Alice Aschwanden- Founder of Enpointe Consulting

2020 and its aftermath has been confusing to say the least,especially for artists trying to navigate a landscape that seems so unpredictable and very dependent on more ‘precedented’ times. Alice provides some much desired clarity on the current situation and has wisdom to comfort any artist feeling lost in the ‘COVID times whirlwind’. As someone who is a professional at coaching dancers on careers and all that entails, this interview is like gaining insider knowledge or a glimpse behind the illusive curtain. I so appreciate Alice’s openness and willingness to share her wisdom throughout this conversation, she is a true gem. For tangible advice, a sprinkling of hope, and comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone, simply read on.

Disclaimer* all of Alice’s amazing insights could not be put into a blog post word for word. Hence, some of her answers have been condensed with her approval.

What is your current profession? 

I am founder and director of enpointe consulting, which is an organization through which I mentor young dancers. Basically, I’m a dance career coach, so I provide guidance and advice about mindset, auditions, and careers. 

What has your career path been?

I’ve had an interesting path. My professional ballet career started with Alberta Ballet when I was 19 years old, and after 2 years there, I moved to Zurich, Switzerland. I danced with Zurich Ballet for around 5 years. Unfortunately an injury stopped my professional career at that point. This was a massive shock for me asI had really been in ballet for the long haul and hadn’t prepared for something like this. I returned to Australia and decided to go down the study path. Due to ballet training, I didn’t have my VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education, which is what Victorian students gain at the end of highschool that allow admittance to university), so I had to do a fast tracked 6 months of schooling in order to take a special entry exam for university. I got my degree in psychology after which my (now) husband and I moved to Singapore. In Singapore I completed my masters in social work. From there I actually fell into a role in policy development for the Victorian Government with the education department, this something I was pretty interested in. I think all along I was sort of testing myself to see what I could do. I didn’t want to finish my ballet career and go straight Pilates or something that was really connected to ballet, I wanted to have a little taste of the outside world. I did that for about four years during which time I had my two little boys. I was kind of sitting in this job and thinking, ‘I can’t let go of ballet’. I kept trying to change, but I kept coming back to ballet in my mind and heart. Around this time my sister’s colleague had a daughter striving for a ballet career who was feeling very lost and didn’t know what to do next, so I offered to meet up with her for coffee and a chat. At first I was nervous that I wouldn’t know how to help or what to say, but once I started talking the ideas and insights just seemed to flow. There was so much information to cover that we had to set up a second coffee and then a third… It made me realise there may be a place for someone to advise these young dancers on what to expect, how to strategise etc. I decided to set up a website and see what happened, within the first 24hours I had a frantic phone call from a mother who just didn’t know how to help her child gain a ballet career, from there things just continued to grow into what is now enpointe consulting. 

With Australia being so secluded from the rest of the world, audition experiences for Aussies can be quite unique. We can’t just get on a train and be in a new county at a different audition each week. Therefore, sometimes Aussie’s really aren’t aware of all the arts opportunities outside Australia. Do you feel tunnel vision occurs with your Australian clients? Do you feel dancing overseas helped you bring a new perspective to this?

Australian dances are very unique in a few ways. There is certainly that tunnel vision, because you’re on an island very far away from everywhere else. There is a huge lack of knowledge, and that is simply because people haven’t crossed the ditch; they haven’t been to Europe or been to America. There is this idea of what it’s like in those places and it doesn’t match the reality. There’s also an idea about what you need to know, and it’s not even close to what you actually need to know. I think dancers in Australia are like ‘yeah cool, I just finish training, and then I go and audition for five companies and I’m going to get a contract’, and that doesn’t happen. Most of those five companies have a school already attached and they have a few dances every year already lined up for contracts, so it’s really not that straightforward. What drew my heart to this work is that there’s so much talent in Australia; the training is amazing and there’s so many dancers graduating who are really high quality dancers, but they just don’t have anywhere to take their talent, and they don’t know how to take it into Europe or to America or even Asia. I support dancers from all over the world, but I find australian dancers are my clients who need the most guidance on how things work overseas. 

In terms of the perspective I gained overseas, America in particular taught me how gutsy you need to be. The culture of ‘tall poppy syndrome’ in Australia really doesn’t encourage students to put themself forward, so they find themselves in amongst a whole different scene when they get overseas. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you’re just standing there and the person next to you who may be a bit less talented says, ‘I want that role’. You can be beautiful, but if no one sees you then that won’t matter. Ultimately, you want to be getting into a company and on stage, and if you’re not putting yourself in the right place you’re just going to be passed over, and that’s what happens a lot.

