Yes, You Can Make it as a Dancer in a New City—Even in a Pandemic

March 18, 2021

When Emmanuel Malette graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2016, he was eager to move to a bigger city and pursue a career as a dancer. He decided on Atlanta, spent two years finding his financial footing and then a third year saving up the money he needed to relocate.

But once Malette arrived there in 2019, he struggled to find community and felt stifled by the need to earn enough income to afford to take class. It wasn’t until nearly a year after his move—including two months spent back at home with his family in North Carolina, at the pandemic’s height—that he truly felt like he’d settled in.

Relocating to any city, whether postgraduation or mid-career, is a daunting task. Throw in a pandemic, and suddenly the idea of moving somewhere new feels like an Olympic trial. But there are ways to mitigate the growing pains that accom­pany a relocation.

The Internet Is Your Friend

First, check to see if your future city has a dance service organization, recommends Debra Cash, executive director of Boston Dance Alliance. “That will be an aggregator of information—a one-stop shop,” she says. Take an online deep dive and familiarize yourself with the leading artists in your new community.

Social media has its merits as a networking tool, too. “Facebook groups are a great way to reach people who aren’t in your immediate network,” says Andréa Spearman, program assistant for Dancers’ Group, a service organization in San Francisco. Cash agrees: “At the very least, those groups will give you an overview of what might be going on in that community.”

Getting on email lists will also help keep you in the know. Spearman suggests subscribing to newsletters from dance venues in your area.

Put Yourself Out There

Find your way to any live performances going on right now. “Ask yourself, ‘Are there people on this stage I want to work with?’ ” says Cash. If you don’t have the funds to pay for tickets, volunteering as an usher often lets you see the show for free, and it’s another way to network and socialize, says Spearman.

Keep an eye out for audition opportunities that gather multiple dancemakers at once. For instance, most years, Boston Dance Alliance has an open call in the fall, says Cash: “We offer master classes, and about 30 choreographers come watch to identify dancers they’re interested in, whether for gig work like Nutcracker or to be in their companies.” Other cities have similar opportunities.

Money Matters

Research the cost of living so you have an accurate idea of how much income you’ll need to get by. “Something people might not realize is how expensive it is to live in San Francisco,” says Katie Taylor, associate director of Dancers’ Group.

Before his move to Atlanta, Malette started offering private lessons and taught at three other studios in addition to his regular gig at a pre-professional ballet school. “You want to have three months of rent saved up, at least, plus class money, so you can go out and be seen,” he says. He looked for jobs in Atlanta that offered him flexibility, eventually becoming a substitute teacher. When the pandemic hit, he turned to working for Instacart and DoorDash.

Make Class a Priority

“In pre-pandemic times, showing up to the classes of people you’re interested in working with was an old-timey but effective way of meeting people,” says Taylor. It’s also a way to meet other dancers, says Cash, who suggests sampling several studios.

If you’re currently restricted to taking classes virtually, you can still network. Keep your video on after class to see if you can exchange a few words with the teacher, or send them an email afterward, saying how much you enjoyed class. There’s also often the option to splurge for private or small-group in-person classes, says Cash.

Talk to People

Never underestimate the power of word of mouth: Get in touch with your former professors and peers who have experience in your chosen city and ask what they recommend you check out.

“I always come back to the idea of six degrees of separation,” says Shellie Jew, an administrative assistant for Dancers’ Group. “If you reach into the depths of your social network—your summer roommate from six years ago, say—they might know someone you could talk to.”

Be Kind to Yourself

“The first 10 months in Atlanta, I felt asleep,” says Malette. “I was second-guessing myself and feeling pressure to make things happen really quickly.” His extended trip home reminded him how much he’d put into his move and renewed his commitment to making

it work in Atlanta. “You have to realize you’re not doing any of this for anybody else,” he says.

Remember that your path to settling into your new city may not be what you initially expect. “What you find out at the beginning of your search may not ultimately be where you end up,” says Cash. “Your needs are going to change.”