Choreographer Wynn Holmes (center) on set with Canadian band FOXTROTT, shooting the music video for "Shields" (photo by Gaelle Leroyer, courtesy Holmes)
Adagio. Marley. Rosin. Switch leap. You’re more than familiar with a lot of theatrical-dance terminology. But do you know what an industrial is? A session fee? If you’re looking to break into the world of commercial dance—think music videos, TV spots, promotional events—you’ll need to learn, and fast. We asked some industry heavy-hitters to clue us in on what you’ll need to know to book jobs and communicate like a pro on set.
Before the Job
You probably already know some of the terms you’ll hear when trying to book a commercial job (auditions, callbacks and headshots, for example). But some types of commercial jobs, such as trade shows, might be new to you. Also, most commercial work is booked through an agent, which involves a language of its own. We had Lakey Wolff, a former agent with CESD Talent Agency in NYC, break it down.
Agent: Submits you for jobs and negotiates the terms and conditions of a booking in return for a percentage of your fee.
Book/release: “Booking” means you got the gig. If you’ve “been released,” you didn’t.
Breakdown: The description of what a project is looking for. Includes the specifications
(also called “specs”) for things like age, gender, ethnicity, height and type of dancer needed.
Casting director: In charge of running casting sessions.
Industrial: Video for nonbroadcast use. Examples include corporate sales materials, instructional clips and product demonstrations.
Trade show: Corporate event where dancers are involved in presentations or demonstrations.
Being on set for the first time can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Wynn Holmes, a choreographer and dancer whose choreography credits include MTV, Nike and “So You Think You Can Dance” (Canada), filled us in on a few key terms you might hear.
Blocking: Running through a scene before filming to decide where the dance will happen, who will enter when, and where lighting and cameras will be placed.
Blocking on set takes a lot longer than blocking in rehearsal, Holmes warns, so be patient!
Call sheet: The list of who will be required on set for each shot, as well as when and where scenes are scheduled.
Holmes suggests always checking out the whole call sheet (not just looking for your name) to get a good idea of how the day on set will run.
Camera left/right: Similar to stage left/right: If you’re facing the camera, camera left is your right.
Cheat: To turn slightly toward the camera. Cheat-away means to turn slightly away from the camera.
Crew: The production staff on set behind the scenes, including the gaffer (in charge of lighting) and director of photography.
Frame: The area in the shot. If you’re “in the frame,” you’re being seen on camera.
Pickup shots: Extra shots that happen after the main shoot is finished. These might include detail or cutaway shots (to get a different view or angle).
Striking: Removing an object or prop from the set.
Talent: Dancers, actors, models—anyone who is appearing on camera.
Time Sheet: Officially known as the Performer’s Work Report, it lists the names of all of the talent who worked on set that day, and notes when they arrived, went to wardrobe/hair and makeup, started and ended their meal breaks, and wrapped their day. The sheet is used to calculate payments at the end of production.
After the Job
Contracts for commercial jobs can be complicated, but understanding them will ensure you’re treated fairly. Wolff always encourages dancers to read everything and consult with their agent before they sign. “It’s OK to ask questions!”
Conflict: Work for the same type of client. For example, if you shoot an ad for one department store, booking work with another department store would be a conflict. “Exclusivity” means the client won’t book you with a conflict
in a certain category.
Holding fee: Compensation for not appearing in work for a competitive product. Once the company stops paying a holding fee, you’re released from the conflict.
Release: A contract term which means you release your rights to the company hiring you. These can be specific to different “uses” (i.e., images, social media).
Make sure to check what is included in the release and how long the company holds those rights.
Reshoot: An additional shoot (of an entire scene) after the original shoot wraps.
Residuals: What you’re paid on top of the session fee if the show or commercial runs.
Session fee: What you’re paid for the day of filming.
Stills: Photos taken during a shoot. These can be helpful in building your portfolio if you get permission from the producer to use them.
Remember just a few days ago when we reminisced about all our favorite dance-based commercials, and got hyped about the new Shoe Carnival commercial featuring Fik-Shun and Simrin Player?
Well watch out, Shoe Carnival, because there's a new back-to-school block party rolling through the halls, thanks to Macy's and Chloé Arnold. The locker-clad setting evokes memories of Britney Spears singing "...Baby One More Time," but the dancing is straight-up old-school 90s hip hop and funk.
Choreographed by Syncopated Ladies frontwoman and tap sensation Chloé Arnold, the campaign showcases young (and so cute) dancers (like DS favorite Devin Neal) busting a move in the school hallways—much to the initial chagrin of the onlooking teacher (who, of course, ends up joining in on the fancy-footworked fun). The video was shot by Nigel Dick, an iconic 90s director, and is set to "Me Myself & I" by De la Soul.
We may not be ready to go back to school, but we are definitely ready to do some back-to-school shopping—and dancing! Check it out...
Forget Choreographer's Carnival—let's give it up for Shoe Carnival!
The shoe mega-retailer is the latest brand to jump head-first into the very smart and hugely entertaining "let's feature dancers in our commercials" venture. (See also Microsoft, Target, Under Armour, Microsoft again and Virgin America.)
The national television commercial, choreographed by Jamal Sims and directed by Tim Milgram, features just a few of our favorite hip-hoppers, including former DS cover girl Simrin Player, "So You Think You Can Dance" champion and All-Star Fik-Shun, Kaelynn Harris, Taylor Edgin, Josh Killacky, Richard "Lil Swagg" Curtis, Austin Spacy, BJ Das, Kaity Martinez and Marvin Ryan.
Fancy feet grooving in fresh footwear? Going back to school never looked so fun! Check it out.
Ever feel like the college dance world is geared exclusively toward concert dancers? There’s a brand-new school on the horizon for those seeking a dance degree with a slightly different vibe. Relativity School, based in L.A., will offer one of the few commercial dance BFAs in the country. The school will have a strong academic foundation, and business classes will supplement top-notch technical training.
Students at Relativity School's summer workshop (photo by Camila Ohara Tanabe)
Relativity School will have its own space at the L.A. Center Studios in southern California, where classrooms will be next door to film and television production studios. The program has also partnered with McDonald/Selznick Associates talent agency to develop courses to teach students how to market themselves. “As much as you train your technique, you need to train in how to brand yourself,” says co-founder VP Boyle.
Boyle plans to make use of MSA’s impressive talent roster, which includes celebs like Mia Michaels and Dave Scott. “MSA was instrumental in figuring out the dance program,” he says. “Some of today’s best directors and choreographers will be on faculty, and our guest choreographers are through the roof.”
Ballet has had its moments in rock and pop music videos, but it's not something that has been consistently successful—anyone remember Rihanna's ill-fated attempt to look good in pointe shoes? Let's face it: When music videos utilize ballet they're usually trying to appear more artsy, and in the process they can lose sight of their original point.
Still from "Time vs. Money"
Fortunately, Boston-based indie band The Bynars' new music video "Time vs. Money" proves that you can combine pop music and ballet without seeming contrived. In the video, Festival Ballet Providence dancers Kirsten Evans and Alex Lantz perform a whirling, quirky duet, choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov. The video was conceived and directed by Shaun Clarke, and is pitch-perfect: moody without being melodramatic and mysterious without obscuring the dancers' bodies. I especially love the sections where the dancers are completely silhouetted—their solid technique shines.
Still from "Time vs. Money"
The video reminds me of what might happen if you were magically transported to a dance party immediately after performing on stage—your adrenaline is still really high, you're exhausted, but you just can't stop, won't stop. Check it out below!
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.
“The first time I saw Chantel Aguirre dance was in a video,” recalls choreographer Travis Wall. “My first thought was that she had crazy lines. My next thought was that I wanted to meet her.” A few months later, Wall did meet Chantel, who was 18 at the time and working as an assistant at a convention. “She was quiet and reserved, but she was excited to learn,” he says. “She was trained and hungry for work—she wanted to get her hands on any step, phrase or piece of choreography.”
