It's the middle of the suburbs in a drafty high school auditorium. My back is killing me from the rock-hard floors. But as my partner and I make our entrance for Nutcracker's grand pas, a swarm of hushed children fill the wings, straining their necks to watch. It feels strange, but humbling. Afterwards, they'll ask for my autograph and picture, and want to know what it's like to be a “ballerina."

Serving as an inspiration for young dancers is one of the greatest rewards of guesting in Nutcracker. These gigs can also provide a valuable chance to perform a principal role. But there's another major benefit: It can be a financial boon in a career rife with economic insecurity. Case in point: Last year, I danced 16 performances of the Sugar Plum Fairy and was able to supplement my income significantly during a lengthy summer off-season.

But before the curtain comes up on the Land of Sweets, dancers need to develop some serious business savvy. Finding gigs, negotiating contracts and taking charge of your own rehearsals requires negotiation and networking skills that don't always come naturally. But when approached shrewdly as a business opportunity, Sugar Plum guestings can act as a profitable—and often necessary—boost to your bank account.

Getting the Gig


Directors generally lock in guest artists sometime between late spring and late summer. Finding those gigs takes some hustling. “We don't advertise auditions," says Diane Mosier, artistic director of the Central California Ballet's Nutcracker in Fresno. She prefers to hire new guest artists every year to keep the production fresh, and reaches out to potential Sugar Plums each spring (although sometimes dancers contact her first). “The dance community in the Bay Area is pretty small," she says. “Everybody knows everybody. It's just a matter of finding out who's available." Jennifer Goodman, a Chicago-based freelance dancer and former Joffrey Ballet member, agrees. “All of my Nutcracker guestings have been through word of mouth," she says.

Spread the word that you're looking for Nutcrackers among your colleagues (social media comes in handy here), and contact potential partners. Reach out to local studios and community productions, as well as any connections you have back home. I danced for my old studio, Dancenter North in Libertyville, Illinois, for six years, and acquired two other gigs through former teachers.

Jennifer Goodman with Calvin Kitten. Photo by Herbert Migdoll.


Organizing Your Schedule and Finding a Partner

Coordinating a guesting schedule can get a little hairy, especially if your full-time company has its own production. Before she commits, Cincinnati Ballet principal Janessa Touchet first clears possible gigs with her director, who allows her to miss weekend shows during CB's own Nutcracker run.

While not always possible, it's easiest to have a regular partner. By performing with fellow CB principal Cervilio Miguel Amador, Touchet is able to dance Cincinnati Ballet's version of the pas de deux wherever the pair goes. "That way we can rehearse here and be performance-ready," she says. Sometimes, however, you need to switch out partners between guestings, which requires extra rehearsals. If a director chooses your partner for you, try to meet beforehand to ensure he's a compatible height and has good partnering skills. If he's not—and you're unable to change partners—you may need to alter the choreography.


Amy Brandt. Photo by Rich Murset, Courtesy St. George Ballet Company.


Setting Your Fee
Contract negotiations often force dancers out of their comfort zone. We're trained as artists, not businesswomen. But it's imperative to communicate financial terms and conditions up-front to protect yourself and avoid misunderstandings. Some directors offer a flat fee, ranging anywhere from $500 to $1,500 per performance (sometimes higher depending on your background and your company's reputation, although $750 to $1,000 is typically the average). Other directors will ask how much you charge—and as squeamish as you may feel about putting a price on your head, try not to sell yourself short. An old negotiating rule of thumb is to first request above what you'd like. Consider your budgetary needs, the travel required and your experience level. (See sidebar.) Touchet, an established principal dancer, requests a higher fee, but will negotiate lower if necessary. Also, pre-determine what you consider deal-breakers. For instance, Goodman will turn down a Nutcracker if she's required to rehearse on location prior to production week. Touchet won't do a production unless she would make more than at Cincinnati Ballet. Don't be afraid to ask for a higher fee if the initial offer isn't enough.

The Rehearsal Process
Touchet dances Sugar Plum for Cincinnati Ballet and already has rehearsals scheduled into her workday, but those who don't must find time to rehearse during breaks. If you don't have free access to a studio, you'll need to rent space, which typically costs $10 an hour in major cities. If your partner lives in a different city, plan to meet up for a rehearsal period a week or two prior to the show.

