It’s the dance capital of the west coast, the epicenter of the commercial world and the city of the stars. It’s L.A.! Think you’ve got what it takes to make it here? You’ll need to do plenty of research before you make the move to join the best of the west. What should you wear to auditions? (Body-conscious attire.) Where should you go to class? (Everywhere!) And what about public transportation? (Don’t even bother.)
We rounded up 19 of our favorite Hollywood front-runners—Wade! Laurieann! tWitch!—to dish on how to make it as a dancer in the other city that never sleeps. Start packing: You’re off to L.A.! —Alison Feller
Make the Grade
Taking class in L.A. is a crucial step on the road to booking jobs. Don’t miss out on these perennial faves.
The Big Players
Everyone has heard the hype about these major L.A. studios.
1020 Cole Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
“The Edge gave us our first opportunity when we came out to L.A. 11 years ago. The owners have been nothing but supportive of our careers. They helped us get our feet wet.” —Tabitha & Napoleon D’Umo
“Kelby Brown teaches a great ballet class for men at The Edge. He’s hard on his students, and I appreciate that.” —Tony Testa
“At The Edge, I love Gil Duldulao’s hip-hop class. His movement is very intricate and he incorporates a lot of Hawaiian dance into his choreography.” —Ivan “Flipz” Velez
Millennium Dance Complex
5113 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA
“I love Millennium. I started teaching there when I was 12 years old, so that’s my home. It’s where I’ve grown up.” —Wade Robson
“I recommend David Moore and Nick Wilson at Millennium. Their hip-hop classes are all about fun and energy. It feels more like a party than a class!” —tWitch
Debbie Reynolds Studios
6514 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA
“I like Chuck Maldonado’s class at Debbie Reynolds. He’s very clean and teaches old-school hip hop. He’s not afraid to throw the running man and the cabbage patch at you!” —Ivan “Flipz” Velez
If the mainstays aren’t for you, try these equally awesome options.
“Nader Hamed at Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica—the school I grew up in. It’s a good, solid class.” —Melissa Barak
“My favorites are Steve Zee at Tap Academy in Santa Monica, Paul Kennedy at Universal Dance Designs and Denise Shearer, who used to teach at Dance Arts Academy. Paul stresses performance quality and stage presence, and Denise emphasizes understanding music and how it relates to tap dancing. Plus, I hold a Monday night tap experience at my house. It’s geared toward young hoofers who want to start teaching but have no teaching experience yet. I have a new young teacher every week and only charge five dollars. At the end of class we have a jam session.” —Sara Reich
“As a young organization, Los Angeles Ballet School has a phenomenal faculty. It’s the best and most serious classical ballet school in L.A.” —Colleen Neary
“I like International Dance Academy, which is a new studio in Hollywood. It just opened up and that’s where “America’s Best Dance Crew” and “So You Think You Can Dance” holds all of their rehearsals. They have the best sound system, and it looks grimy—I like that vibe.” —Shane Sparks
“My favorite is Bradley Michaud’s class at Brockus Project Studios.” —Kate Hutter
Whether it’s a commercial, ballet or modern audition, here’s how to rock it.
“Never come to an audition late. Five minutes into the audition, the combination is already mostly completed. If you come in late, you’re lost and that’s my biggest pet peeve. L.A. has traffic issues, so give yourself time to get there early. Very rarely do I allow someone to arrive late and still audition. Also remember that the minute you walk through the door, I’m looking at you. I’m usually picking you out as you’re learning the combo, so start giving it to me immediately.” —Marguerite Derricks
“When you learn the combo, face away from the mirror in the back corner of the room. Do it four to five times so you can figure out which parts of the sequence you don’t know well enough. Being in different spaces and facing different ways will help get the steps into your brain so you can perform and not be affected by your surroundings.” —Tabitha D’Umo
“Know the difference between what’s body-conscious and what’s slutty. Make an effort, but don’t stand out too much. You don’t want to be the person who has clearly gone overboard or under-board.” —Tony Testa
“As I tell my students, know the combinations. Nothing is worse than a dancer concentrating on what others are doing in an effort to pick up a combo. And always come to class put-together, prepared and focused. This is the entertainment capital of the world—so entertain!” —Melissa Barak
“There are so many elements that factor into why someone gets a job, whether it’s a look, a connection to someone or politics. It might not be strictly about talent. It was discouraging for me to see someone fall out of a turn, knock into me and then get a callback when I got cut. You can’t be prepared for that. You go into an audition according to what you think the casting directors and choreographers want. But you just have to realize, ‘I need to go as myself, the best I can. If I’m right, I’ll get the job.’ ” —Jen Talarico
“Auditions last so long because so many dancers show up. But that’s a good thing—there is always someone better than you and that pushes you and gives you another reason to work hard.” —Tucker Barkley
“Go hard—even if you make a mistake. The choreographers want to see you and your performance. Even if you’re unclear or you mess up, sell yourself with confidence. If you can do that, you’ll be fine.” —tWitch
“For the concert dance scene, go in with an open mind and an established personal identity. And always send a follow-up e-mail expressing interest in studying with the artist. Build relationships.” —Kate Hutter
“Just do you. When you get to an audition, don’t start looking around, trying to figure out what other people are wearing, what they’re doing or what cologne they use. Go in with blinders on. Because if you have it, you have it. As long as you arrive on time, knowing the music and knowing the artist, then that’s it: Just represent yourself to the fullest. And don’t expect to book every job. No dancer goes to 10 auditions and books all 10.” —Ivan “Flipz” Velez
“Learn the combination; don’t interpret it. Get it as close as possible to the choreographer’s request. Only then can you add your personality.” —Laurieann Gibson
Anything Can Happen!
“I went to an audition for Tina Landon for a Twix commercial. When I got there I found out they weren’t looking for street dancers—they were looking for polka dancers. But I auditioned anyway and did my street stuff, and Tina actually went to the director and got me booked. So in the commercial, while the polka dancers are dancing, there I am doing a headspin!” —Ivan “Flipz” Velez
“My first audition out here was for a Honda commercial with Hi Hat. I was so excited because I had so much training leading up this. Then they asked me to me freestyle with a broom! I was like ‘I have all this training, finally get a job opportunity, and now I have to dance with a broom?!’ You never know what to expect in L.A.!” —Tony Testa
Moving & Shaking
Perhaps the biggest difference between the NYC and L.A. dance scenes: getting around! Don’t rely on public transportation in this sprawling town. Take advice from the pros who know.
“You will never be able to plot out traffic, so don’t even try. Just plan for it. Always.” —tWitch
“Most dancers live in the Valley, right over the hill from Hollywood. It’s the cheapest place to live. In Hollywood you’ll get a really tiny place for a lot of money. It’s less expensive to live in North Hollywood, where there are so many apartment buildings and condos.” —Jen Talarico
“Make sure you know how to budget your money. It’s really important to know how to balance a checkbook. Micromanage your bills and keep track of your accounts. You might not learn it in school—have your parents teach you!” —Tony Testa
“Save up to buy a car, even if it’s a rundown one.” —Laurieann Gibson
“Learn how to manage money. Don’t spend it on a $700 Gucci purse—you’d amazed by how many burgers I could buy at McDonald’s for $700. You could feed me for months!” —Napoleon D’Umo
“If possible, live near where you want to work. People making long commutes are always exhausted.” —Kate Hutter
“L.A. is huge and very spread out, and dance auditions are all over the place. Getting a GPS device is crucial. Leave an extra 20 to 30 minutes early to account for traffic. And wear sunblock on your arms when driving. Otherwise you’ll end up with a horribly uneven driver’s tan.” —Melissa Barak
“It’s almost impossible to function in L.A. without a car. The bus does go everywhere, but if you have a busy day and you’re trying to do more than one or two things, you have to have a car. In New York you can walk from audition to audition, but not in L.A.” —Debbie Allen
The L.A. Scene
Got some downtime? Check out these events and companies.
Hysterica Dance Company
Kitty McNamee and Ryan Heffington’s edgy contemporary company is known for its sultry choreography and costumes. Exciting, thought-provoking and sexy!
A favorite of: Wade Robson, Brian Friedman, Kate Hutter, Ami Mattison
On the last Wednesday of every month, emerging choreographers showcase at the Key Club in L.A. (Tucker Barkley, Lauren Gottlieb and JaQuel Knight have all danced at Carnival!)
A favorite of: tWitch, Shane Sparks, Tucker Barkley
Dance Camera West
Check out this film festival for screenings of independent, innovative dance films.
A favorite of: Tony Testa
This L.A.-based crew flips, twists, pops and locks for the ultimate performance experience. Members have gone on to form their own crews (The Beat Freaks!), and last year the group won Nigel Lythgoe’s “Superstars of Dance” competition.
A favorite of: Tabitha & Napoleon D’Umo
Maria Gillespie’s pickup company performs vibrant, theatrical modern pieces in an effort to stimulate audiences both kinetically and emotionally. Deep!
A favorite of: Kate Hutter
Terry Beeman Dance Co.
With 16 years of teaching under his belt, it’s safe to say Terry Beeman is a pro. If you can’t make it to L.A. to see his yoga and Cirque-Aerial-Tissue-Training–inspired company in action, try to catch him on the convention circuit with New York City Dance Alliance and L.A. Dance Force.
A favorite of: Nancy O’Meara
Monsters of Hip Hop Show
The always-popular convention concludes each summer with an explosive finale performance where young dancers—and hot choreographers—show off the moves they’ve mastered after taking classes with Marty Kudelka, Teresa Espinosa and Dave Scott, to name a few.
A favorite of: Tabitha & Napoleon D’Umo
LA Iron Works
Tappers unite with the help of this nonprofit organization, which offers free classes and community performances for underserved youth in L.A.
A favorite of: Sara Reich
Everyone has a favorite getaway. Check out what the dance stars love about living in L.A.—and where they go to escape.
