I’m ready to get a job, so how do I get my first contract?
How many of you are saying this to your self right now?
Trust me, I get it! I am right with you.
So, I started a new series How To Get A Job as a dancer because I am currently working on the same thing. After my first post on the importance of networking and building relationships, I wanted to write a follow up post on how to build relationships.
I can easily tell you the importance of building relationships, but it doesn’t help if you don’t know how make them.
I can offer my advice, which mostly comes from what professionals have told me and my experience or I can have professionals tell you exactly what they think.
I thought the best way to answer this question was to ask professionals:
What advice they would give to emerging artists on how to build relationships…
Here’s what they had to say:
“Be the balance of being personal and professional. As much as possible go take master classes and open workshops, or go see shows. This helps you recognize yourself as a dancer and as an artist. I’ve been asked to join companies just by showing interest and asking about their next shows or just showing up and being present.”
–Maleek Washington, dancer with Camille A. Brown, former collaborator with Abraham.in.motion and first Afro American male in Sleep no More”; Boston Conservatory, instagram: @maleek_washington
“A good way for dancers to build relationships with professionals is starting off with your teachers. Teachers and workshops are great ways to get introduced to peers and get in contact with new people. Its all about networking!”
–Daphne Lee, dancer with Collage Dance Collective, graduate of Ailey/ Fordham; instagram: @daphne732
“I would say to emerging artists to always be your authentic, best self, and to ALWAYS trust in your craft and the artistry that you bring to the table. Being confident yet humble, hardworking yet personable are qualities, and authenticity will show that you are passionate and easy to work with. And NEVER be afraid to ask for help, mentorship, advice, ETC. Don’t let the “professional” intimidate you, we are all human, just with different experiences.”
–Courtney Paige Ross, dancer with Evidence, graduate of Ailey/ Fordham; instagram: @courtyp25
“Don’t be afraid to speak up. Know who you are speaking with, if not, ask questions. Be yourself, especially. when explaining who you are. Always get to know them even more by asking questions”
–Jackie Green, dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, graduate of Ailey/Fordham; Instagram:@jagreen711
“Emerging artists should always keep in mind that in order to build relationships with professionals being genuine, consistent and kind are important. Those three words may seem simple but they hold a lot of weight in our small dance community.”
–Tamisha Guy, dancer with Abraham. In. Moition; graduate of SUNY Purchase; Instagram: @tamishaguy
“My best advice is go to where other dancers are. That’s classes, shows, and dance events that happen around town. Then talk with everyone. Just make tons of friends.”
–Chris Bloom, dancer with Ballet Hispanico; graduate of Ailey/ Fordham; Instagram: @cbloomsies
“Networking is the biggest tool for any professional. It matters how you present yourself both physically when introducing yourself and via e-mail/social media. In regards to e-mail, it is always best to include your 1st and last name. Follow up emails are very important, whether you just did a audition, a meet and greet etc, always finding the time to say thank you shows maturity and a sign of responsibility.”
–Jamal Callender, dancer with Nationaltheater Mannheim in Germany, founder of Barbados Dance Project; graduate of The Juilliard School; Instagram: @jamalcallender
I added the schools these professionals graduated from to give my college readers some context as to where they trained before becoming a professional. You might have noticed that a good chunk of them graduated from Ailey/ Fordham…at first I thought what a concidence.
But then I realized it was not a coincidence at all! I asked professionals whom I have formed a relationship with, so it’s not a coincidence that many of them have graduated from the school I currently attend.
This goes to say, don’t miss out on the vital connections and networking you can create at school!
It’s easy to want to rush out of school and start your professional career, which I completely understand, but make sure to foster lasting relationships while you are there. Our universities are great places to start building relationships with our teachers, directors, or choreographers who past through because it’s all an interconnected web.
Or you can familiarize yourself with the alumni of your school because most likely they are the ones who are currently working. Also, they would most likely be happy to mentor or help any students who currently go to their old school. Most of professionals I mentioned graduated the program years ago, but they are all willing to help an emerging artist.
I gathered 3 main things from the professional’s advice:
Go out to shows, workshops, classes
As artists, we are most likely already going out and seeing dance. I like to see dance performances because it inspires me, supports art, but also it helps me create a list of companies I am interested in. Before we graduate, we should have a list of companies that we would like to audition for, so we can create a calendar with all the upcoming auditions. It helps you stay on top of your game, and not miss crucial auditions.
Moreover, besides planning which companies you would like to dance with, shows, workshops, and classes are perfect opportunities to meet professionals and artistic directors. If it is an informal showing like APAP, you can express graditude and speak to the dancers right after they perform. Or if it is a formal performance at a theater, you can wait for the dancers by the stage door and say hi. Another route, is to attend workshops or classes at Steps, Gibney, BDC, etc… and introduce yourself after the class. Many professionals enjoy teaching, and they usually post any workshops or classes they are doing on their social media.
I know as an emerging artist $20+ classes are pricey; I too don’t take as many outside classes as I would like. However, $20 is worth a vital connection with a professional that can potentially positively affect your future.
We no longer have the excuse that we don’t know when events or classes are happening because of the internet! We can quickly head online and check for any upcoming classes and shows we are interested in. Or most people are already spending a good portion of their day scrolling through Instagram, so take part of that time to do research for your future.
Reminder: Make sure you go to as many shows before you graduate college so you can get that student discount!
This goes to say, we need to speak up! Think back on a time, you took class or went to a show and you didn’t speak up!
I can think of a few examples in which my nerves kept me back from introducing myself.
Sometimes we fear coming off as pushy or too much, but honestly all you have to do is be genuine! We forget that professional dancers were once eager students trying to make it happen just like us.
More likely than not they will not shoo you off and they will be welcoming and kind. It is so important to take the extra 5 minutes to speak up because I guarantee you will see that professional again! The person might not remember your name, but they will more likely remember your face! And then the next audition you go to, that person might be on the panel or a friend of someone on the panel…it’s all interconnected!
Be authentic & genuine
I’m enjoying how all of these points flow together. People will welcome relationships if you come off as authentic and genuine. After a performance, you should go congratulate the dancers if you genuinely enjoyed what you saw.
This follows my point from my the first post, Building Relationships and Networking, in this series that you shouldn’t selfishly build relationships with professionals just so they can get you ahead. You also don’t want to burn bridges in the dance world because everyone talks! The best way to avoid this is to be you!
You don’t have to overthink or personify someone other than yourself when building relationships. And just like any relationships, some will stick and you will get close with them and others will be temporary or more cordial. That’s okay!
I hope this post helps you gain some perspective on how and where to build relationships with professionals. Leave a comment if you still have a few unanswered questions or a suggestion for a future post in this series.