On Thursday, Julian took his last class as an official dance “student.” Leaving the School of American Ballet dance studio for the last time represented a bittersweet moment for him. Moving forward, he will consider himself and be called an “apprentice.” No longer a student per se, although a dancer never stops learning and perfecting his art.
Of course, Julian will spend four weeks at San Fancisco Ballet as a regular ol’ summer intensive merit scholarship student before he begins working. He will already have signed his contract with Semperoper Ballett in Dresden, Germany, by then. Officially, he’ll be a “professional dancer.”
That said, his apprenticeship position is through the Palucca University of Dance, an extremely well-respected dance school and the only independent dance college in Germany, as well as with Semperoper Ballett. This is not uncommon. Many apprenticeships have some affiliation with a school, which is why, for example, some New York City Ballet apprentices are allowed to live in the dorms for that first year they are with the company. That’s also why if they aren’t offered a corps job after their apprenticeship, the school personnel will sometimes help them find a position with another company—as if they were still students in the school. So, an apprenticeship is a first real dance job but with the benefit of still getting training.
For instance, although I don’t actually know all the details, I do know that Julian will still receive training (meaning classes) through Palucca University of Dance. I know he has also been offered a small “scholarship” through the school to help with his expenses, since his pay will not be what we hoped the first year. A German Bank, along with the University and the company are trying to alter how the current apprentice contract is arranged, because apprentices at Semperoper Ballett actually only get paid on a per performance basis. They would like to change the money arrangement to a stipend every month because it is safer for the apprentices; if an apprentice becomes injured and is payed by performance, they have no income. Plus, if an apprentice does not fit the company well and does not receive many roles in performances, they also have no way of receiving pay. (But some perform in almost all classical performances and occasionally a contemporary performance, and, as mentioned previously, they have a very long season—longer than in the U.S. In fact, the company has just a few weeks off during the season and one month off at the end.) The German government also requires a certain guaranteed income to grant a visa.
There are lost of different possibilities when it comes to first professional dance jobs, or entry-level dance positions. Your son could be offered a trainee position, a spot in a second company company, an apprentice position (which could look different in the U.S. than in Europe), or (lucky him) a corps spot. If you don’t know the difference, no worries. Here’s a breakdown based on what I know (with a review by Julian).
Trainee Program: I don’t know how many of these actually exist, but San Francisco Ballet, for example, has what it calls its Trainee Program. The dancers in this program train alone away from the rest of the school, but they are part of San Francisco Ballet School and not officially part of the ballet company. They do go off and perform on occasion, possibly even traveling to other countries. They also do get small roles, often just walk on, with the main company. From the trainee program, dancers are moved up to an apprenticeship position. At SFB, this is a real position with the company (not part of the school). Pay here seems to be a small stipend—not really a full salary.
Studio or Second Company: These often are run through a company’s school. For instance, Boston Ballet has Boston Ballet II. The dancers in this company train together and perform together, but they do not perform with the main company often. Although in Boston’s case, there is a chance that the BBII program will get to tour with the company; they have done so in the past. Washington Ballet, for example, has a studio company. It functions in much the same way as Boston Ballet II, as far as I know. New additions to the “company” are nurtured there and then brought into the main company a year or two later. For this position, dancers do receive a small salary.
Apprenticeship: An apprentice in some cases has an affiliation with a ballet company’s school but dances with the main company. They will be given corps roles, but still may get training opportunities not offered to the corps members. In other cases, they may function exactly like a corps member, like at San Francisco Ballet. Typically, apprentices are paid members of the company; in Europe, the pay structure seems to be different, but I can only say this based on the one company with which we have had experience. Apprentice programs are usually unique and do not resemble other apprentice programs from other schools and companies. This position can either be a transitional phase between school and company or it can be a full fledged company position. As mentioned, the details are different for every program.
Corps Position: This, of course, is a full company position. The dancer will dance with the full company and get a full salary. Whoo hoo!
If your dancer is auditioning and getting offers, be sure to look at the contracts. Find out if the company is union or not. That’s a subject for another post. Julian turned down a non-union contract that was for a corps spot.
If you have something to add to my description (or a correction), or if you know of a company that has a different structure, please leave a comment! This is place for everyone to learn and should also be a resource. And, I freely admit that I am by no means the most knowledgeable person on this subject. I look forward to your additions.
Don’t forget to purchase your copy of
The Summer Dance Intensive Handbook:
How to Choose the Best Program for Your Child and Help Your Dancer Get the Most Out of the Experience.