The CLI Conservatory Is the Perfect Launchpad for Dancers About to Start Their Careers
During the pandemic, Teddy Forance and Jon Arpino, founders of the popular online dance training platform CLI Studios, felt the time was right to fill a void in the dance industry. Forance, who grew up in the competitive dance world studying a range of styles, felt there was something missing in the education process for dancers who had a similar start, and that they needed a boost to begin professional careers. And so the idea for the CLI Conservatory was born.
“When I was graduating high school, I did not know where I wanted to go, and there was not a place where I could go train in a variety of styles without choosing either commercial or concert dance,” remembers Forance, who has performed with artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna, and choreographed for “So You Think You Can Dance” and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. As pandemic restrictions lifted and dancers resumed in-person classes, “We knew people were going to want to get serious about their training, so we started moving a lot of our CLI Studios team to Massachusetts to start the CLI Conservatory,” says Forance, who is the conservatory director. The goal was to create a program where dancers could continue to train in a variety of styles while homing in on their chosen career paths.
This fall, the Southampton, Massachusetts–based CLI Conservatory is heading into its third year of training the next generation of professional dancers with its 10-month professional training program for dancers 17 and up. With five days of classes every week taught by current leading teachers and choreographers in the industry, students at the CLI Conservatory have the opportunity to train with the best—in styles like contemporary, jazz, hip hop, ballet, heels, jazz funk, tap, dance on camera, and musical theater—and prepare for the next steps in their dance careers. “Careers are long, and we try to teach dancers that it might take five to 10 years to achieve their goals,” says Arpino, CEO of CLI Studios. “And so the most important thing we can do is provide them with the training, connections, and support that they need to launch and maintain a successful career.”
Creating a Cohort
When the CLI team is auditioning dancers, the number one thing they consider is whether auditionees really want to become professional dancers, but Arpino says the emphasis is on more than talent. “We do interviews with every student in an effort to really get to know them as part of the process,” he says. “Through these interviews we try to determine whether or not we can help them have the career they want.”
According to Forance, versatile, open-minded dancers who are ready to work hard catch their eyes, but they always look for dancers with a spark. “We want to see if we are moved by a dancer and see a unique quality the dance community appreciates,” he says. “We are looking for good people, too—humble dancers who want to help build a community and culture that makes everyone here feel supported.”
Forance and Arpino hope that the culture and energy created at the CLI Conservatory will continue to build through their alumni and change the face of the dance world, something year-one graduate Dabria Aguilar has experienced since completing the program. While there, she says, she formed incredible new relationships, which helped her build a strong support system. In fact, she met her current roommate in New York City at the CLI Conservatory. In Aguilar’s words, “CLI Conservatory feels like a family.” Now signed with Clear Talent Group, Aguilar recently performed in Troy Schumacher’s The Night Falls.
For Aguilar, one of the highlights of furthering her education with the CLI Conservatory was training with the top teachers and choreographers. “It was a dream come true to work with Lloyd Knight from Martha Graham, Tiler Peck, Brian Nicholson, Dana Wilson and The Seaweed Sisters, to name a few,” she says. One of her favorite moments from her time at CLI was working with Al Blackstone and Billy Griffin, who created and set an original musical on the students.
Forance says cultivating a collection of 75-plus choreographers and teachers at the top of their game—like Marty Kudelka, JBlaze, Talia Favia, Andrew Winghart, Robert Green, Kathryn McCormick, and Brian Friedman—is a huge part of what makes the conservatory successful. “Our goal when building the curriculum is to find people who are currently booking and hiring dancers in all aspects of the industry, so our dancers have the chance to meet them and network,” Forance says. Arpino adds that it is important that the CLI Conservatory dancers meet these choreographers before they encounter them at auditions. “Connections are a great way to get a leg up in any field, but especially in the arts,” Arpino says.
In addition to making connections with industry heavy hitters, the CLI Conservatory also connects dancers with agencies and show representatives. “We have all the main dance agencies come in, and our dancers get to audition for them: Go 2 Talent, Bloc, MSA, and Clear Talent, for instance,” Forance says. “We also bring in Cirque du Soleil, Royal Caribbean, Vegas shows, and in the coming season, we will have dance companies coming in to hold auditions too.” As a result of these auditions, Forance says CLI dancers have booked world tours with major recording artists, cruise ship contracts, a Bose commercial, and the Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody movie. They have also toured as assistants with dance conventions and worked at dance studios. In the first year of the program, 18 out of 37 dancers were signed to an agency, and over 90 percent of students were working in the industry within a few months of graduation.
Beyond the Barre
Outside of its rigorous dance training, the CLI Conservatory provides dancers with the tools they’ll need for career longevity. After a full day of technique classes from 9 am to 4 pm, dancers often have project rehearsals or training in other important skills. “The last part of our days were spent learning skills that can be overwhelming when you are thrown into the ‘adult’ world,” Aguilar says. “We had classes on finances, budgeting, and taxes, and we also had nutrition classes with Caroline Lewis-Jones and life-coaching—no day was exactly the same.”
According to Arpino, the CLI Conservatory has a start-up mentality. The staff strives to continuously listen to the students and the pulse of the dance industry, so they can adjust in real time. “We want dancers to leave here and feel like it has been an overwhelming value and that they are ready for the next path, because they could not have trained harder,” Arpino says. “But you cannot just train a dancer technically—it has to be holistic, because the jobs they are getting now are multifaceted, so we take that approach in preparing them for the future.”
In addition to providing classes in life skills that will help dancers move into the professional realm confidently, the CLI Conservatory utilizes a fully functioning production studio for the benefit of the students, too. “We do a lot of photo and video shoots throughout the year for each dancer, and we have personal branding sessions with each one,” says Arpino. “They leave with a full portfolio and assets to take to auditions.”
Forance believes that there is no other place like the CLI Conservatory, where dancers can train as intensively and in as many different styles while focusing on their career paths. Dancers can expect to truly find themselves as artists and confident individuals while discovering their paths to professionalism, and they can expect to leave with the connections they need to make it happen.
Additionally, because the CLI Conservatory prioritizes forging strong, lasting connections to bolster dancers throughout their careers, graduates will always have conservatory resources and support available to them when they need it. “If you want to come to a place and set your dancing on fire,” says Forance, “the CLI Conservatory is the space for you.”
Interested in auditioning for the CLI Conservatory? Get started by submitting your audition materials online today.