Career in Dance – Dance Advantage Solutions For All Stages Of Your Dance Life Tue, 16 Jan 2018 21:00:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 O-1 Artist Visa Tips For Dancers Mon, 16 Jan 2017 15:30:30 +0000 The O-1 Artist Visa changes the game for many artists looking to dance in the U.S. but the process doesn't have to be stressful if you treat dance like it is your business.]]>

The following article is by guest contributor Rachel Wool.

At age six, I absolutely fell in love with dance. I grew up taking weekly tap, jazz and ballet classes at Annette and Company School of Dance in Farmington Hills, Michigan (20 minutes from the Canadian border). Truth be told, I was an awful dancer. My parents recall that they could easily pick me out during performances as I was the only dancer consistently going in the wrong direction. Over the years, my path has changed but my heart remains… on the dance floor.

As an immigration attorney who focuses on O-1 Artist Visas, I have had the honor of helping hundreds of internationally renowned dancers and choreographers advance their careers to the next level here in the United States. I am grateful to have the opportunity to help those that do in fact possess the talent in an area that is very close to my heart. I genuinely believe that dancers are the most passionate, humble, and ambitious artists on this planet.


The O-1 is an exclusive nonimmigrant visa that allows artists with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, athletics, business or education to work in the U.S. for up to three years at a time. It is designed for individuals who have illustrated a record of extraordinary achievement in their field. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) looks for artists who have reached the upper ranks of the industry in their home country. It is designed for those who stand apart from their peers, and who are likely to make strong contributions to our economy.

Petitioner - Employer - TalentThere are three main “pieces” required in order to obtain this exclusive visa. USCIS requires that you have a: (1) Petitioner (agent/business manager, etc.), (2) Employer (who will sign your offer of employment or a “deal memo” for up to three years and (3) Talent (which is documented through various types of evidence to illustrate how you have maintained success in the field).

To figure out who has attained this high level of success, USCIS considers everything from your past leading/critical roles for major events/productions to high salaries in your field, from the types of distinguished productions you have been in to major awards you may have won, and from press articles to collaborations with top companies and performers.

Overall, this visa opens up doors for sustained engagement in the competitive U.S. market. If you are originally from another country, that often means expanding your repertoire to take on projects in major U.S. cities. I have witnessed hundreds of artists who have “outgrown” their surroundings in their home country and had their lives transform once they were able to break into the U.S. market. Though the process can seem daunting, pursuing an O-1 visa might be one of the best moves you make in your entire career.

The O-1 Visa is a game changer - Brian Friedman

“The O-1 visa has been a game changer for dancers around the world chasing their dreams. If you look at the casts of the biggest world tours they are globally diverse and this is thanks to the O-1. These dancers wouldn’t be able to live out their dreams and be acknowledged worldwide without this type of visa. I am personally thankful to have this option as I find talent all over the world and help them fight for their dreams.” – Choreographer, Brian Friedman

“When dance companies hire artists in the O-1 category, U.S.-based dancers have an opportunity to learn from international artists who are the best in their field and audiences are exposed to outstanding artistry. Hiring foreign dancers and choreographers is an important aspect of international diplomacy as it opens the door for learning and exchange.” – Brandon Gryde, Director of Government Affairs for DANCE/USA

“Once receiving the O-1 (and ultimately my green card) I was finally able to work in the U.S. and it has changed my career forever. I have been in LA for 4 years and in that time I have toured the world three times with award-winning pop artists and have been on countless live television shows. None of this would have been possible without the O-1.” – Nick Geurts, Australian dancer (X-Factor, So You Think You Can Dance Australia, Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin world tours)


Photo is licensed CC BY 2.0

Advice for artists looking for an O-1 Visa from various industry professionals

“FIND THE RIGHT ATTORNEY! Applying for an O-1 is an exciting process but collecting all the information and knowing how to get it right can be daunting initially so working with the right attorney is vital. Your attorney should have worked on similar cases before, so they can support and advise you. The next steps are the fun steps, working through your past and current achievements, piecing together your case knowing that its going towards your new adventure.” –Ben Totty, Managing Director and Founder at Box Artist Management

“Do not give up. It may be difficult and frustrating sometimes. At the end, if you have the right attorney to work with, the O-1 Visa is worth waiting for.” – Asaf Goren, Israeli dancer with credits including Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, Britney Spears, MTV, etc.

“…be patient but also be persistent in your quest to make the connections needed in order to get through the process with an approval. If you can visit LA a few times while working on the visa process, and meet the right people then that can make it a lot easier.” – Associate Director of the Dance/On-Camera Department/Talent Agent at McDonald Selznick Associates (MSA), Jenn Proctor



Dance like it’s your “business.”


Start a paper trail. Save tangible evidence from past events/productions including: photos, programs, press, pay stubs, links, certificates, etc. Keep these materials as organized as possible.

Keep it fresh. Always keep your resume, reel and headshots up to date. Top talent agencies and potential employers will be looking at these materials.

Build your network. Key parts of your application will rest upon your expert letters from industry leaders (people who can vouch for your talent). Try to make a couple professional contacts from each big project you work on as I generally recommend 5-7 expert letters.Bring these leaders into your network by connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Dance truly connects the world, so surround yourself with the movers and the shakers of the industry and maintain a connection by following their careers.

Go social and build your brand. USCIS has taken notice of the boom in social media branding, and may consider measures of social media impact (views, likes, followers, etc.) when evaluating cases. That means you need to get strategic in crafting your digital presence. Define yourself so you stand out in auditions. Do you have certain strengths? Highlight them. Do you have unique moves? Brag about them. Share entertaining posts frequently and follow the major leaders in your corner of the dance world and get them to follow back. Make sure to post early and often, choosing content that is both distinctive and inspirational. The more responsive and active you are, the bigger your following will grow, and the bigger your social media presence will become as well.

Choose your attorney wisely. Contact and work with a U.S. immigration attorney who has experience with O-1 visas and most importantly- one you feel comfortable with. You should always feel like a priority.

Stay engaged. Periodically I get a new client who seems extremely excited about their visa, only to have them redirect their priorities as their schedule fills up. As a result, their case often stalls because they take too long to provide me the resources I need to push things forward. Keep those lines of communication open, and you will go a long way to ensuring a quick and successful outcome.

Be confident, stay humble and above all: believe in yourself.



Remember – there is nothing that says your O-1 journey has to be stressful. If you find the right legal team, the entire process should flow quite smoothly. In fact, it CAN be fun. Organizing an O-1 application gives you a great incentive to keep track of your career as it evolves over time, helping you to visualize the progress you have made towards achieving your ultimate goals.

If you have the talent, if you believe in yourself, if your heart lives and breathes on the dance floor, and if you move in the right direction in rehearsals, you have no other option than to make your dreams come true.



Rachel Wool O-1 VisaRachel Wool is an immigration attorney known for helping hundreds of artists at the top of their field obtain their O-1 visas.
Direct (Phone/Text): (248) 470-1953

This article has been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn.  The material presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice.  

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Sibling Rivalry – When Your Sister Is A Dancer Too Sat, 17 Dec 2016 21:25:17 +0000 Ballerina sisters offer their real-life experiences and advice about competitive feelings toward a sibling who also dances.]]>

The story is as familiar as it is painful to many a dancer. A promotion or a lead role, just within reach, is irrevocably lost, given to another dancer. Someone you admire and respect, someone you might have toiled and danced alongside for years. Now you’re hurting, and all you want to do is go home, grieve, cry, vent, in the security of your home. Only this time it’s more complicated.

This time the other dancer is your sister.

While I myself have five sisters, none shared my passion for ballet while growing up, so as an adult, I decided to explore the situation fictionally. In Outside the Limelight, Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, professional dancer Dena, three years her sister Rebecca’s junior, gets the promotion to soloist that Rebecca had been anticipating. The story follows the sisters’ ensuing relationship, through its bumps, challenging circumstances, dramas and traumas, and the ultimate realization that the bond of sisterhood surpasses all others.


Real Life

Real-life ballet sister scenarios play out quite frequently, I’ve since discovered. In a 2013 New York Times article, Patricia and Jeannette Delgado, both principals with Miami City Ballet, discussed their own situation. Much like in Outside the Limelight, younger sister Jeanette, after years of being the subordinate, excelled extravagantly, prompting dance critic Alastair Macaulay to call her “one of the world’s most marvelous ballerinas.”

