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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."
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
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."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
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?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.