Dancer to Dancer

Bradley Shelver's Beyond-Busy Schedule as a Working Dancer

As a professional dancer, I have to stay in shape, keep my technique up to par, and organize my independent teaching, choreography and guest-artist gigs—and balance it all with my personal life. Because I’m a U.S. immigrant from South Africa, which is neither a member of NATO nor the European Union, every time I travel I have to prove that I’m not only a successful dancer in America, but also in my home country and in Europe, so I’m seen in the U.S. as a higher commodity. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, proving my success means showing that I’m a “dancer of extraordinary ability.” The information they ask for is proof that I have an offer of employment and health insurance, documents that show my prior work history, and the address of someone in the U.S. as a reference, as well as the address of someone in the country I’m visiting. The extra administrative work is extremely time consuming, and hard, because I spend so much time touring.

I was recently preparing for a three-week solo performance tour to Italy in November, for which I had to negotiate with two artistic directors and two choreographers to be able to perform the solos they had created. The rights and royalties differ for every dancemaker. Usually, if it’s a work I’ve performed before and it’s for a gala performance, the royalties are less; many times they donate their work to me. I have to specify the dates of the performances, the venues, the media coverage and an estimate of the audience sizes. I have to make sure I credit the lighting and costume designers correctly, and make the presenters aware of the music rights so that they may acquire them for the performances. It’s easier with my own company, BSD Company, which I’ve run for almost three years, because I’m the director and creator of the work.

While preparing for this tour, Amanda Kay, who is a member of Momix, commissioned me to create a solo for her to perform at international galas. I rehearsed that in the evenings after working all day. The piece was called Nina and was set to music by Nina Simone. When that was finished I went to Columbia, MO, to create a new work on Cedar Lake 2. I had only a week to teach, rehearse and tech a 15-minute ballet. It may not seem so difficult, but dealing with dancers who you’ve never seen, let alone worked with, can evoke worry in any choreographer. Leaving your work in the hands of an artistic director and a group of dancers is also quite scary. My challenge was to create the total package, not just the steps. I mixed the music and composed the sound elements, such as the effects of the rhythms and the instrument composition. I also co-designed the lighting, the sets and the costumes—all in one week. I then caught a flight back to NYC at 6 am. As soon as the plane landed at 10:30 am, I rushed off to the theater at the Fashion Institute of Technology to tech my work for the Elan Awards. With barely any sleep to go on, I staged the piece, performed a run-through and then performed another run-through at 6 pm. I had also not seen my dance partner, Natalia Alonso, in two weeks, so we had to fit in a rehearsal, too. I had to get up the next morning for another rehearsal, without Natalia, and then perform at the gala at 7 that evening.

I spent the next few weeks running around taking care of the details for my Italian tour and getting ready for my tour with Limón to Washington, DC, Boston and Pittsburgh. I also had to get ready for The Nutcracker season with New Jersey Dance Theater Ensemble. Because I would be away for all of November, they asked me to come in to work on the roles of Russian and the Nutcracker Prince.

I’ve never been able to take time off because of my busy schedule, but I realized over this past month that taking time to rest is as important as taking classes. I’ve managed to plan a three-week trip to South Africa. I haven’t been home in three years, and while I’ll have a few teaching gigs and some other meetings while there, it is planned as a vacation.

Dance News
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less

Future Star winner Basia Rhoden (courtesy Starpower)

The second round of 2017 Future Star winners showcases more dancers with singular talent and ability. We're thrilled to celebrate their success!

Keep reading... Show less
Screenshot via YouTube

Look out, 'cause here they come!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ballet BC's Alexis Fletcher says experimenting with structured improv can make you more comfortable with risk. (Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC)

The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.

But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?

Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.

Keep reading... Show less
Erin Baiano

If you're in need of a piece that's both trendy and sophisticated, look no further than this Só Dança crop top. Featuring elegant long sleeves, a high neckline, and a delicate lace trim, it's both classic and contemporary—perfect for everything from that big audition to a long night in the studio. Enter below for your chance to win it!

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Juneau Dance Theatre student Anna McDowell filming an audition video with Bridget Lujan (courtesy Juneau Dance Theatre)

Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it's rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it's difficult to travel to auditions," she says. “It gets way too expensive!" Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can't travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you're about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Christopher Perricelli leading class at Gus Giordano Dance School (courtesy Amy Giordano)

There are zillions of things to think about when choosing a summer program, but here's one you might not have considered: using an intensive as an opportunity to focus on a new style. Maybe you're a tap dancer who's ready to see where else your rhythm and quick feet can serve you, or a contemporary dancer curious about the more traditional roots of your genre. A summer program can be the perfect place to broaden your horizons, giving you the opportunity to make technical and artistic changes that stick throughout the year.

Keep reading... Show less
George Balanchine backstage (Paul Kolnik, courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

Happy birthday, George Balanchine! The great choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet would have been 114 years old today. Balanchine revolutionized ballet, especially American ballet—and he also had quite a way with words. To celebrate Mr. B's birthday, we rounded up some of our favorite iconic Balanchine quotes.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body
Amanda LaCount showing off her skills (screenshot via YouTube)

There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.

Keep reading... Show less


Want to Be on Our Cover?





Get Dance Spirit in your inbox