Patricia, older by two years, was taken aback. “I closed my eyes and opened them, and said, ‘Oh, my God. My sister is amazing,’ I knew she would have opportunities I wouldn’t get, and that was the first time I was dealing with that.” In the long run, however, Patricia credited Jeanette’s success as helping her to elevate her own dancing. “She was blowing me away, and I said, ‘I’ve got to turn it up.’ ” And she went on to do just that. (Read the full article here.)

Ballet sisters Zippora and Romy Karz, who both danced with the New York City Ballet, offered their own perspective.

Photos courtesy Zippora Karz. Top: Zippora and Romy, Bottom: Karz siblings
Photos courtesy Zippora Karz. Top: Zippora and Romy, Bottom: Karz siblings

“I am blessed—my sister is my best friend,” said Zippora, the eldest, who rose to soloist rank. “We went through growing-up years, for sure, and I didn’t always turn to her, but she was always there. Romy and I were very different dancers and personalities, and different life happenings, so I don’t think we ever compared ourselves to each other.”

Romy, three years younger, agreed. “I never put myself on her level, and so the competition was not a struggle. I loved being her sister. When I first started at the School of American Ballet, she wouldn’t let me live with her. She wanted me to carve my own place, and for her to have hers, without taking care of me. Within a year, we found great comfort in our relationship with each other, and the desire to live together because we actually wanted to. Being her sister felt like a great honor to me.”


Other Challenges

Challenges for ballet sisters can come in other forms. Zippora, who wrote The Sugarless Plum, a memoir chronicling her battle with Type 1 diabetes while dancing, did not share her illness with the other dancers. This increased the sisters’ closeness. “I knew of her incredible struggles with her health,” Romy said. “I knew how hard it was, so I worried a lot about her. That was stressful for me. It was hard to separate from my connection and caring of her, within company life.”

Sister ballerinas, Lauren and Corinne | Photo by Ashraf

Lauren Jonas, artistic director of Walnut Creek-based Diablo Ballet, had not one but two ballet sisters, growing up. From the family’s home base in San Rafael, the three of them trained at the Marin Ballet. Mindy was five years older than Lauren, Corinne two years younger. All three went on to dance professionally, although Mindy was forced to retire at a very young age due to a bad foot injury that never healed properly. Lauren joined the Milwaukee Ballet after completing training, and Corinne joined the Houston Ballet.

Here, then, is another challenge ballet dancer sisters face: the prospect of being geographically separated. Cuban sisters and principal dancers Lorena and Lorna Feijóo have spent their professional careers in San Francisco and Boston respectively. Sisters Maria Sascha and Nadia Khan, Montana natives, are based in Russia and Rome (and have two brothers, also professional ballet dancers, based in London and St. Petersburg). The Jonas sisters dispersed to New York, Milwaukee and Houston.

“It’s hard being in different companies,” Lauren admitted. “Living far apart, not being able to seeing the other dance, after those years of training together. You’re used to having that support right there, and then it’s gone.”

Years later, in an intriguing twist, Lauren co-founded Diablo Ballet, and a few years later Corinne joined the company, the two younger sisters finally dancing together on the same professional stage. This did, however, bring new sister-related challenges: Lauren had to refrain from showing any administrative favoritism toward this new dancer who was also her sister.


Advice on feeling competitive

Lauren and Corinne | Photo by Ashraf

I asked Lauren what helped the two of them overcome any sense of competition in their youth. “It helped that we were very different dancers,” she replied. “I was very Don Q, good at fouettés, jumps, pirouettes. Corinne was more Juliet, lyrical and flowing. Although, we looked alike and choreographers liked playing around with that.” In choreographer Sally Streets’ 1997 ballet, Encores, Lauren danced in front of a mirror, where she encountered her mirrored self: her dancing sister.

I asked these ballet professionals what kind of advice regarding sibling rivalry they might offer today’s aspiring ballet dancer sisters. All were in agreement: figure out what you yourself are good at, what makes you unique, and work to improve and refine that.

“We all have to carve out who we are,” Romy said. “It’s a natural thing to feel jealous of someone who has what you want, and that may be better arches, extensions and parts in a ballet, and that may be your best friend, your worst enemy or your sibling. I think it’s healthy to feel what you’re feeling, and then to examine what you can do about it. Harboring those feelings won’t bring you closer to your own goals, but focusing on your own work and keeping your focus on your own goals will.”


Famous ballet sisters

Outside the Limelight is available on Amazon.

Here are but a few names of professional ballet dancer sisters through the past generation. Can you add to the list?

Maria and Marjorie Tallchief
Patricia and Coleen Neary
Johnna and Gelsey Kirkland
Tina and Sheri LeBlanc
Kathleen and Margaret Tracey
Laura and Elise Flagg
Svetlana and Yulia Lunkina
Leigh-Ann and Sara Esty
Mary Mills Thomas and Melissa Thomas
Zenaida and Nadia Yanowsky


Terez Mertes Rose

Terez Mertes Rose is a writer and former ballet dancer whose work has appeared in the Crab Orchard Review, Women Who Eat (Seal Press), A Woman’s Europe (Travelers’ Tales), the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News. She reviews dance performances for and blogs about ballet and classical music at The Classical Girl. She is the author of Off Balance and the newly released Outside the Limelight, Books 1 and 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles respectively.


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How To Cultivate And Keep A Winning Mindset Mon, 28 Mar 2016 16:52:56 +0000 A dancer’s most important tool is a winning mindset. Here's how to develop a positive mental attitude so that you're at your best every time.]]>


Your big moment has arrived; you step inside the studio for the biggest audition of your life… you’re warmed up and ready…

if only you could make your hands stop shaking and remember how to breathe.

Make no mistake, going for your dreams requires bravery– lots of it– whether you’re attending a cattle call audition, making a video to wow that top dance company in Europe, or picking up the phone to ask if you can take company class. Stepping out of your comfort zone can feel like taking a leap off into the dark. Whether you realize it or not, your thoughts and attitude make the critical difference between failing or flying.


"Champion" by Gordon is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 [cropping, text added]
“Champion” by Gordon is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 [cropping, text added]

Here’s how to cultivate and keep a dancer’s most important tool–a winning mindset–so you’re at your best every time.


Clarify your vision

When you activate your imagination and visualize your success, you’re onto one of the best-kept secrets of Olympic athletes and high-level sports coaches. Visualization is the first step to creating anything, so it’s the first thing we need to implement. If you think about it, anything that exists began as an idea first, whether it’s the chair you’re sitting on, the clothes you’re wearing or the transportation you use to get around.

Take a moment to close your eyes and clarify your vision.

Consider these questions: What does it feel like to live your dream? What do you see yourself doing? Where are you? Who are you with? Sketch in the details until the vision comes alive in your mind.

Once you get a clear picture in your mind, take a few minutes each day to revisit your vision, either just before you go to sleep or first thing in the morning.


Create affirmations

To affirm something means to declare it’s true. Affirmations are positive statements you repeat to yourself in order to impress them in your mind.  They are written in the present tense, as if they are already happening, using simple language that is easy to remember and repeat. For example: I bring my best effort to all that I do.

Write your affirmations down (get creative–make them artsy!) and post them where you can see them first thing (the bathroom mirror is a good choice), and throughout the day. Keeping your mind filled with positive thoughts is powerful; tell yourself something often enough and it becomes a belief.


Focus on your process

When you’re in the middle of an audition it’s easy to get distracted. Being thrown in a room with a bunch of strangers is disorienting and uncomfortable by definition! You may wonder who has better turns, or the highest jumps, or how your extensions compare. But every time you fall into the trap of comparison you get pulled from your process. When your focus wanders, you’re no longer paying attention to what you’re doing…which means you aren’t giving your best effort.

Keep our your attention on what you are doing and nothing else. No distractions, no comparisons.

Instead of watching other dancers when you’re not dancing, use the time to go over the choreography, repeat affirmations, or take a moment to visualize yourself doing the combination perfectly.


Positive thinking

During an audition it’s understandable to wonder about what others are thinking, particularly the people who have the final say in whether or not you’re chosen. You might catch yourself thinking things like,”They’re not paying attention to me. They hate me. I’ll never get picked.” But it’s impossible to know what others are thinking, and while you can’t control outer circumstances, you are in control of your thoughts.

