Ballet Careers

The Teaching Side Hustle: How to Get Gigs and Feel More Comfortable at the Front of the Studio

Allison DeBona teaching class at her artÉmotion summer intensive at Ballet West. Photo by Joshua Whitehead, Courtesy Ballet West.


After Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona appeared on The CW's "Breaking Pointe," studio directors nationwide started calling her up, inviting her to teach master classes. Soon DeBona was traveling every month out of the year, honing her passion for coaching the next generation of artists.

While jet setting may not be in your future, regular teaching gigs are a great way to boost your resumé—and your income. Whether you're looking for layoff-season work or want to branch into coaching and choreography, dipping your toe in the teaching world is a smart way to start.


Ballet West principal Rex Tilton works with students at artÉmotion. Photo by Joshua Whitehead, Courtesy Ballet West.

Getting Started

Few of us have a small-screen platform like DeBona, but you likely already have a network in place. Key contacts might be a teacher friend in need of a sub, the studio owner in your hometown or even your company's academy director.

Whoever it is, you won't get gigs without expressing interest. Nashville Ballet's Mollie Sansone built her studio clientele by good old-fashioned cold calling. "I looked up all the dance studios in Nashville, wrote the numbers down and called around," she says. If directors aren't looking to hire, offer to put your name on a substitutes list. This can help you play the long game for future staff openings, and you might even prefer the flexible, ad-hoc work.


Be sure to leverage social media, too. DeBona turned her on-screen popularity into real-world opportunity by being accessible and open to online invitations. She now leads her own summer intensive, artÉmotion, during layoffs and publishes videos of the creative workshops on social media.

Sansone maintains her teaching presence with simple Facebook posts explaining "these are my credentials, this is what I do, this what I charge." Here, you can slip in some target marketing. Offer pointe workshops, jazz or improvisation classes if they're in your skill set, even private lessons. Sansone teaches both pre-professional ballet students at the School of Nashville Ballet and competition dancers at local studios. She acts as a coach, adding ballet's finesse to their competition solos, duets and trios—a service parents are willing to pay for.

It might seem intimidating to speak in front of a roomful of expectant faces if you've never taught a class before. American Ballet Theatre soloist Craig Salstein, who started leading ABT company class while he was still a corps member, says that teaching can be learned even if you're not a naturally outspoken leader. "You're not going to tell someone how to do 135 pirouettes. Start with demi-pliés." Sansone agrees that it's not always about being some austere authority figure: "I'm goofy. I make fun of myself. If you get rid of the stoic persona, it's so much easier."


Mollie Sansone in Nashville Ballet's "Nutcracker." Photo by Karyn Photography, Courtesy Nashville Ballet.

Back to Basics

You may or may not find it useful to plan out each class combination. DeBona has an idea of what steps she will give but reevaluates during class when needed. "I want to address problems that are happening in the room rather than be married to a particular combination that I made up in my shower."

If you have trouble coming up with combinations on the spot, try using a ballet class CD as a planning tool. Track names often suggest combinations that go with a certain style and meter (for example, "Waltz, 3/4, Pirouettes"). When creating combinations, start with steps that couple well together: piqué to failli, tombé to pas de bourrée, relevé prep to pirouette. Layer in challenges with repetition or double turns, or simplify by breaking down each couplet before linking them together.

Even for advanced dancers, you don't need wildly inventive combinations. "Between ages 12 and 20 bodies are still growing," Salstein says. "If you give something that's too fast or complicated, that will frustrate students." All levels can benefit from simplicity. Adult beginners are still learning the terminology, and Salstein says that even professionals would rather hone the fundamentals during class than worry about what comes next.


Craig Salstein in American Ballet Theatre's performance of "Romeo and Juliet." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

Pace Yourself

For Salstein, time management is also crucial. "A teacher can't say, 'I'm sorry we didn't get to big jumps.' " If you're having trouble fitting it all in, he says, cut out the talking. Corrections can be simple: "I just remind people that it's better to be lifted than dropped, better to have use of the upper body."

