Making Your Own Luck
(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.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.