In today’s world, the vast majority of professional performers are self-employed, working on a contract basis, or self-producing. To succeed in the dance profession, they need to be self-made entrepreneurs with a wide range of skills, including budgeting, marketing, fundraising, grant writing, and business management.

Pursuing any artistic career takes tremendous focus and dedication. We are not only thrilled to start featuring dance as a performing art, but to also, in this Q & A, introduce our readers to Dancer Transition Resource Centre, an organization that provides professional support to dancers in various stages of their career. In this post, executive director Amanda Hancox shares with us the challenges that are unique to dancers, and reiterates the importance of continuing to learn and staying open to new directions and opportunities.

If you are a dancer, you may be interested in their free on the MOVE conference this Friday (Feb. 1, 2013) at the new Daniels Spectrum cultural hub in Regent Park. It is an opportunity for young and emerging dancers to meet professional dancers, network, and get some practical career-related advice as they transition from training into the professional world.

Amanda, tell us about yourself. What is your interest and/or involvement in the performing arts?

I first got the performance bug as an 11-year-old when I was in the very first production of the musical Anne of Green Gablesat the Charlottetown Festival. I then went to ballet school in England and danced professionally in Canada for 14 years. After that I  transitioned from dance to theatre, film, and television, working as an actress for another 15 years. However, as they say, “once a dancer always a dancer,” and so I was thrilled to take a position at the Dancer Transition Resource Centre 10 years ago.

Tell us about the Dancer Transition Resource Centre. What principles or mandate was it founded on?

The Dancer Transition Resource Centre (DTRC) is a national, charitable organization dedicated to helping dancers make necessary transitions into, within, and from professional performing careers. It is the goal of the DTRC to ensure every professional dancer has the tools to reach their potential in their dance career and beyond retirement from performance. The organization has helped more than 10,000 dancers during the past 25 years, and continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of the dance community.

We also operate as a resource centre for the dance community and general public, and support activities that improve the socioeconomic conditions of artists across the country.

Can you tell us more about the on the MOVE conference happening in Toronto? How did it get started, and how has it grown since its inception?

On the MOVE is a dynamic career planning and networking conference designed specifically for young dancers entering professional dance careers. By providing them with the necessary skills, resources, and networking opportunities to transition into the dance profession, the conference enables young dancers to feel inspired and ready to dive into their careers.

On January 25, 2001, the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, in collaboration with several dance service organizations in Ontario, presented the first on the MOVE conference. The grass-roots initiative was designed to address the specific and pressing needs of emerging dance professionals by helping ease their transition from student to professional.

Since its inception 12 years ago, On the MOVE has grown into a cross-country event with conferences held in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, Moncton, and St. John’s. On the MOVE is presented in collaboration with regional and national arts service organizations.

Toronto’s 2013 event is going to be incredible! We’ll have top notch dance artists and experts joining us for lively panels and informative workshops, as well as a “community fair” where dancers can get to know the resources out there to support them in the dance community.  We’re also putting on a “networking lunch” as an opportunity for participants to chat with established artists in small groups and ask them questions about many areas of the dance profession.

What do you see as the main challenges for performing arts in general and dance in particular?

In today’s world, the vast majority of professional performers are self-employed, working on a contract basis, or self-producing. They do not have the support systems that those from most other professions have in terms of continuing education/professional development, steady income, and mentoring opportunities.

To succeed in the dance profession, they need to be self-made entrepreneurs with a wide range of skills, including budgeting, marketing, fundraising, grant writing, and business management. On the MOVE was created to help young dancers understand these unique issues and give them some tools to take charge of their careers and thrive in the dance profession.

On top of that a career in dance is unique in that it is intensely physical, and at an age when most professionals are reaching their most productive years, a dancer’s career often ends.

The 2011 on the MOVE conference. Photo by Andréa de Keijzer.

Could you share some examples of the challenges that you have observed or experienced, and how they were overcome?

A dancer may be starting a collective or small company. What does that entail? You need to learn financial skills, marketing skills, management skills! Members of the DTRC have the opportunity to apply for transferable skills grants to take courses and learn how to do some of these things.

The stress of managing a “portfolio career” (wearing many different hats as a dance artist—performer, choreographer, arts administrator, teacher, etc.) sometimes feels over-whelming. As well, financial challenges can be a concern for dance professionals, as dance is one of the lowest compensated art forms. The DTRC offers counselling to help deal with some of these issues.

A dancer may have a career-ending injury. This can be devastating emotionally—imagine being in your early 20s and finally able to begin a career you’ve been training for from the age of 9 or 10, and then after several years working in the profession a serious injury ends your career. As all dancers know, dance is not just a job, it is your life; it is how you define yourself. Intense training can leave little time to explore other interests. What will you do? How will you begin again? How will you be able to afford to retrain? The DTRC offers personal and career counselling to help navigate this transition. Also, DTRC members can apply for grants to retrain for a second or parallel career.

What advice would you give to emerging performing artists?

The 2011 on the MOVE conference. Photo by Andréa de Keijzer.

A performance career is about life-long learning! Your training doesn’t end when you graduate. Take the opportunity to learn anything that someone is willing to teach you. If you want help, please ask someone. The community is very generous and willing to share their knowledge. Don’t be shy about approaching established artists with an offer to take them for coffee or lunch to ask them some questions.

You have no idea where your career will take you, so be a sponge to soak up new information, and be open to new possibilities. The title and theme of this year’s on the MOVE conference is “Exploding the Boundaries of Dance”—that’s what we hope young artists will do!