When A Top Tier Performing Position Isn’t The Goal of Your Education

Last month I pondered if there was any worth in giving up a little time in the conservatory/university training of arts students in favor of providing instruction/experiences in career management. Instead of graduating and then seeking out instruction in accounting, contracting and self promotion, etc., they would have a base in those skills but may need to seek out “finishing” training in their discipline.

The benefit to this is that given their lengthy training within their discipline, they would have the tools to identify and assess the value of educational opportunities and resources. Whereas, they might not have ability to assess the value of instruction in accounting, contracts, marketing services, etc if their conservatory training didn’t include it.

The other benefit is that once graduates are out in the world and can better understand where their interests lay, they can complete their education in a way that is appropriate to those pursuits and market demand.

About a week after that post, you may have seen an article in Cosmo that was getting a lot of circulation throughout the arts social media community. The story was about Lisa Mara, who had a strong affinity for dance,  hadn’t pursued formal university/conservatory training, but still felt a need for dance as part of her life and ended up starting two dance companies for like-minded individuals.

Her story is something of an intersection between the idea I state above and emergence of the professional-amateur.  Lisa Mara never wanted to be a professional dancer.

I danced about five hours a week and still did all of my studies. I still knew that I did not want to be a professional dancer. I wanted to pursue a career in something that I thought would have a better trajectory of business and job security. Being a dancer, you need to have an awareness of “Are you good enough?” And I don’t think I was good enough. The dancers who pursue dance as a full-time career should be the top 10 percent. Otherwise, you’re going to just get the door slammed in your face at auditions time after time.

Yet she loved dancing enough that she got a spot as a back up dancer for Brittany Spears, she auditioned as a dancer for the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics basketball teams. Even though she never became a dancer for either team, she eventually utilized the business management experiences she picked up in the other jobs she held to plan and incorporate her first dance company in Boston.

I wanted to create a dance company for young professionals who were just like me. The target audience I was reaching was high-caliber dancers who wanted to continue dancing and choreographing into their adult lives. Many of our dancers have full-time jobs. Many of our dancers are dance teachers, but this is their opportunity to dance for themselves.

The success of that company spurred the creation of a second company with the same philosophy in NYC.

I don’t think there is anything in her story that implies the dancers in her schools could replace those who have focused their training on dance as a career.  I do think it is a good illustration that deferring some training in an artistic discipline doesn’t automatically make you unemployable.

Granted, just as not everyone will be cast on Broadway, secure a position in a top tier symphony or ballet company, not everyone is going to be able to create the opportunities for themselves at Lisa Mara has.

Opportunities do exist outside of the conventional career paths. If Lisa Mara’s experience is any indication, there may be a large unmet need of adult enthusiasts looking for a creative outlet.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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