What to Look for in a Postgraduate Training Program

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Postgraduate training programs have long been an important, if complicated, part of the dance industry. At best, these experiences for young adults on the cusp of their careers—such as ballet intern programs, professional commercial studio semesters, and pre-professional ventures—can provide students with professional-level experiences and connections. crucial with the industry. At worst, they sell false hope in exchange for exorbitant tuition fees.

The poster boy for success in postgraduate training, former Ballet West soloist Emily Neale made her professional debut at two different schools. The first lasted a few years with Ellison Ballet, ending at age 20. The program is not tied to any particular company, but is committed to preparing dancers for company. “Although the school didn’t facilitate auditions, the goal was to have 100 percent of students graduate with a professional contract,” she says. However, Neale herself left Ellison with an internship at Ballet West and the prospect of a future there. “I knew it was a good step because it allowed me to meet the director of the company, Adam Sklute,” she says. As a 21-year-old trainee, Neale had occasional performance opportunities with the company, proving she was ready; a year later, she saw the fruits of her postgraduate training with a position at Ballet West II. Two months later, she joined the corps de ballet.

Mia Séroc in technical class at Martha Graham School. Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy Martha Graham School.

But though she has benefited immensely from postgraduate training programs, Neale isn’t convinced her experience is the norm. “Even though Ballet West emphasizes in-house hiring, most of the dancers who went through the internship program with me didn’t get a contract and they were really disappointed,” says -she. “For them, it was a broken promise.” Unfortunately, this is a problem that dancers face in schools across the country. Too often, they spend years in programs without any concrete job-booking potential.

So how can dancers judge which camp they will fall into: success and dream achievement, or disappointment and financial loss?

Tell me straight

Postgraduate training programs vary widely, and unlike a university degree, they are not regulated by any higher body. So how can you gauge the types of opportunities and relationships you will actually get? The short answer: Ask.

“Dancers should be prepared to ask directors what they see for you and your future with the company before joining the program,” says Laveen Naidu, director of dance at St. James’s and former executive director of Dance Theater in Harlem. “You may be worried about sounding arrogant, but it’s always better to ask now than find out years later.”

Before Neale accepted the internship at Ballet West, she had a candid conversation with Sklute about whether or not he had a genuine interest in her. He let her know that even though he didn’t have a business contract to give at the time, he thought she was ready for the business. “If you go into an intern program knowing you need more work before you’re ready to perform, there’s a higher risk that the program won’t land you a corporate contract” , she says. “You might actually want to pick a school, like Ellison, where you can take the time to work things out.”

Postgraduate training helped Emily Neale land a contract with Ballet West. Photo by Joshua Whitehead, courtesy of Ballet West.

If speaking with a corporate director isn’t realistic, Jennifer Patten, who is the school principal of Martha Graham Dance Company, recommends reaching out to other administrative and faculty staff. “Graham School has a dean of students who is a great person to talk to,” she says. “One of the most important things you can do for your career is to go straight to the source and ask what kinds of opportunities the school offers, and what a path with them might realistically look like” , she says.

You should also invest in outside research. Patten recommends Google what graduates of the school have done in their careers. If the school isn’t affiliated with a company (like the professional semester at Broadway Dance Center, for example), you’ll get an idea of ​​how dancers are prepared for the professional world when they leave. If you find your Google search unsuccessful, tap into your own dance network to see if any of your contacts know of anyone who has participated in the program. “Talk to other dancers who have been there and ask if there are any opportunities for the director to see you,” Naidu says.

Is it an atmosphere?

Whatever opportunities a program offers upon its completion, it’s also important to have an idea of ​​what the school culture will be like while you’re there. (Nobody wants to end their last years of training with a new trauma.) “Message people on social media and ask them for some honest feedback about the energy there,” Neale says. “The dance world has community members who are eager to help.” You might learn that the environment at a particular school is competitive and unforgiving, and decide that’s not the best fit for your personality.

Patten also recommends taking a deep dive on the school’s Instagram account. “Social media can, of course, be filtered, but if they share class clips or student spotlights, you can get a little taste of what life might be like there,” she says. . Even better? Ask to visit the school in person or virtually for a free class to see what it’s like for yourself.

follow the money

With the cost of postgraduate programs varying wildly, it can be difficult to know if something is truly worth the financial sacrifice, or if it is simply a source of revenue for the larger institution. “There is an inherent tension between economics and a dancer’s best interest,” says Naidu. As institutions face threats to their financial survival, training only the dancers they ultimately want to join the company can be at odds with their appeal to boards and investors. “There is such an imbalance of power in these situations,” he says. “Dancers say yes to anything because they want institutions to accept them. Are directors aware of this and striving to make ethical decisions despite financial pressure to do otherwise? »

On the other hand, Patten wants readers to know that vocational schools are often 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that do not earn revenue solely from tuition and often raise funds vigorously for keep tuition fees as low as possible. “Contributions play an important role in the operation of schools, along with individual donors and grants,” she says. “That said, it’s important to consider what a school’s mission is and how it demonstrates it.” For example, if a program says it’s training-focused and that’s what you’re looking for, ask what student-centered supports are in place, such as a career counseling component. “It’s a good signal that you won’t disappear into the woodwork,” says Patten.

Neale rehearsing with Chase O’Connell, Principal Artist of Ballet West. Photo by Joshua Whitehead, courtesy of Ballet West.

Still, if you’re going to invest money, it’s important to see what you’re actually getting for it. “Cost doesn’t always equal quality or timeliness,” says Naidu. He advises dancers to create a spreadsheet that includes the programs they are interested in, the opportunities that come with those programs (you can perform, or do they have any non-dancing offerings, like entrepreneurial or technological skills in dance or options cross-training?), and the price of each program. Then compare the value of each experience and choose what fits your budget. If none of the program prices are right for you, ask what kind of financial assistance is available.

The bottom line? Whether you’re pursuing a career in dance, engineering, or law, you need to take the time to determine what your goals are, research the training that will get you there, and communicate those aspirations to managers and administrators. “What makes one institution more worthy of your time and money than another varies from person to person,” says Patten. “Start with a sense of self, then let it be known.”


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