Going Pro: Concert Companies

This guide is designed to help you understand the many types of dance companies and determine what aspects you find appealing. Most companies will fit into several of the following categories.

#1 I’d rather be . . .

A: . . . involved with a company from the ground level.

In general, dance companies up to five years old (and sometimes older) are considered new. “For people who love spontaneity, surprise and independence . . . start-up companies can be a great way to go,” says David Leventhal, a Mark Morris Dance Group dancer who worked with several new companies in Boston prior to moving to NYC.

As an inaugural member, expect to have duties beyond performing, such as hanging posters, stage managing or helping clean the dressing rooms after a show. Because new ensembles usually don’t have solid financial infrastructures yet, pay can be unpredictable or meager. “The reward for all of this uncertainty is that you get to feel like an integral part of the company’s success,” says Leventhal. “You don’t have to fight your way through the system; you are the system.”

B: . . . in a dance company with name recognition that has stood the test of time.

Established companies are more likely to have the infrastructure and staff to handle payment, paperwork, publicity and other aspects of the business side of dance. “Dancing is hard enough, and for many, the relative security, comfort and stability of an established company is attractive,” Leventhal says. “This can be liberating, artistically, since a dancer doesn’t have to spend time worrying about the hotel reservations or whether the lights have been focused in time for stage rehearsal.”

#2 I’m most comfortable in . . .

A: . . . a sizable organization in which I can progress through the ranks. Large companies have 30 or more dancers; many are divided into tiers, starting with apprentice and rising through corps/ensemble to soloist and principal ranks. Being part of a large company can mean that all eyes aren’t always on you, and in some cases, dancers—especially soloists and principals—will have more time off, because of double-casting. A greater number of advanced dancers can mean many mentorship opportunities, though there will also be more competition on the way to the top. Big troupes often have access to prestigious choreographers or works that smaller ones don’t, says Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Chalnessa Eames. PNB employs more than 40 dancers. “This can mean dancing Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, [changing] into [bare feet for] Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat, and back into pointe shoes for another ballet,” she says.

B: . . . an intimate group where I can have personal relationships with the directors and my fellow dancers.

A company may be considered small if it has fewer than 10 members. Depending on the schedule, you could be cast in more pieces during a small company’s season—and more stage time can be both rewarding and taxing.

Note that small doesn’t equal start-up: Pilobolus, for instance, was founded in 1971 and has just seven dancers, all of whom perform in the majority of shows. Because the same dancers spend up to 7 days a week together rehearsing, traveling and performing (often without the presence of their artistic directors), the dancers must maintain a close working relationship to keep the company at its best. One challenge is that personality clashes will seem more problematic in a small group, so everyone must make extra effort to get along.

C: . . . a combination of A and B.

Dancers in midsize companies (10 to 30 dancers) will reap some of the benefits of both large and small organizations. While too big for everyone to be best pals, midsize ensembles are usually small enough to get to know all your colleagues.

#3    I dream of being in a company that . . .

A: . . . takes me places—literally. Touring companies spend a majority of their seasons on the road. “Some people don’t like waking up in a different city every morning, but I do. It keeps me on my toes,” says Anica Scott-Garrell of Ailey II, which will trek to nearly 50 U.S. cities this season. “There are many energies [in different cities], so it’s interesting to see how we’re received artistically.” The challenges? Being homesick, adjusting to new and sometimes unpredictable performance conditions, and living out of a suitcase. It can also be tough to balance free time between sightseeing and resting to conserve energy for performance.

B: . . . is a distinct part of one community.

Resident companies perform in the same home theater or geographical area. They cultivate consistent fan bases in their communities and develop relationships with the local theater staff and crew. “Being on tour is amazing, but when you’re in a

different venue, the stages and lighting system are always different,” says Mark Meismer, artistic director of Evolution dance company, the resident dance group of Orange County Pavilion. “I love the consistency factor [of staying in one place].”

#4 I want . . .

A: . . . to be dancing year-round with the same organization.

Full-time companies provide job security, steady salaries and (sometimes) benefits and vacation time. Some consider the weeks of the off-season to be vacation time, so dancers can be employed the entire year, while others have between-contract breaks, when dancers can collect unemployment or take on short-term jobs.

B: . . . to be part of many short-term projects. Pick-up companies assemble as needed for a specific performing engagement. Many dancers make a living out of working with a handful of such groups, while others join a pick-up group when their primary dance company is on break; for instance, Trey McIntyre Project only performs in the summer months. In pick-up companies, “you have the final say in who you work with, and to some degree you have control over your schedule in deciding what to take on,” says Indre Vengris, who has danced with pick-up groups Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Bowen-McCauley Dance and Christopher Caines Dance Company. Drawbacks include frequent auditioning, inconsistent work and constant researching for potential new gigs.

#5 I’m most inspired when . . .

A: . . . concentrating on the work

of one choreographer.

Focused repertory groups are dedicated to the work of a sole choreographer, whether it’s preserving the rep of an icon, like Martha Graham, or dancing works only or mainly by the current artistic director, like Smuin Ballet of San Francisco.

B: . . . performing works by many and very different choreographers.

Varied repertory companies obtain the rights to perform a diverse body of works by many different choreographers, so dancers must be technically and artistically versatile. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, for instance, performs pieces by Susan Marshall, William Forsythe, Jirí Kylián and Julian Barnett, as well as pieces by its artistic director James Vincent—all in the same year.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.


You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)


As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.


Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).


Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.


We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.


You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.


Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.


You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?


You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.


You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.


Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.


Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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