Do you have a favourite quote/poem/piece of art, if so could you share it?

“I can do anything in a tutu”- Misty Copeland

I love how she captures the fact that dancers are so amazing, physically and mentally. They put a tutu on and it’s literally like they’re on stage defying gravity. I think us dancers have a sense of being very unsure of ourselves and lacking confidence. You don’t realize just how amazing you are, and just what your body can do. Looking back on my career I have so much awe for the things I did in a tutu. 

I’ve heard many people say they feel this audition season is ‘canceled or condensed’ in a way, especially for those in more isolated places like Australia who physically can’t travel for auditions. What is your perspective on this situation? 

It is definitely condensed! There are very few auditions and even less opportunities available right now. I feel there are two ways to look at this:

  1. I just graduated and my whole plans are stuffed up. What am I going to do? I have a whole nother year now!
  2. I’ve got to create a transition year. I thought I was ready, I wanted to go, but I can’t go yet. I need to do something fruitful with this year. What can I do that is going to help me next year? 

It’s about thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve got to keep taking class but what else can I do’?. What can I do mindset wise, or what can I do to spruce up my CV package, or what can I do in terms of planning so that when the chance comes I know exactly where I’m going to go and how I’m going to do it.   I know it’s not as simple as all of sudden looking at the situation through a new lens and being fine with it all, but it is the reality, so it’s up to you to choose which mindset to focus on. Definitely don’t beat yourself up about this year not working as you thought. Rather than going down a hole, let’s create a plan B, and let’s make it a good one. 

There seems to be more and more places only contacting applicants if the audition result is a yes and just never responding to the people who aren’t right for that company. Why do you think this is? In situations like this, what actions do you recommend taking here? 

This is actually extremely common, it’s just not really discussed until you start the audition process, so many people are unaware of these situations. Back in the day when I was auditioning, more than half of the audition applications you sent you wouldn’t hear back from. That’s generally how it works in this industry unfortunately. It’s not just the dance industry though, since dancing I’ve dabbled in the corporate world and also in government, you don’t necessarily hear back from those sorts of applications either. However, at the moment for dances, you are literally dropping a diamond into the ocean. Those rolling audition emails are getting 500 to 600 emails a year, often with no contract available. It’s likely that there are not the resources to respond to everyone. The HR person, if they still  have a HR person on staff at the moment, really can’t send out all those response emails. I think the key thing to do in these situations is not take it personally. It’s so hard to not take these things to heart, and that is something I work on both with my clients and myself. As much as you need to keep a spreadsheet to track what you’ve sent off, once you’ve sent it, you almost need to forget about it. That way if you do get a response it’s a bonus, but don’t feel abnormal if you never receive a response either way. If it’s an open email where there’s rolling auditions, don’t follow up because they’ve got so many and frankly they likely don’t have any contracts. Auditions where you’ve had some personal interaction are very different. If you wrote to someone and asked about sending a CV and they encouraged you to do so, hence, there was some personal back and forth; that is one you can follow up with, and I would be following up on a bi-weekly basis. However, most auditions at this point are going to be those general kinds of ones, where you have approached a company who is not not saying they have auditions and you just send your CV anyway, I would follow up with them once. The thing is, your application is usually arriving at gatekeepers in a way, so that’s something to keep in mind too. It’s often not that the person who’s opening it up is looking and going ‘no, I don’t want you’.  Before these ‘gatekeepers’ even open the email they will often ask the director if there’s any contracts available or if there’s just no point even opening your email at that stage. That’s why I really advocate for the ‘send send send approach’. In a normal (aka non-pandemic) year,  you may reach out to  50-60 companies, you might get 20 responses, you might get 10 invites, and you might get 5 auditions. They are the general kind of statistics. 

Which of your values did starting en pointe consulting speak to? 

It was all about helping people who are in situations that I truly understand. It was a way to show compassion, empathy, and use my life to nurture others.  I know how it feels to be in my clients position. I was that person, and I still am that person. I think back and my heart just goes directly to that time in my life, not knowing what to do and not having any advice or any guidance. It was all new, scary, and confusing. Looking back on those times 15 years later, it was just shocking for me to realise there was no one there to help everyone in these confusing times. I don’t want dancers stopping school and putting everything into their training, only to end up working at Starbucks two years later because no one helped them with the job application side of things. Not that audition guidance is the only work I do, but it was how the enpointe consulting journey began. When I started this job, I realized that there’s a bunch of things around that process that dancers need help on, that’s when my work expanded to incorporate the mindset work and everything else I do now. 

