The Journey To Become A Professional Dancer

May 28, 2014

The journey to become a professional dancer takes many twists and turns.  Here at Ballet North, our program is built on a very solid classical dance foundation because we are total believers in all the wonderful benefits of studying this nearly perfect movement language: excellent posture, muscle conditioning and elongation, greatly enhanced balance, coordination and poise, and of course self confidence and self respect gleaned from the knowledge you have learned and mastered something that is challenging, athletic and at the same time artistic - REGARDLESS of whether or not our students and dancers "go pro" or not.  

For some, the desire or "spark" to take it even farther takes hold and this is where another branch of the journey begins.  A significant and essential part of following through this branch and discovering if you have it in you to become a professional dancer is the attending of major, National-level multi-week summer intensives where a truly impressive talent pool of just 200 or so young dancers come together from many thousands that will audition to get in, and where the talent pool of faculty is uber-networked in to actual professional companies in a very similar manner to talent scouts who patrol the AAA league baseball teams searching for new talent for big-league ball teams. 

Acting as a journeyman or apprentice program would have in centuries past, these long-term summer ballet intensives at places like Next Generation are designed to put attendees through very rigorous weeks of instruction, drills, and learning of choreography to get a sense of who can handle the very high intensity, all-day-long dancing and performance lifestyle of professional dancers in places like Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet or American Ballet Theater. 

The real challenge to this pursuit is the financial resources needed.  In the big picture, and by far the most effective method of learning ballet to the point that "going pro" could be an option, is by taking correctly taught, challenging and regular ballet classes on an ongoing basis.  There is no substitute for a solid, regular class schedule that comes as close as possible to having a daily ballet class.  Why?  Because your 24 hr circadian rhythm regularly erases some of the muscle memory from the previous day - the only way to acquire and then maintain that precision muscle memory ballet dancers need is to tune up the body as it were with a daily ballet class.  The Russians have a saying: miss one day of class you can tell it, miss 2 days of class and the teacher can tell it, miss 3 days of class and everyone else can tell it.  That being said, what a summer ballet intensive should be for is a chance to be seen by future employers.  Realistically a 6 week period of time is not long enough to make a huge technical breakthrough - swim camps, baseball camps, football camps, none of these cause major breakthroughs either but they all facilitate putting prospective future professionals through their paces for others to see and take note of.

You have to be careful though, because just like with soccer and baseball and football, not every sports camp or ballet intensive out there is one where those connections can be made because everyone has caught on to the fact that at $4,000 or more per student in fees for such camps or intensives, a whole lot of money can be made serving the "pro-sumer" type of player or dancer.  In other words, most camps and intensives nowadays have no connections and do not lead to any professional gig at all.  Sadly, they have mostly become just a golden goose for those offering them.

What Ballet North prefers to do is keep an awareness of which summer ballet intensives actually are connected with possible future employment, then work towards sending any potentially interested dancer to one of those and skipping altogether the dead-end but still very expensive intensives offered everywhere else.  The other big condition here is that the dancer his or her self has to want to pursue this on their own by way of their own decision - this is not something that should be pushed or that someone should be talked into doing.

One important step along the way we have found is to offer a summer intensive at Ballet North that is shorter - 2 weeks long - and far, far less expensive (under $700 instead of $4,200) but that still hits just as hard and is just as intensive as any other program out there with daily technique, pointe, variations, modern, core training, and more going on each day with only a small break for lunch.  That makes for the very same level of work and engagement as any professional or summer intensive schedule contains, and bridges the gap nicely so that someone's very first experience is not a 6 week period away from home (which can be daunting by itself) along with hard work at a level they aren't used to every day.  This shorter intensive familiarizes dancers with a high energy sustained level of work far beyond what can be done during the school year - it literally goes all day long every day like regular school except it's all ballet and dance related - and is an excellent way to test the waters so to speak before diving all the way in to a much more expensive and far from home intensive.


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