Training

Become a Convention Assistant: 6 Ways to Show You're Ready

NYCDA assistant Jaclyn Tatro, Evolve Photo, Courtesy NYCDA

For a young dancer, a job as a convention assis­tant can be career-making. As you travel and demonstrate alongside your favorite teachers, you have the chance to show top choreographers you're hire-worthy, actively build professional skills, and gain access to classes and connections that are truly priceless. That's why conventions are looking for the cream of the crop to fill these coveted roles on the convention circuit.

Of course, some conventions only award assistantships as part of title wins. But there are other ways to land the job—if you have versatility, maturity, charisma and a good amount of patience.


1. Be a Quick Learner

Photo by Jim Lafferty

Some events ask standout regional dancers to attend an assistants audition at Nationals. Auditions often ask you to pick up diverse choreography quickly, and may include in-class observations to assess your demeanor and professionalism. Be prepared to show you're a quick learner.

2. Show Off Your Stamina

NUVO assistant Makenzie Dustman. Photo by Nick Serian, Courtesy NUVO

Whether you're hoping to work for one teacher or for a convention as a whole, treat the entire experience as a weekend-long audition, because faculty members are always watching. For convention-wide assistants, good technique across various styles is key, since you'll need to be able to assist multiple choreographers. Dancing full-out throughout long days—whether you're in ballet slippers or tap shoes—will show teachers that you have the stamina to lead warm-ups and demonstrate combinations when the pressure is on.

3. Connect on a Personal Level

Choreographer Kyle Hanagami, who's on faculty at Velocity Dance Convention, says personality and an ability to make choreography your own can be even more important than technique. "I choose all of my assistants from my classes—and they're all people I'd want to be friends with," he says. "I love dancers who are fearless, who want to be their best and who have charisma."

4. Demonstrate Your Maturity

NUVO assistant Jay Jay Dixonby. Photo by Nick Serian, Courtesy NUVO

Keep in mind that being an assistant means more than just dancing. Assistants also have jobs such as helping out behind the scenes and interacting with studio owners, teachers, parents and students throughout the event. Therefore, being personable, mature and professional is a must. "Our assistants must be responsible and hard-working, because they're role models for the young dancers, and they're a reflection of the convention as a company," says NUVO director Ray Leeper. "We want dancers who are consistent—who show up early to call times with a positive attitude."

5. Offer To Help

Evolve Photo, Courtesy NYCDA

If you're passionate about a specific teacher's choreography or teaching style, don't be afraid to stand at the front of the class, chat with the teacher afterward, and let them know that you're feeling a connection. "Offer your help instead of directly asking to be an assis­tant," Hanagami says. "Say something like, 'I really love your work, so if there's anything you need help with, please let me know.' "

6. Let Your Talent Speak For Itself

NUVO assistant Makenzie Dustman. Photo by Nick Serian, Courtesy NUVO

Ultimately, trusting the process and being the best version of yourself goes a long way. "There isn't anything wrong with letting a faculty member know you're interested in assist­ing, but most of these situations happen organically," Leeper says. "Try not to be pushy. Your talent, respect, positive attitude and consistency in classes will get you noticed."

Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!

We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

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."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

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