Getty Images

Scared Your Company Might Close? These Artists Have Been Through It, And Have Some Advice

One of the most difficult parts of this pandemic is coming to terms with the fact that, not only are almost all artists out of work right now, for some, the work won't be there any more when the world opens back up: not all dance companies and businesses will make it through to the other end of this crisis.

Of course, people are doing everything possible to avoid that fate. But fears of folding are, understandably, creating major anxiety right now. To gain some perspective, Dance Magazine spoke to a few artists who've been through company closures in the past, and proven just how resilient dance artists can be.

Alicia Graf Mack: "My frame of mind was just to keep moving"

Alicia Graf Mack stands at attention in a studio, with ballet barres behind her

Claudia Papapietro, Courtesy Juilliard

In 2004, Alicia Graf Mack had just rejoined Dance Theatre of Harlem after four years off to heal from an injury and an autoimmune disease. But after a weeks-long tour to the UK, then-director Arthur Mitchell shared the news that financial difficulties had forced DTH to go on an indefinite hiatus.

"It was devastating," says Graf Mack. "I'd worked so hard to regain skills I'd had, to get back on pointe. I wasn't ready to leave—I felt like I was thriving there. But more than that, it was such a blow to our community. At that time I believe we had at least 40 dancers, who were working at such a high level and were now unemployed." The announcement dropped in May—after audition season had already passed.

Graf Mack knew she wanted to stay in New York City, and at first auditioned for other ballet companies. "But I realized that I wanted to dance for a company that really wanted me, where I wouldn't have to fight for my position as a very tall woman of color," she says.

She reconnected with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, where she'd danced briefly while returning from injury. She also filled in for an injured dancer at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, and took on a couple of commercial projects. "My frame of mind was just to keep moving," she says. "I tried not to concern myself too much with status or paycheck or exactly what it was I was doing. I tried to be brave enough to throw myself into situations that were scary."

Soon, she got a call from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She had initially made a connection to the company years earlier, through taking Horton class at Steps on Broadway with company teacher Milton Myers.

"I had done a good job in setting up a network, and also establishing a reputation as someone who seems open and is deemed humble and easy to work with," she says, adding that those qualities are especially important for dancers right now.

As difficult as it was, DTH's hiatus helped spur Graf Mack's second career path: After retiring from Ailey six seasons later, she got her master's degree in nonprofit management. "When DTH folded, it didn't make sense to me how we were seeming to thrive onstage and yet financially there was a different reality," she explains. "I wanted a better sense of how to run an arts organization."

Today, she is putting all of her experiences to use as director of dance at Juilliard.

"Not that I would encourage a dancer to completely change paths right now, but I do think this is a time where we can expand and learn about ourselves in a different way," she says. "Maybe a dancer has a passion for graphic design, or website development. As I always tell my students, You're prepared—the skills that you have as a dancer are going to make you successful. And if the opportunity is not there, you can create it."

Jane Weiner and Amy Pearl: "It allowed us to focus on what was most meaningful"

One photo of Amy Pearl sitting in an upholstered chair next to one of Jane Weiner and a dog in the same chair.

Executive director Amy Pearl (left) and artistic director Jane Weiner (right)

Alana Campbell, Courtesy Hope Stone

After 10 years of running Hope Stone Studio, in 2014, artistic director Jane Weiner and executive director Amy Pearl realized the business model was never going to make ends meet. Although the school was a beloved hub for Houston's modern dance community, with only one studio, it never had the capacity to turn the kind of profit it needed to be sustainable.

"We didn't want it to sink the whole nonprofit," says Pearl. "It was really painful, but we had to be smart."

They closed the school and pruned the business down to just two parts: a return to a project-based version of Hope Stone Dance, the company, and The Hope Project, its arts education outreach program in schools. The budget decreased by 85 percent, and everyone was laid off, except for Weiner herself.

"I think I cried for three days straight," admits Weiner. "I felt like I'd failed everyone."

But she soon learned that "failure" can have unexpected benefits. As Weiner regrouped, she began to realize that without the expenses of a physical space, the business was able to refocus on its mission: Making a real impact in the community through dance. "We'd gotten to a point where we were so big that it felt heavy; we couldn't move," she says.

Weiner slowly expanded the number of schools The Hope Project reached and began choreographing again once new works could be fully supported with funding. As the organization's workload increased, she gradually re-hired Pearl.

Today, The Hope Project employs 30 teaching artists working in 11 community partner schools/organizations. And Weiner takes her time to create new work on the company, rather than presenting a regular season.

