After graduating from high school or college, some dancers have a very clear idea of where they want to pursue a career in dance: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London are all popular choices. These young artists locate classes in dance styles they are drawn to and/or jump right into auditioning for companies, Broadway shows, and other projects. While this is a tried and true method for many dancers, the goal of JUMPSTART/LA is to move beyond this formula in order to demystify the range of career trajectories for dancers in Los Angeles.
It is for this reason that four entrepreneurial women — Laura Berg & Gracie Whyte of WHYTEBERG, Madison Hicks, and Emily Wanserski — combined their talents to create JUMPSTART/LA, a Summer Intensive. This four-day program is designed for early to mid-career professional dancers interested in becoming part of the richly diverse, creative, and innovative Los Angeles dance scene. There are two tracks, A & B, with each running for four days from 10am-6pm at Stomping Ground LA. Track A occurs on two separate weekends, July 16-17 and 23-24, 2022, and Track B runs on consecutive days July 30-August 2, 2022. The summer intensive offers technique and repertory classes, as well as seminars about entrepreneurial skills, career development, and panel discussions about how to navigate the freelance artist lifestyle. Attendees will have access to career counseling, informal conversations with faculty members, and 1 on 1 mentorship sessions with the JUMPSTART Producing team.
In addition to Berg, Hicks, Wanserski, and Whyte, the JUMPSTART/LA Summer Intensive faculty, all of whom are active, working professionals includes — Melissa Barak, Artistic Director of Barak Ballet; BODYTRAFFIC company member Tiare Keeno (Track B only); company members of CONTRA-TIEMPO Jasmine Stanley and Alék Lopéz; Cody Brunelle-Potter, who has performed with Heidi Duckler Dance, Billie Eilish, Invertigo Dance Theatre; Dana Wilson who was an Associate Choreographer for In the Heights, performs regularly with Justin Timberlake, and co-created The Seaweed Sisters (Track B only); Karen Chuang, a company member of Entity Contemporary Dance; Go 2 Talent Agency; Jillian Meyers, Assistant Choreographer of LA LA LAND, Co-Choreographer of Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist, and toured with Janet Jackson (Track A only); Artistic Director of L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, Jamila Glass, whose work has also been seen on Dear White People and BET; LA Dance Project company member Nayomi Van Brunt (Track B only); Raymond Ejiofor who has performed with Pharrell, Sidra Bell, Kyle Abraham, among many local LA companies; Reshma Gajjar, who is the “ingenue in the yellow dress” in the opening scene of La La Land and has performed with Adele, Madonna, and Prince; Stephanie Landwehr, an AMDA Faculty member who has worked with Cher, Tina Turner, and The Spice Girls; and Toogie Barcelo who was recognized by Billboard Magazine as one of the “12 most iconic Choreographers of the Decade” for her work on Dua Lipa’s “New Rules.”
Laura Berg, Emily Wanserski, and Gracie Whyte joined me on Zoom to talk about their unique, timely workshop. Madison Hicks was unable to join as she was creating a new work while in residence at Orsolina28 in Italy! I opened the discussion inquiring about how the four came together and developed this program. From this point forward, I will refer to them by their first names.
“I taught a seminar for Gracie’s UCLA class,” Emily began, “and afterwards, we began jamming ideas about how we could give young dancers more entrepreneurial tools at the beginning of their careers. Gracie mentioned she and Laura had been considering forming a career carnival, which piqued my interest, for I had recently talked to Madison Hicks about a similar idea that she was piloting with her Dallas-based non-profit Moving Forward.”
Thus, the four women gathered on zoom, realized they shared the same goals, and each brought separate, but related talents to the table. Rather than working individually, they decided to collaborate and equally divide the producing elements up amongst themselves. “It was a really organic process. We all clearly outlined our skills and how we could each support the Intensive itself and the planning process,” said Emily.
I inquired about who JUMPSTART/LA was created for and what kinds of tools – beyond the movement classes – might be taught. Gracie jumped in with, “The program is not only for those who are interested in building a creative business or creating a dance empire, but also for artists who want to be a freelance dancer in the commercial and/or non-commercial world. We know from experience that in order to do any of those things, you absolutely have to be a business-minded person as well. Companies that offer year-long contracts are pretty much non-existent these days, and even dancers who do secure those contracts are required to be entrepreneurial in their off-season.” Gracie went on to say, “creativity can be expressed through business ideas and new ventures – not just art and choreography, and JUMPSTART/LA aims to nourish both sides of the brain.”
