This month's Dance Magazine has an article about a very big issue that most dance-goers or watchers never think about, but is a crucial, looming, and very stressful one that virtually every dancer faces: the so-called "pre-professional pipeline."
The path from student to professional, in the dance world, is unlike that of any other career. And that's the only thing about it that is obvious. Aspiring professional dancers have, historically, always had to put in some amount of unpaid or underpaid time with an employer in order to get a foothold with that particular company, usually in the form of an apprenticeship. Also historically, those apprenticeships often (though not by any means always) led to a full job offer, or at least conferred the dancer with enough real-life experience and credibility to boost their chances with another company.
But in the past two decades, for various reasons having to do with the economic, cultural, political and social forces outside the dance world that inevitably shape what happens within it, companies and their affiliated schools started complicating things, instituting levels of pre-professional training called things like "Trainee," "Aspirant," "Junior Company," or maintaining the familiar "Apprentice," but with different definitions depending on where you went. There have never been anything like industry standards in dance (in the US), just what was known as typical, precedented, expected. But now anything is on the table and a hopeful dancer faces a minefield of unpaid apprenticeships, traineeships, or even programs that sound like an entry level job but are actually tuition-based.
I spent three years mentoring Megan Hug, a former student of mine from the Oregon Ballet Theatre School, as she fought her way through audition seasons, two different pre-pro programs, and an unpaid "professional" job with Canyon Concert Ballet that finally led to her first paid position with that company this season. She was interviewed for the Dance Mag piece, which I link to below. Please give this well-researched and thoughtfully written article, by Nick Kepley and Kathryn Holmes, a read. I'd love to hear how the way a dancer is supposed to create a career sounds to those of you with experiences in other fields.