Skills for Survival in the Arts: A Guest Post by Nancy Lorenz, Author of American Ballerina

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Nancy Lorenz, author of the new book American Ballerina, to Angela’s Library. As you might recall, I reviewed Nancy’s debut novel, The Strength of Ballerinas, back in 2014 and absolutely loved it. The book followed the journey of Kendra Sutton, an aspiring young dancer, after her diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. In American Ballerina, the sequel, Kendra leaves her home and family to start a new life as a professional dancer. Keeping to this theme of teens venturing out alone for the first time, I asked Nancy to talk about the skills young people must learn when starting a new life and a new career.

Skills for Survival in the Arts

By Nancy Lorenz

Is your teen leaving home for a career in the arts? Creative people may thrive in their art, but are not always the best at surviving in the big city. They got the job… Now what? Whether it’s an apprentice in a ballet company, a shot at Broadway stardom, or a seat in the Philharmonic, teens need more than elite training. They need a second set of skills – financial literacy, time management, and goal setting.

Today whether it is a job in the arts, or a move away for college, unfortunately, many teens today go into life unprepared. Regardless of the major, many colleges across the country have noticed this trend and have introduced basic life skills courses to help their students succeed.

As a college professor I have taught these life skills courses to new freshman at a few different schools. The courses had different names, but all trained students in the above survival tactics. Additional skills, such as critical thinking or analysis, further aided students in their late teens, setting them up for academic and life success.

Why are these skills important for a performer, though?

A dancer, actor, or musician has to maintain elite status in order to succeed, but unless he or she can survive financially in the big city, success will be unachievable. After all, your teen has to be there in order to make it!

Financial Literacy encompasses making a budget. How do you live within your means, so that you can pay rent and bills before spending on entertainment? Unless lucky enough to live in a dorm during training or an apprenticeship, teens have to get an apartment. That means they’ll have to pay rent, bills, and purchase supplies for their daily needs.

Food is one example. When I lived at home, I could go to the refrigerator any time I wanted to make a late-night sandwich or grab a snack. The fridge was always full. There was always a big pitcher of ice tea, ready at a moment’s notice, and a freshly baked cake usually sat on the kitchen table. Dinner was made by mom; breakfast was grab and go, or a hot meal of pancakes or eggs. The point is that food was always there.

When I was in New York, the realization hit me like an avalanche. Everything I ate now, I had to buy. That thought scared me to my very bones. What if I didn’t have enough money for lunch? My apartment refrigerator needed to be stocked with food, but I could never afford to fill it completely like at home. Just buying small things like condiments for a sandwich was expensive. Now, there was no cake on the table unless I made one, and no pitcher of ice tea unless I bought it.

The point is that living on your own as a teen can be difficult, especially if the teen has been coddled. Even if a parent pays the rent, sends a weekly check for food, the young performer still has to go out and buy, plan meals, and make their money stretch. Teens of yesteryear grew up in an era of more self-reliance. Less money was given to them in allowance, or support, and the children went out into the big, wide world to make it on their own, a little more prepared.

I remember being a fourteen year old, taking a trolley to a bus to a train to go to my private school. After school, it was the reverse – the train to the bus to the trolley. It’s a different world today, and few parents would allow going that distance alone now. But with more overprotective parents today, comes less self-reliance.

Will performers on their own in the big city today be able to make decisions, purchase leotards, sheet music, pay for lessons, training, seminars, and budget for transportation as well? If a young performer can maintain him or herself in the city financially, however, and perhaps with a little savvy, save a bit here and there, he or she can even grab discount tickets to a show to keep up with the art.

Goal Setting helps the performer to focus. What does he or she want to achieve now? Later? How does he or she use logic and reason to plan an artistic career? Yes! I said logic and reason! People who are creative think that being artistic is enough. They are right-brained people; however, logic and reason guides creative people to succeed. Imagine being an artist like Van Gogh. Your paintings are brilliant, but nobody buys your art. Left brain skills, such as logic, reason, and language, help one to crunch the numbers, market artistic skills, or plan events to propel that performer toward success. It takes both right and left-brain skills to come up with a plan to sustain a career in the arts.

Goal setting also looks at short and long term goals, including setting a time limit for making it in the field. What is the creative goal for success? Financial goal? Two years? Five years? Once you know, you can work toward it logically.

Time Management also keeps teens on track. They can’t do everything all at once. What is the priority? If a teen is an apprentice in a ballet company, what is the schedule? How much disposable time does he or she have for function tasks, such as grocery shopping, laundry, or washing his or her hair? Make a plan! An actor can make a chart to keep track of auditions, classes, part time jobs, and miscellaneous tasks. Unexpected tasks can pop up too, such as getting headshots taken, learning monologues, and working on speech regionalisms for a particular play. Teen musicians have similar issues of how to deal with personal versus work schedules.

In my sequel to The Strength of Ballerinas, the young ballerina, Kendra leaves home, but grows as a person. She has to face all of the above challenges, and still maintain an elite status in her art of ballet. As she bridges this gap from childhood to adulthood, she learns to make judgments (critical thinking) budget (financial literacy), plan her time between art, school, and responsibilities (time management). She must also set her goals realistically, and not overreach for one that is too high to achieve (goal setting). Just as it isn’t easy for a fictional character, it isn’t easy for other teens that are suddenly on their own in real life.

So, whether a teen is right or left brained, using both sides – creativity and logic – can help him or her succeed in the arts. The arts are tough enough, but if smart and savvy, a teen can survive in the big city alone and have a better chance of making it to the top. Teens who practice financial literacy, goal setting, and time management will have, in Hunger Games lingo, “the odds in their favor.”