Most community productions use recorded music. Request a copy so that you can rehearse to the proper tempos, and don't be afraid to ask the director to adjust them if they seem unreasonable. The Sugar Plum and Cavalier usually make appearances during the opening and finale of Act II, so studying a DVD of the production in advance can help expedite stage rehearsals later on.


What Directors Expect
Directors depend on you to arrive rehearsed and in shape. “I insist that the couple is prepared," says Mosier. “They can't come here and wiggle around." One bonus of guesting is that you can tweak the choreography to suit your strengths. But don't perform an abbreviated version without consulting directors first.

Signing autographs, posing for pictures or complimenting young dancers' performances can make a huge impact on the students you're dancing with. But they can inspire you as well. For them, Nutcracker is the biggest event in their year, and their raw enthusiasm can recharge your own love for dance. “You can't help but feel good," says Goodman. “They remind you of why you do this."


The Fine Print
Make sure you understand what your contract includes before agreeing on a fee.
-Are you required to travel? Make sure flights and lodging are included—this should be non-negotiable. They may house you with a host family instead of in a hotel to save money, so figure out whether you're comfortable with that.
-Inquire about costumes. Many productions provide their own, but if they don't, you may have to find a tutu. Ask your company's wardrobe supervisor if you can use an old tutu from the costume room or check with colleagues and retired dancers to find out if they have a tutu you could borrow. If you have to rent one from another company, ask whether the production will cover the cost.
-Your time is valuable; if you're required to rehearse on location for an extended period, make sure you receive some sort of compensation.
-Not all productions can afford to offer benefits such as per diem, rental cars and pointe shoes. However, they could be used as bargaining tools if your fee seems low.
- Keep in mind how many performances you'll have over how many days. A performance fee could add up quickly if you have five shows a weekend—but one matinee might not be worth it.

Trending
Andrew Peasgood and Constance Devernay in "The Fairy's Kiss." Photo by Andy Ross, courtesy Scottish Ballet.

From now through January 15, Pointe is streaming Scottish Ballet in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Le Baiser de la Fée (The Fairy's Kiss). This one-act ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Ice Maiden," was choreographed for The Royal Ballet in 1960. For more on the ballet's history and for behind-the-scenes footage, click here.

Synopsis

The Lullaby in the Storm
A mother with her child struggles through the storm. The Fairy with her attendants appears and pursues her. The Fairy separates the mother from her child. Passing villagers find the body of the mother, now dead, and guided by the Fairy, they find the child. The Fairy kisses him on the forehead. The villagers become frightened and taking the child with them, they run away.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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popular
via YouTube

It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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Your Career
Photo Courtesy Barry Kerollis.

I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.

"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

Keep reading at dance-teacher.com.

Your Career
Erica Lall and Shaakir Muhammad in class at American Ballet Theatre's 2013 New York Summer Intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Pointe.

When Pacific Northwest Ballet School student Madison Abeo was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School's summer session on a partial scholarship, she was thrilled. But then she added up the remaining cost for the program and realized she didn't have the funds. “I really wanted to go," she says, “but we just couldn't make the other half of it work."

Ballet training is expensive. For many families, a trip to a dream summer intensive simply isn't in the budget. SFB was $2,500 out of Abeo's reach. But she was determined. At the suggestion of her aunt, Abeo created a Facebook fan page where she asked for opportunities to babysit or perform odd jobs, and included a link to a PayPal account where friends and family could make donations. Two local dancewear businesses, Vala Dancewear and Class Act Tutu, offered to outfit her for fundraising photos, which a photographer took for her Facebook page for free. By June, Abeo had raised enough for tuition—plus plenty of pointe shoes.

Affording your dream intensive isn't as difficult as you might think. There are a surprising number of eager dance supporters out there. Case in point: On Kickstarter, dance projects have the highest success rate of any type of campaign, with dancers receiving over $4 million in donations through the site since it began. You can also apply for need- or merit-based grants and scholarships, either through your summer program or an outside foundation. Most dancers who want it badly enough can make it happen.


Madison Abeo with other Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the 2013 School Performance of an excerpt from "Serenade," choreography by George Balanchine. Photo by Rex Tranter, Courtesy Abeo.

Take Your Cause to the (Online) Streets

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Your Career
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.

DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally

An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."

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