Since its founding in 1999, more than 80,000 ballet dancers have participated in Youth America Grand Prix events. While more than 450 alumni are currently dancing in companies across the world, the vast majority—tens of thousands—never turn that professional corner. And these are just the statistics from one competition.


"You may have the best teacher in the world and the best work ethic and be so committed, and still not make it," says YAGP founder Larissa Saveliev. "I have seen so many extremely talented dancers end up not having enough moti­vation and mental strength, not having the right body type, not getting into the right company at the right time or getting injured at the wrong moment. You need so many factors, and some of these are out of your hands."

While we most often talk about the few dancers who make it in a big way, there is a lot to be learned from the much larger group who don't get there. Why do some seriously talented dancers never end up fulfilling their potential?

"It is not about talent—it's about personality and perseverance," says Ray Leeper, director of NUVO Dance Convention. "The process of becoming a professional is different than being a professional."

The Problem: Being Unprepared

A mentor will help you understand what it takes to make the transition from student to professional. Photo by Unsplash

After graduation, most young dancers spend a year or two auditioning or doing second company work. This limbo can be confusing to navigate and many young dancers—and their parents—do not have a realistic idea of what to expect. For instance, what should your schedule and priorities look like when you are auditioning or in between jobs? What will a transition year or two really cost?

The Solution: Get a Mentor

Seek out a trusted professional or former professional who can answer your questions and act as a guidance counselor when you are thrown off course. Someone who can help you understand what your days will actually look like and assess whether or not this career is for you. Of course, it would be great to have a mentor with professional connections to help you network, but the important part is finding someone who wants to help, who has the information and experience, and who can give you much-needed moral support. If you don't have teachers or connections you feel you can turn to, check out online resources like mentorly.co and balletmentor.com. "The first year is the hardest," says Saveliev. "And it is even harder to do it by yourself."

The Problem: Financial Stress

Getting a side job in the industry will likely give you more flexibility to fit in auditions and rehearsals. Photo by Thinkstock.

Not everyone has parents who support them during this transition. Some dancers also have college loans that need repaying. It can be anxiety-inducing to live in a state of constant financial uncertainty, not knowing whether or when you will land a new gig or a contract.

The Solution: Find a Day Job in the Industry

Make a plan for how you are going to manage your bills during a year when you may not make much money. If you have to get a side job to make ends meet, Leeper recommends keeping it inside the industry if you can. Working as a teacher or administrator will probably give you more flexibility to continue to take class, stay in shape, rehearse and go to auditions.

The Problem: Growing Disillusioned

Getting cut is a normal part of the process. Don't let it diminish your drive. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe.

For prodigies who are used to constant praise, the biggest shock can be that the professional world is full of rejection, says Leeper. "Many dancers fall off when no one is telling them they are wonderful anymore." It can be deflating to be cut from audition after audition, or not get any feedback in company class.

The Solution: Stay Open and Say Yes

The truth is, dancers who already think they're amazing are unlikely to improve. "You have to be open to correction, be open to not knowing," advises Susan Jaffe, dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, who likens the experience to being an explorer. "You have to channel the desire to expand yourself in order to make it, and then again even when you are professional, in order to be an artist."

If you have the financial flexibility to donate your time to choreographers in your community, it will help you to keep honing your craft and remind you of what you're struggling for, suggests Leeper. Plus, you never know when that person will get their next big job and bring you along. "Many choreographers want to use people they know and have used before," says Leeper.

The Problem: Getting Distracted

Don't waste your time comparing yourself to Insta stars. Photo by Thinkstock

Following all of the latest contortionists on Instagram can draw your focus away from the daily rigors and restorative downtime that dance requires. "People are so distracted by information, checking their phones constantly. There seems to be very little time now in life for rest, reflection, for the imagination," says Jaffe. Wasting time comparing yourself to Insta stars will only make you feel inadequate for not being able to développé on a BOSU ball or not going on tour with Beyoncé yet. "Everything seems like it has to happen so quickly when you are measuring yourself up against someone else's success on social media," says Leeper.

The Solution: Ground Yourself

Face-to-face, human connections will help you stay grounded and focused on your goal. "Disconnect from the background noise, surround yourself with people who are healthy and productive, and find your place in the community," says Leeper. Go to performances, talk to other dancers after class, and make it a point to meet one new person at every event or class you attend.

The Problem: Apathy

Writing down a training plan to keep yourself accountable. Photo by Unsplash

To be successful, you can't rest on your laurels. "No matter how beautiful the execution of a step, that's not all there is," says Jaffe. "Being a professional means going so much deeper and becoming so much more dimensional, developing your emotional connection, coordination, musicality, intentionality and creativity." Yet when you're not in a structured training program or company, it can be tempting to try to get away with the bare minimum.

The Solution: Make a Schedule

Stay disciplined by keeping yourself accountable. "Plan. Write it down. Make yourself a real schedule," advises Leeper. "You have to be in class constantly when you are in between gigs or looking for work—ballet classes, too." But don't just go through the motions. Apply everyone's corrections, stay present and curious. And don't forget to pencil in cross-training, too.

