The Inner Workings of a Non-Profit Dance Comapny

There are two looks of a dance company. The dream-like state that the audience sees on stage, and then there is a reality to it. Being apart of the dance world since I was a child and understanding all aspects of the business side is important to running a dance company.

First you have the mission of the company. The message that the company is driven on. It should only be a few sentences long, and should be the basis of the company’s story. If a reader can’t figure out what your company is about based off the mission statement you need a new one. Next you have the artistic vision of the choreographer. There needs to be a way to present his/ her vision to not only to the general public through marketing, but to current and potential donors.

This brings me to the administrative offices. First you have the marketing team. The marketing team is what makes the company look good visually. For the marketing team you need photos shoots to happen at least once a year. This will allow new works to be photographed, new dancers to be highlighted, and old works that are coming out of retirement back into the current repertoire to be photographed with new casting. Next you have the development team. The development team writes the grants, researches foundations and government funding, does solicitations to individual donors, courts donors for major gifts, organizes and manages capital campaigns, and is the go to person for managing and maintaining relationships with the donors. A good development team is key to having a successful dance company because they are the ones bringing in the funds to keep the artistic product moving forward to new opportunities.

Since we are talking about money you need an excellent finance person who can be sure to monitor all areas of the company so overspending is not happening. Obviously, there is that old saying “it takes money to make money” but in a nonprofit it is vital to be breaking even. It becomes increasing difficult if the company gets into a financial hole to get out of it because not only can any one see your financial numbers if you are in the negative for multiple years, it will be difficult to convince a donor they are not giving to a black hole or that you are unable to handle your funding positively.

Finally, you have the management and executive staffing like the company manager. This person is equally important to artistic side as well as the administrative side because they are like a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth playing the in-between to presenters, lawyers, publicists, dancers, teachers, travel companies, record and publishing labels, and of course the executive and artistic director to be sure that the company is on the same page. It is vital that this person can work well under pressure, multitask, and understand the importance of what is a priority.

The next time you go see a dance company remember that all the people that work behind the scenes are just as important as the choreographers and the dancers; and without them, the inner working of the company would fall apart.


What to Expect when you Bring a Dancer Out in Public

Have you ever seen the music video of Sara Bareilles singing Gonna Get Over You?  It is one of the happiest break up songs I have ever heard.  Not only is she in the middle of the grocery store dancing and singing, but she somehow gets everyone else to join in too.  Granted, at the end of the video she comes to the realization that it was all in her head and bows her head in embarrassment and shame, but it basically sets the stage for what you need to know about a dancer in public.  Needless to say, when out in public with a dancer they can be extremely embarrassing to a non-dancer.  They can decide to jété down a grocery isle, or if music is playing in your general vicinity expect there to be random dancing to that bass pumping beat.  I can admit I’m embarrassing when I go out in public.  Just ask my brother who had to deal with my random dancing when we were last in Los Angeles together.  He had to deal with my bust a move mentality up and down third street in Santa Monica while street artists were getting their jam on.

So why do dancer do this?  They just can’t help themselves.  Imagine your whole life having various three minute sections of your life choreographed to music.  Now imagine repeating these sections so many times that your brain is going to fall out.  Between recitals, competition, professional performance gigs, choreographing, and charity events you have a tendency to lose your mind a little that anytime you hear music you just need to move.  In some situation random dancing is appropriate like on iCarly, a concert, or a music festival because not only are their other weirdos like you, but your friends or siblings that look at you as a crazy person are now joining in on the music that actually exists.  In my brother’s case, he gets the head bob going with his hands in the air like he just don’t care; there is a lot of jumping around and dancing like an idiot.

Lastly, a dancer can randomly start dancing when there is no music playing, but just so you know there is a constant soundtrack in their head.  Let me tell you it never turns off.  You know how I was saying that a dancer has the constant pleasure of repeating pieces or dances over and over again?  Well, that carries over into other parts of their lives.  For example, I become obsessed with certain songs and learn every word.  Then I am singing it for a week and every time I’m singing it to myself I get in my own head, think I’m alone, start choreographing to it, and all of a sudden I can have five people looking at me in the park because they think I’m a spaz.  I leave you with this. The next time you see someone dance randomly in public, I can 95% guarantee they are not crazy they just love life and want you to too.  Join in on the fun and make a flash mob out of their moves or make your own and connect with someone on an artistic level by dancing it out.

Careers in Dance – There is More to Dance then Being a Performer

11412211_10100594299141981_7579294585861180014_n (2)Recently at a baby shower, my college friends and I were reminiscing about the past, the choices we have made after college, and where the future is headed.  In life everyone makes choices and it is a rarity that everyone can have it all.  A college dance friend is currently seven months pregnant, another dance friend is getting married this fall, and I have aged one more year closer to thirty.  Do I believe that you can create your own destiny?  Absolutely, but anyone who is successful will explain the sacrifice they had to go through to get there, and as a performer there is a lot of sacrifice.  As a performer you could be struggling in a big city like Los Angeles or New York working from stipend to stipend or contract to contract.  Performers are also working multiple jobs like bartendering, serving, or being a hostess, but there is more potential in the dance field than just being a performer.

First you could become an instructor. At dance studios, a person with extensive dance training can command $15-$30 an hour depending on if you are living in a big city or a small town.  There are also opportunities to teach at high school and college levels, but teaching at either level requires you to have a masters in dance education as well as specific certification.  If you have an extensive performance background this might get over looked at certain colleges if you decide to teach at the college level.