Travis Wall and Chantel backstage at "Dancing with the Stars"
Last year, when Wall was asked to choreograph a piece for the Macy’s “Stars of Dance” segment on “Dancing with the Stars,” he rounded up his go-to group of strikingly talented dance friends, including Jaimie Goodwin, Danny Tidwell, Nick Lazzarini and Tiler Peck—and he brought in newcomer Chantel. “Since that job, I’ve hired her for every single project I’ve done,” Wall says. “Chantel does whatever you ask of her and more. She’s the most professional dancer I know and she’s always full-out. She has become my go-to person.”
Wall isn’t the only choreographer who has fallen for Chantel’s quirky, ballet-based style. When Billy Bell formed his own company, Lunge Dance Collective, Chantel was one of his first members. “When I first saw her dance, I felt like I was stuck in one of those movies where everything around you freezes,” says Bell, who met Chantel when she was assisting Sonya Tayeh on “So You Think You Can Dance.” “She has this way of controlling a room with her focus that creates a timeless quality to her movement. It’s like she’s floating.”
So what is it about this 22-year-old that has the industry’s top choreographers dying to hire her? We sat down with Chantel to find out.
Chantel is one of those dancers who quite literally grew up in a dance studio. Her mother, also a dancer, owned Ballet Repertoire Theatre in Santa Cruz, CA, and Chantel was in dance classes by the time she was 2. It didn’t take long for Chantel to become hooked on dancing. “My mom’s studio was an amazing little competition studio, but I knew I wanted more—I wanted to do this forever,” she says.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
She trained in all styles at Ballet Repertoire Theatre, but Chantel wanted to focus on ballet. At 11 she enrolled at The Studio of Classical Ballet, also in Santa Cruz. “It was always reiterated to me that you need solid technique and strong ballet skills no matter what sort of dance career you want to have,” she says. In search of more intense training, Chantel auditioned for the San Francisco Ballet School during her freshman year of high school. “That’s when everything changed,” she says. “I was surrounded by the best dancers in Santa Cruz, but I was getting complacent. I wanted to keep getting better, and I knew I had to go beyond Santa Cruz for that to happen.”
Chantel remembers being “totally terrified” at the SFB audition. “Everyone knew the combinations already because they had been in the school for years, and I wasn’t even wearing the right color to the audition,” she says. “I got corrected every time I did something and the teacher was on me during every exercise.” To her surprise—“They must have seen potential or something,” she says—Chantel was accepted to the school as a level-six student (out of eight levels).
Always Wanting More
Throughout high school, Chantel attended academic classes until 1 pm every day, and then she would commute three hours round-trip for four hours’ worth of classes—all on pointe—at SFB. The work was challenging, but Chantel’s drive and motivation never waned. In fact, she became more ambitious. “I didn’t want to sacrifice my other training and just do ballet,” she says. So on the side, the already busy girl performed with the Dance Company of San Francisco, a troupe of young artists that included future “So You Think You Can Dance” alums Nick Lazzarini and Melody Lacayanga.
The company, directed by Chris Jacobsen and Sonya Tayeh, entered local competitions, performing mostly contemporary routines. “Competing with the company taught me that competitions don’t have to be all glitz, glamour and sequins,” Chantel says. “We were really serious about performing, not about the awards.”
Chantel did her homework in the car going to and from rehearsals, and she admits to getting “very little sleep” at the time. But this commitment to learning, training and latching on to every possible resource is what sets Chantel apart from other dancers. “My mom raised me with the belief that if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, just do as much as you can. And I wanted to do everything possible,” she says.
Chantel in the City
Photo by Nathan Sayers
After graduating from high school, Chantel was ready to conquer the professional dance world—but she didn’t know where to start. “The hardest decision I’ve faced in my career was deciding where to go after high school,” she says. She spent some time living with Tayeh in L.A. while she faced the ever-stressful “L.A. vs. NYC” debate. Though she says she was “too scared” to just move to NYC, ultimately that’s what she did, enrolling at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as a dance major, with a minor in business.
