Career Advice

Rock Your First Dance Job: 8 Habits of Successful Dancers

Your first year in a dance company can be a shocking transition. It's also a high-stakes one. "Everyone's looking at you to see what you can do, but also the kind of person you're going to be," says Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown. How can you succeed when you're suddenly the least experienced person in the room?


Life is Less Structured: Deal With It!

It's up to you to prioritize your time. "In school, you pay and we are here to teach you—you are our client," says Marcello Angelini, artistic director of Tulsa Ballet. "In a company, we pay you, so the expectations are different, higher."

Tulsa Ballet company classFrancisco Estevez, courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Learn the Unspoken Rules

"Every company has a shared understanding," says Randy James, artistic director of 10 Hairy Legs. "Sometimes you don't know that you're doing something wrong. Check in with the dancers and ask how you're doing." Pay close attention to company veterans. How do they interact with each other, and the director? How do they dress? What do they do during downtime?

Do Your Homework

Keep a notebook for choreography and corrections, or even film yourself rehearsing, then review your choreography at home. "And maybe get a jumpstart on the next day's rehearsal," adds Angelini. If a video is available, consider learning parts or all of the choreography in advance, so that you can focus on details with the ballet master or choreographer.

Isabella Boylston rehearsing Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT.

Keep Your Body in Top Condition

Take advantage of company perks, like nutritionists, physical therapists and gym memberships (making sure to get in cardio). Even though you might have been able to get away with ignoring aches and pains as a student, "as a professional, if something hurts, address it right away," says Angelini.

Stop Trying To Impress Everybody

It can be tempting to try to stand out to make sure that the director knows what you're capable of. But now's the time to focus on becoming part of the group, and doing what's best for the company. "Just do the work honestly, passionately, accu­rately—we will notice you," says Angelini.

Tulsa Ballet company classFrancisco Estevez, courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Soak Up Everything

"There is so much anxiety around the job search, which is followed by the 'I got the job!' moment," says Mark Morris Dance Group's Sam Black. "But once you climb that initial mountain, it can take awhile to get opportunities. Stay open and observant like a sponge. Watch the people who get the work."

Sam Black in Mark Morris' Jenn and Spencer Christopher Duggan, courtesy MMDG


Become a Quick Study

To learn repertoire that everyone else is already familiar with, watch videos, mark steps in your kitchen, and track all of your patterns and counts, entrances and exits on spreadsheets. "I would take quick notes after I learned something and then make my own tracking sheets to memorize it," says Keigwin & Company's Kacie Boblitt.

Kacie BoblittJeremy Coachman, courtesy Boblitt

8. Ask for Feedback

Most companies will have a mid- or end-of-year review. But you don't have to wait. "Don't be afraid to ask for help," says Brown. Directors know it's a big transition—it's how you adapt that tells them how successful you'll be in the company. Says Angelini, "If dancers learn fast enough, we know they have a good future.

Philadanco in rehearsalPhoto via Mancc.org

James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)

Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.

Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.

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I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.

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Mention "flamenco" to anyone in the Cuban dance scene, and they are likely to bring up Irene Rodríguez. Artistic director of Compañía Irene Rodríguez, Cuba's premiere flamenco company, Rodríguez has shared the stage with such renowned flamenco artists as Eva Yerbabuena, María Juncal and Antonio Gades. She is also a faculty member at Havana's Fernando Alonso National Ballet School, and has served as a choreography consultant at Ballet Nacional de Cuba.

Starting this week, she's stateside to direct the flamenco and Spanish dance program at Jacob's Pillow.

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Being coached by a treasure like former Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova is an experience most dancers only dream of. But company members at American Ballet Theatre have been the lucky beneficiaries of her wisdom since 1990. Thanks to Instagram, where pros like Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside share snippets of their sessions with Kolpakova, any ballet lover can be a fly on the wall during rehearsals with the famed ballet mistress.

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Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

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Luis Quintero via Unsplash

Happy first day of summer! It's the season of sweaty rehearsals, outdoor performances, and for some of us, summer layoff.

How to stay in shape sans daily company class without breaking the bank? If you're in New York City, you're in luck: You can cross-train for free this summer with a variety of options throughout the boroughs. Bonus: They're all outside!

Not in NYC? Most major cities have similar offerings—check out the programming for your local parks and cultural centers to find out.

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Emma Hawes in class at National Ballet of Canada. Photo by Karolina Kuras, courtesy NBoC

Growing up with a father who's a swim coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, Emma Hawes was in the water almost from the time she was born. From ages 6 to 12, she swam competitively.

"I would have two swim practices a day during season, then go to ballet class," says Hawes, who's now a first soloist at both National Ballet of Canada and English National Ballet. "It was pretty normal for me since my parents are both athletes." (Her father is also an avid cyclist and triathlete; her mom was a competitive runner.)

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College faculty want to help you build a bridge to the working world. So it should be no surprise that they sometimes invite in artists who could potentially hire you someday. "At NYU Tisch, opening night is typically open to alumni, many of whom are working choreographers, and we invite artistic directors to the final night of the run—each one gets a press kit with the graduating dancers' bios, and we host a reception afterward," says Seán Curran, chair of that dance program. "We're not agents, but with a little help, many of our students make their own chances."

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