Looking for some extra income over the holidays? Consider performing as a guest artist with a studio or regional dance company. Amateur and regional companies frequently hire pros to perform soloist and principal roles, especially during Nutcracker or spring recital seasons. Not only can you earn money, you can also gain performing experience and the chance to be cast in major roles that only principals dance at your home company.
Finding the Jobs
Most directors find guest artists by recommendations from colleagues rather than auditions. Give your resumé to professional contacts, such as your current director, former teachers and fellow dancers, and ask them to keep you in mind if they hear of any guesting opportunities.
Learn principal roles on your own. Lindsi Dec, a dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, landed her first guesting job after Patricia Barker saw Dec teaching herself sections from Don Quixote in PNB’s back studios. Barker had heard that the artistic director of Mid-Columbia Ballet in Richland, WA, was looking for someone to dance Kitri, and helped Dec get the job.
It's Only Business
While the pay will vary from job to job depending on production budgets, the number of performances and your experience, compensation should always include the following: a per-performance fee, stipends for travel and accommodations, and a per diem (approximately $50/day) to cover food and necessary personal expenses. If the rehearsal time is considerable, negotiate a rehearsal fee. All business matters should be negotiated in advance, so everyone’s expectations are clear.
Be sure to ask if the performance will have live or recorded music. If live, request to have a brief meeting with the maestro at the beginning of dress rehearsals to discuss tempos. If the music is supplied, make sure that you’re rehearsing to the same recording, as even popular traditional ballets like The Nutcracker can vary slightly between recordings.
If you’re able to make contacts for future jobs or increase your technical and artistic prowess, which will make you more valuable to your home company, you may find that certain jobs are worth a smaller paycheck.
Costume expenses are usually negotiable. For example, if the piece you’re performing requires you to go through an extraordinary number of pointe shoes, ask for help defraying the costs. If you’re bringing a rented costume from your home company, include the rental fee in your contract.
Always save receipts for items for which you expect to be reimbursed. If you incur costs that won’t be covered, save receipts for tax write-offs.
Eyes on You
Your conduct during rehearsals and performances is as important as your dancing. “Be as gracious and as courteous to the younger dancers and the directors as you can,” advises Allynne Noelle of Miami City Ballet. “The better an example you set for the young dancers, the more the directors will like you.”
PNB’s Nicholas Ade recommends thinking of each director you guest for as your next reference. Arrive mentally and physically prepared by having rehearsed adequately during free time or in a rented studio space.
Oftentimes, you’ll only have a few days from arrival to opening night, so be prepared. Get to the theater early to warm up and apply stage make up, have your pointe shoes sewn in advance, and know the choreography backwards and forwards.
Before the first run-through at dress rehearsal, ask for stage time, even if it’s just for a few minutes. “Test the stage before the show to see what needs to be done to your pointe shoes or how much rosin you need,” says Dec. “Sometimes the floors are a lot harder than you’re used to, so decide where during the piece you should land softly or be more cautious to prevent injury.”
To mitigate anxiety, focus on enjoying the opportunity to perform a new role. Pursuing a career as a guest artist isn’t just about the money. Dec took the opportunity to grow as an artist: “I gained a great deal of confidence in myself and that confidence is remolding me into a better dancer.”