Rock Island, Illinois, is a small city about three hours from Chicago and an hour from Iowa City. It is also home to Ballet Quad Cities. "I moved here with an open mind," says Courtney Lyon, who began as a dancer with the company and now serves as artistic director. While she considered moving to a bigger city, Lyon found that Rock Island met her needs: a livable atmosphere, affordable rent, a nice artistic community with a lot of theater (though not much dance) and galleries. "The company was young and the work felt significant, and as a dancer, I felt less like a cog in a wheel." Almost two decades later, she and the company continue to thrive in this pocket of the Midwest.
Pursuing a career outside of a dance hub might seem like a risk. But being the only dance show in town can mean artistic freedom and even a more dedicated audience. However, the challenges include building that audience from the ground up.
There's an image that the Institute of Financial Wellness for the Arts likes to use during group presentations: a picture of someone with their head in the sand. The financial services company—launched by TheaterMania and OvationTix co-founder Darren Sussman and his brother Erik, a veteran of the financial services industry—finds that too many artists simply ignore their finances.
The Sussmans started IFWA to try to change that. Today, they offer free online resources and give group workshops catered specifically to artists—including one held tomorrow at The Washington Ballet that's open to any and all professional dancers.
Picture this: You're onstage about to perform, but you don't have any choreography prepared, and you have no idea what the music will be. For most dancers, this is their literal worst nightmare.
But for the 16 dancers at the Red Bull Dance Your Style U.S. finals in Las Vegas, NV, last weekend, that's exactly what happened.
Watch any performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and it's impossible to deny the level of passion onstage.
But offstage, just past the wings, there's another woman who's passionately at work, clad in black and wearing a headset: Kristin Colvin Young, the company's production stage manager.
After studying dance and sociology at Mount Holyoke College, she joined the company in 2000, as assistant stage manager, and has been an integral part of the Ailey family ever since. While Young's job involves the responsibilities that immediately come to mind when you think of stage management—like calling the lights and sound during shows—her role encompasses everything from prepping casting inserts for programs to finalizing rehearsal schedules to giving preshow audience announcements as the "Voice of God."
During a recent tour stop in Copenhagen, Denmark, Young documented what a typical performance day entails.
Even though it's been a year since he took his last bow in the piece, Kidd Pivot dancer Jermaine Maurice Spivey still feels the aftermath of touring in Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young's Betroffenheit. The harrowing piece chronicles Young's own journey through tragedy, with dancers embodying his grief, trauma, guilt, addiction, euphoria and glee. "We endured an emotional negotiation each night because of how much the show cost. It was a weird kind of dread, because you wanted to pay the full cost. Otherwise you couldn't do the show justice."
Dance psychologist JoAnne La Fleche says there's little research on the emotional fallout from challenging performances like Betroffenheit, but dancers with poor self-care may be at risk of developing secondhand trauma or PTSD-like symptoms. These can range from fatigue, anxiety and depression to flashbacks and panic episodes.
There's a big difference between one-size-fits-all outreach projects that exist to check a box on a grant application and work that has a lasting impact. As more dance companies incorporate engagement efforts into their seasons, they're finding that truly purposeful projects require careful consideration of the communities they serve.
You did it: You landed the job, a spot at the pre-professional school of your dreams or at the best-of-the-best university dance program. And that first year was hard, and exhilarating. But since then, the shiny new has worn off, and the patina of the everyday has left you in a rut.
The sophomore slump hits hard. Whether it is literally your sophomore year or you have just become a mainstay within your company or school, the funk can be difficult to shake. "The 'sophomore year' is really the test of your passion for dance," says Brian T. Goonan, a psychologist who works with dancers in Houston. But with the right mind-set, you can find your groove again.
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If you were asked to create a dance with a vacuum cleaner, what would you do? That's the task University of Michigan professor Amy Chavasse gave her college students during the creative process for her work, Swimming the English Channel. "One student did a raunchy, hilarious solo with the vacuum, and ended singing The Beatles' 'With a Little Help from My Friends,' " recalls Chavasse.
Though some dancers take to it immediately, for many, their first encounter with experimental work is awkward or even terrifying. An open mind can help dancers embrace the unfamiliar.
