Fran Kirmser knew at a young age she wanted to dance. She trained throughout her youth and went on to dance professionally for 10 years, but an injury caused her to make a serious choice when it came to her career.
Should she push through the injury? Go to physical therapy? Get surgery?
As she contemplated, she followed her curiosities and began exploring the questions she found herself asking in the rehearsal space.
How did the press get here?
How do we get money for new costumes? Because these ones are falling apart.
“I kept asking questions and looking for answers, and that led to a lot of conversations with people,” Kirmser recalls. One of those conversations involved her approaching an employee at Lincoln Center and asking production-based questions. The employee was kind enough to put her in touch with individuals who worked in production and development, who then took a chance on Kirmser and hired her to work on small projects in the department, giving her experience in fundraising and putting projects together.
As companies started to know about Kirmser’s injury and that she was exploring the “other side of the stage,” she started getting asked to help with grant writing and fundraising campaigns. Her knowledge and network continued growing, and she found herself producing in dance and on Broadway.
After years of trial and error, she realized she wanted to pass on the lessons she learned to others so they could avoid the mistakes she made. She created a course called The Business of Dance, which she started teaching at conservatories and universities across the country.
In 2019, she began filming her lessons, licensing the videos to schools when she physically couldn’t make her way across the country due to projects she was working on in New York City. Little did she know, this would prepare her for more opportunities than she imagined when the pandemic hit.
During COVID, many dancers and artists found themselves asking questions that Kirmser spent nearly two decades sorting out the answers to. To help these young artists and give them the opportunity to set themselves up for success, she took the lessons she was filming and made them available to everybody.
“Everybody should have this information,” she shares. “I think it is so, so, so important to really embrace the other side of the industry because it’s about building a business around yourself. Every dancer can have a career in dance onstage or on screen. I wanted to give everyone the tools to get out there and be able to have a viable career in the form.”
Through her business she titled Make Dance Your Business, dancers can go through Kirmser’s self-directed online course to learn practical skills and how to navigate a career whether you want to perform, choreograph, teach, or work commercially on stage or screen. Some of the topics covered through her business include resumes and headshots, websites and reels, virtual auditions, agents and managers, managing your personal budget, fundraising for dance, and fundraising for theater. Additional sessions are in the works.
If a dancer is in a pinch and needs help with one subject – such as creating a reel – they can take an individual course that focuses specifically on that subject. For those who are looking to learn everything they need to know for a career in dance, they can take the full Make Dance Your Business curriculum.
The full course includes all the aforementioned topics, as well as a section of resources including where to get health insurance and legal help. The full course also includes a one-hour consultation with Kirmser.
“You can go through the course, create a full business plan for yourself, and then we can sit down for an hour and move through it,” she explains. “I can also make a phone call and help one person get to another person, and that is extremely helpful.”
Her tips come from her over 25-year career, which includes working in development for several dance companies, co-authoring a book titled A Life in Dance, and winning two Tony Awards for her work on Broadway. She also earned her bachelor’s degree in dance and psychology and holds executive certificates in business law and finance from Cornell University.
Although her accolades speak for themselves, the success of her students proves her course can make an impact on an aspiring dancer’s career. For example, she met Isabel Robles while teaching a session at James Madison University. At the time, Robles had a dream of dancing with Ballet Hispánico. She and Kirmser worked on a networking ask letter expressing the dream she had to be in the company, her training experience, as well as her desire to audition for the company if they had any openings. The company allowed her to audition, and Robles not only was hired to perform in the City Center Dance Festival, but she was invited to join their company.
Whether dancers take her course or not, Kirmser hopes they continue looking at the other side of the stage and learning the tools they need to conduct business around the world.
“They really do not need to have a starving artist mentality,” she says. “They can have a fruitful career and just need to build it according to what’s right for them. Get to know your story and build a business plan around your voice.”
She adds, “It’s so easy now to get information. You no longer have to track people down and have conversations with them. Dig around online to answer questions you may have and open your mind up to other things. We go out with such a laser beam focus to just perform or just dance, and if you have more knowledge of what’s out there, and looking at the business paradigms often can ignite what else is available to you as a creative artist.”
If you’re interested in taking the Make Dance Your Business course or one of its mini sessions, you can register here.
Dance Informa is also giving away two all-access passes to the full program! To enter, email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why you want to win a Make Dance Your Business course! Winners will be drawn on August 10.
By Lauren Kirchmyer of Dance Informa.