How To Know If It's Time to Get An Agent (Or A Manager)
It took Taeler Cyrus three tries before she found the right agent. She was performing with Ailey II when she signed with her first. “I got a couple of commercial gigs, but I wasn't able to make it to auditions regularly, so that one let me go," says Cyrus. On a recommendation from a friend, she found a new agent. “I didn't get enough direction from them," remembers Cyrus. “I let them go because of the lack of relationship." On her third try, Cyrus met her match at McDonald/Selznick Associates talent agency. Three years later, Cyrus has booked gigs from “Saturday Night Live" to a Kanye West video to her most recent job dancing in the ensemble of An American in Paris on Broadway.
Dancers of all genres seek out representation to help them find commercial opportunities and book gigs for film, television and Broadway. Finding an agent to represent you—and getting work once you have secured one—has as much to do with talent as it does with hard work and availability. Agents represent performers, submit for auditions and negotiate contracts for dance jobs, while managers deal with overall career management, from leading a public relations team to negotiating contracts for non-dance gigs. Though some managers may act in the same capacity as agents, most work for dancers when their career has appeal beyond the world of dance.
Who Needs Representation?
Dancers looking for agents should be confident that they have what it takes to land jobs. Photo via Unsplash
According to Lakey Wolff, a founder of Lakey Wolff & Company, there are two categories of dancers that can benefit from having representation. The first type are dancers looking for work who are professionally ready. "You have to know that out of 100 people, you will likely be the one to book the job," says Wolff. The second type of dancer is already employed in a professional company for most of the year, but is willing to make herself fully available during any layoff period. Some agents and managers will not work with dancers who have full-time employment with a company, but many do. "If the dancer is 100 percent willing to communicate when she is off and available, I will submit them," explains Wolff.
What Do Agents Do?
Agents communicate with casting directors and are in the know about opportunities, auditions and upcoming projects. They submit your headshot, resumé and other materials to casting and can often schedule invited calls or general meetings beyond the required open calls. If you make it through to the final callback but don't book a job, they will try to get feedback from casting directors to find out why and help prepare you for your next audition. Once a job is booked, they negotiate your contract and make sure you are paid correctly. A talent agency's cut is typically 10 percent of the dancer's total pay. For Cyrus, the advice on headshots she received from her current team at MSA, which includes four dance agents with different areas of expertise, was invaluable. "Getting the right headshot made the biggest difference," says Cyrus. "My agency helped me figure out my look. Now I look a little older and I can do more styles, from sophisticated to sultry." Agents are also there to push you. "It is my job to know a dancer's skills better than they do," says Wolff. "I had a dancer nervous about auditioning for Twyla Tharp, but I pushed her to go and she booked it."
Find Your Match
While some agencies have periodic open calls to find new talent for their roster, many agents look for referrals from casting directors, choreographers and other dancers. "I have been lucky in that I have found agents through recommendations," says Cyrus, "but I have been smart about who I've asked for help." Don't approach dancers who would be jealous or feel protective. Instead, ask friends of the opposite sex or colleagues who are not in competition for the same roles as you. Maybe they can recommend your upcoming show to their agent. Make sure you have a headshot ready and a reel that is easily accessible, so that anyone you do happen to meet is able to quickly see what you can do. "It is not just about getting any agent. You want to find the agent that is right for you," says Wolff. "The joke is that it is really like dating or finding a doctor." Agents can be as specialized or versatile as dancers.
Help Them Help You
An agent can only do so much—it's still up to you to do the hard work that will land you jobs. Photo by Kyle Froman
Your agent or manager can only do so much—ultimately, your success is in your hands. "You have to be someone that people want to work with. I want to know if I send you to an audition, I am going to get great feedback," says Wolff. Be diligent and smart with social media. Go to class regularly and take workshops with choreographers you want to work with. Let your agent know who you've met and who's familiar with your work so they can make connections for you. If you're auditioning for Broadway, make sure you're working on your singing. "Dancers should know choreographers, teachers, who is getting cast," advises Wolff. There is no shortcut to doing the hard work. As Cyrus puts it, "A friend said to me once, 'Your agent only does 10 percent of the work.' "
What About a Manager?
Misty Copeland and Gilda Squire. Photo courtesy Squire
Manager Gilda Squire first heard of Misty Copeland from a friend at a party. Her instincts told her that Copeland's story was unique, and she decided to approach her about signing as a client. It would be two years of nonstop work before their first endorsement opportunity came about. "Some dancers don't have extra time, but Misty is really great at multitasking," says Squire. Managers typically have fewer clients and, because of that, may sign dancers to longer contracts and take a cut larger than 10 percent. If you have both an agent and a manager, that means that 20 to 30 percent of your income will go to representation, so your career needs to be big enough to warrant employing such a team. "When I talk to dancers, I remind them that they must put in the groundwork first," says Squire. "Start building an audience, and use social media to make people more aware of what you are doing."
Alicia Alonso's famed ballet company in Cuba has a new leader: the beloved hometown prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés.
Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.
I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
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Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.
But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:
A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."
The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."
If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.
That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.
Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.
My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?
—Loveless, New York, NY
The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.
Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.