Five choreographers on how to build connections
The time has come to sharpen those verbal skills! In a world where getting a dance job is becoming less about formal auditions and more about who you know, keeping in touch with choreographers and speaking up about what you want is key for professional success. Letting your interest be known might not get you the job, but it can certainly get the ball rolling. So how can you let choreographers know that you’re ready, willing, and able? Is persistence always the best policy, or can you be too aggressive? Dance Magazine asked five choreographers to share their thoughts.
New York, NY
When I was working as a dancer I felt intimidated, or I felt that people would just know that I wanted to work for them by the fact that I took their class or I came to their show. I think that actually being explicit is helpful because choreographers are just as insecure as everyone else. It means a lot for me in terms of picking people that they want to be there and that they’re really interested in the work that I’m doing.
Inviting me to a performance or writing a personal note, not just a mass email, is helpful. The other thing that is useful, if you don’t know the choreographer or don’t have any personal kind of connection, is if you know someone who does. If you have a friend who has contacts with that choreographer, just say, “Would you mind sending the note and recommending me?” Basically the fewer degrees of separation the better.
Photo by Sophie Morner, Courtesy Driscoll.
Artistic director, Keigwin + Company
New York, NY
Any relationship needs time to mature. You can’t always rely on the first approach to be the anchor; you have to come back and nurture the relationship. If your first invitation doesn’t work, then send the second, or the third, or come to a class. I don’t know when I might need somebody, which encourages making contact more than once.
Know your assets. If we don’t need a dancer currently, what else can you offer the company? Are you a great bookkeeper? Are you good on blogging? If you know that you can offer something that’s not just dance, it’s beneficial. Thinking outside the box is helpful.
I don’t want more tangible things like a reel or a resumé. I want a personal connection, someone who approaches with savvy and something that might catch my eye like, “I’m working with Julian Barnett, a former dancer of yours,” or something that shows that they’ve done their research. Let me know that you’re a human and not a robot, and that wanting to dance with Keigwin + Company is specific and not a random cold call.
Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Keigwin.
Artistic director, Doug Varone and Dancers
New York, NY
Networking—that word alone is a turnoff to me. Networking feels like it’s associated with a job, and the company that I have isn’t about a job. It’s like, “How can I get to Doug Varone so that I can tell him I like his work and be seen by him?” How I choose dancers is never about that.
I really shy away from people who are aggressive. It tells me something about the person, and that’s not something that I need to have creatively in my world. My process of choosing dancers happens over an extended period of time. Very often it’s about getting to know the person and getting to know their dancing as a result of that. I tell people, if they’re interested in the work, to come and study with the company, whether it’s at a workshop or at another situation where we’re teaching. It’s about getting to know the work, the style, the company, by how we teach and when we teach, and being drawn to it that way. As a result, I think every dancer currently in my company has taken our workshop.
Photo by Phil Knott, Courtesy Varone.
Co-artistic director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
New York, NY
I keep in touch with most dancers just by seeing them. If they want to stay on my radar, a lot of them will take my classes or workshops, or inquire about auditioning or coming to company class. A lot of times my company manager will coordinate various dancers who might want to come in and take class.
I like proactive dancers, people who go for what they want. I prefer them to be really frank, just kind of blunt. Like you’re really interested in working with me, you’re really interested in my company, you want to study with me for training purposes—whatever their interest, I like to know exactly how they feel. Then I can get a sense of what I’m looking at and I can better assist them.
Photo by Jae Man Joo, Courtesy Complexions.
Artistic director, Lingo Dance
Dancers are empowered human beings, and they need to feel empowered. So the answer for me is what would you want, dancer? Because you can choose. It’s not about trying to get somebody to like you, to hire you. It’s about figuring out exactly what you want to do for your life, and if it speaks to you then you’re on the right track. And so to any young person who asks me, “How do I start dancing with somebody?” I always want to turn it back on them. Who are you interested in working with? Who are you, who has inspired you?
What resonates for me is when a dancer establishes a connection, demonstrates a commitment over time to trying to get deeper into my work, and learning more if it’s something they want. Not if I want them. So they’re not showing off over and over for me; they’re asking hard questions about their own life and their own structure.
Photo by Hayley Young, Courtesy Lingo.
Elena Hecht is a dancer and writer based in NYC.
A Word from the Dancers…
It’s not always easy to speak up about wanting to work with a choreographer. But the rewards of reaching out, rather than waiting for someone to discover you, can be enormous. Dance Magazine spoke to two New York City–based freelance dancers for their advice on how to say—and get—what you want when it comes to connecting with choreographers.
Dancer with Reggie Wilson and zoe/juniper; apprentice with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
I usually research the choreographer before making contact. If I don’t have a chance to watch a live performance, then I’ll find videos, and I’ll either approach them in person or I’ll email them. I’ll say, “I really like your work. I feel like it would feel really good on my body,” or, “I’ve done your workshop and I very much enjoyed moving through your choreography, are you looking for dancers now? Or would I be able to come into rehearsal? I would love to work with you. I’m interested in starting this type of relationship with you.” If I have a show coming up, I offer to comp them. I’ll write about the type of movement that I do, how much experience I have, who I’m working with, and then I’ll say, “I look forward to hearing from you soon,” and I attach a resumé, a headshot, a body shot, and a reel.
You have to put yourself out there because there are so many dancers. You have to go to class and meet people. Be friendly. You have to look good when you go to class—I just see class as an audition because you’re meeting new people all the time. Go to lots of shows. If you like a show, try to meet the choreographer after the show, or try to email them. Send lots of emails. For every 20 rejections that you get, or 20 non-responses that you get, you’re going to get one response.
Photo by Eisley Constantine, Courtesy Schön.
Dancer with Gibney Dance Company; apprentice with Brian Brooks Moving Company
It’s a combination of things. Number one: expanding the pool and being like, “I’d be happy doing any one of these 15 things.” And then planting the seeds—making it clear to those people, taking their workshops, their classes. Check their websites regularly, because you never know what’s going to come up. Look for an in—like do I know anyone that works with this person?—and reach out to them personally.
For me email is best for reaching out because I have to be clear about my thoughts. Say why the work appeals to you, why it’s something you feel you need to do, as well as providing your resumé and dance footage and stuff like that. But you’re not going to completely convince someone with words. You also need them to see your face and connect your face with your emails and your dancing.
Photo by Aeric Meredith-Goujon, Courtesy Loomis.