After it’s all the training has been completed, one question remains: Will the dancer get a dance job? Will he make it through the audition and into a company or a show?
What can a male dancer—or any dancer for that matter—do to increase the odds of becoming a successful professional dancer? And what does it mean to be successful? I equate success to a busy dance career. No lolly gagging around waiting for jobs—at least not for too long—but rather working on a fairly continual basis. A dancer wants to be in demand, to audition and get hired, to be sought out by choreographers, to have the phone ringing…and paychecks arriving in the mail on a regular basis. Of course, having their name up in lights often is nice, too!
So, how does a young male dancer ensure that this type of career awaits? Dancer and choreographer Joey Dowling has some great advice on how to achieve this goal. She may not be a guy—that beautiful face, gorgeous, tall, dancer’s frame, and those long, elegant Rockette legs leave no doubt about that—but she has had a career any guy would jump at duplicating. In this final post in my four-part series based on an interview with Joey, she offers great tips on becoming a versatile and sought-after dancer. (If you want to know more about Joey, please read her bio in post #1. You can read post #2 here and post #3 here.)
[If you’ve enjoyed this series and my blog, please be sure to vote for My Son Can Dance in the Best Dance Blog 2010 Contest. All votes must be in by 10 a.m. ET on 12/30/10. Cast your vote here. Thanks for helping me help more young male dancers realize their dreams of becoming professional dancers.]
When you conduct an audition, what makes you want to hire a particular dancer (male or female) or what makes you pull a kid off the New York City Dance Alliance (NYCDA) convention floor and put them up on stage?
I like it when a kid follows directions. When casting for any type of show or commercial, film or television job, anything, you need to know that someone can follow direction. It’s something that needs to be learned at a very young age.
That being said, you like to see that a kid has personality and knows how to perform; it not just about steps. Being able to follow direction, being able to be on count, showing that they have technique, but also showing they have some individuality.
It’s not always personality I look for but individuality. Sometimes a kid can do something, and it’s almost like a joke; it makes everyone in the room laugh, and it immediately makes you like the kid and want to bring the kid up on stage. Definitely individuality is a good thing to have.
We talk a lot at conventions about taking risks and trying to define yourself and being an individual. At NYCDA, Joe Lanteri likes to talk about “making good choices,” which we all laugh at, but it’s true.
You try to get a kid to follow direction, but in that following of directions you want to teach the kid that there are ways to make themselves stand out. In the choreography there are certain ways that you can make yourself stand out without changing the choreography.
What are those ways?
That’s a hard question to answer. For me, if the choreography calls for three turns, you could do two turns and développé you leg out to the side for three counts and hold it and then immediately be right back on the count of the choreography. I don’t like it when kids take away eight counts of the choreography to do nine turns and then get back into the choreography. That’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for little firecrackers within in the choreography. If the choreography asks for relevé for one count and you stay on for three counts so you make yourself stand out and immediately get back into the choreography, that’s one example. That would be a good choice.
Are these the same things you would look for in an audition?
Yes, but in certain auditions you also let the dancers improv and show off their personality and skills. A lot of time I’ll notice a guy because I saw him do a crazy skill or trick or he was really good at hip hop improv.
You also have to be really good at picking up choreography, following direction and improv. A lot of kids think that being good at improv is enough, but it is a skill to pick up choreography. Certain kids pick up choreography easily and others find it difficult. The more you learn from different choreographers to pick up choreography the better you are going to get at it and the faster you are going to pick it up. And that is also a skill—how to pick up choreography quickly.
Paying attention to detail while picking up choreography is another skill. A lot of kids think they are picking up the choreography exactly as I have presented it, but they are so off. They don’t pay attention to detail. That’s a skill that would really help them at conventions and that would help them in the real world when auditioning—really paying attention to detail.
What three or four tips would you offer to boys wanting to become professional dancers?
- Be a go getter.
- Don’t ever stop training in every aspect of dance.
- Always have a good attitude.
- Don’t think you’re above certain jobs.
Let me explain the last tip. A lot of kids shoot for the top, thinking “I want to be in a Broadway show.” Don’t turn down the cruise ship if that’s what’s offered to you. Don’t turn down the regional theater show that pays $350 a week; it’s experience and exposure, and it’s helping you get to the Broadway show.
A kid out of law school doesn’t think he’s going to shoot strait to partner in the law firm. You need to realize that when opportunities arise you should take them. Go with them, because everyone’s path is different. Your friend might book the Broadway show right away, and you might have to do three cruise ships before you get your first Broadway show.
You’ve worked in so many venues—as a back up dancer with Mariah Carey, in industrials, in TV, film, on Broadway, as a Rockette. What does a dancer need to do to become versatile and have a busy working career?
One of the biggest things is to have the mentality that you can do anything. People laugh at me for this, but I have this mentality. I am always confident when I go into a room. Always believe I can do it. I always talk myself into thinking I am the best person in the room. Confidence goes a long way.
A lot of times kids get intimidated or insecure. I love the challenge of getting into a room and competing with 500 other women. I like the challenge and the drive and the feeling of being aggressive. For me, the fact that I never thought I couldn’t do something really helped me in my career.
I used to take hip hop classes, and the hip hop choreographer would say, “Hey, I want you to do this job.” Well, I’m 5’11” and white. I didn’t want people to tell me “no,” but there were also certain things that it was inevitable I was going to be told “no.” You have to realize your place in the dance world, but if you want to push than envelope, you push that envelope as far as you can push it.
I’m never going to dance behind Christina Aguilera. She’s 5’2” and I’m 5”11”. There are certain jobs I’m just geared more towards. Then there are jobs I might not be cut out for, but I’m going to make them believe I am. There were certain jobs I auditioned for where they said, “We don’t need someone like you, but because you are so good, we are going to write you into the story.” There’s a certain point when you say, “I know I’m not really right for this, but I’m going to go in anyway and make them want to hire me and change things around so they can fit me into the show. And that’s happened several times for me.
I wanted to go do the salsa show (The Mambo Kings)—and they didn’t need a 5’11” white girl. I was apparently so good at the audition that they hired me and made a white girl waitress in the scene because I was better than the Latin girls there.
You have to make sure that if you want to do everything you get your hand in all those jars. If, for example, you want to do hip hop, you’ve got to know the hip hop people and go to those auditions and know the hip hop scene. And you’ve got to be good—especially you’re going to beat someone out who’s black or Hispanic or ethnic and you’re the white boy. You better be freakin’ phenomenal at hip hop, because they are probably going to lean towards the ethnic guys. They might hire one white guy, but that white guy better be amazing. If you want that one slot, you better be amazing.
You really did do it all, including being with Boston Ballet for a while. Do you feel ballet for the boys is important?
Of course, but to get into a ballet company, you really need to focus and tune almost all your energy towards ballet. If you want to get into a ballet company, for a guy you really have to focus and go that route at the beginning. You do that for a couple of years, and then you can go a different avenue. You really have to train in ballet to get into a ballet company. For me, training in salsa for a year and a half was easy because I have the background in ballet, jazz, and contemporary.
[I hope you enjoyed this series with Joey Dowling. Please be sure to vote for My Son Can Dance in the Best Dance Blog 2010 Contest. All votes must be in by 10 a.m. ET on 12/30/10. Cast your vote here. Thanks for helping me help more young male dancers realize their dreams of becoming professional dancers.]