After so many years of teaching dance, it’s impossible for a teacher to not experience dancers’ frustrations regarding their progress, or not getting the roles they want, or not moving up to higher levels. I’ve also experienced the teachers’ challenges of balancing the dancers’ need to grow with pushing them too far and causing discouragement. However, there’s also another issue; it’s a good problem, but it’s still a problem. What do you do when there’s a wave of beautiful dancers who are coming into their own, yet the strong, very skilled dancers who have been doing lead roles are also continuing to improve? What do you do when these wonderful artists are no longer the only choices for the larger roles? No one wants to see a ballet company with only one fabulous dancer, even when it makes the director’s life easy for casting choices. So, what DO you do when you have many dancers who are beautiful, capable, expressive artists, each with their individual strengths, each with aspirations of moving up, but there are a limited number of leading roles and solos? I know I want to use the right dancers for the right roles, but all the dancers are versatile, and they would all bring their unique interpretation as well as sparkling technique. Large ballet companies have long performing seasons with many performances on the schedule; many dancers can be featured often in one season. However, smaller companies have a more limited performing schedule and less opportunities in any one season for each artist to take the lead. So, what does a director do?
I’m not sure. I’ve never had this problem before, but I am thrilled to see such talent and artistry blossoming before my eyes. It’s like watching all the stars come out at the same time on a clear night. Where do you look first?
One thing I AM sure of: Unless the director is honest and up front, rumors begin immediately as to why “so-and-so” got the role that someone else did for years, or “certainly someone is angry and threatening to leave,” because he or she didn’t get the lead. I don’t even have to list them; I’m sure you’ve heard them all, and rarely are they true. The actual truth is, everyone wants to be appreciated, validated, and USED when they deserve it. No one wants to feel they’ve been overlooked or not even considered in a casting decision. People need to know that they have demonstrated improvement and that they’re being seen for what they are now, not what they used to be.
The word “company” means that there is a camaraderie and a like-mindedness among a group of people. With dancers who link arms during the difficult times as well as the glorious ones, a company is more of a family. They work and sweat together, struggle together, triumph together, and become like war buddies with an everlasting emotional bond. It only makes sense that they be treated with the same honesty and compassion as a loving family. And when you love someone as family, you must trust their emotions, and weather all of them together.
So, back to dance — honesty is necessary among the ranks to instill trust; trust is the foundation of any relationship, whether family, friends, or work. To me, they are one and the same. There are still private issues which don’t need to be broadcasted to everyone who is not involved, and timing is always important. However, in a company where everyone is fighting the good fight together, it’s just as important that a relationship develops within. We need to let our fellow soldiers in on the battle plan and desired strategy. That way, even when the director has to make a decision that’s unpopular, the trust and faithfulness win out, and we can all continue to…
Robin Conrad Sturm is the primary ballet instructor and Executive and Artistic Director of the Northern Virginia Dance Academy and the Asaph Dance Ensemble.
Robin recently won InsideNoVa’s Best Author in Prince William honors and also writes a blog. Contact her at Northern Virginia Dance Ensemble: www.nvdance.net/wp/ or call 703-330-5227.