The Six Things You Should Do If You Get Fired
When Kathleen Martin learned her contract with Ballet West wouldn't be renewed, America was watching. Cameras were rolling for the first episode of the reality series "Breaking Pointe," bringing additional scrutiny to what was already one of the toughest moments of her career. "I knew deep down it was going to happen," she says. "I wanted to hold my head high."
As painful as the experience may be, it is possible to rebuild your career after being fired. Five years later, Martin is thriving as a soloist with Ballet San Antonio. "I didn't want this one setback to define me," she says. Here's how to part ways like a professional, regain your confidence and have greater success in your next gig.
1. Process the News
So, you just got fired—of course you're reeling, but Hubbard Street Dance Chicago artistic director Glenn Edgerton says that invariably dancers have been expecting the news. "If I'm letting go of someone, it's not a surprise," he says. "We've had multiple conversations about how much further I need them to go."
Glenn Edgerton, PC Todd Rosenberg
It's normal to experience pain, shock and denial, says Patricia "Patch" Schwadron, senior career counselor with Career Transition For Dancers, a division of The Actors Fund. You may not be able to help tearing up, but keep your cool if you don't want to burn a bridge—and save questions for after you've calmed down. "I'm always open to sitting down later," says Edgerton. "It's my job to help the dancer understand what wasn't working."
2. Find Out What Went Wrong
Part of moving on is identifying what your part in the situation may have been and which factors were out of your control. It could be that your work environment was unhealthy to begin with. "Dancers muscle through, but if you're being asked to do the impossible, of course you'll be failing in the director's eyes," says Schwadron.
Glenn Edgerton, PC Todd Rosenberg
Edgerton has only had to let go of a handful of dancers in his 25-year career, and he says a lack of passion has generally been the root. "But if you can be honest enough to address an issue like that, you can still be a great artist," he says.
3. Bounce Back Better
To rebuild your confidence, pinpoint other times you've overcome discomfort, says Schwadron. How did you feel the first time you put on pointe shoes or walked into a new studio? Catherine Drury, a licensed clinical social worker with The Dancers' Resource, believes the more you develop a sense of the artist you are, the less you'll rely on external validation. "Sometimes it takes the end of a contract for a dancer to find her voice outside the company," she says. Still, the loss of community may be the biggest change of all. "You'll want to build a transition team of positive and realistic voices to replace the support system you've lost," says Schwadron.
4. Make the Most of Your Free Time
It can be jarring to suddenly have more time on your hands, so structure your break, says Schwadron. Use the opportunity to explore a new skill. "Learn to edit videos, use Photoshop or paint," she says. "This tells your brain that you're growing and it gives you something else to talk about."
If there's time remaining on your contract, use it as a separation period. "You were hired to do a job, so be grateful for the work while you fulfill your obligation," says Schwadron. "Plan for the future while you still have money coming in."
5. Take on the Job Hunt
The scariest part of your next audition may be admitting why your last gig ended. Schwadron recommends developing a narrative and practicing it out loud. "Say, 'I'm very disappointed, but I'm excited by the opportunity to find something new,' " she says. "No one's going to argue with that." Edgerton values a dancer being up front about getting fired, because the truth always comes out eventually. "You don't want to find out after the fact, just like you don't want to hear a dancer bad-mouth her last director," he says. "You can say you didn't connect artistically—just don't throw someone else under the bus. Take responsibility for your half of the relationship."
6. Find Success in the Next Gig
Once you've landed a new job, use what you discovered in your time off, says Drury. "On break, dancers get back to their other interests, sleep more, spend more time with friends—don't abandon that," she says. If you approach this job knowing there will be things you love and things you hate, and that it could end at any time, it will help establish healthy boundaries with work.
Kathleen Martin, PC Alexander Devora
After leaving Ballet West, Martin realized she hadn't been taking care of herself in the pursuit of perfection. "Getting fired pushed me to see the bigger picture of my career," she says. She started paying more attention to her body and making time to relax. "Once I stopped trying so hard to be perfect, it translated to my dancing."
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.