“I vividly remember my first convention,” says choreographic superstar Brian Friedman. “I was 10 years old and so eager to take every single class—I didn’t want to miss a thing. I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. I had butterflies in my stomach. The fact that I can still remember that exact feeling 30 years later—clearly, going to convention had an impact on me.”
Conventions help breed top dancers in nearly every corner of the dance world, from ballet to ballroom to “So You Think You Can Dance.” From getting the opportunity to train in a plethora of styles to taking advantage of post-class networking, conventions will give you a leg up as you prepare to enter the professional (and crazy-competitive) dance world. But if you’ve never attended a convention, the whole concept can seem daunting. Fear not, convention newbies: We’ve gathered the best tips and advice from our panel of convention pros.
Logan Epstein, student at PACE University, former dancer at Westchester Dance Academy in Mount Kisco, NY
Brian Friedman, creative director of The PULSE on Tour, self-described “100 percent convention kid” growing up
Alyssa Ness, student at Marymount Manhattan College, former National Senior Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance
Anne Smith, director of Hollywood Vibe
Students in a DanceMakers Inc. Nationals class (photo courtesy DanceMakers Inc.)
Be prepared for a long day.
“At most conventions, you’ll take 5 to 7 classes per day, and each class is 45 minutes to an hour long. They move pretty fast, and it may be crowded.” —Ness
Dress to impress…
“Your look is important. Your eye goes to the girl with the cool haircut or the guy with the swagged-out outfit. If you can get someone to see you, they’ll stick around to watch you dance.” —Friedman
…and to be remembered.
“I stay in one outfit the whole day, including during scholarship auditions. If you’re competing for a scholarship, one of the judges might have taught a class you were in earlier that day, and may remember you based on what you’re wearing.” —Epstein
Load up your dance bag.
“My bag weighs a ton during conventions! I pack at least two bottles of water, Emergen-
C for extra energy, snacks, Advil for when the soreness kicks in, and all my dance shoes.” —Epstein
Be extra early.
“Get to the ballroom 30 minutes before class starts. Give yourself time to stretch and warm up without feeling rushed. Not all classes will include a full warm-up, so take responsibility for your own body.” —Epstein
Work the entire room.
“Don’t stay in one spot, and avoid surrounding yourself with dancers from your studio—then you’ll dance just like you do at home.” —Friedman
“Don’t talk during class. Teachers hate it, and it shows you don’t want to be there. If you want to talk to your friends, do it outside the ballroom or at lunch.” —Epstein
Go to every class—especially the ones you’re nervous to try.
“The biggest mistake a dancer can make at convention is skipping class. Don’t
focus on your strengths—focus on your weaknesses.”—Friedman
It’s OK to drop down a level.
“If you can’t keep up with the pace of class, you can always ask your teacher if you can switch levels. You want to get the most out of your experience.” —Smith
Don’t worry so much about being seen.
“Many dancers—including my former self—are so worried about making sure the instructor sees them. If that’s your entire focus, you’re not getting the most out of class. If you’re clearly having fun, you’re a bright light in the room, no matter where you’re standing.” —Friedman
Know you’re not alone.
“Even dancers who have been to a thousand conventions still get nervous. You’re not the only one feeling that way, and you’re definitely not the only first-timer in the room!”—Smith
Be persistent, not perfect.
“No one expects you to be perfect—they just want to see who you are as a dancer and an individual. If you’re completely lost, it’s OK to raise your hand and ask a question. Teachers never mind questions!” —Epstein
Say ‘thank you’!
“There’s usually time after class to thank the teacher and take a photo together, but if he’s running late, don’t bombard him. There will be more opportunities to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ ” —Epstein
Don’t give up if you can’t keep up.
“I was totally the kid who just couldn’t keep up with the choreography we were learning. But the brain is a muscle. Train yourself at home, take extra classes, watch YouTube tutorials or DVDs and constantly be learning new choreography.” —Friedman
Grace Gerring, a former member of the 14-time National Championship–winning University of Minnesota Dance Team, shows off one of the team’s signature moves. All photos by Steve Lucas.
4) Continue Flipping your shoulders and hips to the left as you extend your right leg forward and bring your left leg behind you, bent at 90 degrees. Launch your arms diagonally behind you and arch your back.
Grace says: “When you get in the air, think about switching your hips and shoulders and really kicking that front leg hard.”