Do you feel social media has a part to play in striving for a career? 

Perhaps in the corporate world, but I don’t feel it has a huge role in the ballet or contemporary industry. It’s good to have a tidy and appropriate Instagram profile, in case a director or someone wants to check it. You might want to have nine photos, and they should be nice ballet ones so it’s basically an extension of your CV, but other than that, I wouldn’t put a huge focus on your instagram, unless it is with the intention of getting endorsements to help you financially. 

What is your view on finding a healthy relationship with social media? 

I personally believe instagram can be very harmful for young dancers, it can really rock their confidence. Even for someone my age, I have to be very conscious to use it as a networking platform, otherwise it has negative effects on me as well. Comparison with other dancers on social media is very dangerous and very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of. I think dancers need to be aware when cultivating their instagram to make it a platform for information sharing and high level content gathering, nothing else. 

Low self confidence really does seem to be an epidemic these days. Why do you think this is the case? What advice would you give for this struggling? 

Self belief and confidence really are just skills that need to be cultivated. If you think of it like a sliding scale, people have a point where they sit naturally, but that doesn’t mean that point is set in stone, with work you can improve these skills. Social media comparison is a huge inhibitor of confidence. Always remember when scrolling, you are comparing someone else’s outer life to your inner life. You need to stay focused on your own career path and goals, in the end where you end up is about what you want to do, not other people’s opinions or choices. Refocusing on your own path is one of the best ways to stop comparison in its track. Self confidence can begin an organic growth once the comparison lessons, from there it’s great to add in things such as strength identification and learning to showcase those elements of your dancing. Most people feel they lack confidence and that will always be their reality, when realistically, not many people are naturally confident, and it truly is a skill that needs to be taught and nurtured. 

*here is a link to one of Alice’s amazing blog posts on this topic (specifically the relationship between personal standards and confidence), if you want some extra insights https://enpointe.org/personal-standards-in-dancers-how-high-is-too-high/

What perceived ‘failure’ has turned into your most helpful lesson on your journey thus far? 

I was lucky enough to get the contract with Zurich Ballet, but there was a lot of heartbreak and company rejections before that. In the end, all those ‘failed’ auditions taught me something and if I had been accepted to those places I wouldn’t have ended up in Zurich, which is an amazing company, and one I feel was a great fit for me. Each ‘failure’ is a stepping stone on your journey and you never know what the step after that ‘failure’ will bring. I was never the protege, I really didn’t come into my own till I was around 16, but again all those ‘failures’ at competitions helped make me the dancer I became. I’ve experienced these moments of things not working out as planned in both my ballet and post-ballet careers, yet in hindsight they always seemed to lead  to something that was better for me in the end. Social media plays a huge role in making people feel everyone succeeds at their bog goals straight away, when that is not the case for many. A lot of my goals have been reached in very round-about ways. 

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, so if you could scribe one word to use as your weapon in life what would it be?

‘Reach’

The best things are not right in front of you, you have to reach for them. Most things worth having in life require time, patience, work, and setbacks; you just have to keep reaching. 

In what ways would you like to see readers’ minds expand with this interview?

I want people to know that help is available. You are not alone, and it is perfectly normal to feel unsure or lost. Not knowing what you’re doing doesn’t mean you wont succeed, it’s about removing the stress, going about learning everything you can, and then applying those findings. This goes for both career strategizing and mindset work. When striving for a goal, there are some things we can’t change, but there is also a lot we can change if we are willing to try. 

As a treat for A&H readers Alice has provided her document titled ‘7 tips for savvy dancers’! Here’s the link for it: https://enpointe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/epc-lead-magnet.pdf

Alice has also just announced the launch of her new program ‘ACCELERATE’, aimed at helping dancers find their footing and plan for a career in these strange times. For more information, check out this link: https://www.subscribepage.com/o0q1x9 

You can find Alice on IG @enpointeconsulting, contact her via email alice@enpointe.org, or check out her website and inspiring blog via  https://enpointe.org/

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1 Comment

  1. Another great interview from Artistic and Holistic

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