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Be Your Own Business
Networking, budgeting and strategically aiming for your goals is an art form in itself.
RACHEL S. MOORE, CEO of Los Angeles Music Center
If you see yourself as an artist, there’s a good chance you’d rather leave business and finance to someone else. But if the goal of training hard is snagging that dream role or company slot, then the less glamourous part of achieving your dreams is negotiating the contract, joining a union and managing the money you make while doing what you love. Not all dancers have the luxury of hiring an agent to take care of everything that falls outside the realm of artistry. That’s why Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Music Center and former CEO and executive director at American Ballet Theatre, shares in-depth advice about how to think more strategically about your career in her new book, The Artist’s Compass: The Complete Guide to Building a Life and a Living in the Performing Arts, out this month. She recommends dancers take these five steps to treat their careers more like a business.
- Define success.
Explore strategic partnerships: David Hallberg joined the Bolshoi partly to enhance his skill set. Hallberg in ABT’s Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
Make sure that your vision of success is true to you. “Ask yourself what really excites you,” says Moore. Do you want to land at a big company with name recognition? Or would you enjoy working somewhere you might have more opportunity to perform lead roles? Do you want to tour Europe, or see yourself on TV? Envision that end goal, then allow yourself to recalibrate your definition of success as you grow and gain experience. You don’t have to yearn to be the headliner, either. “For me, I only wanted ABT and to be a star, but that was a narrow view of the world. The corps de ballet is an incredibly important and respected piece of the art work,” says Moore. “The dance world is vast. Keep an open mind. You’ll get much more satisfaction from your career.”
2. Build your brand.
Using social media strategically can highlight what sets you apart from other dancers. This could translate to more roles, more supporters and more showrunners approaching you about a gig. “Your brand is really an embodiment of your aesthetic and an extension of what you do onstage—opening your heart—so let that shine through on social media,” says Moore. The key to self-promotion, according to Moore and ABT principal dancer Daniil Simkin, who provides his personal tips for social media in the book, is authenticity. “People can spot a phony,” says Moore. “You have to believe in everything you post online. Your photos shouldn’t just make you look pretty; they should reflect how you see your art. Go back to why you’re in this business to identify your unique voice. It takes courage!” If you’re afraid of oversharing, consider having professional social media accounts and a separate personal one for only those close to you, but once you’re committed, don’t go dark on your followers. Keep posting on a regular basis.
3. Line up a “board of directors.”
Moore recommends building a network, based off the concept of a board of directors, rather than following the advice of a single mentor. “Seek out people with all different skill sets, personalities and views, who are at different points in their career,” she says. “Peers will tell you the truth about a dance company’s culture, while someone mid-career will have a very different perspective than a younger dancer. You should also find someone who will talk to you honestly about how your image is coming across.” Your closest advisors should be people who can help you make connections, know your temperament and abilities and will listen when you need counseling.
4. Embrace your inner CFO.
Simkin (here in Fancy Free) says authenticity is key to marketing yourself successfully online. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.
Artists are often much better with finances than they give themselves credit for. “Nobody is more frugal than a dancer on a budget, and money management is really just problem solving—something we do all day in the studio,” says Moore. Let go of the tendency to dismiss yourself as bad with math or business simply because you’re a dancer. Instead, think of your creative-thinking skills as financial skills. You may feel empowered to not only budget more deliberately but also to save for retirement, invest in real estate or take charge of contract negotiations. Your power suit is a leotard and tights.
5. Seek out growth opportunities.
Most of us want to do the things we’re already good at, but this won’t allow you to grow. “Look at your tendencies and strategically increase your skill set,” says Moore. Great examples: Misty Copeland’s pursuit of meticulous Balanchine work to complement her natural lyricism and David Hallberg joining the Bolshoi partly to work on jumps, for which the company is world-renowned. Look for opportunities to fill the gaps in your training while you’re on the job. That way you’ll be even more marketable for the next one.
Kristyn Brady, a former dancer, is a writer in Vermont.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.