You know the story: a performer from Nowhere, USA, works hard her whole life and becomes a talented unknown. She hears “no” a million times, until one day she’s spotted by the right director or choreographer, who polishes her raw ability and kickstarts her career. Suddenly, she’s a star. (And the crowd goes wild!) In real life, stories of “being discovered” tend to be less sudden and dramatic than in movies (expect the “hard work” portion to last longer than a pop-music montage). But they do happen. The movers and shakers of the dance world are always on the lookout for the next star—and the bragging rights of making the discovery themselves. “It’s easier than ever to be discovered,” says choreographer Brian Friedman, who’s discovered many dancers working in Hollywood today. “You can be seen no matter where you’re from.” If you feel stuck in a small town, there are still ways to be proactive about launching your career.
Want to dance on "Glee?" You don't have to live in a big city to make it happen.
(Photo by Adam Rose/Fox)
1. Savor the studio experience…
Study as many styles as you can, with as many teachers as you can, and make sure you’re getting the best training in your area. “In L.A., there’s not much one-on-one attention,” says Mikaela Arneson, an L.A.-based dancer who grew up in a small town four hours outside the city. “Before you get here, capitalize on that attention at your studio.”
2. …but seek additional training elsewhere, too.
Conventions are a great way to take classes with new teachers and do some serious networking. Most conventions hit up tons of cities throughout the year, so it’s likely you can find some near your hometown.
Friedman recommends trying to visit L.A. or NYC during the summers. You’ll find smaller classes than at a convention (try studios like Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway in NYC, or EDGE Performing Arts Center, Millennium Dance Complex and Debbie Reynolds Studio in L.A.), so teachers are more likely to notice you. Conventions and big trips aren’t cheap, of course, so don’t be afraid to look online for free supplemental training. Many big-name and up-and-coming choreographers post combinations or tutorials online. Subscribe to your favorite choreographers’ YouTube channels and follow along.
3. Define your brand
With so many great dancers out there, killer technique isn’t always enough to get you noticed. According to Friedman, it’s crucial to figure out who you are as a dancer and a person, and then create your brand accordingly. Identify your strengths and establish a dance persona that highlights them. Your brand includes the way you consistently dress in class, wear your hair and makeup or rock a signature accessory. It’s the way people you meet will remember and refer back to you.
4. Create your marketing materials
Every dancer should have a professional headshot and full-body shot, and a one-page resumé. Shayna Brouillard, a dance agent with Clear Talent Group, says dancers don’t have to spend a ton of money on photo shoots before signing with an agent, since agents are going to ask you to get new photos after they’ve worked with you to refine your brand.
If you do choose to have photos taken by a pro, check out your favorite dancers’ Instagram feeds to see who regularly takes their pictures. “There are a ton of photographers familiar with dancers and casting,” Brouillard says. They can help ensure that your photos will show your best dancer self. For 12-year-old competition dancer Lucy Vallely, posting photos from a shoot with David Hofmann (check him out on Instagram @sharkcookie) last year was the key to making her social media pages bloom. She now has more than 40,000 Instagram followers.
Perhaps the most important marketing materials are dance videos. Agents and choreographers need to see you move. You don’t have to pay for a professional reel—videos can be shot and edited from an iPhone or iPad. Just be sure they’re good quality and show your best work. Shannon Mather, owner and director of L.A.-based Mather Dance, recommends adding a touch of personality to your videos by introducing yourself at the beginning.
Lucy Vallely's photo shoot with David Hofmann helped boost her career.
(Photo by David Hofmann)
5. Establish an online presence
The internet is the easiest—and cheapest—way to reach the people who can make things happen for you. Mather recommends creating a YouTube channel where you can post performance videos and studio combos. She says the key to establishing a following is crafting a professional-looking homepage, uploading new videos consistently (she has found success uploading once a week) and tagging your videos so people can find them in searches. (You can also upload videos to Dance Spirit’s video site, dancemedia.com!)
Both Vallely and Chris Michael Klebba, a commercial dancer, first got their agents thanks to social media. When Klebba was 17 and still living amid cornfields in Michigan, he posted a video on Answers4Dancers.com that got a lot of positive feedback. Soon after, an agent contacted him and offered to sign him, even before he was ready to make the move to L.A.
