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.
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?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.