Many of you will make a colossal transition this year. I am speaking of the one where you will go from being a large fish in a small pond to becoming a small fish in a large pond. Company employment!
So what exactly does this all mean?
As the big fish, you rule the school. You are cast in lead roles for every production. Everyone knows you. Aware of your immense talent. You are held in high regard. Audience members stand on their feet applauding your spectacular performances. Pretty certain you cannot imagine it getting any better than this. And truly, for a while, you are correct.
Enter large pond here.
You are now simply one of many. You are lucky if your name even appears on the cast list. Most have no idea who you are. Or, what you may even be capable of. To be honest, some may not even care. You are the low man on the totem pole. The last rung on the ladder. Blunt? Yes. But, the unvarnished truth.
“What is most important is that you stand back, listen and learn.”
So now what? You work hard to find your place within your new home. A sense of eagerness to prove yourself to your fellow dancers can overcome you. But what is most important is that you stand back, listen and learn. This includes not acting like the big fish you once were.
To help you get your bearings and navigate these new waterways, I am going to let you in on some unspoken, unwritten rules of etiquette for the new company member.
Respect those who came before you
You must understand that there exists seniority in companies. And those dancers who came before you, well, they are quite fond of their ritualistic spots. At barre, in center, and even during their sweeping grand allegros across the floor. So, don’t just snatch up a spot you like. Take time to assess openings at the barre and gaps in the room where you can fit in. Asking where you can stand is also a polite and welcome alternative.
An artistic director is always watching …
To see if you are the right fit for the company. Think of it this way: Your first year is nothing other than a yearlong interview. And first impressions? Yep, those opinions get formed rather quickly, so make them good! Company class. Never ever (did I say never ever?) skip company class. A day off? Tired? Never do it! Class should not be used solely as your daily warm-up. Continue to work on your technique like the nose-to-the-grindstone student you once were. Not to mention, class may be the only opportunity an artistic director gets to observe you dance. Rehearsals? Never mark your steps doing them with half intention, energy or focus. If you are called to learn a part in the second cast, do not sit in the back. Stand. Be engaged. Practice the movement. Pay absolute attention. Do not expect the steps to be spoon-fed. And please, please, please. Stay off your phone. There is no post more important than your job!
Auditions. What To Do, What Not To Do? [Blog with Artistic Director Peter Boal]
Captivate the Choreographer [Dance Magazine]
This may be your dream job, but it is still a job
Keep in mind that you are part of a unit. A team, if you will. Arrive on time. Others are counting on you. Your fellow corps members. Maybe your partner. Keep up with your appearance. Be presentable at all times as disheveled is not a good look on anyone. Never stop working on your tool: your body. Seek out extra classes. Take Pilates. Sprinkle in some cross training of your choice. Anything is better than becoming stagnant. Lastly, ask questions. Solicit advice from other dancers. Those you admire or feel would serve as a good role model for you. Doing so will help you navigate life in your new company much easier.
Appreciate those helping you get on stage
The staff in the costume shop. The backstage crew. Members of the orchestra. And the conductor, too. Treat each one with the utmost courtesy. They not only have a job to carry out as you do, but they are there to support you and not serve you.
Okay, there you have it. My unspoken, unwritten rules of etiquette for you, the new company member. Congratulations on receiving a contract. Now, go out there and have a swimmingly wonderful time in your new world!