Wondering how people actually book the dance world’s most coveted jobs? Cattle-call auditions aren’t the only route to a career: Sometimes it’s about who you know—or about being in the right place at the right time. Dance Spirit asked six dancers to describe the moments when the stars aligned, allowing them to nab high-profile professional gigs.
Anissa Lee (photo by Suzanne Fiedler, courtesy Lee)
The job: Company member, Chloé Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies
How she got the gig: “I’d been taking class with Chloé at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy for about two years when she mentioned she was starting this new group—it didn’t even have a name yet. I first auditioned to dance with them when I was 14 or 15, but I got cut! That was the push I needed to start taking my training more seriously—I wanted to be a part of the company so much. Over time, Chloé saw my work paying off, and I did my first show with the Syncopated Ladies at the L.A. Tap Festival in 2008.”
What she’s doing now: In addition to being a Syncopated Lady, Lee dances with Sarah Reich’s Tap Music Project and is a regular performer at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ Rose. Rabbit. Lie. supper club.
Job-booking advice: “Be nice to everyone. Tap auditions are rare—it’s definitely more about word of mouth. And take class! If I hadn’t been in Chloé’s class at the right time, I might have missed the Syncopated Ladies train.”
Tim Chester performing in Atlantic City (photo by Suzanne Fiedler, courtesy Chester)
The job: Performer, Celebrity Cruises
How he got the gig: “I majored in history in college, but while I was in school I apprenticed with Atlantic City Ballet and took dance-focused electives. Second semester of senior year, I enrolled in a costume-design class. One day, I was daydreaming and started doing a port de bras. My design professor took note—and it turned out she had a side job mending costumes for Celebrity Cruises. She heard from a producer that they needed a male dancer, and reached out to me. I didn’t pause to think about it: I filmed some ballet and jazz combos and put the tape in the mail. I got the offer a week later, and was in rehearsals two weeks after graduation!”
What he’s doing now: Chester owns TLC Academy of Dance in Absecon, NJ, and works as a freelance performer.
Job-booking advice: “Be versatile. We all have dance styles we gravitate toward, but you can’t be afraid to try other things. The more well-rounded you are, the more jobs will be out there for you.”
Emma Slater (courtesy ABC)
The job: “Dancing with the Stars” pro
How she got the gig: “The ‘Dancing with the Stars’ producers get to know you based on your competitive credentials. By the time they contact you, they’ve done their research—they already have a sense of what you can do. When they reached out to me, I’d been performing with the traveling ballroom show Burn the Floor, and the ‘DWTS’ team had seen me in the production. They just asked me to do an on-camera interview; it was more about testing my personality than my technique. I joined the show’s professional troupe for Season 14.”
What she’s doing now: For the past several seasons, Slater has had celebrity partners on “DWTS.”
Job-booking advice: “Be ferocious in your personality. Producers and casting directors want to see confidence and energy.”
The job: Dancer for/assistant to choreographer Marguerite Derricks
How she got the gig: “I’d been assisting Doug Caldwell in his class at the EDGE in L.A. One
Mallauri Esquibel and Teddy Forance during a Shaping Sound performance (photo by Chris Reilly, courtesy Esquibel)
day, we were working on a combination at his house, dancing around in his living room, and Marguerite stopped by. I was marking while they talked, and she paused and said, ‘Dance for me.’ So I did the combination for her, right there. The next day, I got a call offering me a dance role in the movie Fame, which Marguerite was choreographing.”
What she’s doing now: Esquibel went on to work with Derricks on the TV show “Bunheads,” the Broadway musical Wonderland and many other gigs. She’s also danced for Taylor Swift and toured with Shaping Sound.
Job-booking advice: “Be prepared at any moment. Every person you meet in the dance industry has something to offer, and could in some capacity help you build a career.”
The job: Swing and dance captain, Broadway’s On Your Feet!
Natalie Caruncho backstage at On Your Feet! (courtesy Caruncho)
How she got the gig: “I’d worked with choreographer Sergio Trujillo on the first and second national tours of Flashdance: The Musical, where I was a swing, then dance captain and finally Sergio’s associate choreographer. When Flashdance was over and I was back in NYC, Sergio invited me to audition for On Your Feet! I’d missed the open call because we were still on the road, and I didn’t have an agent at the time. Sergio was the one who got me in the room. He said, ‘I think this would be a good fit for you, but you’ll have to prove that to the rest of the team.’ And they ended up hiring me.”
