Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Job Description. Part III- TEACHER

Many dancers transition or even supplement their performing careers teaching. Some teach dance and others become certified in other exercise systems. Going into such great depth with one's own physicality is part of the path to becoming a dancer. That investment is well transferred to helping others with their bodies. My husband, Matthew Keefe, is even more altruistic in his teaching citing that "dance is an excuse to teach the greater lessons of life" ie: discipline, teamwork, focus and determination.

As far as the details and description of the job, Jennifer Hart of Ballet Austin writes, "
I was hired as a full-time faculty teacher. I teach mostly in the Academy but I also teach, what we call at Ballet Austin, the community school. Those classes are open to everyone. I also teach the apprentices and trainees to the company in the morning. My day is usually broken up in the fall to where I teach in the morning, have a long afternoon break and then teach again in the evening from roughly 4-8:30. I also teach Saturdays for 5 hours in the morning and am done by 1pm. If the school needs a substitute for a class and I'm available then I teach extra hours.

My other duties include: meetings, which happen several times a month, on topics related to technique, class regulations or, mostly, talks about students and the issues that surround that, whether its technical issues or behavioral; student evaluations; twice-yearly meetings with students; choreography for year-end performances.

Other things I do for my job that are not duties but I consider them important to my job are: watching other teachers teach and class plans."

In the summer there are also intensive programs that offer the opportunity to teach resume building classes, watch videos critically with students and teach many, many hours.

Here's an article covering many details about running a school and teaching in general.

Here's an article, orginally published in Dance Magazine, about hiring dance teachers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Job Description. Part II- PRODUCTION

Jobs part II. A production involves so many people aside from just those on stage. It's easy to forget about all who contribute to a show when we are engrossed in our individual responsibilities. Additionally with a little schooling, as dancers consider options beyond dancing, many of these jobs can tie together other interests while keeping one in the field.

The following is an incredible summary of positions in the theater contributed by Kevin Jones a great lighting designer/stage manager for the James Sewell Ballet. He also stage manages the O'Shaughnessy theater at the College of St Catherine in St Paul, MN. Kevin has devoted his life to serving the theater especially dance from the production side- if you take him out, you can get some great stories!

Production Manager

The PM is the head of the production department. It is a managerial bridge between the artistic and administrative side of an organization. Most of the time, this is a very high level of position in the organization just below or equivalent to the Artistic or Executive Director. This person has the job of overseeing the artistic vision of the organization from a production viewpoint. The PM oversees the budget and vision of the production department which would include all the stage managers, costumers, designers and the crews. It is often considered a more artistic administrative position as the PM must have an insight to the artistic side of the company to envision what and where the company’s production needs will be in the short and long term.

Production Stage Manager

The PSM is the person who oversees the day to day operations of the company’s needs from a production standpoint. They support the needs of the performing part of the company. They would work closely with the Company Manager with an oversight of the other Stage Managers (If any). They sometimes replace a Company Manager, but tend to have more of a production background than an artistic background. This is a production department parallel position to a Company Manger (who is usually an artistic department employee).

Here is a link for a handbook for stage managers....including a personal account of the fist show this manager called. Even production succumbs to stage fright at times!

Stage Manager

The SM is the person who is in charge of the shows the company puts on stage. Once the show is in the theater, the SM is in charge of making everything run smoothly. If there is no director or other artistic person overseeing the performance all the notes, staging, blocking, etc all are overseen by the SM. In theater the SM is different for each show. They stay with the play from preproduction meetings through auditions, casting, rehearsals techs, dress rehearsals and all performances. They are the conduit through which all information flows. After the director gets the show open on opening night the director and all the designers leave the play in the SM’s hands to oversee and care for. All notes, cues and staging documentation are kept by a SM for the production. In dance the SM is the person who is most familiar with the ballets in the rep. They would often be in rehearsal learning the ballet with the dancers (often running sound) and taking notes for the rest of the production and artistic staff. The dance SM has the same responsibility in the theater as a theater SM. They call all the cues, etc. once a show is in place and oversee the actual shows.

Lighting Designer

The LD is the designer who illuminates the particular dances in the repertory. Sometimes there are resident designers who design most or all of the repertory for a particular company, sometimes there may be many different designers.

An article by Jeffrey Salzburg listing effective collaboration for choreographers working with lighting designers.

Lighting Director

The Lighting Director is the person who ensures the Lighting Designers designs are recreated accurately after the design is completed. They will generally adapt the original design as needed for the current repertory plot or tour.

The Crew

When there are crew positions for an organization they break down into these departments:

Carpenter(s): The Carpenter is in charge of the hard and soft scenery for the production. They would get the scenery in and in position for the production and work for the SM during the rehearsals and performances. They would deal with anything like snow or rain onstage that is rigged overhead as well

Electrician(s): The Electrician is in charge of the lighting equipment and works with the Lighting Director to complete the plot. They would get the lighting in, hung focused and working before the rehearsals and performances. They would work for the SM during the run or tour. They would generally deal with all of the electrical special effects like fog, projections, strobes, etc.

