Make sure you're comfortable slipping into pointe shoes for center. Photo by Jim Lafferty.

I was offered a company contract (my first!) starting this fall. What should I do in the meantime to make sure I'm as prepared as possible? —Melissa

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Ballet Careers
Michelle Thompson Ulerich. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood, Courtesy Avant Chamber Ballet.

Founded in 2012, Dallas-based Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has made a name for itself by presenting works by Christopher Wheeldon, George Balanchine and other major choreographers. Yet its Women's Choreography Project, now in its fourth year, makes ACB a company to watch in Texas and beyond. The Project's capstone is the annual choreography contest; the winner receives a stipend and the chance to set a new work on ACB's outstanding 18-member troupe. Nurturing the careers of women dancemakers is a central part of the company's mission. "As an independent choreographer, I found it almost impossible to get a professional commission," says ACB founder and artistic director Katie Cooper. "One of the reasons I started ACB was to make my own opportunities for creating new works."

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Ballet Careers
Thompson was one of 23 American National Ballet dancers let go last fall. Photo by Giovanni Pizzino, Courtesy Thompson.

"All I want to do is dance," says Kimberly Thompson, 24. But because of her muscular physique, Thompson says, she struggled to find a company job. American National Ballet seemed like a dream come true: Founded in Charleston, South Carolina, in early 2017, the ambitious startup proclaimed itself as a home for dancers of diverse body types and ethnicities.

Thompson landed a corps contract with ANB and relocated from Maryland to Charleston. "September 18, 2017, was our first day," she recalls. On October 23, Thompson was one of 23 dancers (out of nearly 50) let go. And while the reasons for ANB's dramatic rise and fall have not been made fully public, the fallout for those artists is very real.

ANB, which officially dissolved a few months later, is only the most recent example of a company that's come and gone, leaving dancers in the lurch. Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet shuttered in 2015, Silicon Valley Ballet closed mid-season in 2016, and Ballet Pacifica folded in 2007—after 42 years.

With ballet jobs scarce, getting an offer—any offer—can feel like the chance of a lifetime. But whether you're joining a startup like ANB or an established company, there is a lot to consider before you sign your contract and red flags to watch out for after you start work. Read on for advice from artists and executives with hard-won experience.

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Ballet Careers
Emma Love Suddarth and Price Suddarth rehearse Alejandro Cerrudo's "Little mortal jump." Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

Romantic couples within the dance world are fairly common; it's not surprising that a dancer might find a deeper connection with another who appreciates ballet's unique triumphs and trials (not to mention someone else who doesn't mind eating dinner at 11:00pm, with both feet submerged in a bucket of ice). But when it comes to dancing together? Some love it, some hate it. Being able to communicate frankly with your partner, as you could with your spouse, can either smooth out or derail a rehearsal. But, with that, also comes the fact that there is no one else you want to succeed more, and vice versa.

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Ballet Careers
A cast of courtiers watch former PNB principal Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite in "Don Quixote." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Everyone has to start somewhere. It's a mantra you may repeat to yourself time and time again when you see your name next to less-than-desirable roles on the cast list. Perhaps it's the townsperson, the courtier or the garland girl—that character that makes you feel more like part of the scenery than part of the company. Some dancers seem to leapfrog over or power through this initiation stage, getting cast in featured roles during their first professional season. But the majority of us have to come to terms with standing by the backdrop for a few years, mime-clapping for the soloists at the front.

No matter what stage you are at in your career, you've likely dealt with the frustration of being cast in small dance-sparse roles. But these three dancers show that remaining positive in the face of disappointing casting pays off, both for your peace of mind and your future opportunities.

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News
Misty Copeland photographed by Jayme Thornton.

Nobody has a "perfect" performance every time they go onstage—not even the dancers at American Ballet Theatre. Despite knowing this, we tend to beat ourselves up enough over the tiniest of slip ups without having someone else pointing out our errors, too.

But imagine if your mistake was posted on YouTube for the whole world to see. That's exactly what happened to ABT principal Misty Copeland when a less-than-flattering clip of her performing the infamous fouetté turns in Swan Lake was shared on YouTube. Rather than report the video as offensive and pretend it never happened (like we would have done), Copeland wrote a compelling response on Instagram, linking to the video herself.


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Ballet Careers
Haskins in Michael Smuin's "The Christmas Ballet." Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Day in and day out, dancers expect their bodies to perform at the highest level of athletic and artistic achievement. However, some develop chronic medical conditions that prevent them from doing their best consistently. Still, many learn to manage their symptoms while dancing professionally. Pointe spoke with four dancers who haven't let medical problems stop them.


Holloway and Nicholas Rose in Glen Tetley's "Dialogues." Photo by Nan Melville, Courtesy DTH.

Alicia Holloway

At 13, Alicia Holloway almost quit dancing. Her asthma was so bad that she struggled for every breath during rehearsals. However, today the Dance Theatre of Harlem artist maintains a professional rehearsal and performance schedule.

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Audition Advice
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

"I like athletic classical dancers, with very strong footwork and articulation," Lorentzen says. "But it's also about the feeling I get from them, who I think can adapt to the Norwegian way."

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