Emily expressed how challenging it is to find professional development that is immediately relevant to young dancers, both within and outside the university setting: “You go through these amazing conservatory-esque degree programs, and maybe there is a semester long course or a couple of seminars about how to “make it” in the “real world.” In our experience as students once ourselves and as university lecturers [Laura teaches at AMDA; Gracie at UCLA; Emily & Madison have taught at many higher education institutions], most universities and conservatories are not giving students tangible, immediately relevant information, such as: here are the cheapest health insurance companies; here is how you build your website; these are the financial tools you need; here is the contact information for dance and creative professional service organizations in your city; here are the active job lists; this is where you can go take classes. Yes, please start a Roth IRA, today.”
Emily feels that this is especially true in LA due to the sprawling geographic nature of our city, and in recent (COVID-19) years, the many studio closures. Young dancers are released out into the ether and left to their own devices to find classes, jobs, and resources. JUMPSTART/LA’s goal is to provide information about necessary career focused tools, while simultaneously providing movement classes that excite them. At JUMPSTART/LA, the morning seminars will focus on things like personal finances, budget, how to build a website, or secure a commercial agent, followed by movement classes led by incredible LA choreographers. “We want our attendees to leave feeling open and inspired by how they can build a career. The information is purposefully bite sized. We’re dividing the business topics up between the four days, so their brains can soak it up, sleep on it, and come back refreshed for the next day,” said Emily.
I brought up the subject of the age group and level of skill that this intensive is targeting. Gracie said that the team was steering away from the concept of level. “JUMPSTART/LA is crafted for artists who are wholly committed to building a career in Los Angeles. Artists who are looking to transition their career to LA – perhaps a mid-career professional who is moving from Seattle to Los Angeles – or dancers who during the pandemic, both would gain a lot from the program. The level of dancing, I think, can capture all of those demographics.”
Laura added: “I think even people who have had and/or are a few years into their career in Los Angeles would learn a lot. As we’ve gathered information and finalized the program, there are artists, companies, opportunities, and job listings that I had no idea about! I’m learning as we create this.” She went on to talk about the one on one mentoring sessions, which will take place during the last hour of each day (see the schedule here) “Even if you are an artist in Los Angeles who’s been working for a while, but you feel that you need to take a different direction, feeling stuck, or need some support in figuring out where to place your focus, our seminars and the mentorship sessions will hopefully aid the participants in clarifying not only what they want, but also the actionable next steps to take.”
During the pandemic, Gracie and Laura created a Patreon to help dance artists locate information and find their community. They interviewed people such as Ben Johnson about the history of dance in LA and Kate Hutter Mason about creative entrepreneurship. Their conversations sparked change within their own business, such as creating a website for Ground Grooves, which is now reaching dancers from over 30 countries and holding 3 in-person classes a week in LA. “Sometimes, you just need an influx of intel that propels you in action. Something to get you to say ‘ok, this idea I have, why haven’t I activated that part of me? Let’s try it! We’re trying to provide information paired with a “yes! Now, let’s go do it!” mentality,” reported Gracie. JUMPSTART/LA intends to give artists who need that spark of inspiration to get going, as well as the time, space, and resources required to get started.
Each day of JUMPSTART/LA has its own theme. DAY ONE focuses on the Los Angeles’ performing arts ecosystem: what and where is dance happening, what is the history of dance in Los Angeles, what dance lineages exist here, as well as how and why is LA’s scene different from those of New York and other cities. The morning seminars will provide insight on how to navigate the LA dance scene, what business tools are needed, followed by two movement classes, and Q&A with the faculty.
DAY TWO is focused on the commercial dance world and working in Hollywood. What items does one need to audition for a commercial job? How does one find an agent? Attendees will take classes with Jillian Meyers (Track A), Dana Wilson (Track B), and Reshma Gajjar, who is specifically interested in how to express story through movement. An Agent from Go 2 Talent will be present to answer questions and offer ideas for the attendees.
DAY THREE is focused on LA’s concert dance companies and the nonprofit sector. What skills do dancers have (or can they develop) that are transferable to full, part-time, and freelance jobs within our cultural ecosystem? How can teaching be a source of income? Or what sources of income could attendees develop that do not put extra stress on the body? Followed by movement and repertory classes from excellent local LA companies including: BODYTRAFFIC, CONTRA-TIEMPO, and LA Dance Project.
And to round out the program, DAY FOUR is focused on freelancing, for most dancers in LA operate as a self-employed freelancer at one point or another. How can artists handle and improve their personal finances? What does a personal budget look like in 2022? How can early/mid career artists plan for retirement? There will be a course about freelancing with two dance artists, followed movement classes, and a filming session. The JUMPSTART/LA team recognizes that most early/mid career artists are in need of excellent, high quality footage of themselves for their reels, yet gathering this footage is challenging due to music/choreography rights, and doing a full video shoot for the sake of needing a reel is typically far too expensive for these artists. Thus, JUMPSTART/LA is bringing in a professional videographer for the second half of day four, so that each participant can capture one to five minutes of high-quality footage – with theatrical lights! – that will be delivered to them within two weeks after the program.