Remember, the thoughts that flicker through your mind will either be helpful or hurtful, so strive to keep your thoughts positive.

If you catch yourself slipping down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts, take a moment to silently repeat your favorite affirmation or flip the offending thought on its head and think about what you want to happen instead of what you don’t.


Your thoughts will either be helpful or hurtful. Use them to develop a winning mindset.
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Let yourself shine

Even though auditions are nerve-wracking, you never know which one is going to be the one that could change your life. Don’t you owe it to yourself to dance your very best and enjoy the moment?

Instead of worrying, think instead about how you can fly, then spread your wings and go for it! Smile, have fun and be yourself.

You’re out there doing it, taking the next big step to live the life you dream about. It can be uncomfortable not knowing what will happen…will they hire me or will they hate me? No matter what the outcome may be, a winning mindset guarantees you’ll be at your best. Put these tools into action and take your first leap toward success today.



Grier Cooper
Grier Cooper

Grier Cooper left home at fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet. She’s performed with San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and many others, totaling more than thirty years of experience as a dancer, teacher and performer. She blogs about dance and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims and Jessica Sutta. She is the author of the Indigo Ballet Series ballet novels for young adults. Visit Grier at

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How to Create a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign Thu, 18 Feb 2016 16:00:23 +0000 Creating crowdsourced campaigns for dance project funding is easy, but simply posting a project online and waiting for the donations to roll in is not enough. Find out what works.]]>


Sometimes there are creative ideas that are too inviting to pass up simply because we lack the resources. When you think about the opportunity, you light up from within. The hair on your arms stands up, and your eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. A chance to collaborate with a group in another state. A new piece that involves mixing other mediums with dance. A children’s creative movement program in homeless shelters.

…Whatever the concept is, it’s got a hold of your heart and soul. While bake sales, auctions and dance marathons are tried and true ways to raise money, periodically a more scalable method is required. In these situations, many consider crowdfunding their project.


What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is an approach to raising money through a large number of individuals and is often enabled by the Internet and social media platforms.  It’s a popular and growing phenomenon that essentially turns the traditional financial investment model upside down. Rather than soliciting sizable investments from a handful of donors, crowdfunding targets smaller investments from a large group.

Crowdfunding is appealing to dance companies (and organizations of all sizes and types) in part because it is relatively easy to organize and execute. Although crowdfunding is not without challenges and uncertainty, there are low barriers to entry and little risk. That said, the crowdfunding space is, well, crowded.

How can you ensure that you raise the money needed to see your vision come to fruition?  

To gain better insight into the characteristics of a successful crowdfunding campaign, we analyzed data from 50 different dance projects. Here are our findings. The key points are summarized in the Infographic below.

Crowdfunding dance infographic

Key Finding Number 1:

56% of Dance Crowdfunding Projects Are Successful

Just over half of the projects we investigated met or exceeded their fundraising goals. The average amount raised was just over $5000.

The takeaway? Set a realistic target. It may be tempting to reach for the stars (particularly if there is no penalty for missing the goal), but donors want to be a part of projects that are likely to succeed.  They want to believe the goals are attainable before opening their wallets.


Key Finding Number 2:

The Average Backer Pledges $98

Crowdfunding is built on the premise of collaboration. The model requires your fans and supporters to come together for a common cause. Namely, your idea. This begs the question:  How many backers do you need?

In this study, the average successful project had 76 donors, each contributing about $98 to the campaign. This might feel like a herculean effort as a solo task, but the collaborative premise applies not only to your donor base, but also to your execution. For example, if you have a company of 10 dancers, they should each strive to bring 7 – 8 backers on board.


Key Finding Number 3:

Performances and Innovative Experiences are More Likely to Reach Their Goals

When we analyzed the projects by their primary objective, interesting trends emerged. Although the sample is small, the data suggests that crowdfunding campaigns for producing shows or creating unique, out-of-the-box experiences were more likely to reach their fundraising goals than those aimed specifically at developing a new work or supporting studios.

Backers appreciate the opportunity to participate in the creation of something special and tangible. They want to share the journey with you all the way through until the curtain falls and the lights come up.


Lessons Learned

When it comes to crowdfunding, for most small dance companies and studios, the “build it and they will come” philosophy will not fly.

Simply posting a project online and waiting for the donations to roll in will not suffice; you have to get the word out there.  


Following are a few actions to consider as you move ahead with your crowdfunding plans:

Prime the pump. Reach out to a few key individual supporters prior to launching your campaign. Explain what you are trying to do and ask if they will help generate some early momentum. In addition, be sure to promote the campaign to all of your fans through a variety of vehicles. Social media and email newsletters are sharable and scalable, but don’t forget to make a short, heartfelt announcement at your performances, classes, rehearsals or events. The importance of the personal element and connection cannot be overstated.

Engage with your backers and fans. Strengthen relationships with your supporters and audience by providing regular updates not only on the campaign, but on the project itself. For instance, produce a behind-the-scenes rehearsal video so they can see the performance in its early stages. Interview choreographers about their process. Invite your fans to share their feedback, suggestions and questions. This is a great way to build awareness and maintain the buzz throughout the campaign without being overly aggressive or pushy.

Keep your promises. Reaching your fundraising goal is just one of several milestones in your crowdfunding campaign. Be sure to follow through on your project rewards and deliverables for your backers. Failure to do so jeopardizes the trust you worked so hard to build. Donors had confidence in you and your dream; honor that faith.



The data for this study was aggregated from publicly available information at and  All projects included were launched between 2014 and 2015.



JessicaGoepfertJessica Goepfert has been choreographing, teaching and performing professionally for over 15 years throughout New England.  She is the co-founder and director of Cambridge Dance Company and currently runs the Suffolk University Dance Company.  Prior to founding Cambridge Dance Company, Jessica worked as the managing director and treasurer for Rainbow Tribe, Inc. She was also the assistant coach for the Boston College Dance Team.  Jessica has an MBA from Babson College and a BA in Dance from Connecticut College.  Follow Cambridge Dance Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @CambridgeDance.



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The Importance Of Mentorship In Dance Tue, 09 Feb 2016 16:36:51 +0000 Having a mentor is important for any young dancer new to a career. Tips and advice on how to find a mentor and how to nurture a relationship that is fulfilling for both parties.]]>

You are a young dancer in the midst of blossoming and discovering connections between body and movement. You are attending a studio that has given you a wonderful foundation in the dance discipline and have every desire to continue your pursuit of dance and make it a lifelong career.

Like many, perhaps you have no earthly idea how to gain access or entrance into this often elusive and competitive field.

Maybe you live in a small town, or away from a major company. Perhaps you seem almost alien to those around you who see your dreams as just that. How do young dancers continue to stay inspired and educated as to how to make the dream a reality?


A mentor is your own personal life coach or guide. Someone who has experience and expertise in your chosen field. This person can help navigate you towards opportunities and people to help your education and later career. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone that understands the path you have set for yourself and who can offer real solutions and a road map to follow? It can make all the difference.

As a young dancer living outside Boston, I didn’t grow up learning about key people in the arts. Without the luxury of Google, books, magazines and even the telephone book became my best friend.

Desiree and her mentor, Kim Grier
Pictured with her dance mentor, Kim Grier-Martinez, Dance Educator and artistic director of the Rod Rodgers Dance Company in NYC.

The only black dancers I knew of were the ones I had seen performing with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I looked at April Berry, Renee Robinson, Sarita Allen as evidence that my dreams were possible. Through my own trials and errors I found out more information about other black dance spaces and was able to study and perform with Philadanco. It was there that I was taken under the wing and nurtured but more importantly given much needed information as to who and where dance was for me and how to go about finding my place. This relationship helped mold and shape my young dance mind and gave me confidence.

Once I moved to New York City and began dancing with Rid Rodgers Dance Company I would meet another mentor, Kim Grier. To this day I still refer to for advice and I’ve spent more than twenty years in the profession. The relationship built over the years and the examples she set still resonate with me and play a big part of who I am today. She helped me find classes  that were right for me, introduced me to her network of friends which in many cases begot work not to mention just the emotional support. She also did not hesitate to give me the hard talks about working harder, being consistent and many other life-molding lessons.


Finding a Mentor

If you are wondering how to go about finding a dance mentor it can be as simple as writing an email to someone you admire. Maybe there is a favorite company you aspire to work with – start there. Perhaps at your local college there is a faculty member who has a career path that interest you. Most, if time permits, are more than willing to help.

