Finance Your Fouettes, Pay for Your Passes
Like most college seniors, Carolyn Steeves has one foot firmly planted in the business of graduating (counting credits, honing her technique) and the other somewhat gingerly feeling its way out into the real world (exploring job possibilities and cities to move to). But due to the economic crisis, the 21-year-old Cornish College of the Arts dance major is not sure exactly how she’ll be able to pay for her final year.
“I have an internal turmoil every time I take class,” she says. “You have to dance every day if you want to be the best you can. But it’s hard to know if I’m going to be back here next year. Am I not going to be able to finish my degree because of this economy? Is it all going to be for nothing?”
Carolyn’s family has struggled to stay afloat during the recession—her father’s hours at an auto-body shop have been cut, and her parents have lost a big chunk of their retirement fund, all of which has cast a burden on Carolyn. She works almost 30 hours a week at a Seattle coffee shop in order to pay the rent, and 6 to 10 hours as an administrative assistant for the Cornish Preparatory Dance Program. Though she has secured a dance department scholarship for 2009–2010, it will cover only 10 percent of her tuition, leaving her and her family close to $60,000 in debt by the time she graduates. “I’m extremely scared that I won’t be able to take out as many loans as I need to graduate. Loans loom over my head every day when I wake up.”
Carolyn is not the only dancer laboring long hours to pay for her education during this economic downturn. DM spoke with college and high school scholarship students from University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, and the Boston Ballet School who are staying in school by taking out loans and working multiple jobs in administrative offices, dance studios, clothing stores, and restaurants—and often by making sacrifices as a family.
Last April The New York Times reported that while most schools are not decreasing their financial aid budgets, more students—even those who didn’t request assistance when applying—are vying for aid, meaning there is less to go around. Some schools, like the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, anticipated that fewer students would be able to attend, and as a result accepted more dancers for the incoming class in order to meet class sizes.
That said, many universities are committed to retaining their students in need. “Because dancers spend so much time rehearsing and performing, they have less time available for traditional work placement, which puts a lot of pressure on their ability to save for an education, both during high school and college,” explains Chris Pesotski, director of financial aid at University of the Arts. Knowing that the economy was getting worse, UArts set aside an appeal fund specifically geared towards retaining students. (The school has already gone through $360,000 and has budgeted in the same amount for 2009–2010. Ailey has a similar fund.)
Additionally, dancers are working harder than ever outside the studio, clocking in between 10 and 30 hours a week in dance department and financial aid offices, in cafés and clothing stores. At UArts, Pesotski has seen a 10 percent increase in student hours worked per week—and he’s seeing more students seeking summer employment.
Recent grad Makeda McGill, 21, got through UArts by working four jobs her senior year as a work-study student. With six younger siblings, the modern dance major had to be self-sufficient. So on top of receiving several grants and scholarships (which paid for most of her tuition) and a small subsidized loan, Makeda worked four part-time jobs. She was an administrative assistant in the dance department and student financial services offices; a dance tutor for underclassmen; a mentor to incoming freshmen; and a sales girl at an Ann Taylor clothing shop on the weekends.
“With the economy going down, I’m a little more nervous about paying back my loans, because there are less job openings,” Makeda admits. Nonetheless, her plan is to continue dancing with choreographer Zane Booker and working at Ann Taylor. And she’ll take dance class at UArts for free. “It’s a great alumni benefit,” she says. “I don’t have to worry about paying for class.”
Many students are making it through the crisis by making sacrifices as a family. “My mom jokes that she hasn’t bought new mascara for herself in forever because of me,” says Brittany Rogers, 17, a student at Boston Ballet School. While 20 percent of Brittany’s room and board is covered by scholarship, she takes care of her subway passes, groceries, and pointe shoes by working as a teaching assistant at Citydance, Boston Ballet’s educational outreach program. “When I got the job,” she says, “I called my mom and cried hysterically because it was going to help so much.”
Brittany has also learned to forgo a latte at Starbucks in favor of the bigger picture—with her mom’s help: “My mom logs on to my bank account to see how I’m doing and what I can cut back on,” she says.
Willie Smith III, 22, a recent UArts work-study ballet graduate who dreams of dancing with Complexions or Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, has also learned to budget and save. “Whenever I need groceries, I always make a list and look at coupons,” he says. Willie received the National High School Dance Scholarship, which covered 10 percent of his tuition for four years (after UArts matched the scholarship). He also worked in the dance department office and as a host at an Italian restaurant, before getting hired by Eleone Dance Theatre (where he gets paid for performances). But with his sister in a pre-med program, and his father in and out of the hospital after suffering a stroke, Willie has taken on more responsibility since the economic crisis hit. Now he pays for his leotards, tights, shoes, and travel to auditions.
But more than learning to budget and stand on his own two feet, Willie has learned to never take no for an answer. When he realized that he needed more money his freshman year, he approached his department head, who told him that scholarships were only for upperclassmen. Instead of giving up—or dropping out—he walked over to the financial aid office and applied for the NHSDS, which he got. “The more you put yourself out there,” he says, “the more people will see how eager you are to get the money.”
Despite ongoing fears about how she’ll pay down her debt, Carolyn—a self-declared “workaholic”—is determined to figure out a way to finish her degree. “At the end of the day, I still have arms, legs, and a head, and I can still dance,” she says. “I’m going to school and it’s grueling, but I have to remind myself: This is what I’ve loved since I was 3 years old. It hasn’t changed for the last 18 years, and it’s probably not going to.”
Abigail Rasminsky, a former editor at Dance Spirit, has written for Dance Magazine, The New York Times, Nextbook.org, and Fit Yoga.
Illustration by Diane Bigda
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.