Everything You Need to Know About Assisting At Conventions As A College Student

Assisting gave Eliah Furlong taste of the professional dance world. Photo by Beau Austin, courtesy Furlong

Adding another commitment to your already busy schedule may be the last thing you want to do as a college student. But assisting at dance conventions can offer valuable experiences you won't find in a classroom. Convention assistants help students pick up choreography and rub shoulders with industry influencers. For some, it's the perfect addition to their college experience—but balancing the demands of both isn't easy.


Why Should You Assist?

Through assisting, Alyssa Ness tried new styles she wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. Photo courtesy Evolve Photo & Video

Network. Dancing alongside world-renowned faculty gives you the chance to show off your talent and prove you're a reliable professional, and could help you make the connections you need to score your dream job after college.

Be well-rounded. New York City Dance Alliance assistant and Marymount Manhattan College alumna Alyssa Ness says assisting has exposed her to new styles and choreographers: While her college program focused on ballet and modern, at NYCDA she has assisted with everything from hip hop to musical theater.

Get real-world experience. For BellaMoxi faculty assistant and Institute for American Musical Theatre student Eliah Furlong, assisting prepared him for the realities of a professional dance career—from the late-night rehearsals to the early-morning warm-ups.

How to Become An Assistant

Lauren Settembrino assisted at Dancers Inc. while she was an NYU student. Courtesy EAP Photography and Video

The road to assisting is different for each convention. At NYCDA, positions are given to dancers who win a specific title, like National Outstanding Dancer. For others, you'll need to submit an application with your resumé, headshot and videos of dance solos.

What You Can Expect

Jordan Koch says it's normal for your first convention as an assistant to leave you drained. Photo by Mitch Button and Beau Austin, courtesy Koch

If you've attended a convention before, you know that it can be a whirlwind. As an assistant you should expect the weekend to be even more fast-paced, says BellaMoxi faculty assistant and Institute for American Musical Theatre student Jordan Koch. Responsibilities can range from demonstrating in class and rehearsing for performances to helping with administrative jobs like registration.

You may have to miss a college class or two for travel, so make sure you know your school's absence policy, and communicate with your professors to catch up on material you may have missed. While some schools have preexisting partnerships with conventions (like Marymount Manhattan College does with NYCDA), it's best to sit down with your program's director to see if taking on an assistant position is feasible.

The Do's & Don'ts

Don't try to go full-out for every class you're assisting for, says Lauren Settembrino. Courtesy EAP Photography and Video

Do: Put school first. Katie Langan, dance department chair at Marymount Manhattan College, says convention assistants should make college their priority. "Your goal is to get through four years of education, and if the other job becomes too cumbersome, know enough to step back," she says.

Don't: Try to go to every city. While some conventions may require you to go to a minimum number of cities, it's not in your best interest to assist at all of them. This kind of schedule isn't sustainable and could put dancers at risk for injury, Langan says.

Do: Plan ahead. "Don't forget that your midterms and finals and papers are important," says former Dancers Inc. assistant and New York University Tisch School of the Arts alumna Lauren Settembrino. When you're deciding which conventions to attend, take into account assignments and exams, not just performances.

Don't: Waste your energy. Settembrino says that giving 100 percent for every combination in every class can lead to burnout. Be strategic about when you need to go full-out.

Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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