The Scoop on Backup Dancing: Four Dancers Dish on Tour Life
Touring with a major recording artist is at the top of most commercial dancers’ bucket lists. What could be more exciting than getting paid to dance, travel the world and work with mega-talented celebrity musicians? It looks glamorous, but most dancers don’t actually know what the job truly entails until they’ve booked it. Is it as great as it seems? Is it the right fit for you? Dance Magazine got the inside scoop from four touring pros.
GETTING THE GIG: Ezra Sosa met Siwa on “Dancing with the Stars” in fall 2021, when he was a pro and she was a celebrity contestant. Siwa soon asked him to join her tour. “She told me that I didn’t need to audition, but I told her I wanted to earn it. I’m a big, tall ballroom dancer; what I’m known for is different from what JoJo does,” he says. Not long after the callback, Sosa heard the good news. “I walked past JoJo on the way to my ‘DWTS’ trailer, and she said, ‘Did you get an email from your agent yet? You got the job if you want it!’ ”
THE DAY-TO-DAY: Like most performers on tour, Sosa often woke up in a different city than he fell asleep in. “I was always so disoriented—never knowing what day or time it was,” he says. Once Sosa put his things in his dressing room, he would immediately go to Siwa’s dressing room to hang out and make silly TikToks before getting his hair and makeup done. Each show was themed, and JoJo would do her male dancers’ hair (herself!) to coordinate. “If it was a Candyland theme, then she would put glitter and sprinkles in our hair,” he says. “She is so talented!” By 2 pm, the performers hit the stage for tech. “JoJo was our dance captain, so she knew everyone’s track,” he says. “She had a videographer film the show every night, then she would watch it back and have notes for us. She is in charge of every aspect of her show.” After lunch and Siwa’s meet-and-greet, the artists would eat dinner and then perform. A postshow shower was essential: “Getting all that makeup off would take like an hour!” he says. Then it was back on the bus to head for the next city.
SELF-CARE: “JoJo’s show is the hardest show I’ve ever done,” Sosa says. “There were 24 numbers, and she had us in 19 of them.” Though he relied on his Hypervolt massager and ibuprofen, he wishes he had taken the time to warm up and cool down more intentionally. “I am paying for it now with weekly chiropractic appointments,” he says.
Sosa’s Top Tour Tips
GIVE IT TIME: “Richy Jackson’s choreography looks amazing onstage, but it’s challenging to pick up. The first 10 to 12 shows I was pretty stressed—constantly thinking about the choreography and formation changes. Eventually, I got to a place where I felt great.”
MANAGE SOCIAL MEDIA: “There were days when people on social media would say I looked like a clown, and it really affected me. JoJo helped me deal with the hate. She taught me that what other people say has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with them. She told me to be unapologetically myself.”
TOURS: Pink, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue
GETTING THE GIG: When Pink needed to replace a dancer on her Beautiful Trauma tour in 2018, her choreographers Nick Florez and RJ Durell pitched Jeremy Hudson, whom they’d worked with on a project for Katy Perry. “Pink saw my reel and had me answer a few questions, and I got the job,” Hudson says.
THE DAY-TO-DAY: A typical day began with downtime in his hotel room before heading to the venue around 2:30 pm to work through routines with the dance captain. “With the repetition of touring, you begin to lose some quality,” Hudson says. “We would always touch up details.” Then Pink would join the cast for a rig check—the opening number incorporated bungees, which needed to be secured before the first performance at each new venue—and sound check, followed by group yoga and a meal. “We had a catering company traveling with us who worked with everyone’s dietary restrictions,” Hudson says. Next the performers had roughly 90 minutes to get ready. “Then we would have a group prayer with Pink and her kids in her dressing room,” he says.
SELF-CARE: Touring is incredibly taxing, so Hudson works with artists who support wellness. “I started touring with Pink when I was 30 years old because she supports her village,” he says. “She knows what it takes to get through these shows and this schedule, and makes sure we’re all seen and taken care of.” Hudson travels with vitamins to boost his immunity. “I’ve never had an understudy on tour,” he says. “There is no time to be sick, and if one person gets sick, everyone gets sick.” He does Sugarfoot Therapy and regularly gets physical therapy and massage provided by the tour. “You can get lonely on tour, so I FaceTime family and friends, and work with my therapist,” he says. “I also really enjoy breathwork and meditation.”
