Making It Work
It’s no secret that a career as a modern dancer doesn’t typically pay the bills. With fewer companies offering full-time contracts, many dancers are working as freelance artists—meaning, they’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. Despite this, dance programs at universities continue to grow. More young dancers seek to further their training, in the hopes of going pro.
That’s why Sarah Austin’s post for Dance/USA caught me, and many other dancers, a little off guard. It went viral almost immediately; dance students and professionals circulated it on social media. The post elicited responses from Tere O’Connor, Roz LeBlanc and Jennifer Edwards, who questioned Austin’s ideas. In my opinion, it's almost as if Austin thought she was unveiling some sort of well-kept secret—that modern dance isn’t financially lucrative. She goes on to liken American modern dance to a pyramid scheme, arguing that university dance programs imply the promise of profit or a job post-graduation. Young dancers, then, are baited into paying tuition to programs that don’t really have a payoff.
I’m one of those young dancers. And as my graduation approaches, I actually feel prepared. Though I appreciated that Austin was willing to start a discussion about the nature of arts programs in university settings, I can’t really say that I could agree with her on all fronts. Perhaps this sounds naïve, but I feel that my professors and advisers were able to train me in an honest way—technically and artistically—and, most importantly, about the reality of life as a working dancer.
In her response to Austin’s post, LeBlanc, assistant professor of dance at Loyola Marymount University, argues, “dance defies thinking about money." I truly believe in that idea. I’m not interested in being a dancer for the financial stability. That’s not why I attended a college dance program, either. To me, the payoff reaches far beyond my bank account. Within the Tisch Dance program at NYU, I have been able to gain more technical knowledge of my craft, both inside and outside the studio. I have been able to freely explore and refine my own movement in a safe and constructive space. I have been pushed past my limits, both physically and artistically. I have been challenged and cultivated as an artist, and I’ve been granted opportunities I wouldn’t have encountered on my own. Yes, the tuition bills are high, and of course, I have student loans. It’s important to be realistic—I’ll need that second (and maybe third) job. But at the end of the day, I’m able to pursue my passions. One way or another, I’ll make it work.
We're not starry-eyed here at Dance Magazine. Whether you're figuring out how to survive on a starting salary, when to dance for free, or worried about waiting for that big break, we've got you covered.
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.)
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:
It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."
Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"
"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.