“From Passion to Career”

A professional dancer’s perspective on pursuing a career in dance.

Last month, at The Turning Pointe, (a local dance supply store), Ballet Academy teamed up with Mary Ann Claud to promote her novel, “Alex Dances”, about a young girl who follows her dream of becoming a professional dancer.  In harmony with the book, a discussion entitled “From Passion to Career” was lead by Ms. Sarah Bowdoin, dancer with Palmetto City Ballet (formerly Ballet Evolution) and Ballet Academy instructor, on the topic of how to successfully pursue a career in dance. With some two decades as a student, pre-professional and professional dancer, Ms. Bowdoin used her own experience as a reference as she expounded the options available to aspiring, young dancers. 

Ms. Bowdoin commenced the discussion with a brief history of her own training and career. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Sarah attended Rowland’s School of Ballet with the pre-professional dance company, Kingwood Dance Theatre that brought in teachers from places such as Houston Ballet and Regional Dance America. After graduating high school, she attended Oklahoma University where she received a double major in Ballet Performance and Nonprofit Organizational Studies. Ms. Bowdoin then began her professional career with the Charlotte Ballet, dancing with them for one season, eventually making her way to Ballet Evolution in Charleston (now Palmetto City Ballet) and is now going on her 3rdseason with the company. In addition to this experience,Ms. Bowdoin has participated in hundreds of auditions, inlcuding over 50 professional auditions.

Ms. Bowdoin is also an accomplished teacher, having just begun her third year with Ballet Academy of Charleston where she instructs both the young children and teenagers as well as the adults. She also teaches yoga and is certified in Progressing Ballet Technique U.S.®. (See the article, “What is PBT?” )

“Do I want to audition for ballet companies without the security of a college degree or gamble on my dream by putting off a career to go to school?”

Ms. Bowdoin then advised her listeners on what steps to take in their pursuit of a professional career as she enumerated the choices before these budding protétés. Below is a summary of the course Ms. Bowdoin recommended:

Phase 1- What To Do Now:

1. Find a local school that has teachers with professional experience.

2. Take summer intensives. Explore local intensives but also be willing to travel to other areas where more opportunities may exist. 

3. Embrace versatility. Learn different styles and techniques, and develop the ability to pick up choreography quickly.

Phase 2- Planning Your Future:

4. Work hard outside of the studio. Practice what you have learned in the studio and stay active during time off. Consider supplementing your dance training with similar activities such as yoga, Pilates®and PBT®. 

When you graduate from High School, decide which path you want to take:

Option 1:  Audition for trainee programs in professional dance companies to begin your dance career immediately. 

Option 2:  Attend a college or university and obtain BFA, BA, or both, then pursue a career afterward. 

In order to determine which path is best for you, ask yourself the following: 

Do I want to audition for ballet companies without the security of a college degree or gamble on my dream by putting off a career to go to school?

If you are still unsure, ask yourself if you are really ready to audition.

Not every 17 or 18 year old is emotionally or technically ready to handle the competitive environment of professional auditions and company life.

To help you determine whether you are ready, you can apply to college then take a few pre-pro auditions to see where you stand. Additionally, when auditioning for jobs, decide if you want to go for either the top tier or regional companies, knowing that top tier companies will most likely want you to go through their trainee program, school or 2ndcompany programs (occasionally regional, too), and that the competition in these companies will be greater.

You should carefully weigh the benefits versus the risks of each decision, perhaps making a pros & cons list. For instance, if you determine to enter a trainee program, you can attend college part-time or online to earn a degree while gaining experience with a professional company. Additionally, after some time, your experience as a trainee can act as a bridge to a second company that might pay. Such a course may be particularly demanding, however, since you will likely have to obtain additional work to support yourself. This may be the case regardless of whether you attend a college or university as it likely be the reality you face as a professional dancer since this career rarely pays well. 

Conversely, if you decide instead to first attend college or university, understand that you will be putting your career on hold for the time it takes you to complete school; Time, thought by some to correspond to important and formative years as a dancer. However, there are still opportunities to gain experience, especially if you choose a school that offers a dance program. And more and more, company directors are expecting to receive their trainees at a somewhat older age, as many are opting to attend school first. 

If you choose to attend college and want to obtain a double major, do your research. For example, a BFA program can offer a conservatory style without much room for other interests. However, it does provide a  “company feel” with lots of performance opportunities to help you gain the needed experience as a professional.

When considering ballet and dance majors, ask the following questions:

  1. Where do the graduates end up?
  2. How accessible are second majors and minors?
  3. What are their performance opportunities?
  4. Who are included in their faculty and guests?

Some top ballet programs (in not particular order):

  1. Indiana University
  2. University of Oklahoma
  3. University of Utah
  4. Butler University
  5. University of Arizona
  6. University of South Carolina

In conclusion, Ms. Bowdoin reminded her listeners that pursuing a career in dance won’t’ be easy, either emotionally, physically, financially.  Whichever avenue you choose to take will require a thick skin, persistence and great heart. However, if you are passionate and cannot imagine life without dance, all the struggles will be worth it because you will be “living your dream”.

