Artists Careers Educators Training for success

When to stay and when to walk away

Part of achieving success as an artist is having the right training. Having the right training means you have mentors. The best mentors will help you achieve your maximum potential in a way that is demanding without being condescending.

In vulnerable states, artists may rely on their mentors to get them through the roughest patches. If this vulnerability becomes manipulated, it crosses the line into unhealthy.

Your teachers helped you reach great heights under their tutelage and may have believed in you when it seemed nobody else did.

It’s all great until it isn’t. Fifty great things your mentor has done for you cannot outweigh one very bad thing they have done to you.

The effect teachers have on students lasts a lifetime, the good and the bad. If it doesn’t feel healthy, walk away, and cherish the ones that push you to your best and catch you when you fall.

Careers Dance Educators Training for success

Value isn’t cheap

On tour in 2005 in the town of Somewhere, USA, my cast mates and I went to a dingy gym in a hotel basement so I could teach them the audition material for the upcoming Radio City Rockettes audition. I’d been doing the job for many years at this point, so I knew what the open call would entail.

These women are fabulous dancers. I just needed to fine tune some tiny details. Two of the three that auditioned ended up getting hired that season, after being cut from previous years of auditions. Words can’t express how special that was to me. They of course didn’t pay me a dime.

Other times in my career I’ve been hired to guest teach at studios or as a faculty member of a convention or festival where students don’t know foundational tap steps, and I’m paid very well to teach them some basics that they could learn from anybody with some knowledge.

How much I was paid in any case doesn’t matter.

The value of a teacher’s work isn’t measured by how much money they make. It’s measured by what those they teach get out of it.

Careers Dance Educators Training for success

Full Circle

It was fun to grow up analog, to be a part of the generation that grew up analog. In the dance community we somehow figured out what was good, which dance studio would provide the best training and where the dance conventions and tap festivals were. When we got home at the end of the day, we were away from everyone. With a few exceptions, everything was local.

Adulthood combined with the ever growing internet made everything very big. I traveled to L.A. and New York City to study with as many dance artists as possible, to know them and for them to know me.

“Hey! You’ve been in my class before.”

Then came social media. Who remembers MySpace? You can now connect with anyone in your industry anywhere in the world. It’s an infinite realm of choices and possibilities.

I’m ready to go back to small. I don’t just mean geographically, although I can’t wait to be able to sit at the counter again at the tiny diner around the corner. I’m ready to continue doing my best work for the small group who shares my excitement and spirit. I’m back where I started, but so much better.

Training for success

Train smart

Where you train and who you attribute your training to is not cut and dry. It never was, not even when we were living in an analog world. Taking from as many teachers as you can isn’t training, no matter how well-known they are. Hopping from studio to studio isn’t training well either.

Most importantly, every dancer needs their anchor, the teachers that shape them with a foundation that will serve them wherever they go.

The key is finding the perfect mix. First, there are the go-to’s, the mentors that really know you and know how to pull out your best, and aren’t afraid of offending you if they push harder. They may be a different set of teachers over the years, but you always need them. Second, there are those teachers that you love to take from once in a while, and it’s always a treat when you do. Lastly, push yourself to take classes from completely new people. This one gets harder the older you get. And don’t stop taking class, even if it means giving yourself a class and imagining what your mentor is saying to you with each movement.

online learning Training for success

What is ‘better’?

With the great challenges the human race faces right now, there is also an opportunity, a chance to take the extra time and/or increasing online resources to keep exploring what ‘better’ means to us, in terms of our craft, and how to get there.

Working toward your version of better might not be taking advantage of 100 different free online classes. It might be finding one person to learn from that you may not have had access to before. It may be studying footage and teaching yourself choreography, whether from a Janet Jackson video or a Balanchine variation, or signing up for that Master Class membership that you’ve been wanting to do for years.

What ‘better’ means to others might be different. Taking 5 classes in a day with an online convention might not float your boat. Maybe investing in training with one mentor is more your cup of tea. Sometimes we get overtaken by our old fried paradox of choice, where there are so many options to choose from that we freeze and do nothing.

No matter what, do something. Keep moving. Find your ‘better’.

Training for success

Jack of many trades

It’s eye-opening to read articles having to explain why dancers should study tap dancing, or why hip hop dancers should take ballet. Dance is dance, and it’s important to learn it all and not to question why, or ‘what will I need this for’? I will sit in this chair and pretend to chew food to weird, dissonant music, and I won’t ask ‘why’. This is what the choreographer said to do. (That actually happened!)

It is disheartening to teach a class of students that are there because they are required to be. They have to take tap to be in the company. They have to take 2 ballet classes a week to compete. This just doesn’t make sense to me. YOU GUYS! It’s DANCE! We are dancing! Afro-Cuban, Graham technique, waacking, butoh. I am in.

Jack-of-all-trades, master of none is not an accurate pairing, especially now. In the formative years, it’s so important to take in everything. Absorb it all. Be a master of many. It is truly possible. Robert A. Heinlein, considered the dean of science fiction writing, said “Specialization is for insects.” The versatile ones run the show. Steve Jobs was not the best programmer at Apple. He had a broad range of skills and could predict and innovate.

It’s possible to be a jack of many trades and pick one or two to pursue being an expert in. You can do both at the same time. The most important reason? It’s way more fun.