The waiting game… From January until May, sometimes even longer, dancers ages 17ish-22ish wait anxiously for the ultimate business goal: A CONTRACT. For some dancers, there is an additional layer of stress; they are waiting for their college acceptances as their backup plans. It is a scary moment. Usually, these dancers are at professional schools attached to companies like San Francisco Ballet School or Miami City Ballet School, and they are waiting to hear from that company. In addition to waiting for that company to possibly give them a contract, most dancers also auditioned for a million other companies and summer programs, just in case…. It is a scary thing, but it is a part of this career, here in the US in particular.
For dancers who are waiting for a contract there are three common contracts that dancers are waiting for:
1. Corps de ballet: Basically to be invited into the main company is a dream come true, and this is probably the most coveted contract because it is the best paid of the three. If you haven’t danced with a company or completed an apprenticeship year somewhere, this contract is hard to land. Most dancers who are going after corps contracts have completed a rigorous ballet education, finished a traineeship program, and completed an apprentice year at a company. Most dancers who move into corps positions have all this, but there are always the exceptions…. On occasion, and mostly during Nutcracker top students from the school are pulled as fillers to step in for injured or overworked dancers, and on occasion if a dancer performs well under the stress, the schedule, and the stamina factor… A dancer can be given a contract to the corps the following spring… This usually happens in larger companies.
2. Apprenticeship: A coveted spot to spend a year with the company, and basically, you are part of the company except you are the access… You have to work ten times harder to prove you can “fit in” to the company life. The apprentice year for a ballet dancer is hard because you don’t’ know exactly where you fit in. You are kind of in the company, but not really. You have to learn the entire repertory without actually being sat down with, or guided through. Half the time it is via video, by yourself in a studio, trying to see what girl is girl number 10 in snow, and that’s that.
3. Studio Company/ 2nd Company: A lot of companies have now implemented the studio company/second company which is kind of a joke… it is basically 10-20 dancers who double up in the corps de ballet without having to be paid as much. The only place that really has a studio company is ABT. Their second company performs a lot, and is used to try new choreographers out, and for dancers to build performance qualities across different styles of movement.
Numbers…. There are tons of dancers out there… Maybe too many dancers… The industry right now is so oversaturated with talent, that there aren’t enough jobs to accommodate them. This is mostly because the audience and general public for ballet aren’t buying tickets. So, if you think about it there are tons of places where dancers start out…. Quoting my old post “Too Many Claras”
FACT: A dance studio is not the same as a dance school and is not the same as a performing arts school and is not the same as a ballet school.
A Dance Studio is a recreational place to dance, which means you are there for exercise, exposure to music and the idea of technique.
A Dance School is a recreational place to dance with higher performance expectancy. A dance school usually can also be called a competition studio, or a performance studio. This is where technique matters, but not to the extent of creating a career that feeds into a company. This is more for commercial dance route, the Hollywood route, and the scholarships to a UDA college career.
A Performing Arts School is a place for children to develop the fine/performing arts to a greater extent on the artistic side. Most kids in these schools aren’t just out to be ballet dancers, but instead they are also on their way to become a triple threat: BROADWAY BOUND. Performing arts schools usually offer more than just ballet, but modern, contemporary, voice lessons, acting lessons, and so forth.
A Ballet School is a place for children to study pure ballet. Regardless of the pedagogy, it is completely ballet based, and the emphasis is only on ballet technique with supplemented curriculum of modern, contemporary and occasionally jazz.
With that being said, no matter what school you are at… you are at a school. In the top level, there are maybe 8-16 girls… Of those 8-16 girls, they will usually all get into summer programs… Or at least, half. From there, in the upper level of a summer course, or even the top two levels there will range anywhere between 40-100 girls. Of those girls, 20 might be asked to stay year round. Once you are year-round at a pre-professional school in the top level there might be twelve girls… of those twelve, 4-8 will be asked to join the trainee program… In the trainee program there will be about 12 girls, of those twelve, generously, 3 girls will be asked to join as apprentices… Of those three girls, maybe 1 will join the company… Yes, the odds are that slim, but luckily in America there are hundreds of companies. This is why teachers say it is a privilege to be a ballerina because company contracts are so scarce.
There are hundreds of companies that fuel America’s ballet needs. Unfortunately, that also hinders companies. It means donors are dividing the money in the community, and that is how favorite companies and styles are developed.
There is no guarantee that a ballet dancer will go pro or not… The only insurance you can really get for your child is a good ballet education, at a good school… And in America, there are tons of those… But for those who are serious about ballet, the seriousness of getting a contract is a big deal… And you have to be prepared times ten. It isn’t like college where you put your dream school, backup schools, and safety schools… In fact, it isn’t even like summer programs… When it comes to contracts you go where they want you, and where they can pay you.
When it comes to contracts there are two types contracts… there are union contracts and non-union contracts… Ideally, you want a union contract as it protects the interests of the dancer… It also keeps you from being one of those dancers who are underpaid, overworked, and dancing on injuries. Your contract is so important because it outlines time off, rehearsals standards, how much you can actually dance in a day, and so forth… A good contract will be 10+ pages… A bad contract is two-three pages, and is vague….
So for those of you in the waiting game… Good luck! And for those of you who are embarking on your journey to get a contract…. Keep your heads high, and keep pushing to be the best.
a Ballet Education