Even people like Misty Copeland have a mentor who has helped open some doors for her and helped shape and provide assistance in an often lonely landscape, especially for dancers of color. Like the proverb says “it takes a village”, in this case it could just be one person.

In the meantime, here are a few handy tips to make the process of finding a mentor easier, and ensure a gratifying experience for all involved:


  • DO find someone who has similar career path and do your research. Knowing the history of a potential mentor is important. It’s the starting point of most conversations.
  • DO ask for introductions. If you have a connection to someone you admire and want to meet just ask for an introduction. If you don’t ask, you will never know.
  • DO be a go-getter. Be attractive to potential mentors by showing you are serious about your career and education by continuing to build your dance life, attending classes, auditions and conferences.
  • DO have a clear concept of what you want from the relationship. If seeking career guidance, be specific which goals you are trying to meet and how can this person help .
  • DO be grateful and be willing to extend yourself if your mentor should need your help with a task.
  • DO nurture the relationship and focus on building something genuine based on shared interest, mutual respect and trust.
  • DON’T be discouraged. The right person will always show up in time.
  • DON’T take the relationship for granted.
  • DON’T rely on your mentor to solve all your problems. Do the work!!!
  • DON’T be late or miss appointments.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask questions. This is how we grow.

Having a clear vision of what you would like from your dance life and being able to articulate that to your mentor will ensure a relationship that yields results. Become a lifelong learner and be aware of the greatness that may be standing right next to you.

The mentor/mentee relationship can be a fulfilling one for both parties. Keeping these tips in mind provides a building block for one of the most important relationships a dancer can have.


DesireeParkmanDesiree Parkman has been involved in dance almost as long as she has been alive. Originally from Randolph, MA she started her early training with Sherry Gold of the Gold Studios. From those early days it was evident dance was to be a lifelong love affair. This dance life has given her the opportunity to grace the Great White Way in Annie Get Your Gun, kick with the Radio City Rockettes and travel the seas. As an arts educator, she has developed curriculum for non profits such as The Boys and Girls Club, Young Audiences, A Place Called Home and the YMCA as well as being a teaching artist for schools throughout the nation. Currently Desiree is residing in Orlando, FL where she can be found teaching dance, adjudicating national dance competitions and mentoring young dancers on the journey that is dance through her program Moving Armor.

Follow Desiree on Instagram and Twitter @movingarmor

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What I Learned About Auditioning From The Rockettes Mon, 30 Nov 2015 16:00:04 +0000 Audition from a dancer who traeled to New York City to try out for the world's most famous precision dance company, the Radio City Rockettes. Learn from her experience.]]>

Start by imagining a marley-covered rehearsal hall, one of the biggest my LaDuca-clad feet had ever entered, at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City.

Fill the space with eighty women decked out in French twists and a rainbow of leotards.

Add a side of musicians who could probably play the day’s soundtrack in their sleep.

Top it off with a small table of casting directors who decide your dream’s fate in the matter of a 20-second combination, and you have the recipe for Radio City Rockette Auditions 2015.


Rockettes audition
Photo courtesy MSG Entertainment

To say it was nerve-wracking is an understatement. Anyone who has had a life-long dream, as I and many dancers do, knows the strength of desire that comes with it. It’s a whole other thing to actually pursue that dream. “They’re probably all better than me anyhow.” “What if my doctor messed up while measuring me, and I’m actually too short?” “There are over 500 girls at this audition every year…I’m not going to make it.” All these thoughts crossed my mind more than a few times leading up to that momentous day. But auditions are one of those cases where you have to tell that inner voice to get lost. You lose by default anyway if you don’t turn that dream into a plan.

So did I make it? No.
Do I regret it? Absolutely not.
Did I learn anything? You bet I did.

For all you go-getters, dream-pursuers and Rockette wannabe’s out there, here’s what I wish I’d known leading up to this audition that I know now.



Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

The Rockettes have very strict height requirements (5’6” – 5’10 ½”) to create that illusion of uniform height. I’m 5’6”. I was terrified of flying all the way to New York and being turned away at the door because someone accidentally measured me too short. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. All that happened were several needlessly sleepless nights. You can’t control what people are thinking about you, how quickly the audition combo is taught, if you’re having a good hair day when trying to create the perfect French twist or how someone measures you – so don’t bother using up your valuable energy worrying about it. What you can control is yourself: how you prepare for the audition, how you present yourself, how you treat those around you (be polite to everyone; you never know who has influence at an audition). Focus on what you’re there for – to dance – and roll with what is out of your control.



Work on learning choreography quickly. And I mean quickly.

I will openly admit that learning choreography quickly is something I struggle with in dance. Although I worked on it, I would tell myself from earlier this year to prioritize it 10 times more than I did while training for this audition (hint: a dance teacher recommended learning choreography on YouTube to practice this). You want to spend minimal time comprehending which step comes next, because what the casting directors really want to concentrate on is…



Details, details and more details.

The Rockettes are not called a precision dance troupe for nothing. Of course, after a lifetime of obsessing over them, I knew this – but it’s difficult to comprehend just how precise they are until you’re actually in that audition. The director/choreographer said right away that they were looking for who could execute all the details right then and there. Everything from the angle of your wrist to the placement of your tendu is being scrutinized, and there is no time for rehearsal. I’m not saying this to make anyone nervous, but to advise you to prepare for this – no matter which company’s audition you’re attending.



Many people won’t truly “get” what a big deal it is to go to these auditions. And that’s okay.

post rockette audition

People have literally laughed in my face when I’ve told them I want to be a Rockette. Let these people go. Honestly, very few people will fully comprehend the serious amount of blood, sweat and tears, in addition to time, stress, money and desire, that quite literally go into aspiring to this goal. It bothered me when people didn’t understand why I was doing this, made me feel like I wasn’t good enough or didn’t really think the audition was that big of a deal – but they weren’t the ones who would have to live with the regret if I decided not to try.



You are awesome for auditioning, no matter the results. Seriously.

So many people have dreams they never even attempt to pursue. This happens for various reasons, but it is often because they simply think their dreams are too far-fetched and unrealistic. It takes some serious guts to go after big goals in a world that preaches cynical practicality, especially when you risk those dreams not turning out the way you hoped. So if you don’t get the big break you were hoping for? Applaud yourself for being one of the small percentage that was brave enough to go for it in the first place. And try again.

More audition advice:

Hair, makeup, and clothing tips for your Rockette audition

What to do before, during, and after the audition

16 Auditioning Basics and Pointers

Ace Your Video Audition



What have you learned from past auditions? Share with us in the comments!


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Things I Never Thought About Before Becoming A Dance Teacher Mon, 12 Oct 2015 17:10:40 +0000 Teaching dance isn't all fun and games - I knew that going in. But, throughout 20 years as a dance instructor I have discovered some surprising difficulties and rewards in this career - things I never thought to think about at the start.]]>

A few years shy of 40, I’ve been teaching dance classes since the “ripe” age of 15. That means, for over 20 years and more than half my life, I’ve worked as an instructor in more than a dozen different studios, institutions, and organizations.

If you had told me at the start that teaching dance is a challenging but rewarding way to make a living, that my students and their parents would keep me on my toes, I would have probably smiled politely and thought… “duh!”      Hey, I was 15.

But looking back, I’ve realized there are things I never thought to think about when I set out on this path. All sunshine and lollipops? No, but there are definitely rainbows.

I don’t claim these observations as universal dance teacher truths but, for better or worse, I want to be real for a second about some of the unexpected ups, down, pros, and cons I’ve discovered during a relatively long career of teaching dance. So, here goes…

I Never Thought…


That I’d miss being the pupil.

Students show up and work. They sweat hard, they dance hard and, as a dance teacher, at some point I started to miss being a student. Well, maybe not the self-doubt or insecurities… But to dance for myself or to dance and not be in charge? Bliss.


Photo by NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0



That I’d spend so many hours (physically and mentally) on the job.

Class planning, choreographing, performances or competitions, and problem-solving everything from technical corrections to behavior take up hours of time outside of class. Then there’s the task of professional development and continuing education, the pseudo-celebrity of always running into people you know when off-duty, and the long/late hours working in the studio while everyone else is home for the day or out socializing. Plus, after talking with other dance teachers about their home lives I’ll mention that even if you’re prepared to wear your dance teacher hat almost constantly, friends or spouse or family may not always be. Something to think about.