That being said, Salstein would advise against nitpicking. Of course, technique is important both for aesthetic reasons and for the safety and health of your students' bodies. But when you spend too much time harping on precisely placed tombé to pas de bourrées, he says, you'll never get to glissade saut de chat. Doing so trains dancers to be uptight rather than physically in charge of their bodies and space.

When in doubt, err on the side of slow and simple, and give a class that you'd enjoy. Choose elements you like from your own teachers, and pass along what makes you show up in the studio every day. "Ballet can be fun, it can have movement," says Salstein. "Make them fall in love with taking class."


Additional Tips

  • Since supplemental income is likely a motivator for your teaching gigs, don't be afraid to talk about money. Nashville Ballet dancer Mollie Sansone averages between $30 and $40 per hour and negotiates higher for private lessons.
  • If possible, watch a group of dancers for style and skill level before teaching them. If you can't observe a class first, ask what to expect.
  • l Be mindful about taking on too much. Make sure you have nights off, and remember your priorities. Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona took a step back when she (and others) noticed that she sometimes came to work distracted or exhausted. Now she remembers, "I'm a dancer first."
Show Comments ()
Trending
Rachel Hutsell Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.

This is Pointe's June/July 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

"I'm very cautious by nature," Rachel Hutsell says over herbal tea at Lincoln Center between rehearsals. You wouldn't think so from the way she moves onstage or in the studio. In fact, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Hutsell's dancing is boldness, a result of the intelligence and intention with which she executes each step. (What she calls caution is closer to what most people see as preparedness.) She doesn't approximate—she moves simply and fully, with total confidence. That quality hasn't gone unnoticed.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Ballet Stars
Jacques d'Amboise and Adrian Danchig-Waring in conversation at the National Dance Institute. Photo Courtesy NDI.

"Jerry, throughout his life, wanted a world where races, cultures and people came together without conflict and hate and anger, but lovingly, to make a community." These words were spoken earlier this week by Jacques d'Amboise at an event titled Upper West Side Story: A Celebration of Jerome Robbins, hosted by National Dance Institute, which d'Amboise founded in 1976 to provide free arts education to children in New York City and beyond. D'Amboise then reiterated his point by quietly singing the famous refrain from West Side Story, which Robbins choreographed and directed for both screen and stage: "There's a place for us."

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Courtesy Soffe, Dicsount Dance Supply, Danskin. LeaMarie leotard photographed by Jayme Thornton

Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.

Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!

Keep reading... Show less
News
Joffrey Ballet dancers Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez in "Giselle." Photo Courtesy Spring to Dance Festival.

For the first time since its inception 11 years ago, Dance St. Louis' annual Emerson Spring to Dance Festival — May 25 and 26 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis' Touhill Performing Arts Center — will be curated by someone other than festival founder Michael Utoff. That job fell to newly hired programming consultant Terence Marling.

Hailed as "arguably the best dance buffet in the Midwest" by the Chicago Tribune, the popular festival is known for championing lesser-known regional dance artists and companies. It will retain that focus under Marling, along with representation by more familiar names such as Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and Marling's former company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars

La Fille Mal Gardée, or in English "The Wayward Daughter," is one of the oldest story ballets still in modern repertoire. The tale's enduring magic lies in themes of youth, following your heart and true love, along with playful bits of entertainment, like the clog dance and ribbon pas de deux. As Lise, Russian-born ballerina Valentina Kozlova captures the character's spirited innocence. Dancing alongside her as her beloved Colas is Chris Jensen, star of Switzerland's Basel Ballet. This clip of their ribbon pas de deux from Basel Ballet's 1986 film is as lighthearted and charming as it is technically brilliant.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Thinkstock

I'm 15 and want to be a professional ballet dancer. I have ballet five times a week, contemporary once a week and rehearsals year-round. It is 15 to 20 hours a week. When I hear about dancers doing 30-plus hours a week, I worry that I dance too little. Is my schedule enough? —Caroline

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!