Ballet Training
Philip Neale rehearsing Next Generation Ballet students. James Luedde, Courtesy Next Generation Ballet.

The path to joining a company is not as clear-cut as it once was, when advanced students auditioned straight out of school and learned the ropes on the job. Directors, wanting dancers who can hit the ground running, are increasingly relying on second company and trainee programs to give them the professional experience they'll need—while also filling out the main company's corps de ballet. Such programs can be a great way to bridge the gap between training and career—and to get a foot in the door at a company you admire—but they're not all created equally.

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I'm in a second company and I'd like to use my summer layoff to do an intensive elsewhere. Is there a tactful way to bring this up to my director? —Simone

This is tricky, and depends on your director. When I was a trainee, we were free to go elsewhere until the season started again—my director only requested that we stay in shape. But others may require that you stick around, or frown upon training at another school, so make sure you know where they stand. You should be able to ask a member of the artistic staff about an official policy. Understand that there may be consequences for going behind your director's back.

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I always get sick during Nutcracker. Help! —Emily

Long days, late nights, chilly weather and overworked bodies make the perfect recipe for disaster during Nutcracker season. I'll never forget burning up with a fever backstage in my Arabian costume, or the time when a flu outbreak caused major casualties in our Snow and Flower corps. Staying well requires a combination of nutrition, hydration and sleep—not to mention preparedness and discipline.

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Should I turn down an apprenticeship to finish my dance degree, or should I put my education on pause? —Ashleigh

Congratulations on receiving an apprenticeship offer! They don't come every day. If you think you're ready for company life, and will be full of regrets if you turn the offer down, you can always resume school later. However, make sure you know what the position entails.

Not all apprenticeships are paid, and there's no guarantee that you'll be promoted to the company's corps de ballet at season's end. Are you comfortable entering the dance world without the security of a college degree? And are you motivated enough to return to school if you put your education on pause now?

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BalletX's Caili Quan found value in her early years of career building. Photo by Alexander Izilaev, Courtesy BalletX.

After two years as a trainee and then one as a second company member at Orlando Ballet, 22-year-old Aurélio Guimarães wasn't able to audition much due to an injury. When The Washington Ballet offered him another traineeship, Guimarães debated what to do. He would ultimately be embarking on a fourth year of doing professional work without a livable salary or title. “It was absolutely a hard decision," Guimarães reflects. “But I also had to consider the work that I would be doing." Knowing his traineeship would entail close work with the artistic director, he essentially took a demotion, with the hope that starting over in Washington would yield a paid contract at the end of the year.

In the past, it was common for a year or two of apprenticeship to lead directly to a corps contract. But today's ballet world involves more no- to low-paying rungs at the bottom of the ladder. Many companies now have three gatekeepers: trainee programs that are often the top level of the school and involve corps work with the company; second companies that work independently as well as more intimately with the main company; and apprenticeships, the most entry-level rank inside the professional hierarchy.

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