When posting, remember that likability is a huge part of being discovered. Be sure everything you post is the best representation of yourself. If your following doesn’t blow up immediately, don’t be discouraged. According to Brouillard, most dancers who become online stars are actually discovered by agents while they’re still in the early stages. With an agent’s guidance, they build their brands and, soon, an online fanbase. Need some help getting started? Check out companies such as DanceOn and World of Dance, which work with dancers on online self-branding.
6. Reinforce your online persona with face-to-face contact
“The most successful dancers are the ones that start to build relationships before they move to L.A.—through master classes or conventions, introducing themselves to choreographers and making sure they’re noticed,” says Brouillard. “A lot of what happens in L.A. is based on networking beforehand, so they already have a solid ground when they move here.”
Many dancers’ discovery moments come when they’re focused on improving rather than getting people to see how awesome they are. Choreographers love to see dancers taking every opportunity they can to learn more. Going to huge auditions is great, and often necessary, but at a competition or in class, you can be seen as an individual, rather than one more body quickly learning and executing a routine. You’re also more likely to be noticed at a big audition if the choreographer is already familiar with you, either from class, competition or your online videos. After you meet choreographers, connect with them on social media to thank them and remind them who you are. Vallely often posts photos of herself with the people she meets, making sure to tag them. “Then they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s the girl I met!’ ” she says.
(L to R) Ashley Everett, Beyoncé, and Kimmie Gipson
(Photo by Alphonso Chan/Getty Images)
7. Land an agent
According to Friedman, this should be a major priority for a dancer looking to work professionally, since agents can give you insider info on auditions that aren’t public knowledge. You can attend an open call for an agency, but being recommended by a working choreographer or teacher is a surer route.
Agents also scout conventions and the internet for new talent. While both Vallely and Klebba were discovered online by agents, Arneson signed with an agent at a dance convention when she was 17, three years before she made the move to L.A. “We have signed a handful of dancers in their teens who haven’t moved to L.A. yet,” says Brouillard. “For those who have the means to fly out for an audition, we’ll keep them in the loop. For others, it’s about building a relationship with the agency, so when they turn 18 and are ready to move to L.A., they feel like there’s someone who knows their strengths and is taking care of them.”
8. Be persistent—and patient
Even if you’re not discovered right away, it doesn’t mean people aren’t keeping an eye out for you. You might’ve already been “discovered” by teachers—that is, they’ve made a mental note that you’re a dancer to watch—who are just waiting to see if you’re ready. “It’s not luck of the draw,” Friedman says. “You have to have talent, but you also have to work hard and show your ambition. If I can see a dancer’s hunger and drive, I think, OK, that’s one to watch. This kid’s gonna go somewhere.”
L.A.-based Haylee Roderick has been strutting her stuff on the commercial scene, dancing everywhere from “Glee” to the Academy Awards, for a while. But despite having an agent and killer talent, she was missing one more essential item: “Producers, directors and my agent were constantly asking to see my dance reel,” Haylee says. “I kept putting it off, thinking I should build up my resumé. But with so many creatives asking for it, I knew it was time this year. I just finished it, and I’ve already submitted it for a union project—something I couldn’t have even auditioned for without a reel! It’s essential for any professional dancer in L.A.”
In today’s media-heavy dancescape, a reel is an absolute must. It will give prospective agents, casting directors and choreographers a sense of how you move, your style and strengths as you choose to present them. Plus, with creative teams facing budget cuts, production logistics and scheduling issues galore, reels make it easy for them to see you—and possibly hire you!—even if they can’t hold a traditional audition. Sending a reel can also be the best way to be cast in a company or show that’s far away. Here’s how you can get your own reel together.
Choosing Your Footage
• Showcase your strength, whether it’s your chameleon-like versatility or a single specialty. “If you’re a versatile dancer, include all the genres you shine in,” says JC Gutierrez, director of the dance and on-camera department at L.A. agency McDonald/Selznick Associates. “But make sure your reel is separated by style, so if you’re applying for a jazz job you can say, ‘Fast-forward to 1:33.’ ” MSA agent Shelli Margheritis adds, “If you have a niche, show off. You’re a b-boy? Let’s see your best tricks!” If you aren’t trained in a certain area, don’t sweat it—and don’t include it.
