7 Things That Take No Talent in Dance That Can Make (or Break) Your Career

Dancer: Maggie Carey
Photo by: Geek With a Lens

So I have seen this list going around the internet for the past few years and I thought how, with few tweaks, it would be perfect for dance, or life in general for that matter.   We have a saying in dance that goes, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ Talent counts for a lot, but it’s not everything.

1. Being prompt and prepared. You should arrive at least 15 minutes early for class or rehearsal.  Being on time is essential and that’s not just what time you arrive at the studio.  That’s getting in the classroom before you’ve been called, getting out the barres, warming yourself up and calming your mind so it can focus on what it’s about to do.  It’s about making sure you have what you need in your dance bag including shoes, snacks, water, band aids, etc. It’s being in dress code and/or having all parts of your costume.  It’s looking neat and professional from head to foot.  It’s leaving the outside world at the door and bringing all of yourself into class, rehearsal and performance every day.

2. Work Ethic. Students need to put forth 100% effort into everything they do: retaining corrections, learning combinations and executing them full out. Be willing to push yourself beyond what is comfortable and strive for greatness.  A few years ago I had students tell me, ‘Well you know Meghan; she’s just good.’  I answered, ‘She’s not just good.  When I gave her a correction about her pirouette, she went to the back and did it over and over again.  It must have been about 50 times.  Can you remember the last time you did a correction 50 times?  Do you think maybe that’s why she’s good?’ You cannot expect results if you aren’t willing to put in the work it takes to achieve them.

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Understanding Understudying

Amy Holihan-061-Edit

Dancer : Amy Holihan
Photo by : Geek With a Lens

I remember the thrill of being asked to understudy Snowflakes in The Nutcracker at the age of twelve in the small, pre-professional company in which I grew up.   I also remember the terror of realizing that one doesn’t have to just know the steps, but the floor patterns as well.  The first time I went in, I almost took out three older dancers because I wasn’t sure of the paths to take.  Lesson learned.   I was also asked at thirteen to understudy the lead in one of our major ballets because the choreographer wanted a ‘little girl’ that the guest male dancer could practice lifts with easily.  I was on cloud nine being able to understudy such a role and under a dancer I really admired.  Three years later when we danced the ballet again, I got the opportunity to perform that lead role.  I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I remembered how technically difficult it had been for me just three years earlier and now how much fun I could have with developing the character instead of just worrying about the steps. It showed me how far I had come, not only in my technique, but as an artist.

As I got older, the definition and role of understudy didn’t change, but the connotation did.  Being told that I was an understudy as I aged suddenly stopped meaning, ‘I believe in you and so I’m going to give you this opportunity,’ but rather, ‘you’re good, but still not good enough.’  I remember the frustration that came with this change.  I know my teachers felt this and tried to bolster us with stories of how understudying is really just an opportunity in disguise.  I specifically remember two stories, one from Melinda Jones Howe about Tina LeBlanc, a former student of hers that ended her professional career as a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and still works there on staff, and Jeri Mcburney-Rodgers about Paul Gibson, an alumni of our school who ended his professional career as principal dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet and who is still working as their Ballet Master today.    The stories were basically the same.  As young dancers in professional companies, they would watch the rehearsals of the more advanced dancers in the company instead of going home early or taking a break.  When those advanced dancers got injured, the artistic director asked who knew their roles and felt sure they could perform them.  Both of them knew the roles even though they weren’t official understudies for them and it helped to launch their careers.  Because I knew these people and admired them, it helped and I stopped getting that hopeless feeling when I’d see a cast list posted with my name in the understudy column.   It also inspired me to ask to understudy roles that I wanted and to learn solos of every work I was in even if I wasn’t chosen as the official understudy.   

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10 Secrets to a Successful Dance Audition

GWL_0290-EditThe New Year is not the only thing that’s fast approaching, so is audition season.  Summer programs, college programs and companies alike are making ready to tour throughout the United States and will be looking at some of the best dancers in the country.  How can a dancer stand out amongst the scores of other dancers vying for the same opportunities and positions?  Well, here are some helpful hints as you all venture out on the sometimes scary, sometimes exhilarating, audition trail.

1.  Arrive early. This gives you time to relax and stretch and mentally prepare yourself for the work ahead.  It also gives you a lower number which can increase the chances of you being seen in an audition that can have hundreds of people in it.

2. Dress appropriately and professionally.  Over the years, certain things have changed.  Years ago when you went to a ballet summer program or company audition, it was black leotards only, but now dancers are using colored leotards to stand out. (Beware, some auditioners like this trend and some of the more old fashioned ones do not.  Your best bet might be a black leotard with an interesting back and maybe something in your hair like a yellow flower.)  At Broadway auditions, people recommend ‘dressing the role.’  If it’s a Fosse show you’re going for, you are going to dress a certain way.  The biggest thing is to be neatly dressed: clean tights with no holes or runs, a clean leotard that maybe has a special back to it, ribbons and strings on your shoes tucked in, hair neat, slicked and professional looking, no gaudy jewelry and no finger nail or toe nail polish.

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