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I HAVE JUST BEEN OFFERED MY FIRST CONTRACT AS A DANCER. HOW SHOULD I BEST TRANSITION FROM STUDENT TO PROFESSIONAL?

A great question and at a perfect time of year to be asking it!

Your first job is a big deal! You have probably been training full time for three or more years waiting for this moment.

Look at the behaviours more experienced professionals display...
You want to present your best personal and professional self to the group of people you are working with. Do as they do as a starting point. They are modelling not only the behaviours that have likely gotten them through a long and successful career but are also potentially modelling the behaviours the choreographer expects from them.

Ask questions (but not too many!)...
It’s going to be a faster and smoother process if you understand what is required of you. And, you can almost always guarantee that someone else in the room is thinking the same question. But, be aware of becoming the ‘question master’. Sometimes if you just give things a go you’ll figure it out yourself. Listen and write information down so people don’t need to repeat it for you.

Keep your mind and body in check...
Make sure you give yourself several weeks before you start to ensure you can begin the project in tip top shape. You should assume that you will be dancing at full capacity on day one of rehearsals. Make sure you are mentally well and well rested.

You will also likely be expected to be in class and rehearsals without fail. That means even if you are injured (of even sometimes sick) you must attend. If in doubt ask before you make decisions about your attendance.

Be on time and check your emails (or other communication daily)...
Don’t be that person who never responds to their emails. Useful information, or changes to rehearsal/performance times, dates etc might be sent to you Demonstrate your professionalism by being organized, prompt, articulate and polite with all of your communication.

Be prepared, and go above and beyond...
Don’t sit down! Stay on your feet and make sure when you are not being used in rehearsals that you are being proactive in using that time to recap, practice and revise feedback. Learn other peoples’ material - you never know when someone will get injured and you will need to step into their role.

This job might be your audition for your next job...
The dance industry is very small. Everyone knows everyone. Throughout my own career I almost never attended an audition. People get work through word of mouth recommendations, seeing you onstage in other productions, and getting to know you socially.

People work with people they actually like...
Be nice, generous, respectful and curious. You are going to spend a lot of time with your colleagues; in the studio and also potential on planes, buses, in airports and hotel rooms. Get to know them. Your relationships with these people can affect your entire experience and you will affect theirs.

Be yourself...
It’s cliché, but that is likely the thing that got you the job in the first place. Continue to be who you are both personally and artistically and life will be much more fun.

Make sure you have developed professional level skills...
No doubt you will have been taught all the dance and choreographic skills you need. But you will require other professional skills including, where to place your focus at different moments, the quick pick up of material and ability to make quick changes. Choreographers will have higher expectations of you than when you were a student and will often offload a multitude of things they want you to do in a short period of time. Knowing how to stay calm and methodically make adjustments as quickly as possible is key. Also, personal and time management are essential and expected.

‘Listen’ to the room...
Work to ‘tune in’ to your new environment and stay sensitive to how people are working. This could fluctuate often. Know when to offer ideas and when to hold back.  If in doubt ask a more senior dancer for advice. Additionally, you will be expected to fill in the gaps at times, running on little information. Learning to use your initiative in diverse ways will stand you in good stead.

Learn to work without feedback and support...
Within your training you will have probably received feedback and encouragement on a daily basis. Within the industry it can be common to receive very little feedback on your overall progress or work except for notes about the choreography. Work to develop your own methods of supporting yourself through challenging moments. These strategies will last your career.

A word on drinking and drugs….
You might have a clause in your contract about this and the choreographer might not care what you do in your spare time. But do not, whatever you do, turn up hung over or unready to work the next day. As well as being potentially unsafe, this sort of behaviour sends a very clear message that you don’t take the opportunity seriously and do not fully respect the people you are working with.

Respect yourself enough to say ‘no’ (or yes!). Know your employment rights and responsibilities...
Stay safe and hold onto your values. You might be working in your dream job but that doesn’t necessarily protect you from people who might abuse their power. Unfortunately, in our industry we still have environments where dancers aren’t treated fairly or with reasonable respect in a consistent manner.

You can find a lot of useful employment information on the Employment New Zealand website: www.employment.govt.nz

Do your research about contracts, expectations and working conditions, know what you should be getting paid. Unfortunately, early career artists can be taken advantage of, or simply don’t know what questions to ask. And remember just because everyone else is going along with something doesn’t mean you have to!

Also keep in mind that you have ethical and moral responsibilities throughout your career to secure the future you want for our industry and for those who come after you. We are currently witnessing a state of change where many choreographers and dancers are seeking new environmental, physical and psychological ways of working. You have a responsibility to be a part of this progression. Please do your part in dancing us forwards!

Know who to talk to...
Your job will be tough, and tiring. You will probably want to offload at times. Make sure you do this with a trusted confidant, not just anyone in the industry, even your friends. Again, everyone knows everyone and you never know who is friends with whom. If things get challenging and you need support make sure you talk to someone who can offer impartial and professional advice. This is where DANZ and your mentors might come in handy!

Keep it all in perspective and enjoy the ride...
Don’t sweat the small stuff. In 5-10 years’ time the small challenges won’t even matter. What you will remember is how much you learned, the fun you had and the great people you worked with. This is just the beginning…..


If you have a question or a topic suggestion for Sarah please let us know in the comments below or visit our suggestion box.

Dance Student to Dance Professional

 
 
 
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