Internships help undergrads pursue interests beyond performance and choreography.
Chatter filled the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on opening night of New York City Ballet’s highly anticipated Ocean’s Kingdom, the collaboration between Peter Martins and Paul McCartney. Critics, photographers and VIPs attended the gala, and it was Marymount Manhattan College sophomore Ailina Rose’s job to greet journalists with press materials and assist photographers in the viewing room during the show. “I stood at the end of the red carpet and was awestruck,” she says. “Dancers I’ve admired for years were walking right past me!”
Undergrads everywhere are working behind the scenes and getting college credit. To prepare for today’s economic climate, dance majors are supplementing technique classes at school with internships in practical areas of the dance field. Students can be found working everywhere from administration departments to costume shops, marketing offices to programming development divisions.
Rose, a dance BA candidate with a concentration in dance studies, has held internships with NYCB’s archive and press departments. “This is an experience I can’t read about,” she says. “I get to work with top people in the field who recognize my passion and want to help.” Her days at NYCB have given her the chance to handle historical treasures and network with ballet stars, all under the watchful eyes of professionals.
Location, Location, Location
Students are most likely to find arts opportunities at schools located in big cities. Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles often attracts commercial dancers who thrive on the school’s proximity to the entertainment industry, and students have been known to intern for talent agencies. On the East Coast, Marymount Manhattan students take on New York as if it’s their campus, working with Broadway casting agents and various dance companies. “The city is very rich,” says Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan’s dance department. “It can cater to students with a variety of interests.”
But don’t assume that urban campuses are the only places offering a look into dance-related careers. Donna White, professor and former chair of the modern dance department at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, says her students are often surprised to find that there’s a lot going on nearby. “It’s quite vibrant,” she says. “There are a lot of committed people to the arts here.” U of Utah students frequently intern for Ballet West, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and regional performance venues.
Getting the Job
Although pursuing an internship is usually optional, at U of Utah all modern dance students are required to intern for a nonprofit organization in their final semester. “I want them to see how a nonprofit functions from the inside and figure out how to produce their own work, from writing grants to learning how to communicate with professionals,” says White. After discussing the student’s interests and expectations, she and the candidate reach out to organizations together. “I want to make sure the students get hands-on experience, but they should also understand that they’re representing the university.”
At schools where internships aren’t required, students usually need to pursue opportunities themselves. Securing work, though, may be the easiest part—most arts organizations are happy to offer low-stipend or unpaid work. “To be honest, everybody’s looking for an intern,” says Langan. “And when our students do a good job, the organizations come back to us asking for interns again each semester.” However, not all internships offer equal opportunities, and students need to investigate exactly what they’ll be doing before accepting an offer.
A Balancing Act
Dance majors notoriously pack their days with classes and rehearsals. Students at schools that offer credit for internships have an advantage because they can use those points in place of elective academic courses. Most for-credit programs have an evaluation process, which includes forms filled out by the intern’s supervisor. LMU requires an internship journal in which students record and submit information. At the end of the semester, students receive a grade and feedback from a mentor.
Credit transfers are usually under the condition that internships are unpaid. In fact, many schools will not give students points toward their degree if they accept hourly pay or a monthly stipend. However, companies will sometimes offer unpaid interns a daily meal allowance or travel compensation. And many internships come with insider perks––free dance classes, tickets to performances and networking opportunities.
Internships also offer a taste of professional expectations. “We can’t really tell them what the world is like from inside the classroom,” says Patrick Damon Rago, co-chair of LMU’s dance department. “In an internship, there’s no safety net––it’s a job. There’s that immediate sense of ‘Do this well or you’re gone.’”
Often, performance-oriented students work at their favorite companies to simply get a foot in the door. “If you’re working at the Taylor company, you may not be dancing, but you’re in the office,” says Langan. “Paul Taylor sees you coming in and out and you get to try out the atmosphere.” Some companies even allow their interns to take free classes if their schedules allow.
And sometimes connections lead to new interests. “Internships are a way for students to envision future possibilities for themselves,” says White. Langan agrees. “The more well-rounded you are, the better off you are,” she says. “Students should do what they can to stay in the dance world.” That’s the case with Rose, who, after completing her NYCB archival internship, hopes to pursue a career in dance history after college.
In the end, the schools are trying to provide job-making opportunities for the next generation of artists. “We’re trying to broaden the idea of what it means to be a dancer,” says Langan. “We’re not going to become professional dancers, but dance professionals.” DT
Photo: Ailina Rose’s internship with NYCB brought her behind the scenes. (by Nathan Sayers, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archive)