That parent-wrangling would be such a massive part of what I do.

No matter how challenging or wonderful dance parents are, they require as much management, finesse, educating, care, and energy as my dance students. The moments when I’ve been unprepared or unable to embrace these facts have been the times when I felt most worn down or burnt-out by teaching dance.


That my students and their families would feel a certain ownership of me.

They are sometimes surprised to find out I have a life outside the studio, or are insulted when I’m not available 24/7 and yes, on occasion someone has felt that paying me means ownership or control over my decisions and methods. The flip side of this is that I’ve also been treated like family on holidays, during the birth of my kids, and even in times of struggle. A dance teacher has a large, extended family and all the joys and troubles that go with it.


That I feel a certain ownership of my students.

In striving to be a great dance teacher, I’ve invested great time and emotion and energy into each student even when my interaction with him/her lasts only a short time. As a result, many students have left a lasting impression on my own life and I have felt their successes and failures deeply, at times needing to remind myself they are not my own. The losses are hard too. When a former student of mine suddenly passed away 2 years ago, I genuinely mourned her loss. We were no longer close in proximity or even relationship but she was one of mine for a time, and that’s all it takes.

There are ups, downs, pros, and cons to a career as a dance teacher.
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That hourly pay can be risky business.

There are short-term and long-term periods during which dance teachers are sometimes unable to work. My children were born in summer and I had a partner with whom I could juggle schedules. Even had that not been the case, loss of my income would have been felt but not detrimental, again because my partner’s job covered our living expenses. But not every dance teacher is in that situation or able to secure salaried employment, and being out of work (and therefore out of pay) due to pregnancy, or illness, or injury, or to care for a child or family member are circumstances all dance teachers are likely to face at some point. “No work = no pay’ is a harsh reality of the work in both planned and unforeseen situations.


That there are drawbacks to never holding a full-time job.

Benefits like health insurance, sick days, pensions, and disability/injury compensation may not be offered to part-time workers. Dance teachers have more flexibility in some areas – bringing children to work or choosing their schedule for example – but in the wake of health or life-changes, I’ve witnessed teachers struggle to add or transition to occupations that offer benefits or stability. Even if you have a full-time teaching load, your hours may not be considered full-time by law or by future employers. A series of part-time jobs on a job application can have a negative impact on gaining employment outside of dance. And despite published recognition of what dancers bring to the table as employees, not all employers are willing to test the theory that dancers are some of the smartest and hardest workers on the planet. When the only credits on your resumé are dance-related, employers in other fields may consider it a leap of faith to offer you the job above candidates with more traditional work experience. With that being said, dancers often DO make great employees and they’re tenacious enough to keep going after what they want despite the obstacles.


That I would continually be scrutinized.

Dance is often seen as something purely recreational or just for children so, when you are young, there’s little resistance to the notion of pursuing it. When I went from being a 20-something to 30-someting, I started to encounter those of the opinion that teaching dance is an occupation people grow out (or age out) of. But a dance teacher’s age isn’t the only thing under a microscope. Anything/everything is subject to analysis and review – weight, muscle tone, hair, makeup, attire, body art, skin-color, relationships, family, past mistakes, and more. Unfounded or not, fair or not, the level of scrutiny can be a challenging aspect of the job.


Photo by is licensed CC BY 2.0 [text added]
Photo by Flavio is licensed CC BY 2.0 [text added]


That some people will never see the value of what I do.

Whether it’s a parent, a student, another teacher, friends or members of my own family, I’ve found there are those who will never understand why dance matters – the purpose or usefulness of dance – those who will fail to respect my contributions to a class or to the community, who will diminish my work because it doesn’t align with their own notions about what dance or teaching is all about.


That some days I want to be anywhere, doing anything else and some days I wouldn’t be caught dead being anywhere, or doing anything else.

The spectrum of feelings I’ve had toward something about which I am so passionate has sometimes been surprising even to me. Love affairs can be that way.


That I’d forever be revising myself and my methods.

I have yet to figure out the best way of doing anything. I’m continuously learning, tweaking, and striving to do better. I knew that learning is ongoing but I thought at some point I’d feel like I had everything down to a science and in some things that’s true but the refining process of teaching is never done, just like dancing itself.


That uncomfortable tasks and conversations would often fall to me.

From bodily function and body odor to offering critique and evaluation of a student’s progress, there have been topics I’ve had to address and both literal and figurative messes I’ve had to clean up that have made me uncomfortable, if for no other reason than they made someone else uncomfortable. Being a dance teacher is never easy… or dull!


That my work could be someone’s lifeline.

I remember that, as a kid, dance felt like my lifeline. Despite this, I don’t think I ever put much thought at the start into how dance might be a lifeline for my own students. I didn’t anticipate that someday my class would be the only place a student feels he belongs, or that my encouragement would be the most positive part of a student’s week, or what simply showing up could mean to a dance student experiencing uncertainty and chaos at home. No, I’m not a doctor or nurse but my work and efforts HAVE been that kind of lifeline, not because of who I am or the way I teach but because dance is powerful – dance matters, it makes a difference and I’ve been blessed enough to witness that.

Dance is powerful – dance matters and I’ve been blessed enough to witness that.
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That’s why, despite the ups and downs, pros and cons of spending half a life or more teaching dance, I feel privileged to be part of this work.


Yes, I know some veteran teachers have decades on this newbie so, if you want to add your own observations, we’d love to read them in the comments.

If you’re just starting out or still considering making a life as a dance teacher, I hope you’ve found my list insightful. If you have questions or thoughts, we want you to share those too!


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15 Ways To Prepare For Your First Year As A College Dance Major Mon, 01 Jun 2015 14:30:05 +0000 If your plans for a career in dance include training in a college dance program, our list, "The Freshman Fifteen" offers valuable advice on what you can do to prepare right now.]]>

College Freshman.

If dance is going to be your major field of study, I’m thrilled for you. It is a wonderful time of dance immersion that is unlike anything that comes before and unlike anything to happen after.

As you plan your next steps toward your future in college dance, get ready for the incredible changes to come. These 15 suggestions will broaden your skills and your mind for a smoother transition to your first year in a university dance program.

The Freshman Fifteen


The Dance Majors Freshman Fifteen

1. See live dance.

If you do nothing else before you become a dance major, see live dance as much as you can. In fact, do it before you even start planning your steps toward a career in dance. This is easier in some locations than others but make the effort. While The Nutcracker is great, seeing the same one year after year still counts as just ONE. See companies of different types and sizes. Go to things that challenge your understanding of dance and dare not to compare them to everything else you’ve seen or danced. Just take them in.

2. Watch videos.

The next best thing to live dancing are performances preserved by camera. Maybe you’ve lost hours at a time hopping between competition videos on YouTube. Now try the skip and jump to videos by professional artists or featuring historical works. Have you seen the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive library? A-MA-ZING. Also stay on the lookout for local cinema screenings and check dance title listings on Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, and good old PBS!

3. Explore dance history.

There are some fantastic books available for those wanting to read a little bit about the history of dance. While looking into any era of dance is beneficial, try working backward by starting with influential choreographers of the 20th century.

Dance Advantage has articles on dance history and historical figures you may find informative. These books (available at Amazon) provide an overview of Western dance history:

4. Review proper technique and terminology.

Reading up on the how-to and what-is of dance is just as beneficial as tripping through its history. We’ve got articles on dance technique and terminology of dance for you. Plus, here are some useful book recommendations:

5. Read dance reviews

This is an excellent way to learn about current artists and to see how others analyze, write, and talk about dance–all things you’ll be doing in a college dance program.

6. Seek understanding of the dance world.

The five to-dos above will all tell you something about the dance world but you should also ask thoughtful questions of mentors, the professionals you know or to whom you have access via teachers or even social media, and investigate the variety of careers available to and pursued by degreed dancers.

7. Maintain healthy habits.

Learn how to take responsibility for your body–how you fuel it, how you treat it, and how you take care of it. Start doing it ASAP.

8. Go outside the studio.

Occasionally teachers and studio owners get nervous about students taking class from someone else but, at some point, you must take the reigns when it comes to your dance education. There’s no time like the present. If you have established good training and habits at a home studio,start looking for classes entirely outside of the studio environment, not because studios aren’t a good environment but because expanding your sphere of knowledge and connections is valuable to your dancing and for your future career. Look for open classes when you travel and check local universities or academies for open master classes, intensives, workshops.