Props: In dance the Props department is in charge of anything that is not scenery or a costume and is used on the stage. In dance the props person is in charge of the floors and the floor maintenance as well.

Costume Department

After the costumes are designed by the designer, they are built by the costume department. The costume department consists of three or four general types of positions in dance and theater. The department is overseen by costume department managers or department heads. The department heads work for the Production Manager and oversee the entire department. In the theatre there are also dressers who help with loading in and unpacking, steaming or pressing costumes, dressing and quick changes, and repacking and loading out.

Larger costume shops have this general breakdown of positions:


There are cutters who develop the patterns for and cut out the patterns for the costumes.


There are stitchers who assemble the costumes and do the fittings of the costumes.


There are shoe people who deal with shoes (brand, color, inventory, distribution, etc.)

Other crafts:

And there are wig/hat people who deal with wigs, hats, hair pieces, etc. Often there are dyers and painters involved in the process as well.

As in my previous post about the job of dancers, most companies in current economic conditions do not employ a single person per job position. Usually positions are combined ie: company/stage manager, lighting/production manager, costume/wig/shoes...etc.

To reiterate I have also known of and participated in projects and dance companies where dancers have aided many of the production or costume duties for a show.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts' (VLA) provide advocacy as well as legal services to artists and arts organizations. They have the Art Law Line, a legal hotline; the VLA Legal Clinic for VLA members; in-house appointments with VLA staff attorneys; and pro bono placements for low-income artists and nonprofit arts organizations with one of over 1,200 volunteer attorneys.

Additionally they provide workshops that guide one through the process of establishing a 501(c)3 organization.

I recently spoke with someone who used VLA's services and was very pleased. Everything was reported accurate and professional, if a little slow- but hey it was free!

It's nice to know that you can have legal guidance on your side!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Microsoft doing its part.

Microsoft is supporting nonprofit organizations by offering free software and web based programs to increase productivity. One of the huge benefits of the program is free server space online to back up and share various documents and applications. There are also tech grants for 501(c)3 organizations as well as links to refurbished computers.

Check it out

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Job Description.

This blog is intended to be the beginning of a series of entries breaking down the various departments and jobs within a nonprofit dance organization. (And yes there are for profit dance organizations out there! Momix and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet just to name a few).

I find the position of dancer the easiest job to relate. But what, in this economic time, is the job description of such a title? Honestly I have never been provided a job description, have you? Then, there is the competition within the field to consider. When auditions roll around, not only do we willingly provide discriminatory information such as age and weight, but we have little idea of salary range or job description for the employment which we strive. In my experience, the label "dancer" has been redefined as I have sought to help the organization in whatever means possible. Unless you are employed in a large company- by Dance USA data defined as a budget of $5 million or greater- time spent in the studio, or on stage, is just the beginning of the duties of "dancer". (Check back here later this year or with Dance USA for exciting research on salary and other employment comparisons).

Ballet dancers have always been responsible for sewing their own pointe shoes. I consider it a bond that is formed with the primary tool of the genre. Of course reviewing new choreography is always the "homework" of the dancer. I have spent countless hours pushing aside furniture to review choreographic material or writing counts or intentions in a journal.

Anja Gallagher-Syfrig currently a director of a small company in Switzerland notes... "Dancing for "someone else" usually just involved rehearsing and sewing costumes, maybe doing some research on a certain topic that a piece was focusing on, or teaching in a little outreach project in a nearby school." Anja was a member of Ballet of the Dolls in Minneapolis. The "dolls" as they are lovingly referred to are an "all hands on deck" kind of organization where dancers regularly sew costumes, build sets, help each other rehearse. Recently they acquired and renovated their own theater; the dancers did much of the work themselves.

I have previously worked for a company where I handled the daily schedule (I didn't create the schedule, but rather gathered the information and noted it in a public space for the company members), I ordered and distributed shoes, and I transported and laundered costumes. It was very rewarding to have responsibility beyond dancing. I saw great benefits to fellow co-workers and in the stress levels of my boss! I have also served as a company representative mediating issues between the dancers and the staff or board.

A university database that provides job descriptions summarizes,

"Dancing is very difficult, strenuous work, and the hours of rehearsal can be tedious and exhausting. Most dancers remain in the field only because they love to dance and would not be happy in any other occupation. Dancers often work nights and weekends, which is when performances are generally scheduled. They also travel frequently because large dance companies usually take their shows on tour.

Many professional dancers are members of one of several unions, depending on the type of dancing they do and in what medium they perform. Generally dancers work thirty hours per week, including rehearsals, matinees, and evening performances; however, individual dancers often negotiate separate contracts with producers in order to receive higher salaries or shorter working hours.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly income for dancers is $8.54. Because dancers often hold short-term jobs that range in length from one day to three months, employment can be characterized as irregular at best. Salary varies widely. Dancers who work with performing arts companies earn a median income of $14.82 per hour.

