If you're not booking the jobs you want, don't assume it's a reflection of your talent. All too often, the most gifted performers get passed up for the ones who know how to work the industry better. Mistakes you don't even realize you're making could be interfering with your success.
To help you get out of your own way, Dance Magazine asked Pete Engle, dance department director at Clear Talent Group, what advice he wishes all of his clients would follow. Founded in 2003 by former dancer and longtime agent Tim O'Brien, CTG is one of today's leading agencies for dance and choreography (in addition to other fields), with offices in Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans, as well as partnerships in Chicago and Atlanta. High-profile dance clients run the gamut from contemporary whiz-kid Travis Wall to mesmerizing Memphis jooker Lil Buck to ballet/hip-hop standout Ebony Williams. Agents work closely with the dancers—often offering these very tips—to make sure they are as prepared as possible whenever an opportunity arises.
1. Snap out of class mentality.
“There is a difference between taking a class and auditioning. In class, you're dancing for yourself: You're kind of internal, looking in the mirror, making adjustments. Dancers go to a lot more classes than they do auditions, so it's more comfortable to work this way. But in an audition, you need to turn that into an external performance."
2. Don't fight your niche.
“A lot of people want to be something they're not. We had a dancer who was 25 but looked 14. She tried to make herself sexier, and kept auditioning for sexy tours. But, like it or not, this is an image-based world. Once she realized that in this industry you need to be what people see, she booked all the time. She just booked different stuff—Nickelodeon, Disney, Disney artist tours. Know your place in the market and figure out how to present that."
3. Go to conventions—even if you think you're too old.
“Commercial choreographers used to teach in the major L.A. studios. But now, a lot of them only teach at conventions—they're on PULSE, NUVO, JUMP, Monsters. We've started telling our clients to consider taking class at conventions. If you can stand out, we know for a fact that choreographers at The PULSE have hired dancers. Monsters is great for professionals on the hip-hop side. If you have a friend who knows the choreographer, take them too so they can introduce you personally."
4. Don't show up without getting the inside scoop.
“Figure out what the casting director is looking for. Research who they've hired in the past. Think about the history of this choreographer: Go on YouTube, become aware of their style, their look. And dress like you're going to be on their stage. You want to take away the imagination of the casting table. If people have to think about what you would look like in their performance, they will already be looking at the next person."
5. Improve how fast you pick up phrases.
“At auditions, they don't give you an hour to run through the choreography and let it sit in your body. They want people who can learn, internalize quickly, then perform. If you're not able to do that fast enough, you need to be taking more classes to train your muscle memory. And they need to be classes that challenge you. Too many dancers just take the classes their friends take, or the ones they feel really good in. If you haven't been in ballet in six months, guess what? Ask yourself, Am I just taking the classes I like, or the ones I need?"
6. Match your materials to your goals.
“Does your agency have everything they possibly need to market you to the industry? We'll have dancers not booking because they'll either have zero pictures for us to submit or they'll have the wrong type of photos. If you have sexier pictures, that's not going to book you a Disney job. Update your materials. It's possible that an edgier look might help you book more tours—but if you shave one side of your head, that means we can no longer submit photos of a girl with long, curly hair."
7. If jobs aren't coming, be proactive.
“Have a meeting with your agent if you're frustrated. We always tell dancers you have to control everything in your control. You can't do anything about your height or ethnicity, but you can control your performance capability, how good you are at picking up choreography, what your body looks like, what your hair looks like, the clothes you wear, the energy you're putting out. And sometimes, you just need to give it time. It can take a year or two of maturing before you can confidently walk in a room, take charge of the space and show who you are as a dancer."
Restaurants have always been a great source of survival gigs for dancers. But today's top chefs aren't just looking for waiters to carry dishes to the table. They're hiring choreographers to give the staff dance-like skills and compose a sort of choreography for the dining room.
Leslie Scott, artistic director of dance theater company BODYART, is one of those choreographers. After working in more typical food industry jobs for 10 years, she's been tapped by top restaurants in both New York City and Los Angeles to lead workshops that finesse servers' non-verbal communication and navigation of tight spaces.
Back in 2002, dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer founded an art space in Brooklyn called Chez Bushwick. As Manhattan and Brooklyn were quickly becoming unaffordable, and many studio spaces were closing, Bokaer seized upon "creative placemaking"—the idea that the arts can play an integral role in community-building—before it became a buzzword. "We have been sustaining and maintaining one of the most affordable dance studios in New York State since the very beginning of my career," he says.
Fifteen years later, the challenges for choreographers in expensive urban centers continue unabated, and Bokaer has found his original mission magnified. While Chez Bushwick remains a haven for the next generation, there is also a growing number of young dancemakers who have been inspired to create their own residencies, communities and, ultimately, opportunities.
The New York City premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's sugary sweet story ballet, Whipped Cream, made for one of the most exciting spring galas at American Ballet Theatre yet. While we're usually in awe of the gowns the dancers sport on the red carpet beforehand, this time around, it was all about Whipped Cream's colorful and over-the-top costumes by Mark Ryden—and, okay, a few major dress moments, too. Ahead, check out what went on behind-the-scenes.
Isabella LaFreniere dances like a beam of light. A member of New York City Ballet's corps since 2014, LaFreniere, 5' 8", is a technical powerhouse who exudes a sweet radiance: It's no surprise to learn that while she hasn't danced many principal roles yet, she is being primed for them in the studio. One is Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. As ballet master Jonathan Stafford puts it, "That's a ballerina role big time."
Yahoo got it all wrong when they watched ballerina Maki Onuki toss out the ceremonial first pitch on May 1 before the game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. The news organization crowed, "Ballerina's First Pitch May Prove Baseball and Tutus Don't Mix."
But the Washington Ballet principal's grand jetés dashing toward home plate were magnificent. They came as a surprise because she wound up as though she were actually going to pitch the ball from the pitcher's mound. And then, surprise—she broke into those crazy leaps. It didn't matter to me, and I'll bet to a lot of people, that her pitch, when she finally threw it, was high.
It doesn't look like your great-grandfather's jitterbug. Yes, the year is 1945, and yes, the setting is a jazz club. But these swing dancers are in the new musical Bandstand, directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. The number, "Nobody," is a paean to determination—"You know who tells me, 'Stop'? Nobody."
The choreography begins as metaphor and then becomes literal as the band members, revved up by the song, perform it for the dancers at the club. It's complicated and entirely fresh, avoiding familiar jitterbug tropes without ever abandoning the period feel.
Little wonder: Blankenbuehler, whose first director/choreographer outing was Bring It On: The Musical, says his influences included Judy Garland's "Get Happy" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." ("I'm imitating Michael Jackson imitating Fred Astaire.")
Photo by Rachel Papo
While still in the corps of New York City Ballet, Jason Fowler was drawn to the role of répétiteur. "Ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy was my rock in the company," he says. Fowler loved the process: learning steps quickly and absorbing the choreographer's intentions. He knew early on he wanted to nurture dancers through the rehearsal period one day. So it comes as little surprise that 20 years later, Fowler is a primary stager of Christopher Wheeldon's ballets around the globe.
Fowler first met Wheeldon as a student at the School of American Ballet in 1993, where he danced in the workshop performance of Wheeldon's Danses Bohemiennes. He was promoted to NYCB soloist in 2006, and performed with Wheeldon's company, Morphoses, on the side. Wheeldon first asked him to teach and rehearse one of his ballets, There Where She Loved, on a Morphoses tour to Vail International Dance Festival in 2008.