At the end of each day, there is an hour set aside for the participants to meet with any of the four producers. This time provides an opportunity for each attendee to investigate and ask questions about the content of the seminars and classes. For instance, Emily is teaching a Resumes + Websites seminar on the first day, and she explained to me, “Maybe a dancer already has a website, but it was built in an older version of Squarespace and needs to be transferred into a new, more visually pleasing template. Or maybe they’re sick of the color scheme they chose, but starting over feels impossible. On Day One, I’ll teach an overview of website basics, then during the one on one time, I will be available to go page by page with each attendee, provide feedback on simple quick fixes, and long term goals with their site. So, conceivably each of our attendees could leave with not only more skills within website design, but also they could create a brand new site!”
Emily continued, “We’re aiming to give these young artists clear next steps related to their goals, spark an increased understanding of and respect for the current landscape, and support their ideas on how they can intersect with and contribute to what’s going on. Our faculty purposefully has unique and wide ranging expertise and experiences, so that our attendees can see the broad range of opportunities available, how to create their own, iterate, and continue to expand the field.”
Gracie described how she truly enjoys learning about the “business of the art,” alongside her creative evolution. She recognizes that not all dancers feel as she does, but that she wants “to introduce them to the idea that you’re not just looking for a full time dance job, which is what almost 100% of my students say they want to do.” She wants the attendees to know that there are other ways of having a career, of being a dance person and to utilize their dance and other gifts. “How can we then make sure they know it’s all available to them and they might enjoy all of these other ways of making a career?”
Laura added, “JUMPSTART/LA is not asking people to learn or adopt a specific model or style in order to get into a certain company. We want everyone who is coming into Los Angeles to contribute,” she said. “We want people to take this information and feel that they have more knowledge to create new ways of thinking, of dancing, of finding money, using money, paying people. I’d love for someone to come out of this with new ways of creating jobs for dancers.” For example, one of Gracie and Laura’s great successes during the pandemic is their ability through Ground Grooves to hire four employees, as well as a handful of 1099 workers, all of whom are dancers.
“JUMPSTART/LA aims to uplift the entire ecosystem,” Laura continued, “and we would love for people to leave this workshop with that in mind; that it’s not a scarcity mindset. We would love to create more architecture that lifts everybody up.” Beyond the content of the intensive, two other ways this group is living this commitment include: First, the team has deliberately aligned their dates for the intensive with several other dance summer intensives in the area including: BODYTRAFFIC (June 13-25), L.A. Contemporary Dance Company (July 18-29), CONTRA-TIEMPO (August 8-19), Corbin Dances Summer Workshop (August 1-6), and Entity Contemporary Dance Adult Summer Intensive (August 8-11), among others.
And second, yet another benefit that attendees will receive is a massive resources folder of information. Participating faculty will offer “one sheet” with information on how to stay connected, when classes are occurring, how to rent their space, and so on. JUMPSTART/LA also welcomes information from artists and companies beyond their faculty list to be included (email your info email@example.com!). From this, the team will create a resource folder for others in the dance community to utilize. 2022 is but the first summer for JUMPSTART/LA, and the information collected will be invaluable.
In summing up, the team wanted readers to know that this is only the first round of artists that they have gathered together from the multitude of working dance artists in Los Angeles. LA offers an endless source of dancers, teachers, choreographers, and directors, and they look forward to expanding the program in years to come.
If you have any questions about the program, feel free to email the producing team directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: JUMPSTART/LA Summer Intensive
JUMPSTART/LA is a 4-day summer workshop for early/mid-career dancers in Los Angeles that nourishes creative voices and business brains equally. From technique and repertory classes to seminars, career counseling, and informal conversations with leaders in the field, JUMPSTART/LA aims to demystify the LA dance ecosystem and provide tangible information
that prompts creative, career-focused action. Along with incredible movement classes of all styles, dancers can expect a broad overview of how to find and/or create work opportunities as
a freelancer within the nonprofit, concert, and commercial worlds. Attendees will leave with new professionally shot footage for their reels, a resources folder of information on where to seek
more information, and more!
Track A — July 16+17, July 23+24 (weekends)
Track B — July 30+31, August 1+2 (consecutive days)
To see the entire schedule, click HERE.
WHERE: Stomping Ground L.A. , 5453 Alhambra Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90032
REGISTER: Via Eventbrite HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Company.
Featured image: Jump Start LA artists and logo – collage by LA Dance Chronicle from images courtesy of the artists.