Dancer Diary: The Surprising Do’s and Don’ts of Rehearsal Etiquette

May 24, 2024

After nine years of illness, one year of training/recovery, and a year and a half of auditioning, I had my New York City performance debut! In late April, I made my return to the stage in Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ Hats Off to You fundraiser, working with choreographer Thayne Jasperson.

Before rehearsals for the show began, some questions came to mind: Would being a trained dancer who strives to be respectful be enough to thrive in the rehearsal space? Were there elements of rehearsal etiquette I’d missed during my time off? I caught up with Jasperson as well as Los Angeles–based choreographer Galen Hooks to learn the unexpected do’s and don’ts of professional dance spaces. (And keep in mind that every choreographer has a different approach and set of expectations. If there’s one overall takeaway here, it’s that we should pay close attention to the unique preferences of the artists we work with.)

  1. The performer–choreographer dynamic is not the same as a student–teacher hierarchy.

According to Hooks, the primary difference between the student–teacher hierarchy and the performer–choreographer dynamic is found in expectations. “A teacher is there to help you improve your skills as a dancer,” Hooks explains. “But as a professional, the choreographer is there to create on the skills you already have. They shouldn’t be helping you learn on the job. You should come with your tool belt fully sharpened, asking what you can do to help make their vision happen.”

  1. But you can still make friends with the person at the front of the room.

“Many of the choreographers I’ve worked with create a friendly atmosphere that feels like we are comrades,” Jasperson says. Through that friendship, dancers can come to understand the personality of their choreographer, which can make them better able to capture and adapt to their vision. “That brings reliability to the performer–choreographer dynamic,” he says.

  1. Be judicious with your questions.

When it comes to asking questions in rehearsal, both Jasperson and Hooks advise practicing patience. “Almost every question can be answered by watching,” Hooks says. “Do everything in your power to answer things on your own.”

While working with Andy Blankenbuehler as a performer on the creation of Hamilton, Jasperson discovered that asking too many questions during the creation process wasn’t necessarily productive. “Many choreographers are still working out exactly what they want, and they may not immediately know the answer to your question,” he says. “Andy would start moving and we would all follow. Just when I thought I had figured it out, he would shift it. It took time for it to all settle, and rather than asking ‘Do you want this or that?’ I would sit back, be patient, and move with him.”

Once the movement is defined, whether it’s appropriate to ask a question or not will be a matter of timing and preference for each choreographer. For example, if they’ve moved onto a new section, hold your questions. “Stay where their mind is,” Jasperson says. That said, when there’s a window of time between settled movement and new movement, Jasperson says he’s happy to make a few clarifications.

  1. Read the room before giving input.

Choreographers’ thoughts on input vary widely. In order not to step on toes, Hooks recommends asking the choreographer their preferences on when and how dancers should speak up before rehearsals begin.

Hooks prefers that dancers rely on the choreographer’s assistant to address small issues, like errant traffic patterns. Jasperson is generally more open to suggestions. For example, in the final half-hour of our last rehearsal for HOTY, producers requested a major change to the music—a stressful moment. In response, we dancers got to work throwing out ideas for timing. “That was a great example of you guys being connected with me and what I was looking for,” Jasperson says. “We were all trying to reach the same goal, and I loved that you gave timing options that I could build on and make adjustments to.”

  1. Stay present—and out of your head.

Hooks has seen many dancers get intimidated when working with big-name artists. “But more experienced dancers know that’s when they need to come alive,” she says. “Don’t be shy, or nervous, or timid.” And if the person in charge gives you a correction, remember that it’s an opportunity to improve, not a scolding. “Say ‘thank you’ for the note, then consider how you can take it and adjust what you’re doing to help make this thing work,” Hooks says. “It’s not a personal attack. Don’t withdraw.”   

  1. Look the part.

We all know it’s important to be on time, but it can also be helpful to look camera-ready at rehearsal, especially on commercial projects. “I have seen choreographers be upset with how the dancers were presenting themselves in rehearsal,” Hooks says. “Cameras, the featured artist, or the director could walk in at any second.” Jasperson recommends dressing in a way that matches the vibe of the project—no pink tights for a hip-hop show, for example—to help the creative team get a better sense of how the finished product will look.

To hear more about how these tips benefited me in my recent rehearsal experience, head to Dance Magazine’s YouTube channel.