Besides teaching, you could go the health route.  Get certified in Yoga, personal training, Pilates, or massage therapy.  These jobs will allow you to work and coach athletes such as dancers in their cross training endeavors to keep their bodies up to par during their performance years.  A few friends of mine are doing both, still performing as well as doing some health related job so they can make money and live in the expensive room that they are renting for $1200/ month in NYC.

Finally, there is arts administration. Granted you can get a masters degree in arts administration, which I have, but if this is a field that you want to get into there are ways around getting a masters degree. For example, I did an internship in communications and development at a small organization of two people called the Natasha Trifian’s Performance Group in NYC before I was hired at another company as the Assistant to the School Director.  From there I moved up in the organization and eventually moved to another organization when I stepped into a new city. With arts administration you can also go the for-profit/ commercial route working at talent agencies, booking agencies, publicists, and performing arts center presenters.

If you haven’t figured it out the possibilities are endless. Limiting yourself as only a performer can be career ending.  Think ahead, and know that with the right moves, a good head on your shoulders, and some drive you are already ahead of 80% of the general population.

My First Job at a Dance Company

We all have jitters when we get our first big person job right out of college.  I graduated from College at Brockport in 2008 which seems like ages ago now.  We all have those negative thoughts that nobody is going to hire us, and just hoping that someone will take a chance on a youngin and give you a job.  A company based in Rochester, New York took a chance on a young twenty-one year old girl with big dreams of starting her own dance company; me.  Granted those dreams have grown and changed, but I’ll never forget the people that took a chance on me.

Natalie Rogers-Cropper, Director of the Garth Fagan Dance School hired me as the her assistant.  It was a part-time job, but it was a starting point on getting my foot in the door to understanding the running of a dance company.  As her assistant, I organized and collected payments from students, managed scholarships, helped with grant writing, and had my hand in the three week summer program, where I worked with Natalie to layout the schedule for a three week intensive.  It was the best first big girl job I could have had because I had mentor who not only was a talented dancer, but was in the business world of dance too.

I moved up the ladder pretty quickly in the Company.  After spending eleven months as a part-time assistant I became the full-time Advancement Assistant while still working with Natalie in the School.  As an advancement assistant I got to work with marketing and development, assisting with press releases, writing grants and final reports, as well as helping with program layouts for events.  From there, I become Assistant Company Manager where I got to work directly with the Artistic Director and Executive Director on touring contracts, tour programming layouts, assist with marketing plans and marketing designs, as well as organize and manage our self-program performances and events.

Working for Garth Fagan Dance and getting involved with so many parts of the Company helped me to develop my own direction of where I wanted to go in life.  Even though I no longer work there, I am a big supporter of the Company and follow them online to see what they continue to accomplish.  The Company is going on its forty-fifth anniversary year.  What a landmark for a choreographer who has collaborated with so many musical and visual artists, and brought to life some serious pieces of work such as Griot, New York, Mudan 175/39, and Two Pieces, One Green (a personal favorite).

Garth Fagan Dance isn’t only a dance company, but an eternal apart of the Rochester community.  They work with underprivileged youth through community outreach, as well as provides scholarships for students to study with professional dancers of the company throughout the year.  One of the things I loved about the Company is how intertwined it is with the Garth Fagan Dance School, from the instructors to the students and families involved at school who volunteer at shows.  It is like a family pushing towards a success of a common goal.  It all goes back to the motto of Mr. Fagan – “Discipline is Freedom.”  With hard-work, drive, and a family behind you, the possiblities are endless.

If you live in the Rochester area you should check out the gala event that will be happening at the end of April.  You can purchase tickets here.

Lauren Lovette – The Next Prima Ballerina?

Lauren Lovette has been raising star at the New York City Ballet (NYCB) since 2009.  Lovette has the impidiemy of the Balenchine ballerina body, with legs for days, long arms, and tiny torso frame that gives her that perfect look for any dancer on stage.  She started dancing at 11 years old which is late for any dancer, let alone a dancer that has become a professional with one of the best dance companies in the world.  She started her training at the School of American Ballet at 14 years old, an apprentice at NYCB at 18, which soon followed by a corps contract, and now she is a soloist (background on Lovette found at Dance Spirit Magazine Article by Margaret Fuhrer)

Even through she has the perfect body for the ballets at NYCB, she also has an effortless quality about her when she is dancing on stage.  Having a dance background, the first thing I look at are a dancer’s feet.  I am usually mesmerize by their feet that I never look up at their face.  There are only a select few ballerinas where I am fully focused on facial expressions, leg work, and grace within their upper body, and Lovette has that power.

Last year (2014) at the Vail International Dance Festival she danced excepts of ‘Giselle’ with NYCB male soloist Chase Finely.  My entire attention was on Lovette, from the adagio where her arms floated like an extension of her dress as they extended with each lift and arabesque, to the ever so tilt of her head as the excerpt led into a petite allegro with quick changements, passés, and littles jumps that glided across stage like a gazelle.  She has this power that brings you into the dance and makes the audience members live with her in that moment including every feeling – love, anger, hurt, adoration, happiness, and sadness.

In my opinion, being a ballerina is one of the most difficult professions.  There has to be not only a love of dance, but a full dedication and willingness to sacrifice.  By sacrifice I mean giving up your adolescent social life to spend time in the studio practicing and rehearsing, to being dedicated as an adult by being willing to live from contract to contract, as well as working multiple jobs till you get your big break.  Incompassing all of this you need to keep your body in perfect health by eating the right foods, cross training in coordination to eight hours worth of rehearsals, and getting the proper amount of rest.

Lovette is one of the many ballerina that NYCB has helped to develop, but when she is on stage she has light that makes her standout.  Now that she has concurred Juliet this year (February 2015), I hope to see her dance Odiet in the near future as her light continues to rise at NYCB.