9. Dance in the moment.

As you look for opportunities to dance and learn in new environments, you may run across the chance to try an improvisational dance jam or contact improv class. Just do it. (Here are some improv tips) Fellow improvisers are usually pretty welcoming, making these a safe place to hone your skill.

10. Perform.

You may feel you perform enough, especially if you’re in a studio company or on a competitive team but seek out alternative performance opps in dance or other disciplines like theatre, music, color guard, poetry readings.  You can learn a lot about the art of performing in any creative outlet your interests and talents may lead you.

11. Take on teaching.

Observe or assist your dance teachers whenever possible and take on leadership positions in other activities. Even if you aren’t planning to open a studio one day or are not convinced you’ll make a good teacher, you WILL use these skills someday.

12. Got music?

Speaking of gaining skills you will use as a professional dancer or pro-in-training, develop your understanding of music and musical theory. Do you know the basics like note values and rhythm, meter or time signature? Have you been exposed to music from a variety of genres and cultures? Make time to listen to music of all kinds.

13. Speak in public.

Take advantage of public speaking opportunities. Acting classes, scripture readings at church, club/class officer speeches, running a study group, even thanking your teachers or presenting a gift at your dance recital are all possibilities.

14. Write often and well.

Develop your writing skills in and outside of school. Practice writing every day–blogging, journaling, or creative writing are great ways to do that. Keep a dance journal.

15. Investigate non-dance interests.

If you’re still in high school, take it seriously. If you’re no longer in school, explore topics and interests that have nothing to do with dance. Everything you study will help you become a better dancer!



What Freshman Dance Majors Need To KnowEntering a college dance program soon?

If you found the insight and advice above valuable, let me provide even more help as you actually make your transition to college with the e-book, What Freshman Dance Majors Need To Know.

The time following your high school graduation is perfect to really start thinking about how you’ll manage the significant changes you’ll experience during the semesters ahead and get answers to the questions you may not even know you have about what dance is like at the college level.

This resource covers everything from what to expect, to how to stay healthy–and more. Give as a graduation gift or get it for yourself–you’ll be glad you did!


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Potential Hazards of Discussing a Dancer’s Potential Tue, 03 Mar 2015 03:30:16 +0000 Dancers care a lot about their potential to "make it" in a dance career. But do you and your students define potential the same way? How you talk to dancers about their futures matters.]]>

Talking To Dancers About Their PotentialIs an educator obligated to share his/her perspective on whether or not a dancer will “make it” in the professional dance arena?

Recently, I was talking over topic ideas with a friend preparing to moderate a talk with a panel of professional dance artists. Among the topic suggestions, education came up as well as the role of the educator in the preparation of a dancer’s career — specifically, the question above.

Ripe for discussion and debate, right?

Here are my two cents:

The Hazards of Potential: When the Future Trips Up the Now

We as educators need to be careful with how we handle (talk about, promote, define) potential.
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For the young dancer, this is a loaded term and one that I think they equate with landing jobs and securing fame. I did.

As educators, I think we see potential as a culmination of skill, work ethic, and artistry. We may see that this dancer has the same “grit” that was required for the path we took as professionals, or the paths we view as being professional. It will include the skill of the dancer, and the artistry. It might also include the willingness to sacrifice, the tunnel-vision, or the financial backing. It might also include the “right” physicality, the aesthetic, the etiquette.

So much might be implied yet never even considered by the person, or people, hearing the message.

I say people there because it isn’t just the main character of that narrative that hears the explicit and implicit dialogue about potential. It is interpreted and acted upon by all the characters of the narrative – those dancers making up the rest of the community within a program. It is somewhat responsible for how the pecking order to established; how the politics are determined.

We must be clear in how we perceive and define potential.

Standing on bench to see eye to eye
Seeing Eye to Eye by Chris Beckett is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I think we benefit from being honest about how we view the profession of dance as well as professional dance. I think we are obligated to teach all of our students fairly, if not equally.

Proportionally, very few of us are teaching in conservatory feeder schools to major dance institutions where people go to learn how to dance this specific way. Most of us are teaching students that will go on to do a myriad of careers in dance, or nothing, and everything in between. We simply can’t predict the future of dance anymore than we can predict the future of a student.

Lack of Potential

When the talk turns to the lack of potential, the emphasis should be on the choices obstructing potential and not the person. The behaviors are what we as educators can address, in the hope to inspire the person to make change. It is not our responsibility to judge the person and condemn them to the thought that they aren’t good enough to “make it” in dance.

Some educators, though, treat conversations as anecdotal evidence for the negative message being conveyed about a student. A scenario like this, “I tried to talk to her about how she’s late to every rehearsal. I told her that won’t cut it in the real world. She didn’t even want to talk to me about it. See, she doesn’t have what it takes.”

Here are some examples of how you can turn your conversation enders into starters. These will only work, however, if you are interested in the dancer as a whole person.

Instead of:
“Your classwork is sloppy and inconsistent. No one will hire you with a work ethic like that.”

“You appear to be making choices that don’t support your best work, I am wondering if there is anything I can do to help. Would you like to hear what I mean?”


Instead of:
“You want the fame and the glory but you aren’t committed. You can’t make it without commitment.”

“I hear you saying you want this, but your actions tell me otherwise. Would you like me to share what I am noticing?”


Instead of:
“You claim you want to want to dance [insert place or company] but you won’t fit in.”

“I am wondering if your goals still include this, because if they don’t, I would like to adjust the feedback I give you so it is most useful.”


Personal Potential

I think it is important that we go back, though, to the perspective of the educator in defining the profession as well as potential — the story of that educator’s life and journey in dance, and in professional dance.

Not all educators have engaged in professional dance and not all educators have engaged in the type of professional dance that may speak to that student. (See Nichelle’s great article about Defining Dolly Dinkle Dance and the brilliant commentary).


So how are you determining your potential in educating dancers?


First Sprout” by Cristina is licensed CC BY 2.0

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Why Dance Teachers Should Forget About Personal Branding Tue, 27 May 2014 14:20:50 +0000 Personal Branding sounds and often IS anything but personal, which is why I don't like the term, especially for dance teachers. You want to "develop your personal brand?" Here's how... and it's probably not what you think.]]>

Personal brand refers to the identity you present when interacting with people you might do business with, including those who might hire you or choose you as their dance instructor.

You spend many years establishing your identity as a dancer and dance teacher – who you are in the eyes of others is pretty important stuff. Therefore, personal branding is pretty important to a dance teacher.

Let’s stop… I’m not a fan of the phrase, personal brand.

I don’t typically fault anyone for choosing to use the terminology – online, it’s the lingo of choice. But…

For one, personal branding reeks of buzzwordism – it sounds like a fad, and most dance teachers don’t have time for fads.

You Are a Person, Not a Brand
Photo by Phil Roeder

Personal Branding Sounds Anything but Personal

Secondly, you are a person, not a brand. At least that’s how I prefer to think of you!

Finally, many (not all) of those that preach Personal Branding emphasize selling yourself with a story rather than shaping your story with interactions. It is a distinction that even companies and organizations miss, so if you’re going to listen to advice on personal branding it helps to be aware of the difference.

A story for sale focuses on cutting-and-pasting (or worse, manufacturing) an image to engage and snare a target audience.

This lacks integrity, which, by definition, means whole or undivided.

Whether you want to call yourself a brand or not, as a human being, you have real, ongoing, person-to-person relationships everywhere you “put yourself out there” – online, in the studio, or walking through the grocery store.

The whole of who you are is shaped by those relationships, but often in Personal Branding…

Forgotten is the concept that being a valuable employee, or teacher, or professional, or service isn’t just about beginning an association or landing the job. It’s about ongoing relationship and actually BEING valuable – being integral, or essential to completing the whole.

In case I just sound grumpy, you should know I’m not the only person who gets the heebie-jeebies over the words personal branding.

The point in thinking about yourself as a “brand” isn’t to create an alter-ego called our “personal brand” that presents a super-human, polished, and robotic persona of the real you. The point is to become authentic in who you are and intentional about how you tell your story. ~ Jeremiah Gardner, author The Lean Brand

Your history of and commitment to professionalism and being a good leader, regardless of your station, status, or role is the basis of who you are in the context of your professional relationships.