How Many Classes Should I Take?


Parents often ask, “How many classes a week should my child take?” The answer to this question depends largely on the age and interest of the child. Someone as young as three will not necessarily have the desire or the physical conditioning necessary for more than one class a week, while a more mature five or six-year-old might enjoy taking classes twice weekly.  A more dedicated pre-teen or teen may choose to do a minimum of 3-4 classes per week.  All of this, of course, is dependent on the child’s level of interest, dedication, and maturity.

Particularly as a child gets older and becomes more serious about dance, multiple classes a week really begin to make sense.  This is not an unusual concept. If someone joins a sports team, they can expect to be practicing several hours a week, even daily. To illustrate, imagine if a person only did math in school an hour a week. How much would they retain? How long do you think it would take them to improve? Dance is no different. If a person wants to become skillful in any field or area of study, they have to practice regularly and often!

The real question for the student is: What are your goals?  Are you looking for an occasional diversion or a true hobby in which you can see a marked improvement? Or perhaps are you on the path to becoming a professional?  How a person answers will very well determine the amount of time they should spend in the studio. It would be prudent to have a frank discussion with the teacher about their goals and to ask what steps they recommend be taken in order to reach them.

In the meantime, consider three reasons why more than one class a week is beneficial:

 

  1. Exposure to different teachers/methods. Every teacher has a unique style, methodology, and viewpoint. One teacher may notice a weakness or a problem another does not, or may explain something in a way that you understand better. The point is: We can all benefit from a variety of teachers and teaching styles.
  2. Learning other dance genres. If you take at a studio which offers a variety of genres, taking more than one class can give you the opportunity to try out different styles and benefit from the unique movements and skills offed in each. In short, it can make you a well-rounded dancer and strengthen your overall technique. *
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice! Again, the more often you dance, the better you will become as you build muscle memory and gain new skills.

In the end, a student and their parents must decide which course is best. But certainly, if a child loves to dance, and has the ability to take several classes a week, there is no reason why they shouldn’t explore the added benefits of multiple classes per week. Ballet Academy offers discounts for multiple classes taken per month. For more information visit the tuition page here.


*  Ballet Academy’s sister studio, Dance Academy of Charleston, located in Mt. Pleasant, offers multiple genres of dance for ages 3-17, including tap, hip-hop, and acrobatics.  For more information on this studio please visit our website here or at www.dancecharleston.com

Q & A with Ms. Amanda Wingard

Ms. Amanda Wingard joined our school over the summer and teachers a number of classes, from Creative Movement to Adult.  Recently we asked her some questions about her dance background and teaching methodology.

 Q.  How long have you been dancing & teaching dance?
A.  I have been dancing since I was 3 years old. I started taking my training seriously when I began going to Ballet Academy of Charleston when I was 5 years old.
I started teaching classes in middle and high school at dance studios that I attended and continued teaching in different studios when I went off to college at the University of South Carolina to get my degree in Dance Education. I taught dance at Alston Middle School in Summerville for 3 years after graduating from college. Then I taught at the Charleston County School of the Arts for a year.
Q.  What do you enjoy about teaching?
A.  The things that I enjoy about teaching are watching my students improve before my eyes or seeing them connect the dots and understand concepts for the first time. It makes me think of life and how you need an outside perspective to truly understand all sides of life.  As a dance teacher, I get to have an outside perspective to my students to help them see things that they cannot see or understand on their own.
Q.  What is your methodology for teaching?
A. My methodology for teaching is to give slightly challenging classes. If I raise the bar for my students, they have room to grow and learn.
Q.  How have you enjoyed your experience so far at BAC?
A.  I have enjoyed my time at BAC so far. After teaching at the School of the Arts, I went about a year without teaching dance, which was very tough! I feel encouraged when I see people grow and improve, which is why I love teaching in any aspect. I especially love teaching the adult classes because they are so eager to learn and will always ask questions if they do not understand something. It’s been a pleasure teaching them!

Combating the Holiday Food Craze (Part 1)

It’s that time of year again! Candy, baked goods and sugary drinks are plentiful, and comfort food is a hallmark of the season.


It seems from the months of October to December, we are bombarded with appetizing temptations everywhere we go. For the health conscious dancer, this can be especially frustrating, since we associate these delights with family, friends and memorable activities.

However, life is to be enjoyed! And indulging a bit during the holidays is not only normal but can contribute to a balanced social and mental state.

Nevertheless, since we understand a dancer’s need to remain healthy in order to dance their best, we have compiled a list of suggestions, from alternative foods to mental exercises in order to help combat the foils of the season.


*Disclaimer* This article is intended to offer helpful suggestions for maintaining a healthy lifestyle (not a weight loss diet) based on data compiled from various nutrition-based articles and is intended for those who are old enough to control their own diet. These suggestions should be used in a balanced way and we are in no way advocating a “diet plan” for anyone. Particularly for the active young person, adequate caloric intake is a must!

