Elise Filo in rehearsal (Pierre Michel Estival, courtesy Filo)

What to Expect at Your First Dance-Contract Meeting

As a dancer, you get artistic feedback in small doses every day: "Don't forget to spot," "Turn out your leg," "Raise your passé"—the works. But what happens when you land that first job, and it comes time to sit face-to-face with your company's artistic leadership to discuss your bigger-picture progression? We asked three experts for the inside scoop on contract meetings.


Filo signs her first contract with American Contemporary Ballet (courtesy Filo)

What Should You Expect?

Every season, directors hold contract meetings to discuss each dancer's future in the company. In an office or an empty studio, dancers—both new and old—sit before the artistic and executive directors and discuss the status of their contracts.

Your contract may be renewed, you may be promoted, you may get a raise, or you may be invited to audition elsewhere. Elise Filo, company dancer with American Contemporary Ballet, and Jacob Frazier, company dancer with Giordano Dance Chicago, say, in their experience, contract decisions are based on your work over the year, your professionalism, and how well you mesh with the company. Donna Bontrager, artistic director of Ballet Fantastique, explains that factors outside a dancer's control affect these decisions as well. "Especially related to promotion within our company," she says, "contract decisions are based on funding, openings, and sometimes may be impacted by programming planned for the following season."

Contract meetings are conducted like business meetings, so it's important to be professional from the moment you walk through the door. "Present your best self and look as formal and responsible as possible," Frazier says. "The more you can prove you're there to be a professional, the more you'll stand out."

Donna Bontrager (right, seated) with executive director Hannah Bontrager in the studio (Stephanie Urso, courtesy Bontrager)

How Should You Prepare?

Contract meetings are your chance to reflect on the season as a whole. Frazier and Filo encourage dancers to come ready to participate in the conversation.

Prep by reviewing everything you've done during the season and thinking about what you're working towards moving forward. "Don't be afraid to ask what their expectations are for the year and what they're looking for from you," Filo says. "There's something nice about getting answers and knowing where you stand—it's actually a more calming experience than you might expect."

And while these meetings are mainly held to discuss how well you're working in a company, they're also meant to assess how well the company is working for you.

"Be transparent with your employer," Frazier says. "We are artists, but we are also employees. You have to ask yourself as you walk into those meetings: Am I fulfilled as an artist? Is this a mutually beneficial experience? If not, voice how you feel."

Bontrager encourages this kind of conversation. "We invite dancers to be candid with us about their artistic goals," Bontrager says, "and we're candid with them about their growth and development within our company."

But be wary of being overly aggressive in your delivery and your demands. "When aggressive contract demands are not based on demonstrated effort and achievement and time with the company, this implies that you don't value our team's support and discretion," Bontrager says.

Jacob Frazier performs with his fellow Giordano Dance Chicago men in Ray Leeper's Soul (Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Frazier)

How Should You Handle the Results?

No matter what happens, "always be gracious," Filo says. If you don't get hired back, thank them for the opportunities you've had and know that it was no longer the best fit. "You wouldn't have been cast. You wouldn't have been dancing," Filo says. "You're going to find a better fit—a company that really appreciates you." Filo adds that it's never bad to ask why your contract wasn't renewed. You can always use that information to grow.

"Turn any criticism into a positive—say thank you," Frazier says. "Work on it as needed in the studio—in your professional life—but don't obsess over it."

Despite the nerves and stress that come with these meetings, Frazier and Filo encourage dancers to see contract meetings as an exciting moment in their careers. "Acknowledge the hard work it took for you to get there," Filo says, "and know that whatever is meant to be will be."

Latest Posts


All photos by Joe Toreno. Grooming throughout by Lisa Chamberlain for The Rex Agency.

How Mark Kanemura—Artist, Activist, and All-Around Icon—Became Our Internet Dance Mascot

Twelve years ago, a baby-faced Mark Kanemura appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 4. The Hawaiian-born dancer—whose winningly quirky style found a perfect vehicle in Sonya Tayeh's creepy-cool "The Garden" routine—quickly became a fan favorite. Kanemura made it to the Top 6 (Joshua Allen took the title that season), and a star was born.

But the world didn't know how bright that star was going to shine.

Fresh off "SYTYCD," Kanemura started booking jobs with Lady Gaga: first the MTV Video Music Awards, then the Jingle Bell Ball. Soon, he was a staple on Gaga's stages and in her videos, and he began to develop a dedicated fan base of his own.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Taylor Goldberg, Jordan Goldberg, and JT Church attending REVEL's virtual convention (courtesy Leslie Church)

What It's Like to Attend a Virtual Dance Convention

During this new era of social distancing, the dance world has gotten pretty creative. Tons of teachers, studios, competitions, and conventions have stepped up to the plate to help fill our living rooms with virtual dance content. But what's it really like to attend a dance convention online?

Dance Spirit followed JT Church, "Dancing With The Stars: Juniors" pro and "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" runner-up, as he spent the weekend attending REVEL's "Rev-Virtual" online convention experience.

Hey guys! I have been a special guest faculty assistant for REVEL Dance Convention for the last four years. So I was excited to find out they'd be hosting a series of online convention weekends. With everything that's going on, I've been missing conventions so much. I knew it'd be great to be able to keep up my training.

Two of my best friends, Jordan and Taylor Goldberg—I dance with them at Club Dance—asked me to come over to their home studio so we could take REVEL's online classes together. Here's how it all went.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

It’s OK to Grieve: Coping with the Emotional Toll of Canceled Dance Events

Grace Campbell was supposed to be onstage this week. Selected for the Kansas City Ballet School's invitation-only Kansas City Youth Ballet, her performance was meant to be the highlight of her senior year. "I was going to be Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, and also dance in a couple of contemporary pieces, so I was really excited," she says. A week later, the group was supposed to perform at the Youth America Grand Prix finals in NYC. In May, Grace was scheduled to take the stage again KC Ballet School's "senior solos" show and spring performance.

Now, all those opportunities are gone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has consumed the dance community. The performance opportunities students have worked all year for have been devoured with it. Those canceled shows might have been your only chance to dance for an audience all year. Or they might have been the dance equivalent to a cap and gown—a time to be acknowledged after years of work.

You can't replace what is lost, and with that comes understandable grief. Here's how to process your feelings of loss, and ultimately use them to help yourself move forward as a dancer.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
contest
Enter the Cover Model Search