Enter, Bebe Neuwirth

In a glass-walled room above New York’s 42nd Street, a group of dancers sit around a conference table, listening closely to Annette Lieberman explain why they need a financial plan. There are women in their 20s and men in their 40s, dancers just starting out and dancers looking a career transition in the face.
“Each of you is an entrepreneur, not an employee,” says Lieberman, author of The Money Mirror: How Money Reflects Women’s Dreams, Fears and Desires. “Even if you have a gig, you need to remember you’re in business for yourself. No one’s going to take care of you, especially in show business.”

The financial straight talk is part of “Healing the Dancer,” a seminar presented last May by the Dancers’ Resource, a new initiative of The Actor’s Fund. Brainchild of Broadway triple threat Bebe Neuwirth, DR aims to help active dancers deal with the rigors of professional life and plan for the future.

  Neuwirth realized when she was recovering from hip replacement surgery several years ago that many dancers had to face the challenge of coming back from an injury without the network of support she could draw on. “If you’re a dancer you probably have injury, financial woes, stress,” she says. “It’s exacerbated by the need for secrecy. Dancers can’t let anyone know they’re hurt because they’re so replacable.”

The Actor’s Fund offers many services to help dancers, but Neuwirth realized that few took advantage of them. So she raised the seed money to launch a special outreach program to the dance community. DR now employs a full-time social worker, Alice Vienneau, as coordinator. The initiative will periodically hold seminars like “Healing the Dancer,” which offered free workshops on nutrition and injury prevention, emotional wellness, and financial counseling. It will also plug dancers into ongoing services, support groups, and referrals.

Neuwirth hopes the program will help dancers realize that they need not struggle alone with the rigor of a dance life. “You get a group of dancers in the room, and whether they’re a Paul Taylor dancer or a Rockette, they speak the same language,” she says. “We’re all the same animal and the goal is that dancers now know the Actor’s Fund is there for them.”

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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