How-To

5 Ways to Prepare Your Dancers to Be Marketable

Dancers await to audition for Ballet West. Photo by Jim Lafferty.

Do you have students considering a career in dance? The reality is that it takes more than just good training. Lisa Rumbauskas, co-founder and co-director of Moving Youth Dance Company in Cranford, New Jersey, danced professionally before teaching and choreographing full-time. Getting hired takes more than being a good dancer, she says.

Here are five ways Rumbauskas says dance educators can prepare students for success.


Give them a strong foundation.

No matter what road your student goes down, proper technique is crucial. I cannot stress enough the importance of ballet. If your students are seriously considering a career in dance, make ballet a requirement. Even if they do not wish to become ballet dancers, this foundation will improve their technique. Along the same lines, hire professional faculty who are qualified and knowledgeable with the style of dance they teach. Do not attempt to teach what you don't know inside and out. This will better your students AND your studio.

Offer a variety of styles.

These days, dance worlds are colliding. Ballet is being performed on Broadway, modern works are being performed by classical ballet companies and musicals are being broadcast on commercial television. To be a working dancer, you must be open to and capable of many styles of dance. The more versatile dancers are, the more they will work.

Offer classes in all styles of dance and encourage your students to move out of their comfort zones. Consider bringing in voice and acting coaches. Today's theater dancers are expected to be triple threats. If they're serious about working professionally, they need to be prepared for this.

Practice improvisation.

Dancers need to have this skill. Period. Many choreographers want to work with dancers who can add to what they are given, produce a vision or just be willing to play in order to find the right movement. This can be incredibly scary and intimidating for some. Start teaching improvisational tools and techniques at an early age to curb the natural inhibition we tend to develop as we get older.

Teach audition preparation.

Just like many smart students do not test well in school, many great dancers do not audition well. Auditioning is a skill and something one does get better at with practice. You can help your students with this by holding mock auditions. Teach them how to present themselves and how to write a resumé. Test how quickly they can pick up choreography, and give them individual feedback.

Prepare them for reality.

It takes much more than being a good dancer to be a successful dancer. The harsh reality is that it is a very competitive field, and there are so many talented dancers. An audition call looking for one person may have hundreds lined up in hopes of being the one chosen. This is a discouraging fact. Simply informing your students of this reality will prepare them. Teach them to persevere and be self-disciplined. Most importantly, remind them of why they started dancing in the first place. Often, when we feel like giving up, being reminded of our "why" is enough to reinspire our spark.

Dance Buzz
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



The Boy Factor doesn't just have to do with competition scores: It's how we treat boys throughout their dance education. "We idolize the boys," says Ashley Harnish, a teacher at a competition studio. "We build entire dances around one boy, and we teach them that we need them more than we need the girls."

On the surface, The Boy Factor is flagrant sexism. But what's really behind the phenomenon? "So often, young male dancers are bullied because our culture says that dance is for girls," says a second national competition adjudicator. "This stigma pushes some judges to reward boys by scoring them higher than their female competitors." The Boy Factor also stems from a simple fact: There are far more girls than boys in the dance world.

"Judges see boys as valuable commodities," says Marissa Jean, a staff member at Broadway Dance Center's new building for children and teens and a teacher at several competition studios. "To encourage their career in dance, judges will throw a little extra their way. It could be placing them in the top ten or giving them a special award. They nurture them a bit more than the girls."



But by trying to retain more male talent, are we suggesting to girls that they are less valuable to the dance world than boys? "There's so much about this getting into these kids' psyches," says Childress. "Like, 'Oh the boy will beat me no matter what.' How do we teach self-worth knowing that you're going up against a boy, so what's the point?"

The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

So what can be done about The Boy Factor? First, we could change how we encourage boys to continue dancing. Instead of empowering young men by devaluing young women, we could work as a community to dispel the culture of toxic masculinity that discourages boys from pursuing dance in the first place.

But it also falls in the hands of judges and teachers. "We need to increase awareness," says the second adjudicator. "A lot of us judges don't realize what we are promoting and the messages we send through our scoring and awards. If enough of us band together, I think we can make a difference so that this part of our field is less toxic."

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