Chantel lived in the NYU dorms, took dance and academic classes and continued auditioning for commercial and industrial work through her Clear Talent Group agency representation. During her freshman year at NYU, she performed as a dancer in the televised Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and booked a two-week performance job at a film festival in Dubai. It was all good—but it was also too much.
“I was just going through the motions,” Chantel says. “I loved school and I loved training, but I was missing jobs and auditions that I desperately wanted. I had so many conflicts, and I needed to make a decision.” Chantel credits her year and a half at NYU as her “segue into NYC,” but she didn’t want to turn down paying jobs while her family struggled to pay for her to be in school. She took a leave of absence from college, moved into an apartment on the Lower East Side and began her full-time dance career. Soon she was performing at the MTV Video Music Awards with Taylor Swift and dancing with Justin Giles’ SoulEscape company.
The Timeless Dancer
Without rigorous academic demands, Chantel fully immersed herself in dance classes and auditions. She spent another year and a half in NYC and then got a call from Tayeh, who was forming her own company in L.A. and wanted Chantel to be part of the group’s first show. “Chantel is such a determined dancer—of course I wanted her with us,” Tayeh recalls. “She’s spirited and has so much heart, and her dancing is regal and lovely. She’s well-rounded and eager. That’s what makes a timeless dancer.” For Chantel, the move came at the right time. “I loved NYC, but my lease was up, so I packed a few things, figuring I’d go out for the show and then come back to NYC,” she says. But things didn’t go according to her plan: Right after Tayeh’s show wrapped, Chantel got a call to audition for the 2010 Academy Awards, and the L.A. job offers snowballed from there.
“Performing at the Academy Awards was unbelievable,” Chantel says. “I remember standing onstage during a commercial break, waiting to perform, and Sandra Bullock was sitting right in front of me, looking at me. I stood on that stage and suddenly everything made sense. I knew I wasn’t going back to New York.”
Chantel performing with Billy Bell's Lunge Dance Collective
Since moving back to California, Chantel has performed on “Dancing with the Stars” five times and at the Video Music Awards with Florence and the Machine. She is a member of Billy Bell’s Lunge Dance Collective and Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound Dance Company, was a featured dancer in Cristina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” music video, performed at the Billboard Awards with Beyoncé, danced at the Macy’s Passport fashion shows and worked as a member of the skeleton crew for Step Up 4. Plus Chantel takes classes (“nonstop,” she says) at EDGE Performing Arts Center and Millennium Dance Complex, and has started teaching at local studios and setting competition routines on younger dancers.
As Chantel continues to work hard and hone her ever-growing list of skills, the world is taking notice. When Wall held auditions for his company late last year, Chantel arrived amid hundreds of other dancers. “She stood next to Jaimie Goodwin—and everyone knows Jaimie is my favorite female dancer—but Chantel just roasted everyone in the room,” Wall says. “She blew the audition out of the water. In the past year and a half, Chantel has come into a spot where everyone in L.A. knows who she is. All eyes are on her.”
Chantel’s Fast Facts
Birthday: May 6, 1989
Hometown: Scotts Valley, CA
Most-played artist on her iPod: James Blake
Favorite books: The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, MD
Favorite TV show: “Dexter”
Favorite movies: Kill Bill, Andre (“the one about the seal”), Inglourious Basterds and A Little Princess
Favorite food: Sushi
Favorite dance step: “Can I say the ‘bend and snap’?!”
Dance crush: Robert Roldan
If you could work with any performer, past or present, who would it be? Dwight Rhoden. “I took a summer workshop with Dwight and Desmond Richardson, and they blew my mind. They are both such exceptionally talented geniuses. They teach
a way my body wants to move, but I’m not quite there yet.”
If I wasn’t a dancer I’d be… “A surgeon. It’s incredible the way people can repair the human body. When I was younger I always wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian. I used to put Band-Aids on my cat!”
Dance dream job: “I’d like to be in a professional contemporary ballet company someday, touring internationally. It’s not about the money for me—it’s about the creation and the positive environment.”