What she’s doing now: Caruncho is still happily working in On Your Feet!
Job-booking advice: “Share your joy, your passion, your fierceness—whatever is uniquely you. People want to see a human being who will be fun, committed and hardworking in rehearsal. That’s how you’ll get creative team members to take a chance on you.”
Albert Blaise Cattafi
The job: Company member, Bad Boys of Dance
How he got the gig: “As a teen, I idolized Rasta Thomas. When I was 13, I emailed him,
(Courtesy Albert Blaise Cattafi)
and he actually wrote back! A few years later, I was at a competition in NYC, and after my solo, Rasta approached me in the hallway. He said, ‘I’m getting some guys together to start my own company. If you’re interested, I’d love for you to join us.’ So, right after graduating high school, I went into rehearsals with the Bad Boys of Dance. Having the opportunity to dance with Rasta—the epitome of what a male soloist should be—at the start of my career was invaluable.”
What he’s doing now: Cattafi has also danced with Shaping Sound, on “Saturday Night Live” and for musical artists including Kelly Clarkson. He’s currently the resident choreographer for Phoenix Ballet in Scottsdale, AZ.
Job-booking advice: “Do your research. Watch videos. If you like a show or company, see if you can take class with people in it. You can control the type of artist you want to be.”
"Dancing with the Stars" announced its cast for Season 18 earlier this morning, and holy moly we're excited. Not only did our suspicions about Olympians competing for the mirror ball trophy come true, but the list of athletes involved is even better than we had hoped.
Charlie White and Meryl Davis sport their gold medals at the Empire State Building last week. Photo via OK! Magazine.
First up is Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Sochi's ice dancing gold medal winners (USA! USA! USA!), though they won't be paired together—Meryl will dance with Maksim Chmerkovskiy (#TeamMaksyl ...eh, we'll work on that one) and Charlie will dance with Sharna Burgess. Next is Paralympian Amy Purdy, a snowboarding champ who is also a double amputee. She'll be paired with the unstoppable Derek Hough (is there anything he isn't doing these days?).
Sean Avery, before he retired from hockey. Photo by Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press
Dancing with Karina Smirnoff is Sean Avery, the NHL dreamboat who's played for the New York Rangers, the Detroit Red Wings, the Los Angeles Kings and the Dallas Stars. Rounding out the sports category is Diana Nyad, a long distance swimmer who is the only person in history to go from Key West to Cuba—that's 110 miles—without stopping and braving sharks, jellyfish and exhaustion. Let's just say her partner, Henry Byalikov, better bring it.
Of course, what would the show be without a smattering of TV celebs? This season does not disappoint. Two words: Winnie Cooper. Another two words: D.J. Tanner. That's right, Danica McKellar from "The Wonder Years" and Candace Cameron Bure from "Full House" will be going neck and neck in just two weeks.
Winnie Danica will dance with Val Chmerkovskiy and D.J. Candace will work with Mark Ballas.
(R to L) Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) and Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) in "The Wonder Years"; D.J. Tanner (Candace Cameron Bure) in "Full House"
Cheryl Burke will be paired with Drew Carey, whom I can't believe hasn't been on the show yet. And Real Housewife of Atlanta NeNe Leakes (also known as Roz Washington on "Glee") will be swept off her feet by Tony Dovolani.
(L to R) Lando (Billy Dee Williams) with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewy and Hans Solo (Harrison Ford)
Star Wars nerds rejoice: Billy Dee Williams (you know him as Lando Calrissian) will also dance, paired with British musical theater vet Emma Slater.
Cody Simpson is the youngest competitor. At 17, the Aussie pop singer will dance with Witney Carson, the Season 9 "So You Think You Can Dance" bombshell from Utah. And James Maslow, the 23-year-old sweetheart from Nickelodeon's "Big Time Rush" will be competing with Peta Murgatroyd. From the looks of this picture of the duo out on the town earlier this February, it may be a match made in "DWTS" heaven:
Peta and James leaving a restaurant in West Hollywood in early February. Photo by SPW/Splash News
All in all, it's going to be a great season. Who are you most excited to see? Any early predictions? Don't forget to set your DVRs (or just tune in!) for the two-hour season premiere, March 17 at 8 pm ET on ABC.