A while ago I posted a guest blog from Julian’s first male dance teacher, Anthony Foster (see bio below). Since then, he and I have been working together to post a second blog, this time about his experience with Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). Yes, the first season of the show, Anthony made a brief appearance. We almost missed him, in fact…Despite the fact that he “quit” the show, he’s gone on to show great determination and tenacity when it comes to making a success of himself as a dancer.
I wasn’t sure Anthony would want to discuss this topic, but, good educator that he is, he has offered not only to tell his SYTYCD story—or at least some of it, but also to teach our dancin’ boys what he knows about choosing (or not choosing) to compete in a nationally televised dance show.
I know Julian watches SYTYCD religiously and dreams of being on the show. Most young dancers think it’s the be all and end all to getting “discovered” as a dancer. For many dancers, it seems to be a really great experience, and some have gone on to amazing careers because of the exposure they received on national TV. For others, however, the show – and others like it – might not be the right choice for any number of reasons. Here’s what Anthony has to say about his experience and about what boys should think about before deciding to audition for a national TV dance competition:
My SYTYCD Experience
Tips on Deciding If a TV Dance Show is Right for You
By Anthony Foster
It’s been quite a few years since my participation in the first season of SYTYCD, but I am still asked about my experiences with the show. That said, this is a subject I do not talk about much. After many, long-winded conversations about this and that and how it all works, I’ve come to the simple conclusion that the show simply wasn’t for me. Yep, for me it was just another dance competition – that’s all.
It’s funny how it all came to pass. My sister, who at the time was go-go dancing at a Chicago nightclub called Crobar, called me one day to tell me that some dance show was auditioning club dancers for a major network show and that I absolutely had to be there. “Sure why not? What time?” was my response.
I had no idea what I was getting into… I just wanted to go and get my boogie on that night. I stepped into the club, had a drink or two and started to “do my thing”—and I was soon approached by the producers, who asked me to perform on camera. That was my preliminary audition.
Little did I know television and radio advertisements had caused people to line up all the way down State Street to audition at the Chicago Theater. After a little discussion, I was asked to a callback audition, which was the final round for Chicago. I had to come prepared with a 90 second routine. “Pssshhhh,” I thought. I picked a song, trimmed it down, listened to it in the car on the way, and improvised the 90 seconds. Still, I had no idea what this whole thing was about.
They actually took me. From the club, to the stage and then to a quick choreography session (they wanted to know that we could learn steps), it wasn’t long before I was on a first class flight to Los Angeles for the official first week of taping. Transport got me to the studio an hour after rehearsal had begun (Gotta love the LA freeways…), so I had tons of choreography to get caught up on when I arrived.
During a slow moment, a dancer approached me and said, “Do you need some help?” Seeing that there was about a minute of choreography already taught, I happily accepted. He spent a lot of his own free time making sure I had the steps. That dancer was Blake McGrath, a really nice guy—though I hear he was made out to be the antagonist of the show that year. At least I can say he was nice to me.
Hours later on that first day I started thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?”
Some short, side conversations with the other dancers in my group helped me to understand what the full package consisted of: The winner receives an apartment in NYC for one year along with a little chunk of money. What was a Chicago-land home owner going to do with an apartment in New York while balancing two corporate entities? At this particular time in my life, I was quite diligently trying to get my dance company off the ground and was extremely focused on my work in the Midwest. Staying in LA represented a risk I was not willing to take—especially when just one unfavorable review could’ve been the ripple in the pond that would affect both my businesses. Personally, I felt as if I had already made my place as an artist and did not need a panel of judges nor Americas votes to dictate otherwise.
By lunch, I had already committed to the idea of returning home immediately, though I completed the day with 100 percent focus and intention and danced full-out every time Dan Karaty pressed the play button. Our session came to an end, and I found a producer with whom to share my thoughts about returning home. They were not at all happy about it and had me repeat everything on camera, and of course, with Nigel (which, I’m sure everyone saw right on national TV later).