Hopefully your identity is “all you.” Sure, there is an element of, what Gardner calls, intention involved. It’s not wise or necessary to put everything about you on display all the time. Some of your Facebook friends provide a daily lesson in this.

Still, your brand should not be a made-up self, but who you really are and aspire to be as often as possible.

There are a lot of things you can fake until you make it, but integrity isn’t one of them.

If you care about the long-term, you must make sure that you integrate with those (audience, employer, or students) who share your values, beliefs, or vision. Those people have to a) find you, and b) find value in maintaining a relationship with you.

But the work of “b” comes before the “a”. That’s what roots the relationship and your branding in authenticity AND integrity.

Want to develop your personal brand?

If you are marketing something that’s not authentically and completely you, the relationship will eventually end, and badly.


Your personal brand should represent the value you are able to consistently deliver to those whom you are serving. This doesn’t mean self-promotion – that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories.  Managing your personal brand requires you to be a great role model, mentor, and/or a voice that others can depend upon. ~ Glenn Llopis, author and business consultant [Emphasis added by editor]

Hmm… rhetorical question alert: what do you consistently deliver as a dance teacher?

How to Manage Your Personal Brand (Identity)

Focus more on personal development than personal branding.

Here are ways to do that:

Next, do what you do, and do it consistently, with integrity.

Then, market yourself (tell people about you and what you deliver).

Your story is more compelling than you think, but telling it with finesse or craft does take practice and a bit of know-how.

More on the nuts and bolts of how to market yourself as a dance teacher, coming soon in another post!

I want to know what you think about personal branding (hint: you don’t have to agree with me)!

What are some ways that you develop yourself and communicate your value to others?

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Reel Deal: Ace Your Video Audition Tue, 15 Apr 2014 16:21:14 +0000 Video auditions are used to qualify dancers for summer dance intensives, college and conservatories, and employment with dance companies. Professional dance videographer, Nel Shelby gives tips on making the best audition video possible.]]>

Nel Shelby Productions is a New York City videography company with extensive experience in dance-specific video production. In an earlier interview, Nel Shelby gave Dance Advantage readers tips on How To Make a Video to Market A Dance Studio.

In their search to find more ways to help dancers and choreographers, Nel Shelby Productions has discovered there is high demand for filming and editing excellent quality audition videos for dancers looking to attend summer dance intensives, enroll in college dance departments and conservatories, and even send video samples of their dancing to professional performing companies.

So of course, we want to know how to make the best audition video possible and asked Nel Shelby Productions for their best advice.

Making Your Dance Audition Video
Image courtesy M4D Group

Don’t get too fancy with your dance audition video

Most dance schools, programs and companies would prefer to see a one-camera video shoot rather than two-cameras.

Two-camera edits involve putting together multiple angles, and the choices made about showing your dancing from certain angles may seem suspicious… “Why did they cut to a close-up of her torso there?” “Was she off-balance on releve?”

You don’t want to look like you’re hiding something.

Let them see you in the best light

Film the audition material in a relatively clean space with great light.

Nel Shelby Productions brings their own lighting equipment to every studio they film auditions. You never know if you’ll have enough natural light, and it’s very important the dance program or audition judges can see you.

Bring a coach

Shelby always reminds clients who are creating audition reels to bring a teacher or coach. After all, they can make sure you look great on camera, but your videographers don’t know the choreography or variations. Bringing an additional set of eyes, already familiar with the movement material, helps you get the most out of your session.

Practice makes perfect video

Dancers should come fully prepared with all variations, exercises and choreography set and well-rehearsed for their audition video shoot. Warming up and setting hair and make-up before the session is also important.

Talk to your videographer

Many dancers need a quick turnaround in video delivery for auditions and other applications. Nel Shelby Productions says they need to know the application requirements and deadlines before you film your dancing so they can work with clients and plan accordingly to deliver their dance video as fast as possible.

Talk over the dance audition guidelines with your video team, too. Things like: how variations should be ordered on the DVD, or if a menu is necessary to navigate through to specific chapters of your audition.

A Dance Audition Video Example:

Watch an excerpt of Brittany Shinay’s dance audition video made by Nel Shelby Productions.

Nel Shelby Productions

Learn more about Nel Shelby Productions and get occasional video tips by signing up for her newsletter.

What to Do Before, During, & After the Audition Thu, 13 Feb 2014 15:20:45 +0000 Make the most of your dance audition experiences! Janaea's checklist covers how to prepare, what to bring, how to conduct yourself during the audition, and tips for reflection afterward.]]>

Selecting dance auditions that fit your goals is smart career planning. Every audition, however, provides an opportunity to learn from the experience.


Make the most of your experiences by being ready for anything… before, during, and after your dance auditions.

Before, during and after your dance audition

Before Your Dance Audition:

  • Choose technically appropriate piece(s) and those which show your uniqueness.
  • Don’t try to perform anything that’s too difficult for your technical level.
  • In the weeks beforehand, give several practice performances for your teacher, friends and family.
  • Practice performing in the clothes and shoes you’ll be using.
  • Make copies of anything you may need, e.g. sheet music, promo pieces, etc.
  • Check pointe shoe ribbons, review choreography, music, etc.
  • Check to see if there are practice rooms or studios to warm up on site.
  • Make sure your kit looks good and you have extra business cards.

What to bring to the dance audition:

Green and orange checklist imageThe most important thing to have with you is your headshot (8×10, black & white is still the standard) with a resume and/or biography attached to the back.

Always update your materials regularly, and re-order the information so it is tailored to each audition opportunity.

  • Bring basic things like a photo ID in case you need to identify yourself at the audition.
  • Don’t forget extra copies of your photo and resume.
  • Always carry water and an energy snack.
  • Dress appropriately, but look and feel comfortable
  • Bring extras of anything important – artistic, personal or medical.

During the Audition or Interview:

  • Stay calm, and collected, always speak slowly and clearly.
  • Listen to a question and pause before answering. If you don’t know. it’s alright to say so.
  • Arrive at least one hour before your audition to check in and find your way around.
  • Be prepared to be flexible – many times you’ll only be asked to present a short section of what you have prepared, or to present an additional or different type of piece.
  • Don’t forget to warm up beforehand.
  • Breathe and relax.
  • Before your audition begins take a quiet moment to mentally prepare.
  • Stay focused on doing your best and don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Enjoy yourself, after all an audition is just another opportunity to perform!

After Your Dance Audition:

How Did I Do?

One of the most difficult things about auditioning is having an accurate perception of how you came across. Just because you felt you did a fantastic job doesn’t mean the jurors did.

But more often the reverse is true. We are usually much harder on ourselves than others are. Try not to take audition results personally particularly since you have no way of knowing all the factors that came into play in the decision-making process.

Sometimes you can get feedback from the adjudicator’s notes if you call the office and request it.

Start your own audition/jury notebook to write down any information you get (even if you disagree), as well as your own reflections on all aspects of the audition. Write down what you felt good about and the things you want to do differently in the future.

The more you can learn and grow from the audition process the more success you will achieve.

In addition to the links above, find more audition advice below:

Depending on the time of your audition, you may need to eat more than a snack that day. Check out this recipe for a “nerve-calming” salad!

Janaea Lyn Rose McAleeJanaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) is the currently full-time faculty and Dance Coordinator at Estrella Mountain Community College in Arizona. Previously she was Assistant Professor of Dance and Performing Arts Program Coordinator at Cecil College in Maryland. She is the author of Dance This Notebook with Artist Laura Higgins Palmer and is a contributing writer for Choreoclinic. Janaea was Founding Artistic Director of both Convergence Dancers & Musicians and Dance Matrix, and she remains active as a Third Generation Isadora Duncan Dancer. Information at

(Interview photo by David Davies)
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Choosing a Dance Audition Piece Tue, 04 Feb 2014 14:50:19 +0000 When preparing a dance audition piece, there are the 3 essential steps to a successful selection. Don't miss getting hired or chosen for an opportunity because you've skipped these.]]>

A Dancer's Next Steps: Auditioning and Interviews

When selecting the pieces you will perform at an audition, three things are essential to ensure that you are well prepared.

1. Check dance audition guidelines

Closely check any specific guidelines provided by the production, company or school

2. Seek the advice of your dance teacher

Whether or not you have completed your formal education, you should always have a teacher! Training is a life-long process, and a professional teacher or coach can always help give you personal guidance for content, preparation and presentation at every stage of your career.

