even more challenging.  And facing that competition is something your DK will have to decide.

Will that competition ease a bit in the next year? Two? Four?  I don't know.  Historically, the answer to that question is "yes."  Although very, very stiff, the competition for a paying job eased as the economy improved. 

So, as a strategy, delaying the need for a paying dance job (by going to college or by being a paying trainee) are legitimate strategies for a DK who wants a professional career.  

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Ballet_Mage

As always Eligus, you have said it well.  After our gap year of training my DD was looking for her first company pay check as we were unable to continue support.  Covid has changed how that looks....the summer intensive scholarship for the audition spot in a second company turned into a less than stellar online opportunity with no chance at 2nd company. She kept looking and found an apprenticeship with a new company attached to a boarding high school with an established pre-pro school that has added a post graduate opportunity for the first time.  Not what she was originally looking for but she feels so lucky to be dancing everyday with stipend, room and board. The search is always competitive but now, it is definitely more challenging now.

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Congratulations to your dancer, Ballet_Marge!  Dancing with a stipend, room and board is a blessing, even in the better times, so I think she should be quite proud of herself, and you, as her parent, should be quite proud of her tenacity, dedication and grit.  It's a tough world out there for artists.  

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Ballet_Mage

You know I am.  Your mention that the dancer has to take the reins and be responsible for persevering to their dream is so true....and so hard.  After the gap year, I believe the dancer has to want to dance strongly enough to push through the face(s) of adversity.  So many plans dashed before this one.  We are grateful and she is happy.  All a dance parent can ask for.  (Accept be closer to home...ah well)

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Oreo, I think that if your dancer still wants to pursue dance then she/he will find a way. My best guess is that, for the most part, companies will not really be in hiring mode for 2-3 years until things are truly normalized.  I also think this is specific to younger less experienced dancers as Thyme mentioned above.

In the meantime, for dancers who are  17 +, now is the time to focus on training. From what I am seeing there are some dancers who have decided that they no longer want to pursue ballet. Let's face it we were all on the merry-go-round of very busy training schedules with family/school/chores/training/friends....it was all a big juggle and exhausting. Then COVID hit and that merry-go-round screeched to a halt. This gave many young people time to reflect on the life they had been living and ask themselves if this is really the grind that they want. So some have chosen to exit the ride. This thinned the competition by a some unknown amount. Then there are those that have declined training offers due to COVID, some in my dancer's program elected not to come this year because of the unpredictable natter of this pandemic and wanting to play at safe. (that is not a judgment)

My long ramble here is really to say I think there is room for those who do want to continue training and I think training is what is on the horizon for the next couple of years for those in the 17 plus age range. Unfortunately none of us has a crystal ball, so everything is really just a guess. But the bottom line is those who must dance will find a way. Paid contracts are likely to be put off for those who felt they were ready to enter the professional arena, but as with everyone else in the world, we have to pivot and adapt. 

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