Portner's embrace of the unexpected has led to unexpected opportunities. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Dance Magazine
Clad in her signature loose black T-shirt and baggy gym shorts, Emma Portner is standing in a cavernous industrial space in downtown Los Angeles. A glass box—big enough to fit five dancers with only a little room to maneuver inside—sits in the middle. The five performers, Portner included, are standing inside it, side by side, palms on the glass.
"Question," Portner asks. "Are we looking at our hands?"
She steps out to watch the others try the phrase, and adds a few more steps. Quick, staccato movement, legs kicking out, torsos swiveling around, fists hitting glass. "This is a puzzle," she says, almost to herself. "I'm not sure I'll like it." The statement, like so many, is punctured with a sweet, nervous laugh.
"So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Christopher Scott woke up one morning last month, rolled over like he usually does to check his iPhone—and found a barrage of text messages and notifications. The very first text he read was from fellow "SYTYCD" choreographer Mandy Moore: "Congratulations!"
It turned out that he'd just gotten his third Emmy nomination for choreography. (Moore had received one, too.) "We find out at the same time as everyone else," says Scott. "Everything official from the television academy comes through the mail weeks later."
Black Panther's Dora Milaje, with Abney second from right. Photo via Marvel Studios
There are many reasons why fans are loving the groundbreaking film Black Panther, but here's one more for dance fans: two of the eight female warriors protecting Wakanda and King T'Challa are dancers.
Zola Williams and Marija Abney are both former The Lion King ensemble dancers, and Abney was also part of the original Broadway cast of After Midnight. The rest of the bald, badass female warriors—known as the Dora Milaje—are stuntwomen and martial artists.
"The director, Ryan Coogler, was having trouble finding actors to fulfill the physical requirements needed for a Dora Milaje," says Abney. When she got the audition invite, she immediately knew she wanted to be one of those women. "I already feel like a warrior on the streets of New York City every day," she says. "I felt confident with the physicality of the role, I'm an aggressive dancer—one of the few dancers I know that does pull-ups in the gym!"
What are the best ways to prepare for an audition?
Photo by Levi Walker, Courtesy CTG
"Research as much as you can about the project or choreographer. When a dancer is prepared, they tend to be more focused, more relaxed and really able to show themselves at their best. If the choreographer happens to be teaching at a local studio beforehand, get in that class!"
Anyone can see that online influence can change how the average Joe or Jill is perceived. In dance, social media has helped boost familiar faces like Misty Copeland and Eric Underwood, who have both gotten athletic ad campaigns, book deals and endorsements.
Having a clear Instagram presence can help dancers create additional job opportunities within the entertainment industry. Check out these tips from four dancers who've used the platform to land new gigs.
"I don't wanna go to dance!" As a kid, these were my famous words.
When packing into the car for the interminable ride to the studio, I would kick and scream so much that I earned the nickname "The Hornet." I am so glad my parents put up with my sting, because looking back, it was just the going part that I didn't like. The dance part, I loved. I always have.