3. Prepare extra choreography

The piece(s) you select should be well rehearsed and very familiar so you can perform them technically well, but with a relaxed and expressive quality that shows you off to best advantage.

Have a range of pieces or roles prepared and bring along any sheet music, recorded music, attire, dance shoes or simple costume/prop pieces you may need for your pieces as well as for an additional piece if requested.

Always have more material prepared than you intend to present so you can be prepared for the unexpected request!

A ballet dancer performs and poses in the studio
Photo by Melissa Dooley

And, remember…

Even in college programs or apprentice positions that may not require a formal audition, faculty and directors will continually observe how you handle yourself in rehearsals.

Consider every day an audition and you will be well on your way to developing an even artistic temperament that will help you weather the ups and downs of your chosen career.

Now that you know where you’ll audition and which audition piece you’ll perform, in the next installment of this series we’ll talk about what to do and expect before, during, and after a dance audition or interview.

Janaea Lyn Rose McAleeJanaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) is the currently full-time faculty and Dance Coordinator at Estrella Mountain Community College in Arizona. Previously she was Assistant Professor of Dance and Performing Arts Program Coordinator at Cecil College in Maryland. She is the author of Dance This Notebook with Artist Laura Higgins Palmer and is a contributing writer for Choreoclinic. Janaea was Founding Artistic Director of both Convergence Dancers & Musicians and Dance Matrix, and she remains active as a Third Generation Isadora Duncan Dancer. Information at

(Interview photo by David Davies)
Is This The Right Dance Audition For Me? Tue, 28 Jan 2014 16:07:13 +0000 It's audition season for dance companies, college programs, and summer study. Dancers face many decisions. The first is figuring out which opportunities are the right ones to pursue. Start by asking the right questions as you prepare to audition and interview.]]>

Asking the Right Questions

A Dancer's Next Steps: Auditioning and InterviewsThe search for the right opportunities to interview or audition for a college dance program or dance company must relate to your personal career aspirations. The clearer you are with yourself, the better able you will be to research and make choices about where you may want to work or study.

It is important to always know why you are at a particular dance audition even if it is just for the experience, because that will keep you focused and less anxious.

Here are some questions to help you decide which auditions are right for you:

  • What is the mission of the company, school or organization?
  • What is the size and structure of classes and/or rehearsals?
  • What is the performance repertoire?
  • Who is their audience?
  • What do others have to say about their educational/professional experiences there?
  • Will I get the training I need?
  • What is the pay and regularity of work?
  • Are there other benefits (e.g. compositional opportunities, touring, work with respected and established artists)?
  • Is any travel involved?
  • Does it matter to me if it is a stage or film/video job?
  • Am I being realistic about my technical level, my time and my financial needs?

Expectations of Auditioning Dancers

Different opportunities come with different criteria and expectations.

In a professional situation, people are expecting a level of preparedness and will assess whether you can step right in and handle the work.

In a college or pre-professional position, they are evaluating your potential and are looking to see if you can adapt to their particular approach for further training and development in particular style or repertoire.

Don’t forget that those interviewing you are looking for a whole person and are not just selecting/hiring your abilities. If you are inviting and approachable people will to want to talk to you learn more about your experience and what you have to offer.

If you approach every interview as a conversation, it becomes an opportunity to introduce yourself and to learn about someone or something else which goes a long way to lessening the stress of feeling judged and vulnerable.

“We’re Not Hiring.” What Now?

If you are technically strong enough and decide to try out for a professional company right out of high school there are many ways to become involved even if there are no actual job openings at the time.

Becoming an apprentice is an invaluable way to continue training and get a deeper understanding of the workings of a professional company. Your presence also allows directors to see how you handle their material and observe your demeanor as a professional.

Many companies do not hold auditions but select their apprentices or new members by word of mouth from colleagues.

Remember that you are auditioning all the time, often observed and considered for a role or opportunity without your knowledge.

Interning in the office or backstage is another way to also get valuable experience that can lead to ways of making a living in the arts as well as to help you understand how organizations function while allowing you to become a part of a team.

After selecting the right auditions or opportunities, dancers have a few more decisions to make, including what to perform for an audition.

Janaea Lyn Rose McAleeJanaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) is the currently full-time faculty and Dance Coordinator at Estrella Mountain Community College in Arizona. Previously she was Assistant Professor of Dance and Performing Arts Program Coordinator at Cecil College in Maryland. She is the author of Dance This Notebook with Artist Laura Higgins Palmer and is a contributing writer for Choreoclinic. Janaea was Founding Artistic Director of  both Convergence Dancers & Musicians and Dance Matrix, and she remains active as a Third Generation Isadora Duncan Dancer. Information at

(Interview photo by David Davies)
Working the Numbers: Math Problem-Solving in Dance Mon, 09 Dec 2013 14:50:51 +0000 K-12 dance educator, Heather Vaughan Southard shares two very different ways she incorporates math and problem-solving into her dance education classes: dancing fractions and budgeting for a production.]]>

Each year, our school offers a “Math Night.”

Teachers offer various activities that endorse mathematical thinking mostly through problem-solving experiences. It is fun; the kids have activity cards stamped and after visiting the required number of stations, they can partake in other fun types of games and enjoy pizza or ice cream.

Illustration by Daniel NgIn the last few years, I have used this to introduce my own type of problem-solving that we have continued in the studio in subsequent weeks.

Although some of these activities could lend themselves to the creation of a dance for formal presentation- I warn you: to do so, artistically speaking, would be highly cliche. I offer this note because I have seen it done and heard the ridicule offered. Wear your “material to promote connected learning” vs. “material as a source for dance-making” filter as you continue reading.

Dancing Fractions


  • To physicalize divisions of the body and bring physical thinking to “fractions”
  • To further examine “isolations”, including multiple isolations occurring simultaneously
  • To provide a strategy for generating movement for composition sketches

Introduction: Dividing into smaller portions of the body, smaller isolations

  • Start by moving whole body (1)
  • Divide body into halves and move correlating parts (1/2): Right/Left, Upper/Lower
  • Divide body into quadrants and move (1/4): Upper Right, Upper Left, Lower Right, Lower Left
  • Divide further into eighths (1/8): Whole arm is divided at elbow, whole leg is divided at knee
  • Divide further into sixteenths (1/16): hand, feet (Think smaller portion, not necessary 16 small parts represented specifically)
  • Divide further into thirty-seconds (1/32): fingers, toes


Students receive equations of adding or subtracting fractions, and create ways to “dance” the problem or series of problems to create movement phrases featuring isolation

Further activities:

Fosse Math: Observe an age-appropriate movement excerpt to identify and discuss use of isolation and stylized movement. Assign a dancer to a group of students in the course and have them “do the math” of the isolations in Fosse’s choreography.

Budgeting the Show


  • To introduce the extent of decision-making required in concert production
  • To model logical thinking in problem-solving
  • To introduce budgeting

Introduction: (there are multiple ways to “play” this game)

Dance Production BudgetPlace cards ($100, $200, $300, choreographer’s choice, in-kind….) within categories such as: Number of performers, Music, Costuming, Lighting, Venue

Begin by explaining that everything involved in producing a concert costs money. Depending on the community, some things cost more or less than other places and some things are donated “in-kind”.

Concept: Choreographers must make choices about their work, and how they spend their budget, based on the following questions (not a complete list)

  • Do you want to make a solo or group work?
  • If you can’t afford both, which is a priority: original musical score, originally designed costumes?
  • Do you have a venue? Is it a union house?
  • Are you responsible for hiring Stage Manager and crew?
  • Do you have a lighting designer?
  • Do you have a set/media designer?
  • Do you have projection needs that may require rented equipment?
  • Are you paying dancers a salary, a stipend, or an honorarium?
  • Will you write grants? When are the deadlines? How does this impact your timeline?


Many students want the fame and glory of the life of a performer but have little understanding of what is exactly involved.

This exercise can be a great motivator for those that “just want to dance” and need to know that their work in technique class needs a jolt of energy and focus. It is also great for those that want a life in the field and are willing to do anything and everything to have it. Even if they choose not to perform, there are a million other ways they have be involved in the arts.

Wondering if these are samples of arts integration, arts enhancement, or arts infusion? Read Let’s Talk Arts Integration.

Otherwise, how are you bringing mathematical thinking out in your teaching?

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