Ask Amy: Studio Company Vs. Apprenticeship

Have a question?
Click here to send it to Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt.

I recently left home to go to a major ballet school. I’m dancing more than ever, but the cafeteria food is making me gain weight! How can I make sure I’m eating well? —Alison
Even though you can’t control how your food is prepared, you can take steps to avoid gaining unwanted pounds. First, choose wisely and control portion sizes. Houston Ballet’s sports dietician, Roberta Anding, recommends filling half of your plate with minimally prepared fruits and vegetables (think salads and steamed veggies). “General rule of thumb: If they look shiny, there’s a considerable amount of oil on them,” she says. Split the other half of your plate between a starch and a protein, each about the size of your palm. Also, try politely asking the kitchen staff for food with sauce or dressing on the side.

Drinks can be another source of excess calories—and not just sodas and creamy caffe lattes. “Juice is unbelievably nutritious, but it’s easy to drink 250 calories’ worth because of the sugar content,” says Anding. Same with bottled iced tea, which usually comes sweetened. Opt for water or skim milk instead, or try making your own unsweetened iced tea.

In addition, evaluate your snacking habits. Munching on large quantities of starchy crackers, or healthier (but high-calorie) foods like nuts or dried fruit, doesn’t help. Instead, stick to single-serving, low-calorie options like fat-free yogurt, fruit cups and 110-calorie snack-sized popcorn. However, don’t get carried away—remember, it’s smart to maintain a healthy diet, but we need food for energy.

I went on my first round of professional auditions and received two offers! One is an apprenticeship at a mid-sized regional company. The other is with a studio company at a slightly more prestigious place. Which is more likely to lead to a full company contract? —Brianna
Congratulations! Either option will give you valuable professional experience and help you get your foot in the door. But neither automatically guarantees a full company contract. The terms and details of apprenticeships, traineeships and second companies vary considerably, so be sure to read the fine print before signing either contract.

You may already have a gut feeling about where you’d like to go, based on one company’s reputation, repertoire and director. But also consider practical details, such as salary (if any) and contract length. How often will you perform with the main company? Many directors hire large fleets of apprentices or second company members to supplement their corps—will you be one of a few dancers vying for a contract or one of dozens? Study each organization’s track record to see if it typically hires apprentices or second company members into the corps. But know that even if you don’t receive a contract, you will walk away with solid professional experience.

I’ve been cast as an understudy in an ensemble piece, and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of choreography I have to learn (I’m the only understudy). Help! —Meggi
You’ve got a tough job ahead of you. Jumping in at a moment’s notice happens more often than you might think (trust me—I had to replace an injured friend last season and only had an hour to prepare). Since you are faced with the daunting task of learning everyone’s part, you’ll probably need to do extra homework outside the studio to get a thorough grasp of the whole ballet.

Start by learning one dancer’s spot first, rather than trying to absorb everyone’s part at once. Once you’re familiar with her choreography, you’ll be able to learn the others’ more quickly. (A helpful hint: If another girl dances directly across from her on the opposite side, all you have to do is flip everything, and presto! Now you know two parts.) After a few rehearsals, start observing a different spot. Don’t mark—dance full-out in the back of the studio so that you absorb the choreography into your muscle memory. Take detailed notes of the steps and musicality (especially specific counts during canons), and draw diagrams of formations and running patterns to give you a visual idea of where everybody goes. Ask to study a copy of the video if possible. Listen to the music on your iPod and mentally rehearse each individual part. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—remember, a good understudy is priceless!

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