From Pointe to PR
Equipped with a dance background, an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of persistence, former ballet dancer April Thibeault started her own public relations company at just 23 years old. For the past six years, she’s helped dance companies and other artists get the word out about their newsworthy endeavors—and she credits skills she learned as a dancer with helping her succeed. “I realize now what an integral role dance played, and continues to play, in my life,” she says. Here’s how this savvy young professional took her dance training into the business world.
From Comps to College
April started dancing at 4 in her hometown of Margate, FL, training in tap, jazz, acro and ballet and attending competitions as she grew older. “Dance was my life!” she remembers. She studied ballet under former New York City Ballet dancer Adelaide Muniz at Dillard High School for the Performing Arts and attended summer programs at Pennsylvania Ballet, School of American Ballet and Boston Ballet, staying at BB to train during her senior year of high school. Dancing also led her to compete in pageants; she won a nonfinalist talent award for her dancing in the 1999 Miss America pageant as Miss Massachusetts.
Although she considered auditioning for companies after graduation, April knew she wanted to go to college. “At that time, there really weren’t any joint programs with companies and colleges like there are now,” she says. “I was at a major crossroads, and decided to take the educational route.” In the end, she chose to study broadcast journalism at Emerson College in Boston.
After college, she was working as a sports reporter in Massachusetts when she was offered a job by a NYC-based public relations firm. During her first year at the company, she learned the basics of PR and how to navigate the local media market. After September 11, she says, “I did some soul-searching and decided ‘I can do this on my own.’ Entrepreneurship runs in my family, so I went downtown to apply for a business certificate without hesitation.” In 2002, with a computer and a lot of ambition, she founded AMT Public Relations out of her apartment—a move that helped her cut costs, as she didn’t have to lease office space. She has continued to run her one-woman company for six years, and recently hired her first additional employee.
What is PR?
Public relations professionals get the word out to the public and to the media—from newspaper critics to radio newscasters. “You serve as the channel between your clients—such as a dance company—and the media and general public,” says April. This can entail everything from writing press releases (memos to the media that announce events or other news) to selecting publicity photos to send for potential use in publications. PR professionals can also act as a company’s liaison with the press, arranging interviews, fielding questions and more—tasks that a busy dance company director might not have time to do.
April’s first client was the French brandy Armagnac, which led to other culinary clients. Her second client, composer and performer Daniel Bernard Roumain, was a friend of hers; he referred her to others he knew in the arts community, which helped April build her roster to include musicians, orchestras, dance companies and other performing arts clients. Some of April’s dance clients over the years have included the Martha Graham Dance Company, Jennifer Muller/The Works and The Francesca Harper Project. She also works with clients outside of the arts, such as MaeVona Jewelry and Synergy Fitness Clubs.
Dancing Through Life
April’s background has provided her with a unique perspective when working with artistic clients. “As a former dancer, I have a high level of respect, consideration and appreciation for what my clients do,” she says. When working with dance companies, April often attends rehearsals and performances so she can better understand their style and promote them to media outlets. She also arranges for journalists to attend their performances for potential review. “I love it when a great review appears in the paper the day after opening night, and the entire company is ecstatic,” she says. “Knowing I helped boost their confidence and the ongoing success of their company is extremely gratifying.” Though being in business for herself often means she’s working more than just 9 am to 5 pm, April truly loves the path that her career has taken. “I pinch myself when I’m in the front row at Jazz at Lincoln Center listening to Wynton Marsalis and JALC Orchestra perform music that my client has composed,” says April. “I remind myself that this is my job: to listen, watch and appreciate amazing, moving talent!”
Many lessons April learned in the dance world have served her equally well in the business world. Among the skills she picked up: “Discipline, tenacity, attention to detail and making things appear easy when in fact they’re difficult.” One of April’s most lasting life lessons comes from one memorable ballet class she took as a girl. “No matter how many times I tried, I just could not master this particular grand jeté combination. My teacher continued to aggressively tell me to ‘Move, move, move!’” April remembers. “Finally, after the millionth attempt, I said, ‘I’m trying, I’m trying.’ My teacher replied, ‘Stop trying, and just do it.’ The lightbulb went on and of course, I did it. I apply this lesson to everything I do.”
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.
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.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
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.
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When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.