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Ballet, Blackberries and Cognac: Advice for Dancers

by Paul Seaquist

A few days ago while on tour in New York City, I found myself having dinner with Andrew Loog Oldham who is nothing more and nothing less than the creator and former manager and producer of the mega rock band The Rolling Stones. Although we have known each other for some time now, every time we meet, we talk and share stories as if it were the first time. Actually, in reality he is the one who is normally telling the stories, I am the one listening carefully and clinging to every word he says.

Anyways, nursing a Louis XIII after an exquisite dinner at Fiorello´s across from the Lincoln Center, we both stumbled on a topic which in no minor way has affected both of us during our management career: communication between artist and manager/impresario. For the first time, having experienced this dilemma in all its forms, I was the one doing all the talking, and he respectfully listening to my views on the subject. Although I am in my early thirties, I have been connected to ballet for nearly twenty years. I have managed and manage some of the biggest names in the ballet world; my stars perform yearly in all five continents; and I produce and co-produce a healthy number of galas and performances around the planet.

I have learned by experience, by doing all the before mentioned, that the most difficult thing about doing them is not the actual task of managing an artist or putting on a successful show, but the fact of communicating and having communication channels open during the process. I will focus mainly on the dancer side of the equation today although it is an equation which in its whole affects every aspect of not only the dance world but the world in general.

The times I have found myself waiting for a dancer to reply to an e-mail, text message, or phone call, to accept or deny an invitation to perform, are countless. I would have thought, before getting to know the modus operandi of the business, that most dancers would jump at the opportunity of being invited to perform in galas or festivals or other events. That even though busy with their day to day rehearsals and performances (which I know are many and demanding), there would be a minute in their lives in which a phone call, text message, or e-mail could be made in response. It is not in reality a difficult task, so why is it not done as efficiently as it should be in the dance world?

I have never been the type to give unasked for advice, but have always been fond of making suggestions when the final objective is making improvements. May I suggest then to young dancers and aspiring stars to be attentive not only of your work in the studio (which in reality will form you as a dancer), and on stage (which will mold you into an artist), but also to the more executive side of your career (should you not have a manager to tend to these matters) because this can transform you from a local dancer into a more global one, ergo into a possible Star.

Devote a few minutes of your day to checking your e-mails, to answering you phone calls, and/or text messages. With today’s technology it is almost a sin not to do so, especially since you can do it all from a Blackberry, iPhone, or iPad with just a few thumb clicks. So do so! I am not saying that by doing so you will become the next Nureyev, Baryshnikov or Polina Semionova, but it will surely put you, at least, on the right track.

Normally, a manager or impresario is looking for artistic and technical quality in a dancer with whom he desires to work. This is undeniable. But also, and this may not be so known, a manager is looking for an easy communication with the dancer which will make his work more efficient. The possibility of saying, “I have such and such a performance,” “in such and such a place,” “rep should be this or that,” “fee will be so much,” and receiving an actual answer in a limited time is an example of good communication. Unfortunately, many times the answer never comes or takes too long to finally arrive. Normally a producer or impresario will invite a dancer like this only once, the train of thought inside their mind being – he or she is a very nice dancer but…. Beware of the “BUT.” Do not allow this “but” to damage your career. There are already too many “buts” in the art world to add one more.

Be smart, be humble – answering your phone does not make you less of an artist. (Strangely enough, the biggest names in ballet I know answer their calls and e-mails no more than 24 hours after they receive them, and I am talking about the big dogs). I am not saying that this makes them greater stars, but it surely helps. Try to give answers in time; this will benefit your career. Always think and have in mind that behind every call or e-mail there might be a great opportunity for you. Never let possibilities and opportunities pass you by. Normally they come by once or twice, then they stop coming – the phone stops ringing.

What would have happened if Nijinsky had not responded to Diaghilev’s desires to meet him that summer of 1908 at the old Europa Hotel in Saint Petersburg? What would have happened if Nureyev had not responded to the invitation made by Margot Fonteyn to have tea with her that magic evening of their first meeting in London in the early 1960s?

I think I make my point. Be fair to yourself, and do not close doors before they open. Be fair to the person organizing and producing performances. He deserves if not the certainty of your participation, at least an answer. A “let me check,” “give me a few days and Ill get back to you,” or a simple “thanks but no thanks” will do. Do not risk damaging your career by negligence. As you know, in today’s world, unfortunately, if you blink, you lose!

After a while I became quiet. I noticed my Blackberry was ringing, pulling me away from my train of thought. I had received an e-mail. In silence, I checked it. It was a confirmation from a dancer to perform in a gala that had already happened last month. A little too late I thought and sadly smiled. I looked out the window, and took another sip of my cognac. Snow was beginning to form on the sidewalks. It was good spending an evening with Andrew Loog Oldham in New York City.

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