Meet 3 Industry Insiders—and They’re All AMDA Grads
The dance industry is tough. Between constant auditioning, rigorous rehearsal schedules, exciting but tiring performance days, and juggling basic human needs, it can be hard to navigate everything by yourself. And for students, graduating into the professional dance world might seem daunting. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who has the industry experience to prep you for the leap into postgrad life? For AMDA students, this is the reality, but the school even takes it a step further: Some of the faculty are AMDA alumni themselves.
We caught up with three alumni to hear about their postgrad roles at AMDA, their growing list of professional credits and how the school helped prepare them for success.
Graduate of AMDA’s Dance Theatre Conservatory Program, Spring 2015
Industry credits: Riley Groot has been booked and busy since graduating from AMDA’s Dance Theatre Conservatory Program. Her postgrad performance credits include “American Horror Story,” the Billboard Music Awards, J Balvin’s Live Album Concert, iHeart Radio’s “Can’t Cancel Pride,” the 64th Annual Grammy Awards, CNN’s New Year’s Eve Special 2021, the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards, and the feature films Heartbeats and Summertime. She is currently dancing in her fourth Las Vegas residency, Katy Perry’s PLAY.
Notable gig: In 2019, Groot traveled to Taiwan to dance in Jolin Tsai’s 2020 Ugly Beauty World Tour. “All around, that job was everything you could ask for. And as soon as we started rehearsals, I knew that my AMDA training had prepared me well for that moment,” she says.
The schedule was intense, but she was prepared. “We were in rehearsal six days a week, eight hours a day, for two months before the tour had even started. It was super-challenging and intense, but it was very similar to the AMDA atmosphere,” says Groot. “I also loved that job because of the cast of dancers. We became like a quick family—not much different than what happens at AMDA.”
Back at AMDA: Groot is now on faculty at AMDA’s Los Angeles campus, teaching jazz classes to dance majors. She went through the program herself, so she understands the impact that teachers have on their students. “I know that the role and influence a teacher has on the development of a young artist is so, so sacred. To be able to motivate, support and mentor these students to reach their full potential is something that I take seriously and hold in the highest regard.”
In class, she shares her industry experience, covering topics like auditions and agents, even giving her students examples of job scenarios that they might encounter and how to respond. “My goal is not only to help them become better dancers, but to relay everything that I’ve learned since I graduated and help prepare them as best as I can as they take their first steps out into the industry.”
Graduate of AMDA’s Dance Theatre BFA Program, Spring 2016
Industry credits: Performer, choreographer and director Jamal Wade has gathered numerous credits since graduating from AMDA’s Dance Theatre BFA Program. He’s performed in music videos for artists including Beyoncé, P!nk and Ingrid Michaelson, and appeared in various commercial and print spots for companies like Toyota, Sprite, Adidas and Google. As a choreographer, he’s worked with artists including Josh Dean, Ari Lennox and Ambre and has directed music videos for Lady London, Willie Jones and Tinashe.
Notable gig: Recently, Wade directed Gryffin and Tinashe’s music video for “Scandalous” and brought in some familiar faces, hiring one of his teachers from AMDA, DJ Smart, as the choreographer. “On top of that, I got to hire one of the students that I worked with back when I was a camp counselor for AMDA’s high school summer program after she graduated from AMDA’s college program,” he says. Along with working with fellow AMDA colleagues, the project was extra-special for Wade, as it incorporated his first love: ballet. “Tinashe wanted to incorporate pointe into the music video, and getting to work with so many talented ballerinas was so cool.”
The AMDA advantage: Wade credits his readiness for the ever-changing dance industry to his time at AMDA: “My experience at AMDA prepared me to direct by throwing me into all kinds of things that I never thought I would be doing. I had to sing, I had to act, and I had to write for my screenwriting class,” he says. “We also had a Dance for Camera class where I had the chance to direct a few of my friends’ pieces.”
Wade also loved his Industry and Networking class, taught by Tara Nicole Hughes. The class covered everything from resumés and headshots to learning about unions and agencies. Walking out of that class, in conjunction with all of the other classes like senior-year audition technique, senior showcase, I felt so prepared for pretty much anything,” he says.
The next generation: When he’s not in rehearsals for a project or auditioning for his next gig, Wade works as part of AMDA’s traveling team as an admissions representative, talking to prospective students and their parents about his college experience and his transition into the industry. “Our love for the craft and the art shows in all the representatives, faculty and staff,” Wade reflects. “And I think that’s what attracts prospective students and makes them want to go to AMDA even more.”
Graduate of AMDA’s Dance Theatre BFA Program, Summer 2018
Industry credits: “When I graduated from AMDA, I had the best foundation for the industry that I possibly could,” says choreographer and dancer Cassidy Ratliff. Over the last few years, she’s performed with FINNEAS, Sam Fischer, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Meghan Trainor, and has made TV appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” and NBC’s “Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting,” just to name a few. Her choreographer and assistant choreographer credits include MTV’s “Becoming a Popstar” finale, NBC’s “The Good Place,” AIDA: The Musical at AMDA L.A., and work with Lil Baby, Ava Max and Kendrick Lamar.
Notable gig: Out of all her performing credits, she says that the 2022 Super Bowl Halftime Show featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent was, “hands-down,” her favorite. “It was in L.A. The Rams won. There were six iconic artists, and we were right there immersed with all of them,” says Ratliff. “The artists were with us throughout production rehearsals, all the way onto the stage. And it was like a family mentality, they were wanting to be great with us, and we wanted to elevate towards what they were doing.”
For TV and music video jobs, she says that AMDA’s Dance for Camera class was extremely helpful. “Having those classes to hone in on what it’s like on a live stage versus on camera was a huge deal for me because a lot of my huge goals are in the camera and TV and film world.”
Back at AMDA: In between appearing in music videos with Meghan Trainor, working as an assistant choreographer for artists like Kendrick Lamar, and teaching classes at Millennium Dance Complex, Ratliff choreographs and substitute-teaches classes at AMDA Los Angeles. Being back in those studios reminds her of how much she’s grown since her first day at AMDA. “Now being an alum, I have tools that I can give these students that they don’t see yet,” says Ratliff, mentioning that her goal is to make them feel more at ease as they work through the demanding curriculum. “Mentally it’s tough. And as a dancer, physically, it’s tough.”
Thanks to its recent accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, AMDA is now poised to prepare more students to thrive in the dance industry. In addition to AMDA’s longtime membership with the National Association of Schools of Theatre, since 1984, this new accreditation makes it even easier for transfer students to enroll, and AMDA credits are now accepted by a larger range of schools, strengthening its place in the larger arts education community.
To learn more about AMDA Los Angeles’ Dance Theatre programs and to see upcoming audition dates, check out its website.