• Be the star. “Solo footage is preferable to a shot with 10 other dancers, even if
it means renting a studio and choreographing a few pieces,” says professional dancer and freelance dance-reel editor Shane Rutkowski. If you do choose to use performance footage (a great option if the piece is well-rehearsed and you’re highly visible), make sure it’s a high-quality recording and you’re the focus of the shot. “If another dancer stands out more, it becomes that dancer’s reel,” Gutierrez says.
• If you have an agent, use him or her as a sounding board to help you choose the best clips and the order in which you should place them.
• Include your name and headshot at the beginning of the reel. If you’re represented, end with your agency’s info. If not, offer your professional email address or website, but never your phone number or mailing address—remember, you’ll be posting this online.
• Choose your audio wisely. The music behind your clips sets the tone and can say a lot about who you are as a performer.
Dance-reel editor Shane Rutkowski in action
• Use only one song for all of your clips to avoid distracting the viewer. It’s OK if the dancing in the clips doesn’t always match the beat of the song perfectly—just make sure there are accents throughout the reel where the two do match up. If you’re working with an editor, there are many tricks he or she can use to make the accents work.
• “Music can be tricky, especially with copyright issues,” Rutkowski says. “If you have a friend who can create music for you, that’s a great option. Choose a song that’s not overpowering or distracting. Instrumental is a good choice because it often has different sections that can correspond to different types of movement.”
• Avoid any possibly offensive material.
• Choose up-tempo music to catch the viewer’s attention.
Order and Length
• Make your reel punchy and to-the-point by putting your best clip first. A busy casting director may only have 15 seconds to watch, so show your strengths immediately. Ending with a high-energy clip is a great way to wrap things up.
• Include different energy levels so the reel doesn’t become monotonous. You could start with a jazz section, follow with a ballet piece and end with some fierce hip hop.
• Shorter is better. Your entire reel should be between one and a half and three minutes.
• If you’re tech-savvy, you may be able to create your own reel with clean editing and streamlined effects. But remember, less is more. Don’t overdo it with flashy transitions and special effects.
• Hiring an editor, like Rutkowski, can be a smart move. Even though it might cost you a bit, it’s an investment, just like your headshots. You’ll most likely be paying an hourly rate, so do research to find out what friends in your area have paid.
• If you use an editor, go prepared! Have all your clips ready (and in the same format, if possible) and write down timecodes of the spots you want to use. It will save you time and money.
by Joe Toreno
The story of Stephen “tWitch” Boss and Allison Holker’s relationship reads like the plot of a “So You Think You Can Dance” number: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl crush on each other but engage in an epic series of missed signals, which keeps them apart. Boy and girl finally get the courage to dance with each other—and fall in love. It’s a fitting comparison, since tWitch and Allison are among “SYTYCD”’s most popular veterans and All-Stars.
It’s been two years now since this adorable pair got together, and they made their dancing debut together this summer on Oxygen’s “All the Right Moves” reality show. Now all they need is a catchy hybrid name. (tWitchison? AlWitch?) We caught up with the charismatic couple in L.A., where they gave us all the details on their oh-so-sweet love story.
Dance Spirit: So how did this all start?
tWitch: It happened at the end of “SYTYCD” Season 7. She says she made the first move.
I was completely oblivious to it. I’m really thickheaded.
Allison: I didn’t just make one move—I made, like, 10 moves and he wasn’t seeing them, so I had to put myself out there even more. From the first week of “SYTYCD” as All-Stars, I thought he was the cutest guy ever. His personality was so fun.
DS: It’s surprising you two hadn’t met before.
tWitch: Well, let’s bring it back to Season 2. Our good friend [and Season 2 contestant] Ivan Koumaev had a party and invited a bunch of us. We met there for the first time, but Allison doesn’t remember at all! Meanwhile, I had blond hair and piercings, so I’m not sure how you’d forget me, but that’s neither here nor there. We met again during Season 7, but didn’t say a word to each other the whole season. So that’s why I had no idea, because she wouldn’t talk to me and I thought she wasn’t interested. She did catch me checking her out in the hallway once…
Allison: Like, bad. He did a triple take and Ade [Obayomi] called him out on it.
tWitch: So she knew the interest was there on my part.
by Joe Toreno
Allison: The whole rest of the season, I would be like, “Heyyyy,” and brush up against him. We’d be in rehearsal, and I’d be grabbing his butt and trying to touch his arms. I’d say, “You missed a few 8-counts. Let me teach you.” He wasn’t feeling me at all.
tWitch: In my defense, it was a dance rehearsal where all of the girls in the piece had to hold my arms and move with me.
