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Be Your Own Business
Networking, budgeting and strategically aiming for your goals is an art form in itself.
RACHEL S. MOORE, CEO of Los Angeles Music Center
If you see yourself as an artist, there’s a good chance you’d rather leave business and finance to someone else. But if the goal of training hard is snagging that dream role or company slot, then the less glamourous part of achieving your dreams is negotiating the contract, joining a union and managing the money you make while doing what you love. Not all dancers have the luxury of hiring an agent to take care of everything that falls outside the realm of artistry. That’s why Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Music Center and former CEO and executive director at American Ballet Theatre, shares in-depth advice about how to think more strategically about your career in her new book, The Artist’s Compass: The Complete Guide to Building a Life and a Living in the Performing Arts, out this month. She recommends dancers take these five steps to treat their careers more like a business.
- Define success.
Explore strategic partnerships: David Hallberg joined the Bolshoi partly to enhance his skill set. Hallberg in ABT’s Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
Make sure that your vision of success is true to you. “Ask yourself what really excites you,” says Moore. Do you want to land at a big company with name recognition? Or would you enjoy working somewhere you might have more opportunity to perform lead roles? Do you want to tour Europe, or see yourself on TV? Envision that end goal, then allow yourself to recalibrate your definition of success as you grow and gain experience. You don’t have to yearn to be the headliner, either. “For me, I only wanted ABT and to be a star, but that was a narrow view of the world. The corps de ballet is an incredibly important and respected piece of the art work,” says Moore. “The dance world is vast. Keep an open mind. You’ll get much more satisfaction from your career.”
2. Build your brand.
Using social media strategically can highlight what sets you apart from other dancers. This could translate to more roles, more supporters and more showrunners approaching you about a gig. “Your brand is really an embodiment of your aesthetic and an extension of what you do onstage—opening your heart—so let that shine through on social media,” says Moore. The key to self-promotion, according to Moore and ABT principal dancer Daniil Simkin, who provides his personal tips for social media in the book, is authenticity. “People can spot a phony,” says Moore. “You have to believe in everything you post online. Your photos shouldn’t just make you look pretty; they should reflect how you see your art. Go back to why you’re in this business to identify your unique voice. It takes courage!” If you’re afraid of oversharing, consider having professional social media accounts and a separate personal one for only those close to you, but once you’re committed, don’t go dark on your followers. Keep posting on a regular basis.
3. Line up a “board of directors.”
Moore recommends building a network, based off the concept of a board of directors, rather than following the advice of a single mentor. “Seek out people with all different skill sets, personalities and views, who are at different points in their career,” she says. “Peers will tell you the truth about a dance company’s culture, while someone mid-career will have a very different perspective than a younger dancer. You should also find someone who will talk to you honestly about how your image is coming across.” Your closest advisors should be people who can help you make connections, know your temperament and abilities and will listen when you need counseling.
4. Embrace your inner CFO.
Simkin (here in Fancy Free) says authenticity is key to marketing yourself successfully online. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.
Artists are often much better with finances than they give themselves credit for. “Nobody is more frugal than a dancer on a budget, and money management is really just problem solving—something we do all day in the studio,” says Moore. Let go of the tendency to dismiss yourself as bad with math or business simply because you’re a dancer. Instead, think of your creative-thinking skills as financial skills. You may feel empowered to not only budget more deliberately but also to save for retirement, invest in real estate or take charge of contract negotiations. Your power suit is a leotard and tights.
5. Seek out growth opportunities.
Most of us want to do the things we’re already good at, but this won’t allow you to grow. “Look at your tendencies and strategically increase your skill set,” says Moore. Great examples: Misty Copeland’s pursuit of meticulous Balanchine work to complement her natural lyricism and David Hallberg joining the Bolshoi partly to work on jumps, for which the company is world-renowned. Look for opportunities to fill the gaps in your training while you’re on the job. That way you’ll be even more marketable for the next one.
Kristyn Brady, a former dancer, is a writer in Vermont.
Mash-ups aren't uncommon in the dance world: Performers of varying styles have been known to share the stage, from ballerina Tiler Peck and famed clown Bill Irwin to Michelle Dorrance, who's mixed tappers and break-dancers. Likewise, collaborations between choreographers and artists from seemingly mismatched disciplines have produced magical creations, such as Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, featuring Mark Ryden's whimsical and even grotesque designs and costumes.
But the Israeli troupe Ka'et Contemporary Dance Ensemble has found success in one of the most unlikely partnerships: Secular contemporary choreographer Ronen Itzhaki creates movement for a group of rabbis.
While undoubtedly best known for her dancing, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston has also been getting noticed for her style by Allure and Vogue—and with good reason. Her Instagram feed features a mix of on-trend athleisure wear and detailed dresses from runway designers like Valentino and Anna Sui, none of which would be complete without the makeup and hair to match. With a penchant for skin care and an ever-growing lipstick collection, Boylston talked us through some of her beauty must-haves on and off the stage.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
DanceBreak came roaring back to life on Monday after seven years on hiatus, and six choreographers now have the opportunity to be the next Andy Blankenbuehler. Or Joshua Bergasse, Kelly Devine, Casey Nicholaw, Josh Prince or Josh Rhodes. These stellar Broadway choreographers all got their first big shows after Melinda Atwood's musical-theater launching pad let them show the industry what they could do.
Since 2002, DanceBreak has been a sort of "So You Think You Can Choreograph" for Broadway. Although not everyone goes straight there—Mandy Moore and Mia Michaels are alumni, too—the program is meant to funnel talented choreographers to the Broadway stage by providing a platform for their work. Prince, who introduced Atwood to the cheering crowd, has paid DanceBreak the ultimate compliment, creating his own non-profit incubator for theater choreographers, Broadway Dance Lab. On Monday, he recalled the story of how he was offered the role of choreographer on Broadway's Shrek just days after its director saw the 2007 edition.
When caring for your feet or trying to make them look good, it's tempting to seek shortcuts. Bad ideas—like dangerous stretches that promise perfect lines or ointments that were never meant to go on your toes—catch on all too easily backstage.
We asked podiatrists who've seen their dance clients try it all share the habits they'd like to see gone for good.
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country: