Career

The Waiting Game

You’ve been wait-listed to the summer intensive of your dreams. Now what?

Springboard Danse Montréal accepted 45 dancers from its waitlist last year. Photo by Michael Slobodian, courtesy Springboard Danse.

You’ve found the perfect summer program. You audition, and wait weeks for the fated acceptance or rejection letter. An envelope with your dream school’s logo arrives. You excitedly rip it open to find that you’ve been…wait-listed. Your ideal intensive, that just seconds ago seemed within reach, has now slipped away. Or has it?

Few feelings are more frustrating than being placed on the waitlist. What exactly went wrong? Should you follow up or ask for another chance? Or should you make a commitment to your second choice? Ultimately, how you handle yourself while in limbo can make a lasting impression.

 

A Numbers Game

Most summer programs accept more dancers than they have spots for, knowing that some students will go elsewhere. Waitlists ensure they’re not left with empty barre space. Some programs never touch the waitlist, while others may extend an offer to nearly everyone, and most schools’ dependence on the list changes each year. Lack of space is the number-one reason a qualified dancer is wait-listed. It’s also a spot for dancers that the audition panel feels may not be as strong technically, but they see something special in.

Patel Conservatory in Tampa, Florida, aims to have 300 students attend its Next Generation Ballet Summer Intensive each year. After seeing more than 600 dancers on a 25-city audition tour (plus year-round Patel students), around 500 dancers are admitted. Seventy to 80 end up on the waitlist. Instead of first come, first served, dancers on Patel’s list are divided by level, then carefully ranked. “We want to make sure each of our levels have relatively even numbers,” says Patel’s dance department manager Claire Florio, who adds that dancers in later audition cities are more likely to be wait-listed if their level is already full. “Auditioning as early as possible certainly can’t hurt.”

Springboard Danse Montréal, a three-week program that connects advanced dancers with choreographers, has to be even more specific when letting dancers off the waitlist—they’re not just filling class levels, but casting performances, too. The program typically has 110 available spots. When one is given up, it needs to be filled with a dancer similar to the original. “If I lose a guy who’s amazing at partnering, I’m not going to replace him with a guy who can’t lift,” says artistic director Alexandra Wells, who pulled 45 dancers, of about 60 total, off the waitlist last year.

Increase Your Chances

Your first instinct when wait-listed may be to ask for another shot. But Alexei Kremnev, artistic director of The Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago, says this can only sometimes help sway your odds. “Dancers can contact our staff and we’ll decide if a reevaluation should be allowed,” says Kremnev. (Joffrey accepts 6 to 12 dancers from a waitlist of about 120 each year.) “But if you’re given that second chance, make sure you’re ready for it.” Ultimately, re-auditioning is only helpful if something went completely awry the first time, like sickness or injury.

Being wait-listed is not a rejection—it means you’ve already proven you’re a strong dancer. Stay on the program’s radar and let them know they’re still on yours. “The majority of dancers never even respond to our initial email that tells them they’re wait-listed, which is not a good idea,” says Wells, who recommends a response that does more than just state your interest. “We want dancers who have done their research and can explain why our program suits them, instead of someone who says, ‘I’m still free.’ ”

After your first email or call, occasional follow-ups are warranted. “Showing that you’re enthusiastic is always a positive,” Florio says. “With that said, sending an email every day will overwhelm our staff. If we let you know the date you’ll hear back, you don’t need to continue asking about it before then.”

             

Down to the Wire

You may be forced to put down a deposit for another program before you’ve heard back from your number-one choice. In this case, reach out to your dream program and explain your situation. Patel will let dancers know where they stand on the waitlist. Before agreeing to the other program, ask for a deadline extension, and check the deposit-refund policy. If you do choose another program, it’s a nice gesture to contact your wait-list school and tell them you’d like to remove your name.

Joffrey may continue accepting students from the waitlist up to two weeks after its own registration deadline, which means many dancers will have already chosen other programs. But Kremnev doesn’t recommend backing out once you’ve paid a deposit, since you’re unlikely to get that money back. “Focus on learning as much as you can wherever you end up,” he says, “because any summer program can have a positive impact on your career.”

Wells agrees: “Just tell us, ‘I am so disappointed, but I’ve already agreed to something else.’ If you made it this far, we like you, and you can likely come back to us next year. The dance world is a small family, and we’ll remember a dancer who’s not only talented, but is smart, professional and sticks to her commitments.” 

Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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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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I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.

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