Even after weeks of character development in rehearsal and all the build-up to opening night, your work as a performer is not done until the final curtain falls. During the run—once you've fully embodied the choreography, experienced real-time onstage interactions and felt the energy of a live audience—is the perfect time to push your performance further.
The dance field isn't immune to the "gig economy" that's disrupting everything from buying groceries to getting a ride to the airport. "We're seeing more people identify as freelance dancers, and more people deciding not to start their own companies, because they've seen how that model works or, rather, doesn't work," says J. Bouey, dancer and founder of The Dance Union podcast. "Even major companies are hiring more often from project to project."
At the same time, the cost of living continues to skyrocket in dance capitals like Bouey's Brooklyn. So it's no surprise that artists feel anxious about making ends meet. But this can also be an opportunity to discard old ways of doing business. "We've made gains, at least in terms of people recognizing what their pay should be," says Lisa Davies, a former rehearsal director at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal who, five years ago, founded the organization Danse à la Carte, which supports Montreal artists. "I never had the level of comfort dancers have today in discussing payment with their employers, even in my full-time jobs."
New York City–based choreographer and director Jennifer Weber once worked on a project with a strict social media policy: " 'Hire no one with less than 10K, period'—and that was a few years ago," she says. "Ten thousand is a very small number now, especially on Instagram."
The commercial dance world is in a period of transition, where social media handles and follower counts are increasingly requested by casting directors, but rarely offered by dancers up front. "I can see it starting to show up on resumés, though, alongside a dancer's height and hair color," predicts Weber.
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
Becoming an artistic director can be a lot more complicated than it may seem. Dance Magazine spoke with three newly minted leaders, at the beginning and then again at the end of their first seasons as artistic directors of long-running ballet companies.
As graduation day looms, college seniors might find themselves reeling with both excitement and dread. "They have to navigate this tender moment where they're opening their wings and about to jump out of the dance department and wondering if the ground is going to catch them," says Courtney Harris, interim chair of the dance and choreography department at Virginia Commonwealth University. Today's job market is no cakewalk, but there are meaningful steps that students can take throughout college to make the transition easier.
I hate asking for money. I am tired of feeling like we, as dance practitioners, are constantly begging for every morsel of sustenance. We are often seen as the poor stepchildren of the arts, usually thought of as having nothing tangible to sell.
I have to admit, I've had a wonderful career. I've danced with The Royal Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet, done a stint on the West End in An American in Paris, played the Snow Cavalier in Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms with Misty Copeland, and will soon be performing as Older Billy in the Australian tour of Billy Elliot: The Musical.
How did I get in this position? Through the eight international ballet competitions I've entered.
If you want to travel the world performing and doing what you love, competitions are your ticket to finding the freedom to dance wherever you want to go.
It's no surprise that dancers make some of the best TED Talk presenters. Not only are they great performers, but they've got unique knowledge to share. And they can dance!
If you're in need of a midweek boost, look no further than these eight presentations from some incredibly inspiring dance artists.
I am a dancer in a successful West End show and a year ago I nearly quit.
My anxiety came suddenly and without warning. We were in the middle of a stressful cast change and tensions were high as everyone wanted to prove their value to the production.
I felt as though someone flipped a switch in my brain. I started to feel pressure about perfecting my performances and suddenly felt unworthy of being there. My mind became consumed with negative images about what I was doing wrong, or what could go wrong.
If you've been paying attention to famed "So You Think You Can Dance" judge and three-time Emmy award winning choreographer Mia Michaels lately, you've probably noticed a shift in her work. Recently, the projects she's taken on have been all about giving back.
Whether it's her book, "A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys," which teaches readers how to live a more creative and authentic life; socially-conscious concept videos like "ONLY WE KNOW," a requiem to victims of school shootings; or mentoring aspiring dancers at workshops for both movement and personal growth, Michaels has made helping others a bigger priority in her career than seeking her own success.
We all know dance careers are temporary. But this season, it feels like we're saying goodbye to more stars than usual.
Many have turned to social media to share their last curtain calls, thoughts on what it feels like to say farewell to performing, and insights into the ways that dancing has made them who they are. After years of dedicating your life to the studio and stage, the decision to stop dancing is always an emotional one. Each dancer handles it in their own way—whether that means cheekily admitting to having an existential crisis, or simply leaving with no regrets about what you did for love.
We will miss these dancers' performances, but can't wait to see what awaits each in their next chapters.
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."