The directors have learned to remain nimble—a quality that's helped prepare them for today's challenges. Right now, they're creating scenario budgets for the months ahead, but are prepared to pivot as necessary. "It's gut-wrenching when things aren't on your terms," says Pearl. "But losing work during this crisis isn't your fault. And it doesn't mean the business model won't work six months, or a year, or two years from now."

Weiner knows that many are now experiencing exactly what they went through six years ago. As hard as it was at the time, she says the closure brought surprising clarity: "It allowed us to focus on what was most meaningful for us."

Jon Bond: "I went into major survival mode"

Jon Bond, barechested on a dark stage, reaches one leg far across his body while his arm reaches in the opposite direction

Helena Faga, Courtesy Bond

The dancers at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet never imagined the company would shut its doors. "The environment seemed financially stable, and its founder was very vocal about her love for dance and the artists," says Jon Bond, who performed there for eight years. But in 2015, that founder surprised everyone and decided to pull the plug.

"I went into major survival mode: I went straight to Dallas BBQ, ordered a Texas-size Frozen Royale, a side of Angry Shrimp and got to putting together and sending out my portfolio," says Bond.

Earlier in his career, he'd had dreams of moving abroad, but had grown comfortable simply dancing the works of European choreographers at Cedar Lake. Now that the company was closing, Bond took a chance and reached out to Nederlands Dans Theater. "What's the worst that could happen?" he told himself. "Either they will never respond, or they will respond saying that they aren't interested." He admits that his stomach shook with nerves before pressing the send button. But just two months after Cedar Lake's final show, he was dancing with NDT.

"Looking back it was the best thing to happen for my career," Bond says of the closure. "Living in NYC, I was so wrapped up in the hustle and grind of the city. My life functioned around rehearsing and performing, while simultaneously teaching and choreographing during off-hours or free periods. In the Netherlands, the work ethic is also unreal, but the mindset is much more relaxed and focused without the distractions of big-city life."

He's grateful for the artists he's met at NDT who've shared different outlooks on what "good dance" is, and where it's headed. And he relishes the chance to work with creators of iconic roles in the NDT legacy.

He suggests dancers find a way to stay hopeful right now. "Hope has the ability to create an opportunity for a new beginning, way of life, or way of working," he says. "It can inspire dancers to explore other avenues both inside and outside of the dance studio."

Robert Swinston: "We had closure"

Robert Swinston, wearing a suit, looks over his shoulder at the camera

Courtesy Swinston

Robert Swinston devoted decades of his career to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company—he joined in 1980, and became assistant to the choreographer in 1992. Then in June 2009, Cunningham announced that, following his death, the company would embark on a two-year international tour, then disband.

"The decision had come as a result of an arduous process that was done with careful consideration with considerable input," says Swinston. "We knew that it was a historic action, as we were the first dance company to prematurely announce its closure."

The very next month, each of the company members visited Cunningham privately in his apartment before a tour to Jacob's Pillow. "After our final show there, on our drive back to New York, during a thunderstorm, Merce passed away," says Swinston.

The next 29 months were filled with 134 performances that made up the Legacy Tour. "By the end on New Year's Eve at the Park Avenue Armory, we were exhausted and spent, but had celebrated Merce in the way he might have enjoyed," says Swinston. "We had closure."

Swinston was part of the team that transitioned the Cunningham Dance Foundation to the Merce Cunningham Trust, which today licenses Cunningham works and holds classes. But he also started a new chapter for his career: In 2013 he became artistic director of the Centre national de danse contemporaine (CNDC) in Angers, France, one of the country's national choreography centers. "It has been a new life, and an awakening culturally," he says. CNDC assists emerging choreographers and companies, programs dance and does outreach. Swinston also created his own dance company, CNDC Angers/Robert Swinston, which performs Cunningham's work as well as his own choreography.

Now, he's looking at another final bow: Next month, he's turning 70, and will retire and shut down CNDC Angers/Robert Swinston.

His advice for those facing possible closures right now? "With all its ambiguity, I would tell them what Merce said to me: 'Find a way to go on.' "

Chanel DaSilva: "I felt like I was being buried. But really I was being planted"

Headshot of Chanel DaSilva, wearing geometric earrings, hair back in braids and a striped sweater

Courtesy DaSilva

Chanel DaSilva danced with the Trey McIntyre Project through all six years that it was a full-time company. So, when, in December 2013, McIntyre announced the company's final show would be held the following summer, she had to ask herself some hard questions.

