How Modeling Gigs Can Help You Earn Extra Income
Modeling is a great way to help pay the bills, and as a dancer, your ability to move well is a big asset in front of a camera. If you’re dancing in a company, chances are you already have experience in front of a lens posing for publicity and marketing photographs. Like the dance industry, modeling is a tough field, but many dancers have found it to be a rewarding experience.
Determine Your Niche
There are as many different kinds of modeling as there are dance disciplines, with varying requirements for each. Runway fashion shows, for instance, dictate that women must be taller than 5'9" and men, 6' or taller. As a 5'6" NYC–based dancer, Chantel Marie Gonsalves knew she was too short for these kinds of jobs, but has been able to build a resumé that includes editorial and catalog work for Popular Photography magazine and Nordstrom department stores.
Ask former model and swing dancer Nelia Vishnevsky what it takes to succeed in the modeling industry, and “being pretty” isn’t necessarily top of the list. It’s more about having that “it” factor. “There’s a misconception that a good model is a pretty girl,” says Vishnevsky, whose seven-year career in the Philadelphia area included print work, runway jobs for bridal shows and a gig on QVC. “In real life, [models] just have to have a certain look and move well.”
Find an Agency
Think you have what it takes to sign on the dotted line? Be careful. Con artists are everywhere, making it tough to know who’s legit and who’s not. Most reputable agencies don’t look for talent in the street.
To hook up with a legitimate agency, you’ll have to do the research. Check the internet or yellow pages to find out who the local players are, then make sure there aren’t any official complaints filed against them with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Talk to photographers and get their opinions. Find out what kind of reputation these agencies have, and what they specialize in. Once you’ve got your list, contact each agency to find out how to make submissions or when open calls are held. For instance, fashion powerhouse agencies Elite, Wilhelmina, and Ford all accept “cold call” submissions, and Elite and Wilhelmina hold weekly open calls.
Next, you’ll need professional headshots, comp cards and a dozen outfits to show off all your different looks, right? Wrong. All you need are a few snapshots. “You can even get your mom to take them,” says Gonsalves. “Good agencies will be able to tell from those [if you have potential].”
If you don’t get a response the first time around, then retake your snapshots from different angles and with different looks and poses, then resubmit, recommends Cynthia Saldana-Aktipis, founder of Ikon Model Management in Manhattan, which serves clients such as L’Oreal, Tommy Hilfiger and Cosmopolitan magazine. At this stage, never pay expensive fees for professional photos.
Once you’ve signed with an agency, you’ll need a comp card. A model’s equivalent to a business card, this staple includes your photos, personal stats such as your name, age, measurements, hair and eye color, weight, height and size, and you and your agency’s contact info. Also list any special talents, especially your dance background.
If an agency believes in your ability to get work, it might advance you the cost of test shots and comp cards until you can pay the money back. Smaller agencies may not be in a position to do that with everyone, though, so in some cases, you might have to come up with your own materials. Be very cautious about agencies that charge upfront fees of any kind or require you to use specific photographers; they are likely scamming you with no intention of helping you find work.
On the Job
According to solo artist, choreographer and Limón dancer Bradley Shelver (see his six sequential installments of “On Tour” beginning in DS September 2005), who has modeled for Elle, Vogue and Surface magazines and for Saks Fifth Avenue, when you’re starting out, keep in mind that your task is to make the products you model come alive. “An understanding of posture and shape, and the ability to live in the clothes is what is important,” says Shelver. “You’re now part of the product, and marketing yourself is just as important as selling the clothes.”
Be prepared to experiment with form and physicality. “Find the balance between moving like a dancer and adjust[ing] to the photographer’s vision for the shoot,” he says. “[Don’t] be afraid to feel awkward and ugly, because positions of that nature often produce interesting designs for clothing.”
Photographer David Byun (davidbyun.com), whose client base includes W, Vogue, Elle and Interview magazines, says that when the lens is pointed at you, exude confidence. “Don’t be shy in front of the camera,” he says. “It’s about getting what the client needs…delivering the mood and the feeling [that the client wants.]”
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Happy birthday, George Balanchine! The great choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet would have been 114 years old today. Balanchine revolutionized ballet, especially American ballet—and he also had quite a way with words. To celebrate Mr. B's birthday, we rounded up some of our favorite iconic Balanchine quotes.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.