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Pivot Pointe
September 14, 2023

In Conversation With CODA Founder Rebecca Haw

CODA Founder Rebecca Haw

CODA, founded by Rebecca Haw, is the first agency of it's kind in classical ballet.​ CODA has seen a need for such a space since its first auditions up to the most recent and beyond. Built by professionals themselves, furthering the future of recruitment and representation in classical ballet.

Photo by Jubal Battisti

CODA is revolutionizing the audition process for both dancers and companies! As a former dancer, I appreciate the attention to detail that goes into the recruitment process, which not only facilitates selection for companies but also takes into account the needs and concerns of dancers, including timely communication, progress updates, and financial investments. Could you share more information on the process?

Rebecca Haw: I won't go into too much backstory, but I've had a difficult time as a professional. I say "had" as if it's in the past, but I'm still a professional. It took me two years to land my first contract as well as when I was trying to make a mid-20s career move.

I must have been to over 50 auditions, so I've experienced every issue and made every mistake imaginable during auditions, and I can also see a lot of the issues from the other side of the table. I always knew I would do something in this space, but I figured I would finish dancing before launching into it. This is because of the issue in the industry where you can only be known for one thing and must have your undivided attention on it. While this is appropriate in certain scenarios, I really wanted to do it while I was still in the industry and in touch with what was going on. Not that I intend to get out of touch, but it's very different when you're in the thick of it.

I always knew I would revolutionize this space and do something to drastically improve it for both parties. If you're aiding the employer side, it only benefits the dancers as well. With the service, we were looking to provide and the rise of technology, it came to fruition at the perfect time for me. Post-pandemic and the job situation that came out of it made it ideal for technological developments. It has been 19 months since the launch, and it has already evolved drastically.

We never had the email application situation where dancers are emailing with multiple files attached. We started with Google Forms, then we started sourcing an ATS, and now we're partnered with JamarGig, who we're sticking with. A dancer can apply to our directory, and any company coming to recruit through us will have access to those dancers depending on the service we're providing to the particular employer.

We can reach into our directory, or we can source additionally as needed. There is also the representation side, putting dancers on the pedestal they deserve and trying to build those teams that any high-performing professional in any industry would have access to.

We're not doing anything that's entirely new, but we have taken the best models from different industries in areas of recruitment and representation to create something that takes the best bits from there, adapts it, and makes it plausible for classical ballet.

We have the luxury of being able to say things that dancers may not be able to say themselves due to fears of repercussions, job loss, or losing roles. By making small steps forward, we can gradually push back the barriers and walls that prevent effective communication.

What specific steps can classical ballet companies take to address implicit prejudices in the industry?

Rebecca: I believe we should cast the widest net possible to ensure that everyone has access to auditions. Many dancers may not even be aware that there are hiring opportunities available, so clear and open communication is crucial. 

We have the luxury of being able to say things that dancers may not be able to say themselves due to fears of repercussions, job loss, or losing roles. By making small steps forward, we can gradually push back the barriers and walls that prevent effective communication.

I'd like to emphasize that being a middleman is a luxury, and it's important for us to use our position to ensure that everyone's voices are heard. This is crucial not only for dancers but also for employers, who can gain valuable insights into what dancers are feeling and going through.

There are nuances between what's listed on a CV and what a dancer has actually experienced in training. By taking the time to understand these nuances, we can see the potential in someone who may not have looked like a good fit on the surface. I believe that by making this effort consistently, we can improve the audition process for everyone involved. Our goal is to offer a service that improves the audition process for all involved parties.

What steps is CODA taking to challenge and transform the current state of the dance industry to make it more inclusive for all dancers, and will CODA expand to cater to artists in other genres of dance or will you stay focused on classical ballet dancers?

Rebecca: The company will remain predominantly classical ballet. However, within that, every dancer in a classical company must be diverse in their abilities, styles, techniques, and other areas. This is a requirement that we look for. There are not many schools that offer solely classical ballet training anymore.

Furthermore, the selection board at CODA consists of multiple people, so pre-selection into the directory is never just one person's opinion. 

Photo by Kristóf Kovács

How does CODA use technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionize the recruitment process in the classical ballet industry and make it more accessible for dancers?

Rebecca: We use cloud-based technology to create profiles and portfolios for dancers, which is what the directory is for. The directory is entirely cloud-based, so there is no need for all the emails. Dancers have more control over their information and can update their profiles as needed. This includes adding new photos or videos, as well as their availability. The directory automatically updates everything, ensuring that the information is current and up-to-date.

We also have keyword parsing of resumés, which uses AI to read a resume and extract the main points. Employers who view a dancer's portfolio can see both the original CV and the keyword-parsed version, which groups together education and employment information for ease of viewing.

Clear questioning is important in applications, especially for financial reasons. We use knockout questions to ensure that applicants meet certain requirements before proceeding with the application process. Automated communication provides regular updates on the recruitment process, including auditions and other events. While certain areas are automated, we strive to maintain a personal touch in certain areas to ensure that everyone involved has a positive experience.

What are some outdated audition practices you hope to eliminate as CODA grows in the dance industry?

