Advice for Dancers: Going Nowhere Fast
What to do if you’re in a dead-end dance job, plus tips for juggling finances as a freelancer
I’m a fifth-year corps dancer who is lucky if I get to be an understudy in the fourth cast of a corps role. I know I’ve improved with lots of hard work, and I have fans in the audience and visiting choreographers who want to use me. Yet when I’ve tried to ask my director what I can do to keep growing artistically, he gives me vague answers about why I’m being ignored. I wonder if it’s time to leave.
—Lost in the Corps, Queens, NY
While each dancer develops at a different rate, five years in the corps should be sufficient time to know if your career is going somewhere. My guess is that an issue other than your talent could be at the heart of your dilemma, since it would be easy enough for the company to not renew your contract if your dancing stood in the way of casting. For example, I know that some companies have sponsors who pay for a dancer’s annual salary, thereby all-but-ensuring that this performer will be cast ahead of those without sponsors. Other obstacles could come from your director favoring newer dancers, operating under the belief that younger is better, or simply not knowing how to use you. Regardless, you get an A+ for working hard and asking for guidance.
I would never advise leaving a company before you have another job lined up. However, it would be in your best interest to consider other options. Although most auditions are over by February, you can find a list of current openings for dancers in “The 2016 Jobs Guide,” on page 55. You may also want to look into small touring groups. They can offer opportunities to perform better roles during breaks until the next audition season rolls around.
As a former bulimic, I know too well the pitfalls of eating disorders. Fortunately, I overcame my problem with the help of a psychologist. I’ve slowly started teaching ballet, while still performing, and have had parents ask me to speak to aspiring dancers who exhibit signs of disordered eating. I want to help but don’t know what to say. Any advice?
—Former Bulimic, Santa Monica, CA
Obviously, you need to tread carefully with vulnerable dancers who may be highly critical of their bodies. Most people who develop eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem and often feel hopeless. As a professional dancer and teacher, your job as a role model is to provide hope, while directing dancers with eating problems to specialists. Giving feedback can be extremely useful as long as it’s done in private. You can share what you’ve noticed regarding their eating and how it may have impacted their dancing. Of course, it’s important to work within your school’s regulations. However, as a rule of thumb, I recommend that before resuming class, any dancer with a problem—whether they’re a professional or a student— get a complete physical exam with a doctor’s note that he/she is healthy enough to dance, be in weekly treatment and, if anorexic, meet a weight gain goal as prescribed by a specialist who understands dance’s physical requirements. Check out my book Advice for Dancers for information about how to determine a healthy weight and The Renfrew Center for an inpatient/outpatient program or therapist nearby (renfrewcenter.com).
Is sleep or money more important for a freelance dancer? I’m currently tending bar, often doing double shifts that pay more but end at 5 am or later. I don’t need the money to survive but have trouble saying “no” to cash. What do you think?
—Carly, Hoboken, NJ
As long as you’re covering your basic financial needs, sleep should always take precedence for dancers. Research shows that sleep deprivation slows down your motor responses similar to the effects of drinking alcohol. This means you may be more likely to get an acute injury like a sprained ankle. Lack of sleep also affects your appetite hormones. Getting as little as six hours can give you a major case of the munchies, which can lead to weight gain over time. And it goes without saying that your mood tends to plummet when you’re tired. The bottom line: While dancers often have trouble refusing extra shifts because it goes against their strict work ethic, it’s important to prioritize. Your body comes first!
The 2018 Oscar noms are here. Which is fun and all; we'll never not get excited about a night of glitz and glamor and, when we're lucky, pretty great dancing. But we'd be a heck of a lot more excited if the Academy Awards included a Best Choreography category. And really—why don't they?
Last year, La La Land's Oscars domination (FOURTEEN nominations) made the fact that Mandy Moore couldn't be recognized for her fantastic choreo—a huge, indisputable part of the film's success—seem especially cruel. This year, it feels weird not to recognize the dance contributions of Ashley Wallen (The Greatest Showman), Anthony Van Laast (Beauty and the Beast), and Aurélie Dupont (Leap!), to name just a few.
It might not have a U.S. tour on the books (yet), but we have to admit that we're getting exceptionally excited for Akram Khan's Xenos to premiere.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
You're standing in the wings, moments from entering the stage. You've done your planks to warm up your core, pliés to feel centered and dynamic stretches to loosen up. But your mind won't stop racing through all the ways your performance could go wrong.
Sport science strategies can get you in the right headspace. Photo by Thinkstock
Ideally, a warm-up should be more than just a physical preparation to dance. Because if you want to unlock your full potential, you need to get in the right headspace. "Your mentality is going to dictate which version of you comes out on any given day," says performance psychologist Dr. Jonathan Fader, who serves as director of mental conditioning for the New York Giants football team. These top strategies from the sports world can help you reach the state of mind that will serve you best.
Conversations about body image in dance typically revolve around female dancers. For an obvious reason: It's usually women who are driven to dangerous means to reach the ideal "ballet body."
But they're not alone in the struggle. Former Twyla Tharp dancer Charlie Hodges recently told his own story during a TED Talk at California's ArtCenter College of Design.
Recent media attention on sexual harassment has me wondering about my director, who has gotten involved with adult dancers in the company while being married. One friend became depressed after the relationship ended. Another dancer's contract wasn't renewed when his wife found out about his affair. Is this behavior crossing the line?
Toasted almond, caramel, nutmeg and mocha aren't craft ice creams or flavored coffees. They're among the choices in colored tights at the boutique in Dance Theatre of Harlem's headquarters in upper Manhattan.
And for Tru Annafi, an 11-year-old first-timer at the DTH summer intensive, those brown hues matter. At her former summer program, in Chicago, "I was the only African American, and they made us wear pink tights," she says. Chloe Edwards understands. A 13-year-old from suburban New York, she points out that the skin-toned tights "help you keep your line. In ballet, line is so important."
The coming weeks see not one, but two companies that can best be described as French cultural mash-ups landing at New York City's Joyce Theater.
It was a Christmas Eve that The Lion King dancer India Bolds will never forget.
Exhausted from a long week of performances, Bolds was clueless when she saw her cast mates randomly dancing in Broadway's Minskoff Theater lobby, and even more confused when they morphed into a choreographed flash mob. But when her boyfriend of four years, Dale Browne, popped up in the mob wearing a beautiful blue suit, she realized what was coming.
Back in the 80s, Molissa Fenley introduced a luscious, almost Eastern-feeling torque in the body that made her work compelling to watch. Her sculptural shapes and fierce momentum showed a different kind of female strength than we had seen. Now, as part of The Kitchen's series on composer Julius Eastman, Fenley has remounted her 1986 Geologic Moments, the second half of which she had developed with Eastman. The result, which premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a richly textured piece in both music and dance. (The first half has music by Philip Glass.)