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What a Show About Teenage Ballerinas has to say About Your Career

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When I heard that Amy Sherman-Palladino had created a new show, “Bunheads”, about a lost dancer who ends up in a weird, little town teaching ballet to a bunch of teenage girls, I knew I had to watch. Even though the show was on the ABC Family network, which is really geared for the tween audience, I was still going to watch (and just not tell people.) After all, this was the woman who gave us Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel), two of the most three-dimensional, complex and wonderful female characters to ever grace the small screen. There are a lot of good female adult characters in television today (Leslie Knope on “Parks & Recreation,” Olivia Pope on “Scandal,” Mindy Lahiri on “The Mindy Project”), but smart teenage girls on television are rather rare. Rory Gilmore was extremely focused on her academics (she attended Yale for the last four years of the series.); boys came second.

And on “Bunheads,” boys come second again. Though the four main teenage dancers on the show aren’t as focused on academics as Rory, they are committed to dancing. I don’t think they all intend to make careers out of it, but they want to do it because it makes them happy. They don’t do it to look cool or to be skinny, they just want to dance. And not to say that there definitely aren’t some lovely adolescent romances on the show, but it isn’t the focus.

Sherman-Palladino writes for women beautifully. She captures the manic excitement of being a teen, but also all of the pressures and bewilderment. Plus, everyone talks a mile a minute and makes pop culture references constantly.

Their teacher, Michelle, played by Sutton Foster, is a professional dancer who hasn’t quite made it–that is, she’s a showgirl in Vegas. When she ends up in the small town of Paradise, Calif. (she married this sweet, rich guy on a whim and then he dies), the only people who seem charmed by her are four teenage ballerinas.

A somewhat-lost ex-showgirl struggling with becoming a teacher to four adolescent ballerinas? Doesn’t exactly sound like the show you would go to to get career tips, yet there have been some very inspiring lessons from this show, which wraps up its first season in just a few weeks. Foster even said of her role on the show as a dance teacher, “She’s at the age where she can’t make it as a professional dancer for much longer, so she’s looking for a place where she can matter. She wishes she could be 17 again, and go back and re-live her life and not make all her mistakes. She sees herself in these girls, and maybe she can impart some wisdom to them. I understand all that. This show is not about a ballet school. That’s just the meeting ground. It’s about people who are trying to move forward, find themselves, and figure life out, no matter their ages. And that’s very cool.”

In the last episode alone, there were many career lessons. Here are a few:

1) Pantsuits can have magical powers. In last week’s episode, Michelle was told to wear a pantsuit by her new business partner in order to convince the town board that they should be allowed to build an amphitheater. Michelle, who is usually running around in leggings and tank tops, hemmed and hawed (“I don’t think I’m cut out for legal issues and pantsuits”), but after the proposal was successful she attributed it to her magical pantsuit.

LESSON: Certain pieces of clothing can give you confidence and power, but don’t depend entirely upon them. Still, a power suit can help you project the image that you are that woman. “There is nothing more intimidating than a pantsuit.”

2) Ginny (Bailey Buntain), one of the four main ballerinas, wants to audition for the school musical. But apparently she says this every year, and then chickens out at the last minute. Though she is a strong dancer, she is weaker in singing and acting, and asks Michelle to help her with her audition piece. Michelle says, “Way to sell. When you show up for an audition, audition!”

LESSON: Even if you don’t think this is your weak area, pretend it’s not. Sell it! Give it your all. As Michelle says, “Sing out, Louise!” Always think like this. Watch the clip below.

3) When Michelle first moves to Paradise, she is reluctant to teach at the dance studio because she thinks it means she has given up on being a professional dancer. “To be a ­classical dancer you have to be perfect. You can’t choose to be a ­ballerina because you want to — because it’s your passion. Ballet has to choose you, too,” wrote former dancer Arlene Phillips for The Daily Mail. So becoming a teacher should not be considered a failure. It is a way to keep doing what you love.

LESSON: “Just because you teach doesn’t mean it’s over.” Becoming a teacher should not be considered a failure. It is a way to keep doing what you love and to make others passionate about it. And for Michelle, it truly helps her find direction.

4) Sasha, the rebellious one of the bunch, isn’t getting attention at home so she decides to challenge the people who are giving her any sort of structure in her life: her ballet teachers. When Sasha tries to disobey them, Michelle tells her how it’s gonna be.

Michelle: Hey, you break your legs? Are those prosthetics you had to carve yourself out of an old dining room set? That’s why you’re late?
Sasha: No…
Michelle: Then what’s your damage, Heather?!

Michelle expects her ballerinas to be on time. It is one of her rules, and a really important one. Until you get to the top, obey the rules and respect the experts.

5) In one of the cutest scenes from the show, Michelle tries to explain to a group of five-year-old ballet students why they need to work on bladder control. She tries to explain that you can’t just run off stage and take a bathroom break during the first act of Les Mis.

LESSON: Anything worthwhile takes discipline, especially ballet. It is physically and emotionally demanding and requires a lot of endurance and patience, but it is possible to get there.

Has a TV show ever inadvertently given you career advice? Let us know in the comments!


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Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

True story: This is one of my favorite shows. The career advice from it is REALLY great. (That's how I justify spending 42 minutes of my week watching!)

Putting Bun Heads on my to-watch list! I do love Gilmore Girls so there's that. :)

The funny thing is, I was thinking back on this precise episode just now over lunch. Amy Sherman-Palladino is an amazing writer with the power to get so many points across in the span of an hour show (minus ads). Great review on a great show.

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