An Open Letter to Artistic and Executive Directors: Stop Making Dancers Pay to Audition
I write this letter knowing full well and first-hand the financial challenges of running an arts organization. I also write this letter on behalf of dancers auditioning for your companies. Lastly, I write this letter as a member of society at large and as someone who cares deeply about the culture we are leading and the climate we create in the performing arts.
This is a letter about the decision to charge dancers for their job interviews. I find it intolerable that of all of the positions in arts organizations, dancers are the ones who have to pay to be interviewed.
Wouldn't it seem ridiculous to ask your prospective director of development to come to their job interview with their resume, references and $30? How about your stage manager? How about you?
Looking for parallels in other fields, musicians auditioning for orchestras, shows or gigs do not need to pay to audition. Athletes trying out for professional teams are not asked to pay $30 before they suit up and go through drills.
When we ask dancers to do it, we say to ourselves, "We are a struggling company trying to make ends meet. We are incurring an expense and so we have to try to make that up."
This doesn't hold enough water (especially when the audition takes place in your home studio and you are not traveling or paying studio rental) because you pay this business expense when finding new employees or contractors for all other positions. The company incurs the cost to post all other jobs, go through resumes, perform phone interviews, carryout in-person interviews, check references and so on.
If you charge a fee and consider it a master class, then it's not an audition. It's not a job interview. It's a workshop, which has very different intentions. They are important for sure, but not the same thing.
I ask you to consider that unless all new hires in all areas of your organization are asked to offset the cost it takes to interview them, then please treat dancers with the same respect and let them interview for you like an adult, with dignity.
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.