A lack of full time work is leaving local dancers with no choice but to relocate or work multiple jobs
When it comes to making a viable living as a professional dancer in Calgary the options are few. Alberta Ballet employs 34 dancers for its annual season and Decidedly Jazz Danceworks employs eight dancers within their own professional company. Sarisa de Toledo is the artistic associate at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks who says, at the company, working more than one job is a reality.
“I’m sure that most independent dancers don’t just dance. Even our own company dancers don’t just work in the company,” says de Toledo. “Everybody teaches and everybody has an outside second job.” This includes de Toledo, who was both a professional company member and independent dancer.
“I think everybody feels the need to have a second job just to fill in the gap. In my own personal experience I remember only one point in my life when I didn’t need to have a second job” she adds.
Calgary’s arts scene seems to be growing with just under 100 dance studios based in the city. Several of these dance studios even claim to be semi-professional in both their environment as well as their teaching techniques. One of these “semi-professional” dance studios is En Corps Dance Collective, an established dance studio with a goal to keep Calgary’s dance talent developing local, rather than moving to a bigger city.
Produced by Kate Holowaty
Melanie Nightingale is one of the founding members of En Corps and is currently a board member and choreographer. She believes that studios such as En Corps can help dancers develop the professional skills and technique that can land them paid work.
“We have weekly classes where we work on different styles of dance. I think that will really enhance their dance background and their dance vocabulary so that when they do go to the States or to even Toronto or Vancouver they can go into classes and feel comfortable and feel like they are open to different styles,” Nightingale says.
But despite being able to train locally, Megan Zvanciuk, 19, a dancer with En Corps Dance Collective says that the backstage chatter between dancers wanting to pursue professional paid work always centers on having to relocate.
“It’s definitely a hot topic with dancers in Calgary, they always say you have to move, you have to go to Vancouver, you have to go to Toronto, if you’re able to go to L.A., New York, stuff like that,” she says.
Photo by Kate Holowaty
Zvanciuk has auditioned in places such as Los Angeles and Vancouver but ran into problems due to her age because she was 17 at the time.
“I would go there and I would be told yes, yes, yes make it on file for the auditions, and then unfortunately they would be like ‘too young’ or ‘just not at this time’,” she recalls.
For dancers that are too young to secure employment in the United States but still want to progress their professionalism and technique, the transition area can be difficult. But Zvanciuk says that she has been able to navigate through her dance evolution locally.
“Personally I’ve found that I’ve been able to develop my technique, develop my training, knowledge about dance within Calgary at a young age,” says Zvanciuk.” En Corps, the other companies that I’ve been in are definitely a step in the right direction for dancers that are just graduating high school and are kind of in limbo with what they want to do with dance.”
Photo by Kate Holowaty
But how can Calgary’s dance scene grow to not only be a transitional aid but also a hub for paid dance work? de Toledo says that financial support and augmenting the public’s interest in live arts could help.
“Our company could potentially be bigger if we had more money to pay salaries, so money is always an issue for every dance company. I think also that in this day and age a lot of people want to just stay home and watch Netflix and stay on their couch, and that’s just easier than going to live anything; live music, live dance, live theatre, live art,” says de Toledo.
“I think that if there’s a push to get people out and to appreciate live performance than artists will get more work because there will be more of a drive to actually see the work,” de Toledo adds.