Allison: Outside of rehearsals, we avoided each other. Both of us are very social and were friends with all the other All-Stars. The whole season, he was legitimately the only person I didn’t speak to. We’d be sitting in a room together and it would be this awkward moment like, “Okay, I’ll just stretch right now or read a book” instead of saying hi.
DS: So what was the turning point for you two?
Allison: The All-Stars went to the Step Up 3D premiere, but Stephen went separately because he was in the movie. I looked down the red carpet and saw him standing there in this nice gray suit and glasses—he looked so hot. When he walked up to say hi, I got embarrassed and hid behind Ade! Then, at the party, I met his mother and brother and even danced with him a little bit. I was geeking out. That was the first night we were out together at the same place. So I finally made my move, and he asked for my number.
tWitch: I did get the number…but I didn’t call.
Allison: So then I got his number and texted that I was proud of him and that he looked great that night.
DS: So how is it even a debate who made the first move? Seems pretty clear that it was Allison!
tWitch: Here’s the thing: If I say hello and she doesn’t even respond…there were lots of those moments! I didn’t know how to read her. Plus, I’m terrible at those things. There will never be a day where I’m like, “Yeah, that girl was feelin’ me.”
Allison: I was nervous! So, anyway, when the Season 7 wrap party came, I knew it was the last night I would see him. I was like, “Geez, I guess I have to be stronger about my moves.” I hadn’t planned on going because I’m a mom and don’t really go out and party. But when he texted to see if I was going, I was ready and in the car! I showed up and people were trying to say hi, but I was on a mission to find this guy. I saw him at the other end of the room, and he pointed and did this little “come here” motion. We went upstairs and danced for three hours straight.
tWitch: We danced the entire night, and we’ve been together ever since.
DS: Let’s talk about both of you being in the dance industry. Does it affect your relationship?
Allison: We’ve worked a lot of the same jobs, but we’re in completely different styles. So even though he knows and has worked with all of my friends and vice versa, we don’t cross paths that often unless we choose to. There are choreography and teaching jobs where people say they’d love to have both of us, but it’s up to us if we want to put ourselves in that position.
tWitch: It’s nice to have common ground to connect on, but it’s also nice to have the dichotomy of two different genres. We’re very close-knit, but we still have our own things.
Allison: In my past relationships, it’s always been really tricky. People will say they’re cool with me traveling or doing jobs, but really, if someone doesn’t understand that lifestyle, it can cause bitterness. Being with someone who travels just as much as
I do and understands my work hours and that I have a daughter—and that I have to balance all of that—means we don’t have the problems most couples in our industry do.
DS: How much do you travel?
tWitch: We travel every single weekend for conventions—we leave on Fridays and come back on Sundays.
Allison: The first year, we had a Skype relationship. It proved how much we were committed to each other because we’d be on different schedules and we still planned out what hour we’d speak every night. After Season 7, I went on tour with “SYTYCD” for three months, and directly after that, he went on tour with The LXD. Then I moved to Toronto to do Cobu 3D, and he went to Miami to film Step Up Revolution. In our first year of dating we were separated for nine months.
DS: So what was the glue holding you together?
tWitch: Communication was the glue because, honestly, there was nothing else. We didn’t get to spend much time with each other. Thank God for Skype, email, picture texts, any form of communication. The LXD tour was international, so when I couldn’t call, I would write pages and pages of emails.
DS: How would each of you describe the other’s dance style?
tWitch: I was a huge fan of Allison before we even started dating. She is so incredibly expressive that it goes beyond just watching her—you feel her. I’ve been brought to tears a couple times by her dancing on “SYTYCD,” specifically the “Fix You” number [with Robert Roldan during Season 7] and the “I Know It’s Over” duet with Marko [Germar] during Season 8.
Allison: If I could describe him in one word…he’s a beast. He moves and the whole floor shakes beneath him. When you’re dancing next to him, you’re inspired to be bigger and dance your fullest. He moves every inch of his body, and it’s intriguing and fun to watch. But what makes him so strong is that he’s really sensitive. He’s a hard, aggressive dancer, but there is such a love for everyone watching him. He’s not just a krumper who’s in your face—it’s more like, “Come in with me and see my soul.”