Hudson’s Top Tour Tips
GEAR UP: “One of Burton Snowboards’ bags splits into two pieces, so you can easily distribute your things without stressing about being overweight at the airport.
ENJOY THE ADVENTURE: “It’s a really fun life. Connecting with so many different types of people around the world is absolutely thrilling!”
TOUR: Tate McRae
GETTING THE GIG: Findlay McConnell and McRae have been best friends since meeting on the competition circuit as kids, so when McRae was looking for tour dancers, McConnell was a no-brainer. “She FaceTimed me and asked me how busy my school schedule was,” says McConnell, who is a student at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. “She said, ‘How would you feel about going on tour with me?’ ” McConnell responded with a resolute “I would absolutely love to!”
BONUS: USC Kaufman is giving him academic credits for living his dream.
THE DAY-TO-DAY: McConnell spends most of his sleeping hours on the tour bus, then eats breakfast at the venue before settling into his dressing room. He’ll relax, warm up and stretch before heading to sound check, then do his hair and makeup before donning his costume. Post-performance, he showers at the venue before getting back on the bus. During downtime, he’ll watch Netflix, FaceTime family and friends, play card games or make TikToks with fellow performers.
SELF-CARE: “You don’t want to run the risk of getting sick because you weren’t taking care of yourself,” says McConnell, who takes advantage of days off to relax. “Some days we just chill in our hotel room all day because it’s what we need,” he says. “Other days we feel like exploring and shopping. One day, we all rented electric scooters and went to Whole Foods and ate lunch outside, and it was so nice to get some fresh air and hang out,” he says. He also makes sure to fuel his body before a performance.
McConnell’s Top Tour Tips
GET READY: Rehearsals for McRae’s tour were only about a week long. Choreographer Michelle Dawley provided footage of the choreography a month ahead, so by the time the dancers came together they already knew the movement.
IT’S A MARATHON: McConnell says technique classes, cross-training and intensive rehearsals prepared him for the stamina touring requires.
TOURS: Lizzo, Rihanna, Beyoncé
GETTING THE GIG: Shirlene Quigley’s most recent tour was with Lizzo, as one of her famous “Big Grrrls.” She was introduced to the “Juice” singer at an audition for a dance segment with Lizzo on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “I saw that she was a big girl and thought, Okay, she is gonna like me,” Quigley says. “I walked into the audition and she commented on how much she loved my outfit.” Quigley booked the “Ellen” job, then joined Lizzo at Coachella. The next thing she knew, choreographer Jemel McWilliams asked her to join Lizzo on tour. “I’m 38 years old, and this is the first time I feel truly comfortable in my skin,” she says. “I waited 20 years to have a job that made me feel so confident, and I’m so grateful for it.”
THE DAY-TO-DAY: Most mornings start with waking up in the tour bus in a new city. “Sleeping on a tour bus is comfy to me,” she says. “Rihanna once asked me if I was mad at her because I was spending so much time in my bunk. I said, ‘No! I just love it here!’” Quigley heads into the hotel, where Lizzo’s management provides a room for her to shower and do laundry before heading to the venue for sound check and staging. “Then we do hair and makeup and eat,” she says. “There is always catering, which I love.” If they’re not staying the night, after a postshow shower, she packs and heads back to the tour bus for another long drive. “I love traveling the world, eating new food, meeting new people and having new experiences. After 20 years in the industry, touring is still my favorite job.”
SELF-CARE: Quigley relies on her personal faith to bolster her emotional health on tour. “My morning devotionals are so important to me,” she says. Quigley goes to the gym to build her stamina, and she makes a point to eat healthy. “I don’t do drugs, I don’t eat red meat, and I like fruits and vegetables,” she says. “That combination has been super-helpful for my physical health.”
Quigley’s Top Tour Tips
KEEP IT FRESH: To make the choreography feel new night after night, Quigley recommends creating stories out of the lyrics you’re dancing to and having fun with it. For example, when she dances to the song “Juice,” she imagines herself squeezing oranges down in Florida and running on the beach.
SPEAK UP: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions so that you can avoid mistakes.”
Haley Hilton is a dancer and writer based in New York City.