Finding work as a dancer can be hard… Duh. But finding work and being in a new country?… forget about it! Being an international dancer is one of the toughest job markets to break into. We asked Joffrey Ballet School Artistic Director (San Francisco Summer Intensive) Josie Walsh about her experience dancing abroad. Here’s what she had to say:
The International Dancer: My European Adventure
After years of dancing in NYC then the Northwest, my life long dream was to live and work as a ballerina in Europe. I sent repertory videos of myself to European companies in hopes for an invitation to take company class, which would serve as an audition for my potential employment. While several companies expressed their interest in meeting me and having me join them for class, I didn’t have the money to buy a plane ticket and pay for accommodations while visiting! With unwavering determination, and my favorite mantra “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” I knew I had to find a way to get myself to Europe and in front of these directors! Michael Maule (formerly of ABT, NYCB and Joffrey Ballet), who had seen me perform years earlier at the beginning of my career in the Joffrey 2 showcase at City Center, learned of my situation and offered his help! (See… You never know who is watching you from the audience!) Within a few days I had a plane ticket in my hand along with a Euro-rail pass and got to packing! I was speechless with awe and gratitude, and a good measure of fear, for I really had to get a job now that I was actually being sponsored!
So off I went, venturing to many places, sleeping in every youth hostel imaginable and on overnight trains, but when I got to Zurich, I absolutely knew, in every ounce of my being, that I was home. Zurich Ballet had been holding an audition every Wednesday for months, seeing hundreds of dancers without offering a single contract. When they had contacted me in the States to see when I was arriving I took that as a good sign of their interest.
I took company class and it felt great! The dancers were welcoming– not something I experienced in every European city. The ballet master liked me, but there was no Artistic Director in sight. The ballet master said he was coming to see me and asked me to wait until he arrived. It was 11:30 a.m. I waited and waited. At 7:00 p.m., he showed up and threw a ton of very contemporary choreography at me (that I later learned was an all male variation from a ballet he’d done.) So in my pink tights and pointe shoes, I was jumping and rolling all over the floor ‘til 8:00 p.m. At the end of the day he looked at me. “Great,” He said. “Take class tomorrow and we’ll talk.” I was there the next day for the 10:00 a.m. class, and still, there was no Director in sight. The ballet master advised to join the company for class again tomorrow, which I did, but it was the same story. Frustrated, I explained, “Thank you very much, but I’ve gotta catch a train.” He immediately got the Artistic Director on the phone. I couldn’t make out the German that transpired, but when he handed the phone to me, the Director offered me a 3rd-year contract (Zurich’s equivalent to a principal contract!)
As if in a dream state, I walked out of the building, rounded the corner and exhaled for the very first time since I arrived in Europe. My knees literally buckled, crumpling to the ground outside the opera house I cried on the street. They were tears of joy for a dream had come true and a new chapter was beginning. Michael Maule was my guardian angel for making that journey even possible and I’m forever grateful.
JBS SF Intensive Director
Ballet Red Director & Choreographer