The pandemic changed many things in the commercial dance industry, from the way we audition, to where different dance opportunities are located, to even how we train. One of the most interesting shifts I’ve seen in the past couple years is the explosion of ‘mentorship programs’ or similarly-named training programs for professional dancers we’re seeing especially in LA, but also across the industry in general.
The good news about this shift is that dancers now have a plethora of training options beyond weekly commercial dance classes, and some with choreographers that don’t teach often or are hard to get to know unless you’ve booked a job with them. The difficulty comes when we start to feel the pressure to be in every program available, and get overwhelmed with knowing the best place to put our time and (oftentimes limited) financial resources. That urge to constantly be making connections and trying to be seen by everyone possible, may cause dancers to jump at every workshop they see, and unfortunately set us up for disappointment if the program doesn’t turn out to be what we really need or want.
Make sure to go beyond the hype and read the fine print to determine what a program is actually going to offer you.
As someone who has done many, many programs myself over the years, I have learned that it pays off to be more selective and intentional about the programs I do, so utilize these tips to help you determine the best training program for you:
1. Get clear on what you want and need out of a program
Depending on where you’re at in your dance career, you’ll want different things out of a training program. If you don’t have an agent yet or have just moved to a new city, you might want to find a program that will help you get your materials together to submit to agents, or include a mock audition with them. If you’re already represented or have a few industry credits, you may want programs that instead help you boost your career by meeting a specific choreographer and training in their style, or prepare you for ‘on the job’ scenarios. Try journaling and making a list about what it is you’re looking to gain from a program at this point in your career, and then use that as your guiding light when deciding if a program is right for you.
2. Determine if a program’s value feels equal to its cost
Training programs can really range in price, so it’s important to actually do the math to determine if its cost matches its value to you. For example, if I’m looking at a $1,000 program that meets for five days, 3 hours a day, I want to break down how much I’m actually paying per hour - about $67/hour in this case. That’s triple the cost of 1.5 hour dance classes in LA at the moment - and the cost of my monthly rent - so I would personally find that difficult to afford. If I still really want to do the program, I then look to other criteria to help determine if that cost is worth the price to me. You can decide this in many ways, but be sure to refer back to the list of what you want from a program as described above. Some other ways to determine the value of a program include considering:
- The amount of people in the program: Obviously, a smaller number of participants means more individual attention, and better value for your money. Personally, I think the best training programs are much smaller than a regular class size, as they usually ensure I get individualized feedback.
- How accessible a choreographer is: Does the choreographer teach regularly? Is this program the only way to meet and learn from them? If the program is cost prohibitive but it’s the only way to learn from someone I’d like to work with, I might consider the added expense worth it because I’m making connections.
- Individual feedback: Even if the program has a larger number of participants, has the choreographer indicated that they will give feedback or 1-on-1 opportunities somehow - preferably not at an added cost? I’ve done programs with 40+ participants, but included a 1-on-1 chat with the choreographer at the end that I found very helpful and made the experience more valuable to me despite the larger group, plus showed me that they really were paying attention to everyone.
- Opportunities after the program: Many programs will offer group chats or email lists for alumni that include future opportunities like alumni-only classes, sessions, skeleton crews, or even castings and closed call auditions. Don’t be afraid to ask the choreographer if they offer an alumni network or other opportunities to those who go through their program.
- What you’re doing in the program specifically: Programs these days really vary in what they offer, from class-style training with various choreographers, to on-camera practice or filming a concept, to even mindset training and learning about the business side of being a professional dancer. Make sure to go beyond the hype and read the fine print to determine what a program is actually going to offer you. This is once again where that list you made is key to understanding if it’s right for you!
3. Seek out honest reviews
While some programs offer testimonials on their website, hearing an honest review from a trusted peer who went through the program already is a surefire way to understand if it’s right for you. Try to seek out these opinions from people who are in the same stage of their career or have similar goals, while being mindful that programs often change over time, so someone who attended more recently may have a different experience to someone who did the very first one. This can also be helpful to determine if the program actually offers what it says it will in reality, and how the program and its choreographers have continued to impact a participant after they finished, such as through alumni classes and opportunities. The more opinions you can get, the better you can get a real understanding of what to expect and if it’s right for you, which can be especially important if the program is of a prohibitive cost to you in any way.
It pays off to be more selective and intentional about the programs [you do]
Ultimately, the reasons to do any training program will be unique to you. It’s important that you’re not just doing a program because everyone else seems to be, rather it should align with what you need for your training and goal. Too many times, myself or my peers have been disappointed, whether because we were looking for a dance mentor, only to pay for programs that aren’t actually mentorships because of their structure, or because the program just wasn’t matching what we needed at a certain point of our careers. Save yourself from disappointment and ensure you’re getting the most out of your time and money by following these tips the next time you consider doing a training program.