Advice for ballet & theatre dancers

Some personal remarks

As jury member of the ‘Varna International Ballet competition” I was impressed by the excellent performance of the Korean participants, in classical ballet as well as in contemporary dance. In classical ballet they performed fluent lines of movements in combination with exact placement. The men showed incredible high jumps, rhythm, dynamics and muscular strength and the girls with their elegant musical presentation performed with an exquisite and sublime ballet technique.

One important element was missing however: the personal interpretation of their roles, even though the solos and the pas de dues were danced out of the context of the original ballets. The pieces were extracts! In each of the pieces the expression on the faces and the body language was more or less the same without depth. I advice the dancers to work with their coaches on these specific elements of performing.

Most of the dancers with their excellent body structure show-off their contemporary dances. Especially the Chinese and Korean dancer’s standout in their contemporary presentations. What we see in this competition is an amalgam of dance techniques and fusion of contemporary dance styles. Most of the competitors communicate in their dance arrangements “MOODS” instead of miniature contemporary choreography. The solos and duets performed in extreme fluid and transparent manner where very interesting to watch. The eclectic contemporary movement ideas from modern, jazz, ballet, hip hop, break dance and urban cumulated in a fascinating human expression.

The solos and duets performed in extreme fluid and transparent manner where very interesting to watch. The eclectic contemporary movement ideas from modern, jazz, ballet, hip hop, break dance and urban cumulated in a fascinating human expression.

Some advice on dancing abroad

For Korean, Japanese and Chinese dancers it may be difficult to find employment in the USA and in Europe. First contact the companies you want to audition for and inquire about the possibility of working visas for foreign dancers. There are strict governmental requirements in the USA and Europe. The steps to work legally in another country are very complicated and official. Nowadays many ballet companies are struggling to stay afloat, many are not able to do visa permit applications for dancers who have won awards. Only if a company really wants you, they can support you by making an application for a work permit. Don’t mess anything up by making incorrect or incomplete applications. Make photocopies of all documents.

For award winners who want to move to the USA or Europe, start to be prepared! Apply for an audition of the Ballet Company you want and get listed, they will know from your CV and address that you will need help obtaining a work permit. Make sure your CV includes a category listing languages and your citizenship. I suggest you contact a lawyer who is expert in immigration & work permit matters for USA and Europe. Ty to get official advice before you go!

Many dancers from Japan, China and Korea choose to join companies in Europe or the USA because of higher pay and better benefits, but there are also drawbacks like homesickness and language barriers. Keep in mind that knowledge of English is not widely spread in countries like Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

Award winners should not expect to get a position as principal dancer or soloist immediately. In general companies offer you first a position as corps de ballet dancer, grand sujets or half soloist.  The companies want to get to know their new dancers and will check their experiences and strengths. After some years the dancers with quality potential will get promoted to a higher rank.

Personal growth

Being on your own in another country is a challenge that can strengthen your confidence, independence and resourcefulness. You can grow as a person which makes you more open to things you have never seen or done before.

Health insurance and social security

In Europe you can make enough money to support yourself comfortably. For dancers working for state theater and state company’s contributions are made to social security, health insurance and retirements funds (pension) for each dancer which can be cashed out when leaving the country or left to accrue interest until the age 38-45.

Last tip

Take a language class before you go! Knowing the basics will provide a foundation to help you survive the first few weeks. Learning the language of the decided country will make your experience more rewarding. For the time being I wish all the dancers who decide to go abroad good luck and success!

Benjamin Feliksdal
Dance Director, Ballet Master, Coach, Author of Methodic Dance Books