Too Many Ballet Dancers, Not Enough Jobs; How Best To Utilise Your Ballet Training
The overpopulation of ballet dancers is at a stage where only a tiny percentage of full-time ballet students are ending up with a professional company contract. This would evidently suggest that creating a company would be a viable business venture – however, due to lack of funding for the arts, small ballet companies are collapsing after only a short time running.
So how might we create a shift in the ballet industry? Rather than telling dance students that unless they have the ‘perfect’ body type and are willing to travel and work overseas (and even then there’s definitely no guarantee), they should give up on their dreams - how about we begin to educate on and celebrate the plethora of career options that will utilise the training and skills of a ballet dancer.
Why is it that the success of a ballet dancer is so highly based on the size and reputation of the ballet company they end up working with? A contract with a prestigious ballet company doesn’t need to be the only measurement of ‘making it’. When a dancer is able to find a career that best suits their lifestyle and brings them joy, there should be no need for the dance community to judge or label them as a ‘failure’. Utilising skills in any way is a commendable feat, and not every dancer is made for the specificity required from a ballet company.
‘Those who can’t do, teach’ is a saying that needs to be buried! Dance teaching requires just as much passion and skill as dancing itself. While a teacher doesn’t need to be the most naturally gifted dancer, their technical knowledge and understanding of mental patterning for individual needs is such a niche skill that not just ‘anyone’ could do. Utilising your ballet training as a teacher is not only a noble and respectable career choice, but also can be extremely rewarding for the individual who has the knack for passing on knowledge in a meaningful and empathetic way. For the dance educator who prefers a larger scale of students, judging or adjudicating are areas requiring considerable knowledge of correct technique and understanding of ballet as an art form.
The athleticism required for ballet training gives students a level of strength and agility that can easily be transferred into other areas of fitness. Pilates and yoga not only utilise a dancer’s physicality, but also applies their understanding of anatomy and gracefully combines the two. Personal training, body building and other fitness-based careers can be a great trajectory for those dancers who took the most joy from the precise athleticism of dancing.
Health & Wellness:
For the dancers who always excelled in the theoretical understanding of ballet, working as a ‘ballet specialised’ Physiotherapist, Myotherapist, Masseuse or Nutritionist combines the useful knowledge of how the body works, with a profession that can assist dancers in the longevity of their careers. The appreciation that dancers themselves have for these medical professionals shows how closely these careers are linked.
Commercial or Contemporary Dance & Performance:
“You don’t have the right body shape for a ballet dancer” is unfortunately a comment that the vast majority of dance students are told. While a very particular aesthetic is a requirement in a ballet company, contemporary or commercial dance and theatre have a much larger range of ‘ideal looks’. Ballet training is a great base for all types of dance, so for the dancers who prefer a more upbeat tempo, delving into the world of contemporary companies, cruise ship performing, musical theatre or other live gigs could be a more suited profession.
The world of dance requires many creatives other than just the dancers. For a Ballet or dance performance to proceed, there needs to be a team of professionals fulfilling their duties as director, choreographer, stage manager, costume designer/creator, sound & lighting, set designer and many more. If the theatre is your preferred workplace but the stage is not for you, there are alternatives to meet these needs. Choreography is a specific skill that not all dancers are blessed with - creating a piece of work fully utilises your understanding of dance, while applying a more visual depth to your skill. Costuming is an area which definitely requires its own set of skills and training however - having knowledge of the dancer’s physical needs in their costumes, as well as how impactful each costume is to the storytelling of the piece, makes your dance background invaluable.
Dance is first and foremost an art form. The ability to story tell, create aesthetic shapes and utilise the power of music shows that all dancers are creative beings. That is why so many dancers end up shifting into other worlds of creativity, such as photography, graphic design, painting or illustration (to name a few). Having a visual eye is a transferable skill to many areas, and a way to fulfil the artist in you!
Administrative areas of the dance world may suit the more ‘business-minded’ dancers. Working as a receptionist or studio manager at a dance school or company merges the business and dance worlds nicely. Larger dance companies have many different areas of administration including marketing and media personnel, production staff and finance staff. For those with customer service skills, another opportunity could be to work in a dance-specialised retail store. For example, dance wear, activewear or dance shoe stores will often only accept applications from those with a dance background as you would understand the needs of the dancer as well as having personal experience wearing the products.
A dancer’s musicality is the basis for developing their performance quality. Understanding phrasing, tempo and dynamics in this way is a nice bridge into the world of music. Whether accompanying a live ballet class on the piano, or playing in an orchestra for a full-length production, musicianship is a wonderful way to showcase a different form of art while still remaining entwined within the world of ballet. How wonderful to be able to recreate your favourite pieces of classical music!
Hair & Makeup:
Over the years of dance training, many a concert, competition, gala, photoshoot or show, dancers will learn to apply their own stage makeup and put their hair in a bun from a very young age. In later senior years of dance training, you may find yourself portraying more defined character roles, requiring much more intricate hair and makeup. From these opportunities, a dancer will gain valuable experience in the world of hair and makeup. In each dance school or company, there tends to be one or two go-to-people for assistance with the more difficult hair styles or makeup looks - if this is you and you find enjoyment in creating these masterpiece looks, then why not consider assisting many more people by training as a hair stylist and/or makeup artist?
As you can see, the world of ballet provides a platform for many careers, rather than just the one trajectory all ballet students are taught to want. Many young dancers have their dreams seemingly crushed when they eventually discover the specific physicality and remarkable timing and luck it takes to make it into a ballet company. If students are taught from the beginning of their training the abundance of fields that would benefit from their dance background, perhaps not so many dancers would feel like ‘failures’ or as if their dreams were unfulfilled. The dance community should celebrate these opportunities, rather than only applaud the small few who fit the mould of a ballet company.
Nov 13th, 2019