Going Pro: Film
Films have become a coveted source of employment for professional dancers of every stripe. Here’s what you need to know about the biz.
Give and Take
For most movies, dance segments will be rehearsed daily for about a month prior to shooting. Expect to be paid for all rehearsals, unless it’s a nonunion, low-budget or independent project, in which case it’s a good idea to negotiate compensation in detail ahead of time. Once shooting begins, be adaptable and a quick study, as a director may make changes on the spot, says John “Cha Cha” O’Connell, choreographer for Disney’s Enchanted, starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey (set for a November 2007 release at press time). “A director will throw something to the choreographer and the choreographer will throw it at you in two and a half seconds and you have to pull it together,” explains LaJon Dantzler, a dancer in an urban dance film titled Stomp the Yard starring Columbus Short and Ne-Yo that is due out in 2007. “You can’t complain and say ‘but we didn’t rehearse!’”
Life On Set
Grueling schedules are common. Some days, you may be on set for 12 hours, but only dance for 30 minutes, while on other days, you may dance a small section repeatedly for long periods of time. “The guiding principle on film sets is hurry up and wait,” says choreographer Daniel Ezralow. “You may be asked to dance something [full] out once for the camera, and then need to re–warm up three hours later when they actually shoot it.” In general, each dance segment will be shot a minimum of 10 times, says choreographer Shane Sparks (You Got Served). Directors need to amass footage as well as capture scenes from a number of different angles—and each take must be danced precisely the same way. Later, only one take may be used, or the scene may be edited out altogether.
Be prepared by keeping your body warm and by avoiding taking too many breaks, so you’re always ready to go when “action” is called. “Economize your energy—don’t get sucked in by the nervous tension of what’s going on around you,” says Ezralow. “Get into a private sense of calm about things, and keep in mind that this film is going to be released a year from now and seen by millions of people—it’s not about what’s happening that day.” Some dancers opt against taking on other dance projects during shooting. “Theater is intense, but you have your call time and you get into the weekly rhythm,” says Enchanted dancer Marcus Choi, 28. “On a set, you know that it’s going to be a couple of weeks or months of working ’round the clock and you won’t have time for much else.” Limit your number of late nights out, get plenty of rest and eat well during filming.
You may have to make your movements smaller for the camera than you would in a theater, because there isn’t a great distance between you and the audience. “It’s a question of clarity,” says Enchanted associate choreographer Maria Torres. “The dancing on film has to be clearer, because the camera forces the viewer’s eyes directly to you, whereas in a theater, the audience has more control over what they notice.”
Find an agent, join SAG. An agent can get you seen by casting directors, while Screen Actors Guild membership will give you access to films that only hire union dancers—not to mention protection from poor working conditions. Keep in mind, however, that joining a union too early in your career may prevent you from being able to participate in nonunion projects that can help to build your resumé.
Treat everyone like the director. You never know if the person checking you in at the audition table will be judging you later on that day (or further in the future), so be courteous and professional to everyone.
Be prepared for the process. “Auditions usually start off by making a general assessment of the talent, which can take awhile, depending on how large the turnout is,” says Enchanted associate choreographer Maria Torres. First, casting personnel may look for technical precision, expression and an ability to pick up choreography, while attitude, stamina, ability to retain information and how you handle choreography may be evaluated at final callbacks.
Be versatile. Make yourself employable by being proficient in as many disciplines as possible, says choreographer Shane Sparks. “You don’t want to hurt your career because you didn’t take jazz, ballet or ballroom,” he adds. “The ability to adapt is important for people looking to get jobs on film. Even hip hop is [mixing with] everything from jazz to salsa; the labels are gradually becoming extinct.”
Think of film auditions as interviews. Research ahead of time, and follow casting notices. Some dancers prefer to dress in character, but this usually isn’t necessary. “Do whatever helps you be more present,” says Ezralow. “Dressing in character might help, because it’s an investigation into the role, but for a lot of dancers, it ends up being a crutch that they rely on, mistakenly thinking that it’s going to win them extra points at an audition, regardless of how they perform.”
Network. Working in film is a chance to interact with artists you wouldn’t otherwise meet, so be sure to network on set. It may be the key to getting your next gig.
It's time to get your pirouette on! From September 5th to September 30th, we're hosting a contest to find out who's the best turner of them all.
Put together your most impressive turning combo. Post a video online. Share your turns with us and thousands of other dancers around the world. And if our editors think you're the top turner, you'll win a fabulous prize.
All of 18-year-old Kaylin Maggard's dreams—from scoring the title of National Senior Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals to winning the 2017 Dance Spirit Cover Model Search—are coming true. And to anyone who knows the gorgeous contemporary dancer, that's no surprise.
From the moment the Dance Spirit staff met Kaylin, it was obvious her humility and talent would take her far. Not only did she go full-out during the photo shoot and class at Broadway Dance Center, but she was always cheering on, laughing with, and supporting her fellow CMS contestants Haley Hartsfield and Michelle Quiner. During the voting period, the social media world was abuzz with praise for her work ethic, positive attitude, and generosity.
Since her CMS trip to NYC, Kaylin's moved from her hometown of Columbia, MO, to the Big Apple for her freshman year at Juilliard, and is busy getting acquainted with the city. As for the future? She's taking it one opportunity at a time, but something tells us we'll be seeing this contemporary queen reach new heights every year.
New York City principal Lauren Lovette has become an icon thanks to her emotional maturity and exceptional musicality. The 26-year-old quickly rose through the ranks after joining the company as an apprentice in 2009, reaching principal status in 2015. A Thousand Oaks, CA, native, Lovette started studying ballet seriously at age 11, at the Cary Ballet Conservatory in Cary, NC. After attending two summer courses at the School of American Ballet, she enrolled as a full-time student in 2006. Last year, she made her choreographic debut with For Clara, her first piece for NYCB. Catch her latest work this month during the company's fall season. —Courtney Bowers
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
I know I'm not getting good enough dance training from any of my local studios. But I'm not sure I'm ready to move away to study at a big-name school, either. How do you know when you're ready to leave home to pursue your passion?
Instagram star Kylie Shea has built a following of nearly 170,000 with her playful workout videos, which combine traditional fitness activities, like jumping rope or running on the treadmill, with pointe shoes and sassy choreography. Shea's effortless cool-girl-next-door vibe and solid ballet technique make her vids totally irresistible.
Now Shea's using her platform to address the body image issues that tend to plague dancers. In a poignant video, she sheds her clothes and tugs at her skin. The caption explains her relationship with her body and the pressure she feels to maintain a certain aesthetic as a dancer.
Physical discomfort is inevitable when you're spending tons of hours in the studio every day, but some pain shouldn't be suffered through. "Dancing through pain can make an injury worse and lead to more time away from dance," says Dr. Joel Brenner, medical director of dance medicine at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters in Norfolk, VA. "Failing to rest and recover when you're in serious pain could even lead to the point where you're unable to dance in the future."
That may sound scary, but there's good news: If you take precautions and listen to your body, many injuries can be stopped in their tracks. The first step? Knowing what's normal—and what's not.
Think about it: How often do you see a ballet pas de deux for two women? Almost never, right? Sometimes, choreographers will forgo the traditional danseur-ballerina pas to make a duet for two guys, since they can lift and partner each other easily. But a dance for two ballerinas is a rare thing.
That's part of what makes "Duet," a new video by director Andrew Margetson featuring Royal Ballet beauties Yasmin Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell, so compelling.