I’ve been bugging Rebecca King, a Top Dance blogger at Tendus Under a Palm Tree and a company member at Miami City Ballet, to guest here at DA. Now that she has a little time at the close of her season, I’m pleased to introduce Rebecca as she discusses some of the “a-ha! moments” in her transition from student to company dancer and development as a young professional.
The lessons I have learned in my five years of company life.
As a student you are provided with all the tools you require to grow as a dancer; you are given corrections, encouraged to work hard, and occasionally given a kick in the pants when a teacher deems it appropriate. When you enter a company, there is no longer someone who will help you every step of the way. Being in a company is the real deal. This is what you have dreamt of and what you have worked hard to achieve. But are you done learning? Have you gotten to that place where you can just sit back, relax, and cash your paychecks? Ask any professional dancer, regardless of their rank or fame, and they will tell you the answer to the latter question is a resounding “no”.
So what do you do? You must understand that your success is now up to you. You need to find ways to encourage yourself, keep a positive attitude, work well with the dancers around you, and put in extra time. You are in the real world now. You may be a teenager who just moved away from home, but you are expected to conduct yourself as an adult. Company life is an adjustment, which the artistic staff expects. But they hired you because they believe that you can develop a work ethic that will enable you to thrive as a professional. So you must prove to them that you can.
Working In The Back
When you first begin working with a company, chances are you may not be in the first cast of every ballet. When you are in another cast, you are expected to be able to learn the choreography from the back of the room. This is a challenge, as you often do not have the entire space to work with, nor an entire cast of dancers around you. It can prove very easy to lose focus or become frustrated, so you must discover your own methods for working in the back. Everyone learns in different ways, so by trial and error you will find what works for you. You must always be prepared to be thrown in to a rehearsal at any given time, as that will be your moment to prove to the artistic staff that you are valuable and intelligent. They already know you are a good dancer; now you must prove yourself on a different level.
Dancing With the Corps
As you begin to dance with the corps de ballet, you will realize that you must be fully aware of what is happening all around you in order to stay in sync with the other dancers. This is a learned expertise. The only way to become a successful corps member is by dancing in the corps. At first you will have to remind yourself as you learn the choreography to take moments to look at the people across and in front of you to make sure you are exactly where you need to be. In time, this will become a very natural part of your dancing.
While dancing in the corps, you must remember that you can learn so much from the dancers around you. It is important to always pay respect to these more experienced dancers. I have always been in awe of the dancers who came before me and the respect continues to this day. Even though I have become close friends with these dancers who used to mentor me when I first joined, I still appreciate their dancing and treat them with the same respect that I did on day one. It is evident to the audience when a company has a corps of dancers who work well together; the dancers appear more in sync and dance together as a unit.
Working On Your Own
Stepping out of the classroom environment, you will find that working through choreography on your own time becomes a very important habit. For me, this has been my biggest realization. So much is happening in company life that often the scheduled rehearsals are simply not enough to prepare each person for the stage. Dancers are expected to work individually, so that the rehearsal time that is allocated can be used as effectively as possible. You will begin to feel what is going wrong with certain steps that challenge you and analyze it for yourself.
Giving Your Body What It Needs
Another recent revelation I have had about company life involves fueling my body. Not only have I discovered that my body feels significantly different when I eat well, but changing my diet was not as miserable as I imagined. I always feel a huge difference when I give my body what it needs. Also, getting enough rest has proven to be very beneficial to me. By getting the rest my body needs on my days off, I feel much more prepared for the week to come. As you advance in your company career, you will find, as I have, that changes in daily routine can have a very positive influence on your work in the studios.
Continuing to Learn
The most important thing to remember when entering company life: you are never done learning. Whether you are learning from the dancers around you or from the artistic staff, in order to be successful, you must continue to grow as a dancer. I went through a period of time when I didn’t understand that I was now responsible for my growth as a dancer. Once I began to work in a smart way, and saw the results, everything fell into place for me. Your first years in a company are spent trying to grasp this important lesson. From then on, you fall into a pattern that works for you and feeds your talent.
Rebecca King was born and raised in Northern California. Ms. King received her ballet training from former San Francisco Ballet School Director Richard Cammack, former ABT and SFB dancer Zola Dishong, and former Royal Swedish Ballet dancer Katarina Wester at Contra Costa Ballet Centre in Walnut Creek, CA. Her senior year in high school, she attended The Rock School in Phildelphia. After graduating in 2006, Ms. King moved to Miami to train at Miami City Ballet School. While in the school she performed with the company in “The Nutcracker”, “Giselle”, and Balanchine’s “Symphony in 3 Movements”. Ms. King was offered a Company Apprentice contract for Miami City Ballet’s 2007-2008 season, and was promoted to Corps De Ballet in 2008.