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By Jen Peters
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater studios. Photo by Kyle Froman, Courtesy Ailey.
In the Big Apple, there is no one way to hit your stride as a dancer. With a wide range of styles and thriving dance audiences, dancers often assume opportunities are endless. However, the city’s sheer magnitude means inexperienced dancers can easily get lost in the crowd.
“Being from a small Illinois town, I had to adjust to feeling alone among millions,” says Kimberly Young, who moved to New York in 2004 after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a BFA in dance. “I was shocked by how much energy the city requires each day.” While her initial plan was to audition for modern companies like those of Doug Varone, Mark Morris, and Trisha Brown, she realized that opportunities often materialized through friends and a network of choreographers, not always through auditions. Ushering at downtown venues, doing administrative work, and performing or choreographing with colleagues helped establish Young in the city. She has danced with Todd Williams, Jennifer Schmermund, and Atlas Dance. Currently she dances with Yanira Castro, choreographs, and dabbles in costume design.
Dreams of joining a dance company or Broadway show are accompanied—and often dampened—by the grind of making ends meet. Encouragement comes from knowing we are not alone. There is a strong community of dancers that can offer guidance and support. Here are a few notable places in the city to take classes, to show and see work, and seek career advice.
Taking class in New York is an expensive commitment, but it is an awesome way to meet other dancers, teachers, and choreographers while working on technique. Guest workshops are good introductions to choreography, and a way to be seen by choreographers like Aszure Barton, Benoit-Swan Pouffer of Cedar Lake, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson of Complexions, and Andrea Miller of Gallim Dance. Don’t forget to look into work/study options, internships, and professional discounts, since class prices average around $15. There is a studio for every style imaginable, but here are a few hot spots.
Peridance Capezio Center, home of Igal Perry and his Peridance Ensemble, opened a beautifully renovated Union Square space last year. It hosts an array of techniques, including Limón, ballet, African, and salsa, and luminaries like Ronald K. Brown and Alexandre Proia are on the faculty. It’s also one of few places, along with Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, to catch year-round Gaga classes, the official Naharin and Batsheva technique.
The iconic Steps on Broadway is the place to go for ballet-star sightings, as many ABT and NYCB dancers take class there, and the studio offers all styles at all levels. For contemporary dancers, look into the Steps Repertory Ensemble, a company of 10 to 12 dancers chosen by audition for a one-year commitment. Its members rehearse with several different choreographers, perform often for New York audiences, and take unlimited classes for free.
Broadway Dance Center is the main studio for theater, tap, and commercial dance. But Steps, The Ailey School, and Peridance all offer tap, hip hop, and jazz in addition to ballet and modern. For pure tap, go for the one-and-only American Tap Dance Center.
For ballet classes, try Ballet Arts at City Center, where you can find good Russian teachers. And don’t miss Manhattan Movement and Arts Center’s master classes by New York City Ballet principals like Wendy Whelan. Zvi Gotheiner, a favorite but off-the-beaten-path ballet guru for modern dancers, also teaches at City Center. Gibney Dance Center’s ballet classes at historic 890 Broadway, also popular among contemporary dancers, are less crowded.
For more experimental dance, head downtown to Dance New Amsterdam in lower Manhattan or Movement Research at various venues. Melt Intensives at Movement Research are a highlight, as are weekly classes with Barbara Mahler, Irene Dowd, and many others. Classclassclass is an exciting partnership with Movement Research, bringing affordable ($10) experimental classes to dancers all over the city. Check out classclassclass.org for details.
Many companies offer classes, including Shen Wei’s at Park Avenue Armory, Jennifer Muller/The Works’ daily company class at their Chelsea loft, Stephen Petronio Company’s pop-up schools, and classes at Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Martha Graham School. Sign up on your favorite company websites for e-mail updates. The Joyce Theater also offers master classes with artists performing at The Joyce, located at DANY Studios. It isn’t hard to find amazing classes in this city, but good luck finding time to try them all!
Ushering & Cheap Tix
Seeing performances is one of the ways to explore the city’s dance world. Many theaters need volunteer ushers, which generally requires a sign-up in advance of the performance night, and then arriving early to fold programs and lead people to seats. Ushers get to watch shows free of charge. Dance Theater Workshop (soon to be New York Live Arts), Danspace Project, The Joyce Theater and Joyce SoHo all have usher volunteer programs, with details listed on the websites.
For discounted tickets, signing up for Dance/NYC Dance Pass and New York DanceLink is a must; discount codes are e-mailed for performances throughout the city. City Center’s Fall for Dance, in late September, has $10 tickets for every seat, but be sure to get online or in line the day tickets are released as they sell out fast! DTW’s Studio Series presents upcoming choreographers for $5, and Movement Research at Judson Church presents free Monday-night shows. School performances at Juilliard, Ailey/Fordham, and NYU are cheap ways to see new choreography and classic repertoire. Don’t forget, mingling pre- and post-shows is not only enjoyable, it is ideal for networking and discussing work.
