Ask Amy: Supplementing an Unpaid Apprenticeship

Is it possible to balance an unpaid apprenticeship with a side job? I don't want to pass up a great opportunity, but I need to support myself. —Caroline

It is possible, as long as you choose the right type of job and maintain a very frugal lifestyle. You don’t want to pass up your apprenticeship, especially since offers don’t come every day. But a busy rehearsal schedule can make finding the time and energy for a side job tricky. If you accept the apprentice position, go in with both eyes open—expect to make some challenging financial sacrifices and live with family or several roommates to save on rent.

Because of your time constraints, look for a flexible job that allows you to make a decent amount of money in a short amount of time. One of the best options for dancers, of course, is teaching. In a city's metropolitan area, you can expect to be paid at least $20 an hour (often a lot more, depending on the region), and work at night and on the weekends. Private lessons, master classes and choreographing for competitions can also be a great way to earn extra cash. (Do not turn up your nose at jazz competition studios—they need ballet teachers and often pay very well.) Plus, it’s important to learn how to lead a class, as you’ll likely come across teaching opportunities throughout your dance career.

Many dancers opt to work in restaurants. Waitressing can be financially lucrative, especially since you have cash tips in hand at the end of the night. (I worked as a hostess and cocktail waitress at an upscale restaurant when I was an apprentice and early corps member.) And I know one dancer who used to work the early-morning shift at Starbucks (5 am–9 am), just in time to make morning class. Catering companies also hire wait staff for banquets and events at substantial hourly rates. Although restaurant work can pay well, it’s physically exhausting and quite stressful—it’s definitely not for everybody.

If you like kids, consider babysitting. Trust me, word of a good babysitter will spread fast, and you can develop a devoted clientele and consistent schedule in no time. And if you have a non-dance skill or a crafty side, try letting it work for you. I know one dancer who started her own custom leotard business; another colleague with a knack for drawing started up her own design company. She sold ballet-themed greeting cards, T-shirts and other products online and in local dance stores.

Young dancers often have to hustle with side jobs for a few years. You’ll feel overwhelmed and exhausted at times. Just remember that you’re working towards your long-term dance goal—you won’t have this type of schedule forever.

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The Joffrey Ballet's Amanda Assucena and Greig Matthews in Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre. Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

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Herman Cornejo in Don Quixote. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

American Ballet Theatre's fall season at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater offers a chance to see the company in shorter works and mixed-repertoire programs. This year's October 16–27 run honors principal Herman Cornejo, who's celebrating his 20th anniversary with the company. Cornejo will be featured in a special celebratory program as well as a new work by Twyla Tharp (her 17th for the company), set to Johannes Brahms' String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111. The October 26 program will include Cornejo in a pas de deux with his sister, former ABT dancer Erica Cornejo.

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Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

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