Emma Sandall answers your questions.
Q: My director asked me to dance more like another dancer in the company but I feel this steps on my individuality. How do you know when a superior is giving you advice which is truly to your benefit or when it is time for you to move on?
- 19 year old professional ballet dancer
Most dancers look to other dancers at different points in their careers and try to emulate a quality or qualities that they admire in them – it might be broad like their work ethic; or narrow like the way they hold their arms in fifth position. You probably already do this to some degree with a dancer (or dancers) you admire, but it sounds like your director wants to direct your choice. I imagine he would like to see you develop your potential in a particular way, and seeing as you dance in his company, his advice may well benefit your career. Perhaps there are roles he has in mind for you. It is certainly worth giving a go!
Many of us have a touch of arrogance as junior company members and that can be a useful thing. It helps us grab opportunities we might otherwise baulk at. However, when we are young there are many things we just don’t yet know about ourselves and the journey ahead, no matter how proficient a dancer we may be. Your director’s advice sounds like a gentle lesson in humility and he wants to help you improve as a dancer and expand your horizons.
The first thing I suggest you do is clarify exactly what he likes about this dancer that he’d like you to copy or learn from. If you didn’t ask, you need to. It might be a few small details related to technique. It might be a big broad stroke like general attitude in the studio. It’s helpful to view this trick of copying another dancer as an opportunity for a refreshing change in your approach to dancing. Sticking to your “individuality”, day in day out, also means sticking to your habits. If you learn from this dancer as your director suggests, who knows what possibilities of expression and technique might open up that you would never have ventured into alone.
To the second part of your question, knowing if it is time to move on, you must ask yourself these things:
- Do I like the company and the work?
- Am I proud of dancing here?
- Do I respect my colleagues?
- Do I respect my director?
- Am I treated well?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then dig in and give the director’s advice a whirl.
However, if you are not happy, try writing a clear and honest list why and what’s not working for you. You don’t want to take your frustration to your next gig, so it’s important to figure out exactly what you are after. It might be to travel further afield; it might be to dance different repertoire or a different genre; it might be a larger or a smaller company. Having done this honestly, you need to set yourself some goals and put your plan into action!
So my advice is:
- Speak honestly to your director and find out exactly what he’d like you to copy in the dancer he suggests and then give it a go.
- Keep a work journal. Note your moods and your efforts. Your successes and things that aren’t going as you’d like. Do this for a few months and then see what the general gist is.
- Write yourself a long term goal for your career and life in general and plot how to make it happen.
Emma Sandall danced with Ballet Bejart Lausanne, the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and West Australian Ballet. She teaches for companies and schools in Australia, Europe and America.
Got a question for Emma? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence will be treated confidentially.
This article was first published in the April/May 2018 edition of Dance Australia and included advice from independent dancer/choreographer Paul White. Want to make sure you have access to all the latest articles from Dance Australia? Subscribe here. You can also buy the magazine at your favourite magazine retailer or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app.
Pictured: Paul White performing in 'Cella' choreographed by White and Narelle Benjamin. The work premiered at this year's Sydney Festival. Photo: Pippa Samaya.