Everything You Need to Know About Assisting At Conventions As A College Student
Adding another commitment to your already busy schedule may be the last thing you want to do as a college student. But assisting at dance conventions can offer valuable experiences you won't find in a classroom. Convention assistants help students pick up choreography and rub shoulders with industry influencers. For some, it's the perfect addition to their college experience—but balancing the demands of both isn't easy.
Why Should You Assist?
Through assisting, Alyssa Ness tried new styles she wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. Photo courtesy Evolve Photo & Video
Network. Dancing alongside world-renowned faculty gives you the chance to show off your talent and prove you're a reliable professional, and could help you make the connections you need to score your dream job after college.
Be well-rounded. New York City Dance Alliance assistant and Marymount Manhattan College alumna Alyssa Ness says assisting has exposed her to new styles and choreographers: While her college program focused on ballet and modern, at NYCDA she has assisted with everything from hip hop to musical theater.
Get real-world experience. For BellaMoxi faculty assistant and Institute for American Musical Theatre student Eliah Furlong, assisting prepared him for the realities of a professional dance career—from the late-night rehearsals to the early-morning warm-ups.
How to Become An Assistant
Lauren Settembrino assisted at Dancers Inc. while she was an NYU student. Courtesy EAP Photography and Video
The road to assisting is different for each convention. At NYCDA, positions are given to dancers who win a specific title, like National Outstanding Dancer. For others, you'll need to submit an application with your resumé, headshot and videos of dance solos.
What You Can Expect
Jordan Koch says it's normal for your first convention as an assistant to leave you drained. Photo by Mitch Button and Beau Austin, courtesy Koch
If you've attended a convention before, you know that it can be a whirlwind. As an assistant you should expect the weekend to be even more fast-paced, says BellaMoxi faculty assistant and Institute for American Musical Theatre student Jordan Koch. Responsibilities can range from demonstrating in class and rehearsing for performances to helping with administrative jobs like registration.
You may have to miss a college class or two for travel, so make sure you know your school's absence policy, and communicate with your professors to catch up on material you may have missed. While some schools have preexisting partnerships with conventions (like Marymount Manhattan College does with NYCDA), it's best to sit down with your program's director to see if taking on an assistant position is feasible.
The Do's & Don'ts
Don't try to go full-out for every class you're assisting for, says Lauren Settembrino. Courtesy EAP Photography and Video
Do: Put school first. Katie Langan, dance department chair at Marymount Manhattan College, says convention assistants should make college their priority. "Your goal is to get through four years of education, and if the other job becomes too cumbersome, know enough to step back," she says.
Don't: Try to go to every city. While some conventions may require you to go to a minimum number of cities, it's not in your best interest to assist at all of them. This kind of schedule isn't sustainable and could put dancers at risk for injury, Langan says.
Do: Plan ahead. "Don't forget that your midterms and finals and papers are important," says former Dancers Inc. assistant and New York University Tisch School of the Arts alumna Lauren Settembrino. When you're deciding which conventions to attend, take into account assignments and exams, not just performances.
Don't: Waste your energy. Settembrino says that giving 100 percent for every combination in every class can lead to burnout. Be strategic about when you need to go full-out.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.