We’ve received some fantastic questions on a diverse range of topics. Thank you! I hope that over the rest of the year I can provide responses to a wide spectrum of questions and that there is something useful for everyone.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR 19 YEAR-OLD SELF PURSUING A DANCE CAREER?
A great question and one that I am sure many parents and caregivers will be interested in too! Below are some things I think are important when considering your next steps after high school.
I advocate for pursuing a higher qualification in dance to set you up for your chosen career, or help you decide what you want to do!
Stay in school...
You mention that you're 19 so have likely finished school, however if not, stay in school! To pursue a career in ballet you might be accepted into a programme a few years younger but for a career as a contemporary dancer, choreographer, teacher or any other dance career there (in my opinion) is no reason why you cannot be successful once you’ve completed your year 13 education. Some institutions, in fact, require you to have gained your year 13 NCEA credits otherwise you will not be admitted to the course.
Additionally, I had no idea how much writing, analysis, administration, math, planning, and verbal communication I would do throughout my career. Furthermore, employers want people who are intelligent, curious about the world, creative, and who have good interpersonal skills. Completing your high school education can be beneficial in developing a range of useful skills, and may mean you have other opportunities available later on.
Do your research...
There are a large number of tertiary dance education providers available in New Zealand and overseas, and it’s important to do your research into what each institution offers. The programme’s values and ethos, the length of courses, prerequisites, qualifications you will receive and what opportunities that might be open to you during and after your course, teachers and their qualifications and experience, timetables and schedules, learning aims and objectives, graduate profiles, career pathways, support services, financial requirements, living arrangements and more.
The audition/admission requirements will tell you a lot about what the institution’s values are and what type of candidates they are looking for. I strongly suggest meeting with the head of school or key teachers to get a ‘feel’ for what the school is about and ask any questions you may have. Also, a tour of the facilities, joining or watching a class, and talking to current students and recent gradates will give you a clearer picture about whether the programme is right for you. Many institutions run workshops, seminars, and open days, attending these will give you further insight into how they do what they do and why. This can also be a good way to meet other potential students. You can ask yourself: are these the sort of people I want to spend several years with? Do I feel welcome and part of the team? More often than not, those dancers at the audition are your new lifelong friends and collaborators!
Remember that you are auditioning the school as well as them auditioning you!
Finally, it's common to audition for more than one institution. This can give you good options later on. However, take care as this can make you look like you are going to favour one school over another, or perhaps like you don’t understand the unique specificities of what each school offers. This might work against you. Again, do your research and be prepared to respond to questions about this in your interview.
Consider the realities...
A career in dance, whether performing, making or teaching is physically challenging. You will need to firstly consider your physique and whether it is suitable for your chosen career. A career in ballet is likely to have the most specific physical demands. Contemporary dance now invites a diverse range of physiques. There are also programmes that are inclusive and sometimes accept students with a range of physical and health challenges or injuries. These programmes will have strategies in place to accommodate you in physical classes. Good questions to ask are: how will you keep ‘in your best shape’ as appropriate to the demands of your selected style and schedule, within your training, and beyond? Will you be admitted to the programme if you are injured or have health challenges, and how will you be supported?
When I was 15 and starting my full time training, university was the furthest possibility from my mind. Little did I know that 15 years later I’d be wanting to pursue postgraduate study, including a Master’s degree and PhD! Think ahead. Some careers in dance don’t even exist yet. Sometimes your plans will change. Choose a programme that will prepare you for this uncertainty and reality.
Be open to what you might learn...
Whatever training you choose your teachers have carefully planned out what to teach, and will have a clear rationale for why that thing is important. Find ways to enjoy and engage in everything. I cannot explain how many times I’ve been surprised by what skills I needed in my career that I never thought I would!
If you feel something might be missing from your preferred course, a good question to ask is whether you are allowed to supplement your education by attending other classes and workshops etc.
Hold onto your values...
Consider what is important to you and your life, your family and living circumstances. Undertaking tertiary dance training is a challenging journey and will provide myriad possibilities for personal and professional development. It might also offer moments of social, creative tension, strife or difficulty. If you are clear about what is important to you, you‘ll be better equipped to deal with whatever might arise. Your values will also assist you in decision-making and figuring out where to place your attention and energy.
Look after your mental health as much as you do your physical health...
Mental health is extremely important, especially with our current national statistics for young people. Tertiary dance training is hard. There are long hours, assessments, performances, and other creative and social challenges. You might like to ask how the course will provide support for your mental health throughout your training. Also, will the course teach you skills that will help you to stay mentally healthy through out your career?
A list of further questions to help you select a tertiary dance education provider...
- How much will it cost and what are the hidden expenses?
- What financial support is available, and how do you apply?
- What will happen if you get injured or sick during your education?
- Where will you live and what social support is available?
- What learning support is offered, especially if you have any disabilities or challenges?
- What qualification is offered and will this allow you to pursue further education in the future? In what ways might the qualification help or hinder possible career aspirations?
- Is the qualification/institution internationally recognized and/or held in high esteem and might this matter for your career pathway?
- Where are the institution’s graduates working? Do these reflect your aspirations?
- What commitments are you allowed to engage in outside the course?
- What opportunities are students offered as part of the course and are all students offered these?
- What are the expectations for attendance?
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