DS: Do either of you ever get jealous when the other does a sexy duet?
tWitch: Ballroom is hot—you have to get up close and personal and the dude has to know what he’s doing, leading a lady around, and having swag. It’s sometimes hard to come to grips with another guy making my girl look good. Jealousy is absolutely healthy, but it’s more like, “Man, I wish I could do that,” because she’s so hot.
Allison: And he can. He’s led me around the ballroom—don’t let him fool you! He doesn’t usually do duets, but during Season 8, he and Sasha [Mallory] did this hot number and they looked so good together. I got a little insecure. Then our producer told me that on show day, they’d be kissing. I wanted to cry! But he was totally messing with me.
Allison's daughter, Weslie, gets in on the family fun. (by Lee Cherry)
DS: Allison, at what point did tWitch meet your daughter, Weslie?
Allison: He met her first before we were dating, at rehearsals and tapings. When we got together, I was very careful. I know now that he’s my forever, but I had to make sure of that. I didn’t allow them to really hang out until six months in, and even then it was slow and for small periods of time. Eventually it grew to where it is now—it’s like she has a second daddy. Their relationship is so beautiful, it makes me want to cry. She loves him so much, and he is such a good example of what a man should be.
tWitch: She’s my little dude. She doesn’t like that I call her a dude, but she’s my little dude.
DS: What’s your best advice for dancers who might date a co-star?
tWitch: Remember that your life doesn’t become your significant other’s and vice versa. Sometimes people put their own plans on the back burner, and when they realize those things may have gone awry, they begin to resent the other person.
Allison: There might be moments of jealousy, like, “You’re working on that project or with that person, and I really wanted to do that.” The best thing to do is communicate. We talk out everything. Put it out there and say, “I’m sorry if I’m acting this way. It’s not your fault.”
DS: What’s next for you two?
Allison: I love being onstage, but I’d prefer to be on the producing and directing side. He wants to be on the performing side, so I’d love to create a project around him that
I could direct.
tWitch: I’ll always love dance, but
right now I’m focusing on acting. We’re both in transitional periods where we’re looking at all our options. It’s exciting because possibilities are opening up
DS: How do people react when you tell them you’re dating?
tWitch: The funniest ones are people asking us when we’ll start having dancing children. But there have been some beautiful, heartfelt reactions from people who’ve known us for years—William Wingfield, Joshua Allen and Comfort [Fedoke]. Comfort loves us!
Allison: Travis Wall and Teddy Forance are two of my best friends and have seen me through many ups and downs with the men in my life. When they found out I was dating Stephen, tears welled up in their eyes. They were so excited for me to have such a great man. My parents love this guy. All the people in my life really respect him, and they love what he brings to the table for me and what he brings out of me.
tWitch: At the recent Shaping Sound show, a lot of people found out we were together and were elated.
DS: As are we!
by Joe Toreno
To test how well Allison and tWitch know each other, we asked them to fill out each other’s Fast Facts questionnaires! Unsurprisingly, they passed with flying colors. See their responses below:
tWitch (completed by Allison):
Three words that describe you: Internal, sensitive and bundle of joy!
Who would play you in a movie? Will Smith or Lil’ C
Favorite dancer of all time: Wade Robson
What is the first thing you do in the morning? Turn off Allison’s alarm clock—because she always sleeps through it.
Celebrity crush: Zoë Saldana
Dance BFFs: Comfort Fedoke and Will Wingfield
Non-dance hobbies: Comics, Rubik’s Cube, going to McDonald’s
Allison (completed by tWitch):
Three words that describe you: Goofy, chatty, mom
Who would play you in a movie? Emma Watson
Favorite dancers of all time: Mary Ann Lamb and Teddy Forance
Something people don’t know about you: I’m a Harry Potter fanatic!
What is the first thing you do in the morning? Let tWitch turn off the alarm clock, and then drink a diet Dr Pepper.
What is the last thing you do before you go to bed? Read to Weslie.
What is the strangest thing in your dance bag? A sorcerer’s wand.