“My favorite place to go is Johnny Rockets on the Third Street Promenade, because you can watch all the street performers while you eat!” —Debbie Allen
“Go to Pinz, a bowling alley attached to Jerry’s Deli in Studio City. You can go there at midnight and dancers will be there bowling, dancing and partying all night.” —Shane Sparks
“Hit up the Jet Rag Sunday clothing sale. They put all their extra clothes—piles and piles—on the sidewalk and everything is a dollar. You can find great costumes and things for class.” —Ami Mattison
“We go to Runyon Canyon three or four times a week and see a lot of stars there. It’s where everyone goes to walk their dogs or take a jog. You can see the ocean and almost all of L.A. on a clear day.” —Tabitha & Napoleon D’Umo
“Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City is my favorite hidden gem in L.A.” —Brian Friedman
“PostHouse, a dance studio in Laurel Canyon, is in a beautiful spot, hidden and out of the way.” —Tony Testa
“This small Chinese food place in the Valley called Chinese Deli has amazing food and is super cheap!” —Tucker Barkley
“Melisse Restaurant in Santa Monica is chic and elegant, and the food is superb.” —Colleen Neary
“The coolest pizza spot in town is right across the street from Millennium—it’s called Pitfire. They use real brick ovens and have fantastic cream soda.” —Ivan “Flipz” Velez
“Up at the Hollywood sign there’s a park where you can see all of L.A. I go there with my boyfriend, Ryan Novak [also a Miley dancer!] to have picnics.” —Jen Talarico
“Mulholland Drive overlooks the whole city, so you can just go there and be quiet. It’s really peaceful and serene up in the hills.” —tWitch
“I go to Silver Lake Coffee Shop and The Kitchen restaurant to get away from the L.A. madness.” —Kate Hutter
“My wife and I live in Santa Monica and spend a lot of time riding our bikes along Ocean Avenue, just taking in the ocean, meditating and praying. I could never live in Hollywood. I need to be away from all of it, so we have our own little secluded world.” —Wade Robson
Get revved up for your debut on the West Coast with these motivating tidbits.
“Before coming to L.A. you were a big fish in a small bowl, and now you’re about to be a tiny fish in a huge bowl. It’s not negative—it’s realistic. No matter how good you are, when you first come to L.A. you’re not going to be as good as the people who are already here. Be ready for that. Work on your ability and technique to get up to their level. Then, get an agent. It happens a million different ways, and agents have open casting calls. But hopefully you get into classes and a well-known choreographer sees you and says, ‘You’re great, I’m going to tell my agent they should hire you.’ ” —Wade Robson
“Dreams really do come true here. It’s Hollywood, so anything is possible.” —LaurieAnn Gibson
“L.A. is so special right now because it’s where everyone comes. It’s like the NFL for dance—it’s the big leagues. You work hard in your city and become the best dancer in your town, and then you come here.” —Tabitha D’Umo
“The whole energy and vibe of L.A. makes it the cutting-edge place to be. Everybody pushes the limits here. It’s a melting pot of where it’s all going down.” —tWitch
“The L.A. dance scene is incredibly competitive. There are a lot of great dancers here who are very versatile. If you want to break into the commercial scene, take a variety of different classes such as hip hop, jazz funk and ballroom. Get comfortable with all of it! And network, network, network.” —Melissa Barak
“Don’t be afraid to move out here. As prepared as you are, you’ll never be fully prepared. You’re going to come here and freak out a bit. But just do it. And once you do, take every class in the world.” —Tucker Barkley
“The world of dance is so big right now, so keep dreaming and practicing, because there’s more opportunity every single day. It’s a great time to invest your love in this business. So jump in!” —Debbie Allen
“Don’t come to L.A. expecting to get booked and start your career right away. I know you’re probably good in your small city, but when you come to L.A. you need to train with the best if you want to compete with the rest. Be prepared to learn many different styles.” —Shane Sparks
“L.A. is eclectic. There are so many kinds of people who are all out here for the same reason. These people understand you and where you’re coming from. We’re all after a similar prize. And we have a beach and great weather!” —Tony Testa
“The more experience in different styles you get, the longer your career will be. That way, when your agent asks you if you can do something, the answer is always yes! Whatever you do, don’t let L.A. swallow you up. Stay focused, stay out of trouble and always stay busy. Set goals and tell yourself that failure is never an option.” —Nancy O’Meara
“Make friends with everyone! This isn’t just for jobs, but also for security, stability and comfort. Your family in L.A. can never be too big. And yes, when a job comes along, it does matter who you know.” —Brian Friedman
“This is where it all happens. The movies, TV shows, music videos, tours—and it’s where the artists live and work. If this is the life you want, this is where you have to be. It’s the only place you can walk down the street and see the person you really want to work with. When you put yourself in the vicinity of something you want, you can create that vibe and have it come to you.” —Jen Talarico
“Because of the explosion of dance on TV and film, there is so much opportunity here. The variety of work available in L.A. makes it exciting. Every single week something new is going on and that keeps you on your toes.” —Marguerite Derricks
“Be friendly. Don’t just leave right after the class. Meet people and build a connection with the teacher. Go to tap festivals and meet the teachers and the students. It’s not what you know, but who you know.” —Sara Reich
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.
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!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
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.
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.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.