Based on the contract agreements we sign, participants are not allowed to speak of a few things, but I can say that had my lawyer not been involved, I’m sure they would’ve gone much farther than calling me “The Quitter” that first season. My time and that title on SYTYCD is in my past now, and I really never wonder anymore what would have happened had I stayed.
SYTYCD does offer great exposure for those who seek it, but I must repeat myself when I say it simply wasn’t for me. The question remains, is it for you (or for your son)? Many people speculate about what constitutes ‘healthy competition’ and how dancers should go about choosing events, auditions and/or television shows in which to participate. Here are a few things to think about as you make your decision.
In many cases, contestants on shows like SYTYCD are products of the competition environment and are very familiar with their surroundings. What I mean by this is that many of the dancers’ home studios had/have a performance team, competition group or in-house company. They train diligently and undertake a rigorous rehearsal schedule in order to “compete” (not solely for the sake of winning) with similar teams and schools on the local and national level. Some enjoy the experience and leave hungry for more as they grow older… and others move onward. Remember, however, that every audition is a competition within itself.
Speaking of SYTYCD alone, there are a few things to ask yourself if you are thinking about entering into a competition on this level:
- What are your goals?
- What do you plan to gain from the experience?
- Are you physically, emotionally and mentally prepared for what can (and most likely will) happen throughout the process?
- Are you comfortable in front of a camera?
- Can you handle harsh criticism?
- What do you plan to do AFTER the show?
For so many dancers, their be-all-end-all hopes are just to be on and/or win these dance competition television shows. But then what?
Being a SYTYCD competitor offers many great opportunities, such as nationally televised exposure, the opportunity to work with some of America’s finest choreographers and to broaden your social and professional network for (hopefully) future work in the industry. And, of course, with anything sweet… comes a sour as well. Not too many folks know what happens “behind the scenes.”
With reality television, what you see isn’t always what you get. Of course, the dancing is what it is, but folks sometimes overlook the fact that a ton of editing takes place. In many cases, what one sees or hears (outside of the dance performances, of course) are taken out of context and/or chronological order. As with any reality television type of show, the “characters” can be manufactured—all of which, the dancers agree upon prior to their acceptance to the show in the form of a heavily worded and demanding contractual agreement. Sadly, many dancers entering into the show are so excited that they sign on without ever reading this document.
Another thing to consider is the amount of time/work/money you sacrifice. Yes, the competitors who are selected for the show(s) become paid screen actors. Rates may vary and could possibly be less than you’re making at your current job. Of course, they could be higher, too.
Is it the right choice for you? That’s a decision you’ll have to make on your own, young man. Just remember there are more opportunities out there than one television show. Taking the step from studio-training to professional has many paths. These paths have multiple, little branches, too! Consider auditioning for an agency or a touring show. Most young dancers don’t think much about this, but booking a performance contract (like Wicked, Billy Elliott, Chicago, etc.) can provide a dancer with full health benefits and a substantial pay scale.
You have options! Remember, it’s not about what will make you happy “right now,” but what will keep you healthy, sane and employed in the future.
Whatever you decide, keep dancin’!
A true product of Chicago-land’s finest educators, choreographers and theaters, Anthony Foster’s all-encompassing and diverse training background includes authentic tutelage in the forms of classical ballet and classical jazz under direct descendants of George Balanchine and Gus Giordano. Supplemented by break dance and gymnastics in his early years, Anthony quickly made the transition from street to stage and a few notable small-screen appearances, such as season 1 of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance and music videos for the artists Echo & Groove Jam. His stage credits include leads in the ballets, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Les Patineurs and The Last Waltz as well as performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Anthony continues to explore movement and creative expression as artistic director of his dance company, Soleunique, and has recently accepted the role of managing director of Moves Dance Studios’ pre-professional program. When not at his home base, Anthony is traveling the U.S. as a guest instructor and choreographer for professional companies, studios, dance conferences and conventions.