Dance BFFs: Ade Obayomi, Travis Wall, Teddy Forance & Courtney Galiano
Non-dance hobbies: Sorcery, arts & crafts, skipping
The Mob takes Miami in Step Up Revolution
The wait is over: The fourth Step Up installment (in 3-D, of course) is here! Step Up Revolution takes the fiercest dancers to the streets of Miami. Calling themselves The Mob, these hip hoppers, breakers, poppers and lockers use flash mobs to take down a wealthy businessman who’s threatening to destroy their neighborhood. Dance celebrities on set included Mia Michaels, tWitch, Misha Gabriel, Phillip Chbeeb and more. And one of our favorite former “So You Think You Can Dance” contestants, Kathryn McCormick, makes her acting debut as leading lady Emily! She dances opposite hunky Ryan Guzman, also a Hollywood newcomer. DS caught up with McCormick about her exciting first experience starring on the big screen.
Dance Spirit: How’d you land this awesome role?
Kathryn McCormick: It was the first acting audition I’d ever been on, and it was intimidating. When I get nervous, I ramble on and on, so afterward I felt completely embarrassed. But I kept getting callbacks! When I got the call saying I’d won the part, I was on the way to assist “So You Think You Can Dance.” I was in shock. I called my mom crying. She was like, “Did you get in a wreck? Are you okay?” I said, “I got the lead in the movie!” Then she started crying, and we had to hang up because we couldn’t understand each other. It was funny.
DS: Tell us about your relationship with co-star Ryan Guzman.
KM: Before this movie, Ryan had acted, but he had never danced. I think my time on “SYTYCD” helped me, because I’ve been in the position of working with someone who isn’t as experienced in a certain style. We connected as soon as we met, and we came to be really comfortable with each other. I helped him dance, and he helped me act.
DS: Do you have a favorite scene?
KM: My heart is in the contemporary duet with Ryan choreographed by Travis Wall, because that’s my style. But the most fun day for me was when we filmed Emily’s initiation into The Mob. It’s when you see her rebellious side come out for the first time. She’s dancing on tables in a restaurant, and she has a dress, mask and heels on. It was so much fun to be tossed around from dancer to dancer.
DS: What’s next for you? More movies?
KM: I don’t know where my life is going, but it will always have dance in it. I’m in acting classes, and I’m going to both acting and dancing auditions. On top of that, I’ve been doing a little motivational speaking. I’m not one to make too many plans, because so often, the things that actually happen are greater than anything I could have imagined. If you had asked me five years ago what I’d be doing, this wouldn’t have been on my list. I just put in the work, leave my heart open and see how it all lines up.
Mark your calendars! Step Up Revolution hits theaters July 27.
(L to R) Keltie, Allie Meixner and Chantel Aguirre backstage before a performance with Beyoncé at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards
Some people might call me lucky: I’ve performed alongside Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, spent six seasons as a Radio City Rockette and have more than 20 music videos under my belt. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that as dancers we have to make our own luck. You’ve heard about being in the right place at the right time, but it’s so much more than that. A successful career isn’t just about being talented—it’s about making yourself known and cultivating personal relationships with choreographers, agents and fellow dancers. Read on for tips to help you get the job.
Be a Familiar Face
Find one memorable trait people can associate with your name—like a unique haircut, accessory or lipstick shade. For years I wore a striped bandana scarf around my head, ninja style. I became known as the “girl in the headscarf.” If you’re unsure what your “thing” could be, talk to your agent. “We work hard to find that one thing that makes each of our clients special and different,” says Brandon Sierra, an agent at Clear Talent Group. “We help them discover fresh ways to stand out while still being able to adapt to what choreographers are looking for.” Don’t have an agent? Ask a fashion-forward friend who knows your personal style for advice.
You’ve booked your first job. Hooray! But how can you make sure the choreographer will hire you again? Be on time, work hard and take corrections—but most importantly, make sure everyone you work with has your contact information. I have small business cards that I keep in my wallet; then it’s easy to hand out my information at the end of a shoot. Also, a simple “thank you” to the choreographer—both in person and in a follow-up email—goes a long way.
Keltie on the set of Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” music video
Keep in mind that most choreographers and directors meet and work with hundreds of dancers each month, so the next time you see a choreographer you’ve worked with, reintroduce yourself. Remind him or her where you worked together and how great you thought the project turned out. My only caution: Be careful with your timing. Don’t bother a choreographer who’s busy and be aware of when your time is up. It can take three or four meetings before someone remembers you, but it will be worth it!