The Problem: A Major Injury

Use time away from the studio to explore the world outside of dance. Photo by Thinkstock

A serious injury at the wrong time can throw unprepared dancers off track, says Saveliev. It can force you out of your schedule, which can be depressing. Without a long-term vision to get back and a plan for how to use all of your newfound time, it can be tempting to give up.

The Solution: Focus on Artistry

Think of ways you can develop the mental and emotional strength that recovering from an injury requires. "Nourish yourself with music, museums, painters, the world," says Jaffe. "When you have many interests and the deep education of being a human, you will be able to impart that to audiences." Nothing has to be lost, not even weeks or months spent recovering, if you use your time well and come back stronger.

And if you still don't make it?

"It's never failure. There are just different paths," muses Saveliev. "We don't all have to climb the same mountain." Life as a professional dancer is ultimately not for everyone, but the lessons of dance training can be applied successfully to any profession.

The Conversation
Dancer Health
"We think as dancers, 'Oh my gosh, if this thing isn't working hard enough, I have to work it harder.' In order for these muscles to work, they have to have a chance to relax, too." –Kathryn Maykish

As deeply familiar as dancers are with their bodies, there's one muscle group that can remain mysterious. You can't see it, and it can be tough to access, but the pelvic floor serves a major role in your posture and body function. Dancers and other athletes are more prone than the general population to dysfunction of the pelvic floor, and this can have major ramifications in dance and life.

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The holidays are here, and as everyone knows, the real best way to spread Christmas cheer is serving your community and helping those in need. Luckily for dance teachers, dance studios are the perfect backdrop for the start of some seriously awesome service projects. Your dancers will learn the value of helping others, and you will all feel warm and fuzzy inside!

Check out these three service-project ideas, and try implementing them at your studio this season. Let us know over on our Facebook page, or in the comments below, what other projects you do at your studio that make a difference in your community!

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The holidays can make this time of year fly by. But successful studio directors know that December is not the time to rest on their laurels. Here are four projects to consider this month to give your business a year-end boost.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Eva Stone directs The Stone Dance Collective, shown here in Eve, reconsidered. Photo by Rex Tranter, courtesy of The Stone Dance Collective

Unlike the majority of my students and colleagues, my journey in dance has been unorthodox. At age 14, I enrolled in modern dance at my high school, and something about the large open studio with room to move thrilled me (and still does). I immediately set out to impress my dance teacher with my complete repertoire, a solo interpretation of "Bohemian Rhapsody" created in my living room, infused with several badly self-taught ice-skating moves. In that moment, an awareness of the power of movement, music, space and performance aligned, and I instinctively knew I was someplace special.

My high school dance teacher was smart. Knowing that she did not have the time to mold us into technically proficient dancers, she introduced us to the craft and skill of making dances. I spent four years opening the door to my creative voice, becoming a confident choreographer. As a dance major in college, however, I quickly realized I was lacking something very important: actual dance training. So I began an intense regimen of studying, analyzing, copying, stealing and emulating every movement language, quality and nuance with which I could connect. Later, I completed a master's degree in choreography and choreological studies, formed a small dance company and set out to fund my artist's life with teaching.

As a modern dancer, and having come to dance late, communication and imagery were significant in managing the demands of my training. I had to ask a lot of questions, because I had not yet developed a physical vocabulary of answers. I needed a sense of humor, to prevent me from quitting. I had to negotiate, rationalize, moderate and articulate, both verbally and physically, a pathway through much of what I was performing in or choreographing. This allowed me to solve problems more creatively, from a place separate from a perspective of pure technical ability. I now use these same methods for teaching students.

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Dancer Health
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According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide, and there were an estimated 1.3 million suicide attempts. While it's a myth that suicide rates are higher in December than any other time of year, the holidays give us an opportunity to consider the health and happiness of those we love. As dance teachers, we spend more time with our students than even their parents do, which means we are in a particular position to notice the pain and distress they're experiencing.

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Q: What do you do with parents who constantly complain about where their daughter is placed in choreography?

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Studio Owners
Photos courtesy of Google

Valentina Bagala and Rafael Savino held their studio's very first registration at a Subway. "We didn't even have an office," says Bagala, who heads the artistic side of Ascendance Studio in Doral, Florida. "This lady called us over the phone, and we said, 'OK, we can take your registration. Would you mind meeting us at the Subway that's downstairs from our studio?'"

Now, five years later, Ascendance is thriving, with a growing competitive team, a 5,000-square-foot space and 300 students—one of whom is the same dancer who was registered in that Subway. Today, registration mostly happens online, as do many of Ascendance's processes—attendance, billing, e-mail marketing campaigns—thanks to Savino, who heads the studio's marketing, finances and administration. To what do Bagala and Savino credit their impressive growth? Digital advertising. Despite working in an industry where many still rely on old-school methods of operation—manual registration, tuition paid in person by cash or check, fliers handed out in parking lots—they took the plunge to modernize their advertising strategy and found it a game changer for their studio.

