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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Photo via Instagram.

The messages started coming in Monday evening. A concerned teacher was worried about several dancers she knew at American National Ballet—did we know what was going on? Later that night, more information started emerging on social media—and it was clear something was up at the Charleston, South Carolina–based company.

We've been interested in ANB since its debut was first announced in April—not only was it a brand new company, but one with close to 50 dancers, and some major names attached, like Rasta Thomas, Sara Michelle Murawski and Jessica Saund. The founders, Doug and Ashley Benefield, had few ballet credentials, but they made an encouraging promise to highlight diversity, hiring dancers of different body types and races. A story in Charleston's The Post & Courier reported that they had a strategic business plan to support the company through for-profit ventures such as a licensing enterprise, a dancewear line and an academy.

So what happened? Here's what we know so far:

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Photo by Vikki Sloviter.

At 5' 10.5", Sara Michelle Murawski stands taller than most people, let alone most ballerinas. As a student, Murawski was always told her height was a positive thing, and that elongated lines are what ballet is all about. But in the professional world in the U.S., she encountered a totally different mentality. Her story went viral last December, when she was fired from Pennsylvania Ballet for being "too tall." After a devastating few months, Murawski was the first principal signed to the new American National Ballet, a Charleston, SC, company whose mission is to celebrate dancer diversity. Here, she tells her story. —Courtney Bowers

Growing Up Tall

Even as a young ballet student, I was already quite lanky—all legs and limbs, and no torso. When I was 15 (and already 5' 9") I discovered The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, PA. Training there was probably one of the most influential parts of my life, because they embrace the beauty of all dancers. My teachers taught me that being tall was a good thing, and I started to accept my height.

Murawski with dancer David Marks (photo by Sloviter, courtesy Murawski)

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Ballet Stars
Sara Murawski in promotional footage for American National Ballet

Back in May, we shared that a brand-new ballet company, called American National Ballet, was launching in Charleston, South Carolina. Naturally, we were intrigued, but there was little information—no repertoire, and only one confirmed dancer. (That's principal Sara Murawski, who previously danced with Pennsylvania Ballet and is prominently featured in ANB's marketing.)

Now the company has listed a huge name on its website for the troupe's artistic director: Rasta Thomas. Okay, we're really listening.

Thomas is perhaps best known for directing the pyrotechnic Bad Boys of Dance, which flaunted a high-adrenaline touring show. Called Rock the Ballet, it featured flashy, crowd-pleasing choreography set to pop music. Thomas made a name for himself early on, though, winning the USA International Ballet Competition at 16. He also enjoyed a career of guesting with companies around the world, including the Mariinsky Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Víctor Ullate Ballet.

Octavio Martin, who danced with the National Ballet of Cuba and Sarasota Ballet, is currently listed as ANB's second company artistic director.

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Ballet Stars
Vikki Sloviter Photography, courtesy of Instagram

While dancers switching companies is nothing new, the ballet companies themselves rarely change. That's why we're especially excited to see two new American companies on the horizon for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

South Carolina-based American National Ballet (ANB) plans to make its debut first, with its inaugural season taking place this fall, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Though ANB is still holding auditions (both in-person and through video), they've announced Sara Michelle Murawski as their first principal dancer and company member. Since ANB was created with the intention of highlighting diversity, it makes perfect sense that they wanted to bring in Murawski, who was let go from the Pennsylvania Ballet this past season for being too tall.

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