To see the big ballet companies at Lincoln Center, high school and college students can get $15 student rush tickets on the day of performance. If you’re hooked on New York City Ballet, sign up for the Fourth Ring Society, which is also an excellent deal. For American Ballet Theatre’s student rush tickets, go to www.abt.org/performances/popStudentRushPolicy.asp.
Not sure what to see in the dizzying array of performances? Check out the “New York Notebook” column in our pages, or visit www.dancenyc.org.
With theater spaces being limited and expensive, many big studios with newer facilities have built-in theaters. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Mark Morris Dance Center, Dance New Amsterdam, MMAC, and Peridance have fully equipped theaters available for performance rental, but they can be pricey. Festivals and curated performance series are fantastic opportunities to show work for free. Dumbo Dance Festival at White Wave, Fresh Tracks at DTW (NYLA), Hatch Presenting Series at the Muller studios, Movement Research at Judson Church, The Tank in Hell’s Kitchen, and 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival and Fridays at Noon all present emerging artists.
For Kimberly Young, The Field provided her first opportunity to create work through their rehearsal residency program. She was also part of their Sponsored Artist Program, which provided her with fiscal sponsorship. Joyce SoHo has several top-notch residency programs. Also look into The Kitchen, DTW, and DNA performance opportunities.
As for rehearsal space, www.nyc dancespaces.org is undoubtedly the most comprehensive site for finding studios. Very user friendly, it lets you search by location, studio size, flooring, equipment available, and maximum cost. The Center for Performance Research, Triskelion Arts, and Brooklyn Arts Exchange all offer Brooklyn rehearsal space starting at an attractive $8 per hour, while Chez Bushwick is a mere $5 per hour for members. Most studios in the city offer rental space, so check on the websites or call to inquire.
Research, Career Counseling & Agencies
Increasingly, both commercial and concert dancers are signing with agencies to help book gigs and gain exposure. For dancers interested in Broadway and commercial work, Bloc and MSA agencies are the most comprehensive in New York. Dancers can submit applications and dance reels year round, but it also helps to attend open auditions when listed on the agency websites.
Easily overlooked, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center is the most complete source of video documentation and dance writing in the city, and is free to card holders. Organizations like Dance/NYC, Career Transitions For Dancers, The Field, and programs like The Joyce’s Free Advice Seminars offer a wealth of information. Anything from career counseling, workshops on grant writing and marketing, health care, and audition postings are available on the web. But the best way to learn is still through personal connections and conversations.
“New Yorkers are actually quite generous people, you just have to ask and they love giving information,” observes Young. She realized through seven years of living in NYC how small and invested the dance community is. Young says her niche as a New York dancer came through taking every opportunity—interning, ushering, office work, and performing. She developed a strong network and broadened her skill set through the years.
In a city saturated with bright lights and big dreams, the most useful advice for New York novices is to be open and prepared for change. “When I moved here I had an intense curiosity about the city. I was told that New York was the only place to go for modern dance,” recalls Young. “I came to find out who I was as an artist, and discovered I wanted to drift away from classical values and push boundaries with experimental work.”
Jen Peters is a dancer with Jennifer Muller/The Works, a Pilates instructor, and a frequent contributor to DM.
Pictured inset: BDC. Photo by Reese Snow, Courtesy BDC.
The quickest and most affordable way to navigate New York City is by mass transit. Subways and bus routes are easy to use once you get the hang of it. You’ll need a passport of sorts—the MetroCard! The first time you go underground, give yourself two extra minutes to figure out the MetroCard machines.
Here’s a tip:
If you’re going to take more than 14 rides a week, buy an unlimited weekly MetroCard for $29. You’ll end up paying $2.07 or less a ride instead of the regular $2.25. The more often you ride, the cheaper it is. If you’re going to take 50 or more trips each month, opt for the $104, 30-day unlimited ride. You’ll pay $2.08 or less per ride. You can transfer from a subway to a bus line for free with any type of MetroCard within two hours of your first “swipe.” You may think 50 rides are a lot, but they add up quickly. Keep in mind that buses are slower than subways, and always allow extra travel time.
A great guide for getting around is www.hopstop.com. It tells you what bus/subway line to take and how long the trip will last. There are free and cheap iPhone and Android subway maps, too. Be prepared for unexpected changes to your route, especially on weekends, and check www.mta.info for updates. Construction is 24/7 here! —Khara Hanlon