For most dancers, the hope is that their dance skills are enough to get them a job in a company, on a tour or in somewhere in the industry. We all want to think that we are a great dancer and any choreographer would want to work with us. However the reality is just that…reality.
The well-known reality of the dance world is that very few reach the upper echelon of the dance world. And if you do reach those heights, there is still no guarantee of work. Then, there are an infinite number of dancers vying for some jobs just below the pinnacle of top company contracts. Let’s face it… it is hard to get a paid dance gig. The question becomes: How do you set yourself apart from all of those other really good dancers? That separation may not come in distinctions in dance technique, but rather in other unexpected avenues.
I urge young dancers to pay attention to the crafts and businesses surrounding dance. Things like costume design, lighting design, stage management, non-profit management, make-up design, music editing, etc.
While I wish I could sprinkle fairy dust and say that if you are well versed in these dance-related disciplines, that you will get a dance job in your favorite company. This too is just not true. However, it is a question of marketability and versatility. The more you know, the more marketable you are and maybe, you can get a foot in the door somewhere with skills that are not necessarily based on your dance technique.
I spent a lot of time in college on things like stage management, lighting design, costume design, etc. I would have to say… that it paid off for me. When I was traveling through Seattle, I auditioned for a local company. While my audition went well, I was not the right dancer for that particular company. Much to my surprise, the artistic director asked me if I knew anything about stage management. Fortunately, I did, having staged managed many shows while in college. He offered me free dance classes if I would be the Assistant Stage Manager for their upcoming show.
While this was not a dance contract, free dance classes are worth their weight in gold. While I was taking those free dance classes, the artistic director told me of an audition that he thought I would be good for. So I went to that audition and got a contract with that dance company.
While dancing with that local Seattle dance company, I continued helping (and getting paid) in the “non dance” disciplines, working in the office, backstage and in the box office during shows. Maintaining this relationship (which really had nothing to do with my dance technique) allowed me to continue taking dance classes for free, earn some extra money and ultimately resulted in 2 more paid dance contracts here in Seattle.
This obviously will not be everyone’s experience. But, I do credit my marketability and versatility in skills unrelated to dance as helping me achieve paid work as a dancer. And even if I had not gotten those paid dance contracts, I would have at least been around and working in the dance world, even if only tangentially.
Sometimes all you need is a foot in a door. That foot may not have a dance shoe on it, but once the door is open you may have more opportunities than you think.
Karla L. Koon