When Sarah Mitchell, who has worked with Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry and starred in E!’s “The Dance Scene,” first booked a commercial with Aguilera choreographer Jeri Slaughter, she was nervous: She knew this relationship could lead to great things and wanted to continue working for him. “I made sure I handled everything I could control well,” Sarah says. “I was on time, I knew the choreography and I worked hard.” It paid off: Not only did she book more jobs with Slaughter, but he also helped jump-start Sarah’s career by recommending her for other jobs. “People saw me dancing on his jobs and wanted to hire me,” Sarah says. “I’m so grateful!”
Make Sincere Friendships
The dance and commercial worlds are all about relationships. It’s important to treat everyone you meet with respect and start every job with humility. One of the most important things you can do in your dance career is make long-lasting friendships with fellow dancers. At some point, someone is going to ask one of your friends if he or she knows anyone who want to work—and they’re going to recommend you! “You need to develop sincere friendships, because you never know when the girl you loaned your jazz shoes to will be the one casting the next big movie,” says musical theater and commercial dance veteran Allie Meixner.
Never create false friendships or use people to get ahead. It might seem like an easy way to book the job you want next week, but taking advantage of others will hurt your chances of building a long-term career. The key to success is to be a great person first and a great dancer second.
Canadian Dance Company performs a memorable routine at Showstopper's East Coast Finals. (Photo Courtesy Canadian Dance Company)
Think fouettés are the key to a judge’s heart? Think again. While judges love strong technique, tricks aren’t what they remember in the long run. Instead, creativity, performance quality and moving storylines reign supreme. Here, seven competition judges dish on what made some routines more memorable than others.
Robert Bianca, Showstopper
I still talk about a number performed by 10 guys from Canadian Dance Company about three years ago. The dance was to Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home,” and it was about men returning from war. The dancers entered the stage slowly, as if they were shell-shocked by what they’d been through, and it built from there in terms of intensity, emotion and physicality. It was a technical piece, but it never felt like they were doing tricks. We were blown away by the artistry.
Christian Vincent, L.A. DanceMagic
In 2005, I saw a number called “Tricky” in Baton Rouge. The jazz dance wasn’t like the routines that typically dominate that category. The dancers wore black netted costumes with their hair slicked back. They were technically strong and as they danced you saw that they each had a mature performance quality. I have an affinity for dancers with an edge, who have the ability to go from strong movement to light movement easily—they had that. Dancers are most powerful when they have a strong focus and can connect with an audience.
Stephanie Landwehr, MOVE Productions
One of my favorite routines is a hip-hop number I saw last year in California. The dance was performed by five or six teenage dancers from Dancing Images in Moreno Valley, CA, and I remember it because it was more like a dance concert piece than a competition routine. The movement was clean and the dancers performed well as a group. Cleanliness is so important because it allows the judges to see the story more easily.
Dancers from Dancing Images in Moreno Valley, CA, perform a hip-hop number at MOVE Productions' Nationals (Photo Courtesy MOVE)
Rolann Owens, Headliners
A dancer named Nikki Mele, from Danceology in Toronto, did a dance called “I Speak Six Languages” this year and it was a true musical theater piece. She didn’t do all the jumps and turns you see in so many numbers and she had a lot of personality. Musical theater dancers can’t just be dancers dancing a role, they need to be actors dancing a role.
Mark Goodman, Hollywood Vibe
I remember a tap routine called “Too Darn Hot” that I saw seven or eight years ago. There were at least 40 dancers in it, and the staging was unbelievable. Best of all, every kid was committed to the style of the piece. These dancers totally captured, understood and embraced the 1940s movie style of dance. Remember, your choreographer will tell you what to dance, but the music will tell you how to dance it.
Sarah Jo Fazio, Dance Olympus
I loved a piece called “Mother,” danced by two teenage girls. The story was about a mother and a daughter over a stretch of time. It was done so the dancer playing the daughter behaved like she was a little girl, while the other dancer acted like a mother. By the end the mother was old and dying and the daughter was taking care of the mother. There were no tricks, just movement. I was in tears by the end.
Katy Spreadbury, JUMP
One number stands out in my mind: “Hit Me With a Hot Note,” choreographed by Ray Leeper. It was a great jazz dance rooted in musical theater. The dancers appeared to be having an active experience onstage instead of just doing what they’d done in rehearsal. When you’re watching a performance and it feels like something is happening for the first time, it evokes a genuine emotional reaction.