Stepping out from behind the doors of your ballet school, and into the world of fierce job competition in a bid to fulfil your dreams and aspirations as a professional dancer, can be a truly daunting task. Many dancers reach the end of their training and feel quite lost, confused and simply underprepared for what lies ahead.
Creating and executing a clear and focused plan for how to go about finding work in the dance industry is absolutely essential. It can define the difference between realising your dreams of dancing on the big stage and giving up on the one thing you’ve been working toward most of your life. Getting down to the specifics of who you are as a dancer, who you want to be and where you want to be dancing as a professional can help you sustain the persistence and resilience necessary to not only survive but also flourish in this industry.
Enter onPointe Consulting.
onPointe Consulting is the brainchild of Alice Aschwanden. Aschwanden began her career as a professional ballet dancer at the age of 19 with Alberta Ballet. Following that, she continued her career as a demi-soloist with Zurich Ballet.
After she retired from her dance career due to injury, Aschwanden completed a Degree in Psychology and History, followed by a Masters in Social Work. Throughout her studies, she taught dance in both Melbourne and Singapore, specialising in training dancers at the pre-professional level as they were preparing to set out into the audition circuit.
In December 2017, Aschwanden launched onPointe Consulting in Melbourne, Victoria. Aschwanden noticed a huge gap in the transition from student dancer to professional dancer. She was inspired to bridge that gap by providing mentoring, advice and guidance to those on the bumpy road to professional life. Being very aware of the countless hours of training ballet dancers undergo over the years, with the hope that one day they will become a professional dancer, Aschwanden felt the need to help. Unlike the commercial dance industry, “it’s really the Wild Wild West for ballet dancers, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Aschwanden says.
OnPointe Consulting was set up to target “students who are either at the stage of trying to audition for or enter into pre-professional ballet schools at the full time level or professional ballet companies,” explains Aschwanden.
In the brief time since its inception, onPointe has garnered a lot of interest, especially from dance teachers and studio owners who are very excited to have someone who can support and guide their graduates into the next phase of their dancing life.
Aschwanden’s goal is to work in partnership with ballet schools, the dancers and their families to help them achieve their ultimate outcome of becoming a professional ballet dancer.
“Really where I come in is wanting to pick up on that crucial time at the end of the training of students where a lot of people, teachers included, don’t know how to approach the audition circuit,” she says. “It’s very hard to know unless you’ve been there. I was in that position myself and also a lot of my colleagues, where we had the most exquisite training, we were given everything in that sense, but then it was like, ‘Now go and get a job,’ and we had no idea what to do.”
Aschwanden explains that what onPointe offers is complimentary to a dancer’s training. She feels privileged to work alongside ballet teachers and help to take a load off their shoulders so they can focus on what they do best – train and mould these beautiful, young dancers.
The response so far from the ballet community has been extremely positive. One teacher in Melbourne said to Aschwanden, “Great, I’m really happy to pass that responsibility to you. I finish my day in the studio with these girls, and I don’t want to have go home and research which companies are going to suit them.”
Delighted by that response, Aschwanden remarked, “I think that’s a really smart realisation of one’s role in a student’s life. Knowing where you fit in, what you can offer and where you can outsource.”
Aschwanden sees enormous value in passing on information she only gained as a result of going through the audition process and being a member of a ballet company. She says that she learnt “how to approach auditions, where to audition, where not to go if you’re too tall, which continent to target and what you should be wearing so that you look like you fit in.”
She continues, “I came to the conclusion as I was sitting there years after my career, and after I finished teaching, that there are all these little golden nuggets of knowledge that I wish I could pass on. That’s how onPointe Consulting came to life. Trying to bridge that gap between what studios are generally offering their students in the final years of training and what it’s really like trying to get a job.”
One of Aschwanden’s current clients is already overseas on an audition tour. She has been working together with her client to revamp her CV, put together a video and create a more specific approach to her job search. They have also created a back-up plan to audition throughout Australia, New Zealand and Asia if her efforts overseas are not successful this time around.
Ideally, Aschwanden is keen to work with dancers who are about 12 to 18 months out from setting out on an audition tour. That gives her plenty of time to develop a detailed plan that is well researched and provides the greatest chance of a successful outcome.
onPointe provides a range of services for dancers and their families to choose from, depending on how much guidance, assistance and support they require. There is the option of a two-, four- or six-session package and the option for additional sessions. OnPointe also offers a single or double Private Assessment and Coaching package.
“If someone comes to me with 12 months, the year is split into three sections,” Aschwanden explains.
The first is training consolidation. “This is when, with or without the assessment coaching with me, we together identify what we need to work on for six months,” she explains. “That might even be outsourced a little bit for some really targeted Pilates classes with Pilates studios that work with dancers.”
Secondly, she says, “The tail end of that six months, we’re looking at the CV preparation stage. Putting together a cover letter, a resume, getting beautiful photos taken and one or two variations filmed. So that’s really getting that package together that we’re going to be sending out.”
And lastly, in the second half of the 12 months, “we’re looking more at developing a list of companies that we’re going to be sending the package to according the students strengths, capabilities, height and hair colour,” Aschwanden explains. “So, by the end of the year, having a real schedule in place of where they are going to go and when, all the way down to booking flights. Also to find in each city where the open classes are, so the student can take class the day before. Scheduling the audition trip so that it’s sensibly spaced and they can be their best on that trip.”
At the moment, onPointe Consulting caters specifically to pre-professional ballet dancers in Australia and abroad; however, Aschwanden has not ruled out applying her knowledge and expertise to the contemporary dance scene.
In general, Aschwanden is on a mission to get dancers thinking about their futures in a practical, methodical way.
“There’s a degree of eye-opening that needs to happen with young dancers before they set out,” she says. “Not so much that they are discouraged but just enough so they target their efforts, I think, in a way that’s going to help them ultimately.”
She adds, “So, rather than thinking about it in the last six months of your training, thinking about it two years out. For example, if there’s a particular choreographer whom you would love to work with and they are director of ‘x’ company, how are you going to work in the studio to meet that goal? And I think that’s potentially helpful in their training as well.”
Aschwanden’s advice to aspiring dancers is to “target that company and go to their summer camp, go to whatever continent you want to end up in and check it out. You might think you want to go and dance in a small company in Germany, and you spend two weeks there but you miss your family so much you can’t stand the idea. The reality can be very different to the dream.”
She goes on to explain, “I feel like there are areas of knowledge that are filled with what seems like silly things but things that can really help students, like the look of the CV, going all the way to how you should dress for a particular audition.”
Aschwanden also points out, “A lot of students don’t know that it’s possible to sometimes take private auditions instead of the public ones. And that’s crazy because you have so much more chance at a private audition. Both jobs I’ve had, I got through private auditions. You’re the only person the director is looking at, so if you can get your foot in the door with a private audition, you’re already a step ahead. I think a lot of students waste a lot of money going from New York to London to Toronto , chasing these auditions where there are 500 girls up for one spot. The director may not even go; he’ll send some sort of delegate.”
Aschwanden sees her role as a coach, trainer and mentor. She is extremely passionate about passing on her knowledge and experience and utilising her expertise to help this generation of aspiring ballet dancers reach the heights they have dreamt of all their lives.
Aschwanden wants the teachers, parents and dancers to know that they are not alone and that they don’t have to do it all themselves. She is here to guide them toward a bright future filled with possibilities and will be there to help every step of the way.
For more information on onPointe Consulting, visit www.on-pointe.org.
By Rachel Kennedy of Dance Informa.