Competition for employment as a dancer is expected to remain very keen through the year 2014. The number of dancers who seek professional careers will continue to exceed the number of job openings. Only the most talented dancers will find regular employment.

Approximately 20 percent of dancers are self-employed, meaning they receive no benefits. Unionized dancers receive some paid sick leave and vacations, as well as health insurance benefits."

Dancing is definitely a lifestyle choice. One must always serve the art first and foremost. Putting in six-hour rehearsal days doesn't sound like much, but the work truly exceeds the tally of hours. (Interestingly note- I just learned of dancers who only spend three hours per day rehearsing in the studio. While that may be all the work they need, it is not typical of the workload in mid-sized companies).

PS- another resource for information about the dancer- The American Dance Guild.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Career Transition....Professional Development?

First let me begin with a few questions: Is career transition a scary term? Is professional development available to performing artists? At what point do we begin thinking about the "what's next"?

Very few of us are so lucky to reinvent ourselves on the stage as many times as Baryshnikov or Gus Solomons Jr. But we don't have to leave the pursuit of dance as we mature or transition. Career Transition for Dancers is a great organization providing counseling, research tools and funding for professional dancers at any point in their career. The funding requires a minimum of seven years professional experience, but doesn't necessarily have to be a "career transition" it can also be for professional development.

I have many years left to dance, and last spring I received a grant of $2000 to assist with my interest in teaching Gyrotonic. The process was fairly simple and very informative as well. I recall a very humbling moment going through my contracts of years past and totaling my net income....well let's just say I have lived a rich life on very little money! Add that to the research that it takes as long to make a professional dancer as it does to make a doctor- an average of 20 years. When a dancer wants to pursue more education Career Transition for Dancers is a valuable resource.

Here's info on the grant that I received:

Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship Fund

Remaining 2008 grant deadlines: Sep 3 & Nov 5

Provides $2,000 scholarships or grants to initiate an academic or retraining process or to help professional dancers with start-up money for a new business. Please note: Choreographing and teaching dance is not applicable for meeting eligibility requirements.

There is also a support group that meets in NYC:

"Midcareer Moves" is a dynamic support group led by Career Counselor, Anita Lands. This group helps dancers with professional, personal, emotional and psychological transitions and provides them with action steps and resources to move ahead.
The group meets monthly on Wednesdays from 6:00-8:00pm at
165 West 46th Street, Suite 701. New members are always welcome.
Next meeting: Wednesday, July 23
to groups@careertransition.org

I suppose that in essence we are always transitioning. Although we devote our lives to dancing, transitioning in reference to our careers should be part of how we evolve, not something to fear.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dancing in the woods?

Dance is truly a unique art form in that it requires a specific kind of space to work. A painter can travel abroad with his/her paints and create when inspiration strikes. Musicians can practice in the privacy of their own homes. But dancers need a special floor (both in texture and buoyancy), possibly ballet barres, and tall ceilings at minimum. (Obviously site specific pieces aside).

I recently traveled to Europe and performed a solo show in two locations. It was amazing how difficult it was to find space to rehearse. In the end I rehearsed in a music hall with a wood floor and risers, it was a humbling experience to say the least.

But there are resources in New York to connect dancers, choreographers and companies to available rehearsal/performance space. This NYC Dance Spaces website is a free information source of available rehearsal and performance spaces throughout the five boroughs. The user friendly interface allows you to choose the size, location and purpose of your search. You can also search for subsidized spaces that start as low as $10/hour through the New York State Council for the Arts.

The Hennepin Center for the Arts, administered by ArtSpace, is located in Minneapolis, MN and offers 6 floors of studios which are often rented for various uses. ArtSpace is dedicated to supporting artists in many capacities including subsidized work space- not to mention the spaces are big and beautiful in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. (More on ArtSpace on another posting).

If you are not in the NYC area, I recommend checking Dance Magazines' Annual Dance Directory where you can search for studios and schools in a particular locality. I have rented space a few places across the country, sometimes even just to give myself class. People are usually very generous and excited when their space is rented.

Space is a precious commodity, both the woods and available dance spaces seem to be finite at best. But both are out there to be used and enjoyed.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fractured Atlas

So this resource has already been mentioned, but here are some more wonderful things that Fractured Atlas can offer.

Health care
Liability Insurance
Job Bank
Publicity Services
Development Grants
Special Discounts
Online Classes
Fiscal Agency

Fractured Atlas - Upload a Document to Scribd

Again through membership with Dance USA a membership to Fractured Atlas is free (Regularly $75). And an individual professional dancer membership to Dance USA starts at $30.

Adam Natale spoke at the recent Dancer Council at the Dance USA convention in Denver and also mentioned that Fractured Atlas can provide consultation for artists on their programs and any issues that occur with associated services. They truly work for the artists.

Read this document on Scribd: Fractured Atlas