Do The Hustle: What it Takes to Juggle Multiple Dance Jobs
Having just returned to New York City after a couple weeks of guesting in Southeast Asia, American Ballet Theatre principal Daniil Simkin is in rehearsal for the lead role in Alexei Ratmansky's latest creation, Whipped Cream. In between this brief rehearsal period and ABT's Metropolitan Opera House season, Simkin will be using any days off to travel for other guest performances. That is, when he's not in production meetings or rehearsing in Chicago or New York for his own project premiering at the Guggenheim in the fall, or preparing his debut as Albrecht in Giselle for an ABT tour.
"If I have an hour break between rehearsals, I try to get my work done for the day," says Simkin. "There are emails, meetings, fundraising, a lot of administration stuff with the Guggenheim project, delegating, checking in—'Will Dior do the costumes?'—and then I might get a guesting invitation and then I have to check my schedule, book flights and hotels."
Daniil Simkin's Intensio project. Photo by Jim Lafferty
Multitasking has become the new normal in the concert dance world. Many dancers, not just international stars like Simkin and Misty Copeland, are adding freelance careers on top of their regular company commitments. It seems like most artistic staffs have come to accept and even embrace this type of branching out, citing artistic growth for the dancers and marketing benefits for the company as their dancers grow more visible.
But the question remains: How much can one dancer juggle while maintaining both health and sanity—and still satisfying their commitments as a company dancer?
Dancers didn't always operate this way. "There was a different culture when George Balanchine was alive," says former New York City Ballet soloist and BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang. "People were extremely focused on their main job and work with Mr. B and Jerome Robbins." Even though big stars were able to guest, there weren't many opportunities for rank-and-file company dancers.
Los Angeles Ballet's Zachary Guthier and Smuin Ballet's Erica Felsch at National Choreographers Initiative. Photo by Dave Friedman.
Today, there are more guestings, galas, pickup troupes and other side jobs available all over the country and abroad. And the thinking inside many companies has evolved to encourage this outreach.
"This career goes so quickly; as much experience as you can get is good," says Liang, who took leave from NYCB to do Fosse on Broadway and dance with Nederlands Dans Theater during his own career. Today, he tries to hook up his dancers with outside projects, like the National Choreographers Initiative, whenever he can. "When they come back they are richer, deeper, more creative, even more engaged in the company."
Anthony Randazzo, ballet master at Boston Ballet, where several dancers like Lia Cirio participate in and manage side projects, agrees. "It is a chance to grow," he says, "and that helps strengthen the company, which is a win for everyone." He admits that there are challenges when a dancer asks for a day off during the season, but is quick to point out that if it can be accommodated, the benefits of the opportunity usually outweigh the extra work required to manage scheduling and rehearsal flow.
For some dancers, performing outside work just makes financial sense. Since few contracts are year-round, summer and side projects can keep up their technique as well as cushion their bank accounts.
But physical therapists warn that taking on too many projects can come at the expense of rest. Dancers have to be careful not to overwhelm their bodies if they already have a demanding rehearsal, performance and touring schedule. However, Simkin feels that the variety of styles his guestings generate has actually kept him healthier and less prone to injury.
Not all dancers go after this extra work. For instance, New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin turns down such offers during the season in order to help preserve her work-life balance. "I can't physically do any more," she says. "I have had seasons where on Mondays I would be doing a photo shoot, or once I flew off to Russia for a weekend gala, but then I wound up without a day off. Some people can operate that way, but it hasn't been good for my body or my mind."
Instead, Hyltin finds ways to further her artistic growth and recharge herself by doing things besides dance—reading, going to museums and walking her dog. While she understands that other dancers in the company find fulfillment in performing on Broadway and elsewhere, she feels completely nourished by the opportunities she already has at NYCB.
Sterling Hyltin, photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Making the most of these career choices comes down to defining what success means to you. "Different dancers have different visions of success, whether it be galas and medals versus being a part of a company, or simply doing fashion photo shoots in their spare time," says Randazzo. "The trick is to find what might have a deeper meaning for you."
"There were absolutely times I felt left out when I was younger, when I felt like it was a form of competition: how many galas, how many modeling gigs you have," says Hyltin. "You can really get down on yourself, but you have to find a certain amount of healthy exposure. Decide what works for you. If you spread too thin, all your work can become less meaningful."
Luckily for Simkin, his workaholic schedule seems to suit his personality. "I get to do what I love, I get to travel and live a good life," he says. "You can always be too tired and feel like you are juggling too much, but our careers are too short, so I enjoy spreading myself out." However, now that he is scheduled for the next two years, Simkin admits that he's added something new to his to-do list: downtime.
We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.
But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?
"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."
For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.
There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.
Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.
The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.
You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.
1. Master the Basics
When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.
Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.
You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.
In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.
I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?
—Injured Rockette, New York, NY
Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."
But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.
Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.