“The aesthetic training is there, but students are
then thrown out into the world to figure out
how they are actually going to earn a living,”
she says. Yet slowly, she adds, dissatisfaction
among parents, students and debt-burdened
alumni is helping to drive some change.
More than 1,100 students graduated college
during the 2015 academic year with a bachelor’s degree in dance from the 73 programs that
participated in a survey by the national Higher
Education Arts Data Services Project. That’s
up 33 percent from a decade ago. In a saturated
market, many find that the only opportunities
are those they create themselves through their
own projects and pickup companies.
Even students whose plans center on auditioning for an established company, however,
can benefit from learning the business side of
dance. Job seekers who know what to look for
in a database like GuideStar, for example, can
peek at the finances of a potential employer.
“You can see how money moves in the organization, how you can maybe negotiate your
contract, and get an understanding of ‘Is this
company in dire straits? Is this a good contract
to sign?’ ” Edwards says. At the same time,
as more companies turn to their dancers for
marketing and social media content, performers who are strategic in how they build their
personal brands have an advantage.
Teaching business and management skills
is hardly standard practice at this point, but
it’s not new, either. Oklahoma City University
has offered a dance-management track since
the 1980s, and even students on the performance track are required to study contract law
and management for performers. The Boston
Conservatory prepares its dance students with
courses focused on creating an online presence,
self-producing, marketing and fundraising.
The University of Southern California’s new Glorya Kaufman School of Dance
requires all students to study dance management and entrepreneurship. Director and vice
dean Jodie Gates also encourages students to
pursue further business studies at the Marshall
School of Business across campus, as well as
minors in areas like the cinematic arts, music
and sciences. Ideally, Gates says, students will
graduate with a full entrepreneurial tool-kit.
“We are training students for jobs that do not
exist yet,” she says, noting opportunities like
developing choreography for animation and
gaming, or working in new kinds of performance spaces made possible by virtual reality.
To be sure, not every dance major is eager to
For a liberal arts college, carving out time
study financial planning. Choreographer and
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
faculty member Tere O’Connor is among
many critics who warn against molding
institutions of higher learning into factories of
commercially viable skills. “I don’t think the
immersion into the art form and its poetics
should be undermined because people are so
addicted to its economic possibilities,” he says.
to cover everything can be challenging. “We’ve
got so many other requirements,” says Mills
College department head Sonya Delwaide.
Yet in response to students “begging” for
practical skills, the school has created a biannual seminar, called Do It Yourself, covering
topics like how to build a resumé, craft a press
release, find grant opportunities and get help
from the local service organization.
Even O’Connor admits he sees value in
arming artists with complementary skills.
“There’s a lot of different aspects to earning
money for a company, a lot of different ways
to earn income as a dancer,” he says. Grant
writing, offered to dance majors at Urbana-Champaign, is an important piece of that. So
is exposure to somatic practices: Teaching
Pilates, yoga or Gyrotonic can offer supplementary income while informing the physical
practice of dancing.
Beyond learning practical skills, like how to
Edwards’ students have thanked her for
balance a budget and craft a five-year strate-
gic plan, students walk away from successful
entrepreneurship courses with a new sense
of empowerment. For example, after taking
Edwards’ arts entrepreneurship course, Point
Park student Christian Warner submitted a
proposal for an emerging choreographer’s op-
portunity and made it to the final round; then
he asked for feedback (“I can do that?” he asked
Edwards) and received a fruitful response. Later,
he reached out to documentary filmmakers who
had inspired a piece he created, and received
lengthy, personal replies. As part of a summer
project, he was able to ask informed questions
about contract terms and understand the im-
plications of the business agreement. He’s now
more confident with the networking aspect of
the business that had previously seemed intimi-
dating. “I’m able to deal with that and actively
practice more vulnerability and courage to reach
for the goals that I want,” he says.
giving them life lessons. “I think dance teaches
us, subconsciously, how to live,” she says.
“To bring all of that kinesthetic intelligence to
bear, and apply it to budgeting and taxes, and
contract negotiation; bringing your mission
and values and impact you want to have on the
world into a verbal, written statement—that’s
really amazing.” n
Josie G. Sadan, a dancer with ODC/Dance,
has written for The New York Times,
Smithsonian, Discover and The Atlantic.
Students walk away from successful
entrepreneurship courses with
a new sense of empowerment.