Below is a chart of the recommended daily caloric intake needed to maintain a healthy weight according to age, gender, and physical activity level:

 https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/estimated-calorie-requirement


  1. Drink plenty of water. Ok, you’ve probably heard this one so many times, it’s become a  cliché. But it’s true!  The body is composed of anywhere between 50-78% water, depending on age and gender, and it is required in order for the body to function properly and efficiently and flushes out unwanted toxins from the body.
  • What if you don’t like water?  Fortunately, there are a number of naturally flavored waters, and of course, there is always fruit and herbs which can add a lovely hint of flavor to your regular water. Here’s a list of suggestions: https://deliciouslyorganic.net/flavored-water-recipes/
  • How much should you drink? For a table of the recommended amount of water to drink per day, follow this link:

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-much-water-should-I-drink#recommendations

  1. Learn to enjoy alternatives. Finding healthy alternatives to certain foods has become easier as increasingly more options are available in stores and abundant information is provided on the internet.  Many find that once they develop a taste for these alternatives, they taste just as good to them if not better than the unhealthy version.

For a list of examples, follow this link:

https://www.swansonvitamins.com/blog/lindsey/food-replacement-hacks

  1. Watch your sugar! It’s become common knowledge that sugar is a major contributor to a slew of health issues both small and large. It’s hidden in a lot of the everyday foods and condiments, (even “healthy” or “organic” versions), often under alternative names (e.g. anything ending in –OSE). Taking the time to read the ingredients on a label can open your eyes to hidden sugars, and help you to make better choices. Natural sugar substitutes (e.g. stevia, monk fruit) are now used in many products or even no sweeteners at all. Just by being aware of your sugar intake and lessening it in your regular food items, you can alleviate the “guilt” you might feel when you do decide to indulge in that dessert! Speaking of that…

For a list of healthy sugar substitutes visit this site:

 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/natural-sugar-substitutes#section6

  1. Indulge! Yes, sometimes it’s ok to just enjoy the food you’re craving. In fact, mentally this can be healthy as it can help you to stop obsessing over a certain food, nix the craving and move on!  Not only that, you may find that the thing you were reluctant to give up wasn’t all that good to start with, making it easier to reject next time.  Also, try just having a small portion of the thing you’re craving since…

Here is a great article from the Huffington Post on why indulging occasionally is good for you (you’re welcome!):

 https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/06/23/this-is-why-treating-yourself-to-bad-foods-is-totally-okay_a_21400471/

  1. A little goes a long way. Portion control is key if you want to have a balanced and healthy diet. If you are typically a big eater, going back for seconds or thirds, try drinking a glass of water, having a salad or an apple before a meal, to help you feel full on less. Eating slowly and really enjoying your food is also important since it takes an estimated 20 minutes after eating for the brain to register that you are full. If you find after waiting this time you are still hungry, help yourself to another portion, filling at least half of the plate with vegetables or salad.

Below is a link to a government-funded website which gives suggestions on portion sizes for all the food groups as well as their respective nutritional facts:

https://www.choosemyplate.gov


These are just a few recommendations to help balance out the indulgences of the season. We hope you have enjoyed them. Stay tuned for a future article completing the list!

Interview with Ms. Jessica on Bolshoi Teacher Certification

Ms. Jessica Lighthart just obtained her second certification with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Recently, we conducted a Q&A with her to learn more about her experience.

Q: What made you choose to obtain the Bolshoi certificate?

A: “ I chose the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (BBA) Teacher Certification Program (TCP) because our focus at Ballet Academy of Charleston is on the Russian style. The BBA curriculum is known around the world for their focus on strength, musicality, and classical technique. There is something so pure and beautiful about it. It was a no brainer for me – I wanted to learn more!”

Q: What is the difference between the Vaganova and Bolshoi techniques styles?

A: “The Vaganova Method is the foundation for the BBA curriculum. BBA grew and expanded from it, therefore becoming it’s own style focusing on individual progress.”

Q: Where did you go for the training and how long did it take?

A: “The training takes place in NYC, and is a very intensive, week-long program.”

Q: How is the curriculum (BBA teacher’s cert) taught?

A: “We spend half of the day in the classroom (taking LOTS of notes!), and the other half in the studio.”

Q: How is it altered (if at all) for American pupils?

A: “The curriculum we learn is the same which is taught at the Bolshoi Academy in Russia. BBA teachers from Moscow teach the entire program. It is all in Russian, but we have a translator.”

Q: You also obtained a level A Cert a couple years ago. How does the B compare?

A: “Last year, I completed the Level A certification, which is for years 1-3 at the BBA. This summer I completed Level B, which is years 4 and 5. Next year, I am hoping to complete my Level C certification, which is years 6-8. It obviously gets harder each year as the levels become more advanced.”

Q: How have you implemented what you learned in your teaching and with what effect on your students?

A: “I have been applying my new knowledge in every class that I teach. It has really made me focus more on the process of how and why we teach something. I can really tell a difference with my students!”