About Nancy Lorenz

Nancy Lorenz is the author of The Strength of Ballerinas as well as its sequel, American Ballerina. She still takes ballet as an adult, and is also a college adjunct professor within the English curriculum. She writes about ballet on her website blog:

About American Ballerina

In The American BallerinaStrength of Ballerinas, her dancing dreams were put to the test as she worked to overcome every obstacle that came her way. And now, seventeen-year-old Kendra is about to face a whole new set of challenges in American Ballerina. As summer comes to a close, the teen prepares to leave home behind for a three-week ballet intensive—followed by an apprenticeship at the Premiere Ballet.

After saying goodbye to her family, friends, and boyfriend Troy, Kendra jumps headfirst into the fast-paced, hectic ballet class, where she takes on the role of student and teacher for a group of younger girls. There, she meets new friends from around the globe—including a handsome French dancer named Jacques, who sees himself as prime competition for Kendra’s long-distance love.

Between adjusting to her new surroundings and keeping her health in check, Kendra finds herself filled with doubts about her future—despite a life of dance being everything she ever dreamed of. As she comes of age in the high-stakes world of professional ballet, will she manage to balance personal well-being, friendship, love, and her blossoming career?

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Review: Phantom’s Dance by Lesa Howard

Phantom's Dance Book Cover Phantom's Dance
Lesa Howard

Christine Dadey's family uprooted their lives and moved to Houston for her to attend the prestigious Rousseau Academy of Dance. Now, two years later, Christine struggles to compete among the Academy's finest dancers, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and she's told no one about her debilitating performance anxiety and what she's willing to do to cope with it. Erik was a ballet prodigy, a savant, destined to be a star on the world's stage, but a suspicious fire left Erik's face horribly disfigured. Now, a lonely phantom forced to keep his scars hidden, he spends his nights haunting the theater halls, mourning all he's lost. Then, from behind the curtain he sees the lovely Christine. The moldable, malleable Christine. Drawn in by Erik's unwavering confidence, Christine allows herself to believe Erik's declarations that he can transform her into the dancer she longs to be. But Christine's hope of achieving her dreams may be her undoing when she learns Erik is not everything he claims. And before long, Erik's shadowy past jeopardizes Christine's unstable present as his obsession with her becomes hopelessly entangled with his plans for revenge.


When I first read the synopsis for Phantom’s Dance, I couldn’t contain my glee. A reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, set at a ballet academy rather than an opera house? What could be better than that?!

Phantom’s Dance is told from the perspective of Christine Dadey, a young dancer who has sacrificed a great deal to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. She’s left her home and her friends and given up having a “normal” life to attend Rousseau Academy, where she practices ballet for hours each day in hopes of winning a spot with the Academy’s dance company. For all her technical proficiency as a dancer, however, there’s something Christine is missing: creative expression. Her teachers warn that talent alone isn’t enough to earn her a position with the company, and if Christine can’t imbue her dancing with emotion and passion, she’ll never make it as a ballerina.

Discouraged, Christine despairs of ever realizing her dreams. This changes when she meets Erik, a mysterious, masked man whose looks, health, and own promising career as a dancer were destroyed in a fiery accident. Erik understands what it takes to rise to the top in the dancing world and offers to train Christine in secret.

As Erik tells Christine, “You don’t need tutoring. You need transforming.” He goes on to do just that, dancing with Christine, guiding her, and teaching her to pour herself into her work. He’s got a lot of wisdom to impart, my favorite being, “You have to stop making allowances for failure. Don’t expect to fail.” Christine blossoms under Erik’s tutelage…at least until Erik begins to reveal a darker side of himself, a side that makes Christine increasingly uncomfortable.

I enjoyed the student-teacher relationship between Erik and Christine, and there’s an amazing scene where the two perform a pas de deux together – it’s one of my favorite moments in the book. The concept of personal expression superseding simple balletic ability really appealed to me as well. There’s a great chapter in which Christine is attempting to perform a scene from the ballet Giselle. Her less-than-impressed instructor cuts the performance short and tries to impress upon Christine the importance of emotion in dance:

“In spite of Duke Albrecht’s betrayal,” she continued, “Giselle loves this man. Yet you dance like you are going to the local Wal-Mart. Where is the drama? Where is the grief and shame?”

As much as I liked the dance aspects of this book, I was disappointed by the overall tone of the story. I was hoping for the dark sensuality of the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera, but much of Phantom’s Dance ended up feeling very watered down and G-rated. This is partly due to the writing style, which is occasionally awkward and almost juvenile. Erik is to blame as well. He lacks the allure and magnetism that would have made him a more compelling character, and he doesn’t feel suitably dangerous until the end of the book, when the story takes a surprisingly dark turn.

It probably makes me sound like a terrible person to say this, but I was actually kind of relieved that this turn kept the book from being squeaky clean and bright the entire way through. It wouldn’t have been a true adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera if everything was daisies and rainbows.

“There’s no place for the scarred – the ugly – in ballet. So I come here and cower behind the curtains and remember what it was like to have once been the dancer the audience adored.”

Phantom’s Dance wasn’t the best POTO-inspired story I’ve ever read – that honor goes to Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – but it still deserves a solid 3 stars. I think it will especially appeal to readers who are interested in books about dancing, although there are plenty of great subplots, like the strained relationship between Christine’s parents and her budding romance with handsome football player Raoul, to keep things interesting even for those who don’t usually care for ballet.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.