Rebecca: One major issue is the requirement for a hundred different versions of portfolio materials. Spending a month filming barres with different exercises from various angles and sides is time-consuming and unnecessary.

We are in discussion with the International Audition Guidelines (IAP) to update and amend with the board's head. Although many companies adhere to the guidelines, there is still work to be done to clarify what is already set out.

Other outdated practices include snail mail applications and communication, difficulty in understanding application requirements, and "ghosting" dancers.

One area dancers particularly misconstrued is their preference for certain heights during auditions. Understanding a company's capabilities, existing repertoire, and costume limitations is also a practical consideration for dancers during auditions. While it is important to recognize the value of every individual, it is also crucial to consider the budget and resources of the company. Eliminating these outdated audition practices will benefit both dancers and companies in the dance industry.

Remember that everything is a season and a phase, so even if you're in a bad position now, it won't last forever. Lastly, don't lie on your CV, and make sure to read the requirements carefully.

CODA now partners with JamarGig, an applicant tracking system (ATS) designed for artistic industries. What impact do you expect this integration to have on the classical ballet industry?

Rebecca: The impact will be huge. It's what the future of recruiting will look like, just as social media was a decade ago. While other industries already use ATSs, they are difficult to adapt to our industry because of our specific application portfolio requirements and employer preferences.

The capabilities of  JamarGig are endless, as is technology. It takes hiring from a tedious task to an exciting and efficient process for everyone. Employers will end up doing far less admin with regard to their recruitment, leaving the backend work to us.

JamarGig is constantly under development, as an early adopter we’ve had direct input into customizing it specifically for classical ballet.  The upcoming live audition features are revolutionary and will streamline that process also. All whilst advertising auditions on the usual relevant platforms and utilizing resources that keep things up to date.

Photo by Kristóf Kovács

What advice do you have for dancers looking to join CODA's roster?

Rebecca: CODA is very generous and flexible with our time in aiding dancers, even when an application comes in that is not quite there yet. Whilst it was still manageable, we ask dancers if they would like feedback before offering advice or corrections. Many dancers come back and say they would love the feedback, but not all of them do.

CODA is always happy to provide corrections and advice on technique, artistry, performance, and other areas if the dancer is open to it. However, we emphasize the importance of marketing oneself, communicating effectively, and having certain digital skills when applying for dance positions. We also recommend Audition Educator for dancers who need more assistance. These skills should be taught earlier in a dancer's training to prepare them for the application process.

It is important to remember that auditioning and marketing oneself is an ongoing process, not just something that happens when applying for the first contract. We believe that managing expectations and teaching these skills earlier in a dancer's training will benefit them in the long run.

How does CODA seek to represent dancers in the future? I understand there is another tier in the works.

Rebecca: Currently, we have two tiers and a third in the works. The first tier is the Dancers Directory, which encapsulates all of our dancers and allows them to be first in line when employers recruit through us. The second tier is the Full Representation Model, which we have amended slightly in the past year for more established and seasoned dancers.

We have 18 dancers under full representation, which is kept quite boutique to ensure that we are doing it well and honing the process. Avoiding disappointment is key, dancers do not have to come in and out of the directory or representation. Even if they’re in a job, we regularly pitch for opportunities on their behalf.

This year, we have placed four dancers on new full-time contracts, and we have sought extracurricular opportunities for many more of them. The bulk of what we do for the dancers under full representation is galas and guesting opportunities. We have seen quite a few promotions this year as well, which were all well-deserved and well-achieved by the dancers.

Director changes are a big thing, and it doesn't matter who you are or how famous you are as a dancer. It is crucial to strategize and plan where to go next and what to do. Communication is key, and we encourage our dancers to be part of a union.

As a middleman between the dancer and the employer, we can help with conflict management if requested. We have spoken with directors about what they need for some of our represented dancers. Overall, communication is the foundation of our support for the dancers.

Photo by Kristóf Kovács

What advice would you give to aspiring dancers facing challenges in their career paths?

Rebecca: When facing challenges in your career, remember to be the epitome of resilience. No matter what the scenario is, resilience is crucial. Hang on to your resilience for dear life because it's something that you'll need throughout your career. It's as important as your jet glue and second skin.

Remember that everything is a season and a phase, so even if you're in a bad position now, it won't last forever. Lastly, don't lie on your CV, and make sure to read the requirements carefully.

How do you see CODA evolving in the next 5-10 years?

Rebecca: I believe that CODA will become a common practice for recruitment in ballet with its global reach. Technology has no boundaries in this sense, making it normal and easy to hire a service to improve efficiency in any scenario of life or work and this is no different. 

Regarding physical plans, we have a management model in the works that will encompass important areas for dancers such as PR and marketing, but also for directors, choreographers, ballet masters, teachers, and other educators. CODA originally started as a marketing agency, with these two areas colliding we are able to work on a cohesive management style for the ballet industry, including career strategy, coaching, consultants, networking events, and galas. We are constantly working on new ideas to improve CODA’s services. 

Top Image: Photo by Kristóf Kovács

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