"My identity was so wrapped up in being a Trey McIntyre Project dancer," she says. "It forced me to figure out who I was without that."

After TMP closed, she danced with Lar Lubovitch for a while, and got hired for small gigs here and there. But despite "auditioning massively," she wasn't dancing nearly as much as she wanted to be. "It was shattering for me. 2015 was a rock bottom emotional year," she admits. "I felt like I was being buried. But really I was being planted."

The lack of performing opportunities forced her to question her relationship to dance. "When you're in a company, a lot of things are decided for you," she explains. "I had to start defining what my life was going to be, and ask myself, Who am I if I'm not onstage every night? Who is Chanel and what is her contribution to the world?"

Later that year, DaSilva launched MOVE|NYC| with her longtime friend Nigel Campbell. The multi-part training and mentorship program helps teens from parts of New York City with fewer resources to launch their dance careers. DaSilva also started choreographing.

"That year pushed me to a new place," she says. "Now that I'm no longer dancing, I have time to create. I feel emboldened to say something and offer my perspective. And leave something in the world that matters."

Although the current crisis has made her anxious and stressed just like everyone else, she believes her reaction has been tempered by her past experience. "I've learned to lean into change and creative possibilities," she says. "I don't want dance as we know it to change. I don't want to lose the thrill of live theater! But life may not look like how I thought it was going to, and I'm trying to stay flexible." Now, she's figuring out how she can create new work over Zoom, and discovering what she might be able to turn into a dance film.

She suggests embracing this new reality: "Both in yourself and in your organization, lean into innovation. There might be something you never thought of before sitting underneath your nose and now that's an asset that can keep you sustainable in the future."

DaSilva still celebrates the "awesome six years" she danced with TMP even as she misses them. She holds onto words of advice from McIntyre: "Just because something ends, that doesn't discount the beauty of it."

Latest Posts

Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Quinn Wharton

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Angelica Generosa Shares Her Classic, Comfy Style In and Out of the Studio

"I love the feeling and look of effortless fashion," says Angelica Generosa. Preferring a classic style, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist keeps her wardrobe stocked with blazers. But they serve a practical purpose, too. "It tends to get chilly in Seattle, so it's the perfect accessory for layering," Generosa explains.

She's also quite fond of designer handbags. "They're my go-to accessory, and they're also my weakness when shopping," she says, naming Chloé, Chanel and Dior as some of her favorite brands. "I really appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce one—they're so beautiful and each has its own story, in a way."

In the studio, Generosa prioritizes comfort, and she'll change up her look depending on the repertoire (leotards and tutus for classical works, breathable shirts with workout pants for contemporary). But she always arrives to work in style. "I really love putting together outfits for even just going to the studio," she says. "It's another way of expressing my mood and what kind of vibe I'm going for that day."

The Details: Street

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue blazer, white blouse and gray jeans, is photographed from underneath as she walks and looks to the right.

Quinn Wharton

BCBG blazer: "It has some shoulder pads and a really cool pattern," says Generosa. "It reminds me of my mom and '80s fashion."

Zara blouse: She incorporate neutrals, like this white satin button-up, to balance bright pops of colors.

Angelica Generosa looks off to her right in front of a glass-windowed building. She wears a blue blazer, white blouse, gray jeans and carries a small green handbag.

Quinn Wharton

Madewell jeans: Comfort is a major factor for Generosa, who gets her fashion inspiration from her mom, friends and people she comes across day to day.

Chloé bag: "I tend to have smaller purses because I'm quite small. Bigger bags overwhelm me sometimes—unless it's my dance bag, of course!"

The Details: Studio

Angleica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool leggings and pink pointe shoes, balances in a lunge on pointe with her left leg in front, facing a wall of windows.

Quinn Wharton

Label Dancewear leotard: "This was designed by my good friend Elizabeth Murphy, a principal dancer here at PNB. Her leotards always fit me really well."

Mirella leggings: "I get cold easily," says Generosa, who wears leggings and vests to stay warm throughout the day.

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool tights and pink pointe shoes, jumps and crosses her right foot over her left shin while lifting her arms up to the right.

Quinn Wharton

Freed of London pointe shoes: "When sewing them, I crisscross my elastics and use an elasticized ribbon from Body Wrappers," which helps alleviate Achilles tendon issues, she says. She then trims the satin off of the tip of the shoe. "Then I bend the shank a bit to loosen it up and cut a bit off where my arch is."

Getty Images

This New "Nutcracker" Competition Wants Your Dance Studio to be Part of a Virtual Collaboration

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks