Dance Advice

Making the transition from student to professional – A contemporary dance perspective

By Kym King of Dance Informa.

Finding work as a contemporary dancer in Australia can be challenging. While there are few dance companies offering full-time employment, dancers often find work on short-term projects or decide to make work for themselves. Australian dancers are also intrepid travellers and many head to Europe or the U.S. looking for work opportunities. While there isn’t a ‘best’ way to find work as a contemporary dancer, it does help to spend time researching what is out there and most importantly what interests you.

If finding work with a company is your main aim, it’s important to spend some time finding out which ones interest you and the internet is a good place to start. Both Dance Informa and the Ausdance website have a list of Australian contemporary dance companies, and for information on international companies as well as schools and festivals, contemporary-dance.org and Dance Web Contemporary dance directory are useful resources. For US companies, Dance Informa US has a large list.

When you know you are interested in a particular company or choreographer, find out when they audition and whether you can spend time with them beforehand. Usually it’s possible to attend company class for a period of time but there may also be apprenticeships, secondment programs or workshops on offer. These can provide an alternative opportunity for directors and choreographers to see what you can do. At the same time, they can give you a sense of whether or not you would be happy working with them.

Australian dancer Lilian Steiner

Lilian Steiner

It’s also important to realise that in contemporary dance, work often comes in the form of short-term or on-off projects, both with companies and with independent choreographers. Sometimes dancers are paid and other times they aren’t, but it’s common for graduates to rehearse and perform without pay as a way to gain experience and be seen. The question of how long you are willing to do this is personal.

Dancers Lilian Steiner and Rachel Vogel share their experience of making the transition.

Lilian Steiner

Lilian Steiner graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2010 and remembers not having much of an idea about what opportunities were available in contemporary dance other than the major companies in Australia, nor what she was interested in.

Her first opportunity came when a friend decided to develop a piece of choreography. This meant committing to a four-week development period working from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with no payment and no immediate performance outcome. But it did provide a chance to work creatively and develop her skills alongside other more experienced dancers.

For nearly a year after this project, Lilian worked between one and three hospitality jobs a day, attending morning classes when she wasn’t too exhausted. When she realised this routine was preventing her from putting energy into what she was really interested in, she decided to “quit all my jobs and focus on my dance practice.”

Dancer Lilian Steiner

Lilian Steiner performs “Meditation” at the National Gallery of Victoria this year. Photo by Tony Owczarek.

Living off her savings for a couple of months, she began seriously exploring her options. She approached Phillip Adams, the director of Balletlab with whom she had worked at the VCA, and asked to do a secondment. When he agreed, she spent time with the company developing a new work, Above, performing in this and spending time in the studio developing and understudying with the company on many projects.

Around this time, she also applied for a one-week secondment with Lucy Guerin Inc. but was unsuccessful. A few months later however, she and two other new graduates were invited by Guerin to work with her in the studio while she choreographed a solo for one of her dancers.

During her second year after graduating, Lilian applied for an ArtStart grant through the Australia Council and was successful. This enabled her to travel to Europe for two months to attend workshops, classes and performances. She says, “This allowed me to learn from people in so many ways, and work out what I was either interested or disinterested in, in terms of dance, performance, process and practice.”

While she was away, she received an email from Guerin inviting her to work with her and to tour with the company to the United States. This was to become her first paid professional work and the beginning of an ongoing relationship with Lucy Guerin Inc. Lilian’s advice to graduates is: “Be open to accepting opportunities as they arise, and if they do not come to you straight away, don’t think that they never will.”

For the full-length interview with Lilian Steiner, go to: www.kymkingcareers.com/blog

Dancer Rachel Vogel

Rachel Vogel

Rachel Vogel

Rachel Vogel graduated from the VCA in 2009 after completing her honours year. Following a short period working on projects with independent choreographers in Melbourne, she decided to explore work opportunities in Europe.

Backpacking around Europe, Rachel came upon the Vienna International Dance Festival (iMpuls Tanz), where she spent a month seeing as many dance performances and attending as many classes and workshops as possible. Like Lilian, she considers this time away to be invaluable, enabling her to “really gain a different perspective on what contemporary dance could be.”

Rachel hadn’t planned to do an audition tour with specific companies but decided to audition whenever she was interested in something and the opportunity arose. She admits finding the audition process overwhelming at times, citing one audition in the UK where she waited with more than 300 other dancers outside in the cold as groups of 30 dancers auditioned at a time.

Dancer Rachel Vogel

Rachel Vogel

Arriving in London, Rachel successfully auditioned for Quicksilver, Rambert’s youth dance company, which she continued to perform with for two years. She also spent time working as a dance critic for Cloud Dance Festival and for the last eight months of her time abroad joined English National Ballet’s education team. Her advice to graduates is: “See as much as you can and don’t get locked in to what you see as your own style. Unless you are open to the possibilities, you won’t know what is out there.”

After a bout of illness and with her Visa about to expire, Rachel returned to Australia. While she feels that in some ways opportunities were just starting to open up for her in London, she was ready for the Australian sunshine and the support of her family and friends. Her time away made her realise that her initial idea of being a contemporary dancer was “to dance 15 hours a day with a company.” She now believes that being told what to do all the time may not suit her because she has her own ideas.

Next time: “Transition- A ballet perspective”

Kym King is a career counsellor and former dancer. Contact her through www.kymkingcareers.com.

Photo (top): © Sanches1980 | Dreamstime.com

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