Slow, but consistent

Bagala and Savino admit Ascendance got off to a rocky start. They rented space from a fitness studio for three months. "We didn't get the best schedule," says Bagala, who could only rent the space by the hour when it wasn't being used. Still, she managed to amass 25 students. Eventually, she found a small, 550-square-foot space of her own in a shopping center. "I remember for our first classes, we would have people who were supposed to show up but didn't," says Savino. "If we had one student in class, we had to teach to that student. That happened multiple times."

When two more spaces became available in the same shopping center, the couple grabbed them, despite the inconvenience of the units not being connected. "You had to step outside," says Bagala. "It wasn't very comfortable."

"The fliers weren't working."

With more space came more responsibility—to increase enrollment. They had been passing out fliers at nearby schools, but that approach, Savino says, "became unscalable. That's when I started looking at digital advertising." He didn't have much money to spend on it—his budget was $5/day—but he began looking into advertising on Google. He also enrolled in a local digital marketing course at nearby Miami-Dade College. "That gave me strategy," he says.

His most successful venture has been with Google's AdWords. With this advertising strategy, business owners create a search ad. (Search ads appear above Google search results when people look for local services the business offers.) The Ascendance search ad, for example, includes the studio website and phone number, plus: "Dance classes for kids. All ages and styles. Try a free class today." Then, you choose keywords—the words or phrases potential customers might type into their browser—and set a daily budget for how much you'd like to "bid" on each keyword. You're charged only if users click your link. During his first AdWords campaign, Savino often bid less than $1 on keywords like "ballet classes," "hip-hop classes," "jazz" and "dance studio."

How much you bid affects in what order your search ad appears among other businesses. But a business with more money to spend on keywords won't automatically see their ad pop up first. Multiple factors—keyword bidding price, how long a user stays on your website, your click-through rate—determine what's called your quality score. And it's your quality score, ultimately, that decides in what order your ad appears on Google.

"For example, let's say there's a huge competitor who's bidding $10 a keyword, while I'm only bidding $1," says Savino. "Google is tracking everything. If users stay on my website for a while and don't click the back button to get back to the search page, Google knows my website is relevant and a good experience." That increases his quality score and gives his search ad odds a boost.

Experimenting, wisely

Savino ran his initial AdWords campaign for about a month in 2013, starting in mid-September—prime back-to-school time. Each week, he wound up getting 10-plus interested customers. He offered each a free trial class. Of that weekly number, more than 80 percent enrolled in classes. By the time the campaign was over, Ascendance had 45 new students. And it all cost him less than $150. Though he risked spending more than his daily allotted $5, he knew it would pay off in increased enrollment.

As they became more comfortable with AdWords, the couple experimented. Bagala asked her mom what words she would use to search if, for example, she were looking for ballet classes for a 5-year-old. Her responses became part of their strategy: "ballet classes in Doral," "dance classes in Doral," "dance studio in Doral." They also interviewed parents of new students, asking 'How did you hear about us?' "If they said, 'Google,'" says Savino, "we'd ask if they remembered what they typed."

Now his daily budget is $20, though he's careful to time campaigns with high-enrollment periods. "During back-to-school season, August and September, I know a lot of people are going to be looking for classes," he says. "But I also know that January is another high-enrollment period—that's when we see an uptick in our baby program. Those moms are operating on a calendar year, not a studio year."

When Google came to town

Last spring, Google itself took an interest in Ascendance, and it featured Savino and Bagala in a national video campaign as a small-business case study. Of particular interest was the studio's dual advertising campaigns: one in English and one in Spanish. Savino and Bagala are bilingual, and their community is largely Spanish-speaking—so they capitalized on that. "Since we were advertising in Spanish," says Savino, "those people were sure that they were going to come through our door and someone would be here who would speak their language."

Of course, digital advertising can only take a studio so far. You have to follow through with a great product—and that, Savino says, is Valentina's greatest contribution to the business. "At the end of the day, if the product isn't good, people are simply going to leave," he says. "She's the heartbeat of the studio."

Dance Teacher Tips
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It's a dance teacher's job to prepare students for professional careers. As everyone knows, this means more than just giving them precise technique and exceptional performance capabilities. Perhaps more than ever, it's important that teachers prepare their students to know how to make smart and safe decisions when entering the workplace. It's important that we give them the skills to say "no" when a project doesn't fit with their personal values, puts them in a dangerous or toxic work environment, or is discriminatory to their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. Teachers need to help their students advocate for themselves in order to create a career they can be proud of.

Here are four tips for helping your dancers make safe and smart professional decisions when they leave the warmth of your caring and supportive studio.

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Dancer Health
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Q: I've noticed a clicking or popping sound coming from my right hip joint when I raise it to the side, and I tend to be far more flexible on my left leg. Are these two things connected? Should I be worried?

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Q: I want to do a holiday performance and need some advice. How do you get parents on board? How do you keep it economical? What other money makers do you do at your holiday show other than ticket sales?

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Dance News
Genshaft in Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet

Dana Genshaft was a beloved dancer in the San Francisco Ballet for 15 years, rising to the rank of soloist. Some of her SFB career highlights include performing lead roles in Frederick Ashton's Monotones I and Wayne McGregor's Eden/Eden and originating roles in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House and Mark Morris' Joyride, as well as working with Christopher Wheeldon and William Forsythe.

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