Dancer to Dancer

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

My hairline is receding! I know this "ballerina baldness" comes from putting my hair in a tight bun every day. But we're required to wear tight buns for class. What can I do?

Liza

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Dancer to Dancer
(Courtesy ABC)

In the dance industry, dancers don't always have a say in what they wear on their bodies. This can get tricky if you're asked to wear something that compromises your own personal values. So what should you do if you find yourself in this sticky situation? We sat down for a Q&A with "Dancing with the Stars" alumn Ashly Costa to answer that very question. Here's what she had to say about the options dancers have surrounding questionable costumes.

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Shaping Sound Dance Company first debuted its full-length production That’s Where I’ll Be Waiting in 2013. Two years later, the contemporary show—with explosive energy from co-choreographers Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson, and dancers like Jaimie Goodwin, Chantel Aguirre and Amy Yakima—is still going strong, earning nightly standing ovations. What’s it like touring with one of the most popular dance productions around? Dance Spirit asked longtime company member Kate Harpootlian (whom you’ll recognize from “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 12 Team Stage!) to keep a diary for a week on Shaping Sound’s 2014–15 tour. —Jenny Ouellette

Kate Harpootlian (lower left) on the tour bus with Shaping Sound Dance Company (photo courtesy Harpootlian)

January 23: Last Rehearsal in L.A.

I was really excited to get back into rehearsals for the second half of Shaping Sound’s second tour. Once in L.A., we had four days to regroup, which is usually pretty fun. I’ve known most of the dancers since I was teenager, so getting together is like a big family reunion.

This time, though, the week got serious after our company’s morning ballet class. One of the show’s dancers, Matthew Peacock, found out he’d been booked as the assistant choreographer for Madonna’s Grammy performance. It’s an amazing opportunity for Matthew, but it means one of our understudies, Rory Freeman, will now be taking over his part. Our limited four-day rehearsal period—which we’ve had to do without props, since they’re in Texas already—has been pretty hectic. Rory is a rock star, though, and our last run-through went smoothly.

January 27: Tech in Fort Worth, TX

Today we flew from L.A. to Fort Worth—and we didn’t waste much time before going to the theater for tech. Once we were onstage, with the lights, costumes and props (!), it really sank in that tour was starting. Our set features walls that we climb up and fall off. We move them around ourselves during the show, and remembering to lock or unlock the walls while we’re performing isn’t easy. So a thorough tech is absolutely necessary.

With fellow Shaping Sound dancer Ben Susak (courtesy Harpootlian)

January 28: Opening Night in Fort Worth

Tonight’s performance was electric. My favorite part of the show is the duet I perform with Ben Susak in the “Wild Is the Wind” section. We have a great connection and we both really get into character. We also tend to change little things up each show, which keeps the piece fresh for us, even though we’ve danced it so many times. After each performance, we always do a meet-and-greet in the lobby. I love getting to speak with fans, but tonight was especially magical: My dad was there to give me a big hug!

January 29: Tulsa, OK

The grueling tour schedule has begun! We checked in to our Tulsa hotel around 4:30 am, disoriented and exhausted after our overnight drive. Believe it or not, though, it felt great to be back on the tour bus! Sometimes we’re driving for up to 12 hours at a time, and, for that reason, the bus has become one of our favorite places to hang out. We usually eat dinner and watch our most recent performance while we wait for the crew to load out—and we also love playing Catch Phrase. Our competitive group gets pretty rowdy!

Luckily, we were able to go back to sleep once we arrived at the hotel, and I felt pretty good when I woke up around 10 am. I grabbed a couple of dancers for breakfast and hit the hotel gym with Channing Cooke.

Harpootlian (third from left) during a Shaping Sound curtain call (photo courtesy Shaping Sound)

We had a 4:30 pm call time, but first we had to load all our stuff back on the bus since we’ll be leaving right after the show. Three hours before every show (our call), the company meets for notes, info about our next tour stop and to get our lighting and spacing cues. An hour and 15 minutes before curtain, we take a company ballet class. Then I put my costume on, and five minutes before curtain, we regroup onstage for our company’s pre-show ritual: After some words of encouragement, we take a few deep breaths. Our last exhale—a long “ahhh” sound—turns into a yell. Then we do a shake-off counting down from 8, and when we get to 1, someone shouts out “Shaping Sound” and we do a loud group clap. We like to think the better the clap is, the better the performance will be. It must have worked tonight!

February 1–2: Skokie, IL

After a four-show run in Kansas City, MO, and Minneapolis, MN, we finally have a couple days off. Some of the company stayed in Minneapolis, but the rest of us arrived to a full-on blizzard here in Skokie. It gave us a good reason to stay inside and rest.

Harpootlian with Travis Wall (photo courtesy Harpootlian)

Monday in Skokie was bright and sunny, so I went into Chicago to take ballet class at the Lou Conte Dance Studio—home of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Then I headed to the hotel to take a quick rest before teaching a master class with Ben and Channing. I guess it wasn’t much of a day off, but I love teaching. Plus, I got to reward myself afterwards by exploring Chicago one of my favorite ways—through my stomach! A lovely dinner with Travis and Nick was the perfect way to end this first week.

Shaping Sound’s 2015–16 tour kicks off this month in Escondido, CA, and runs through February. Visit shapingsoundco.com/tour for details.

Dancer to Dancer
DeBona in Rite of Spring (Luke Isley, courtesy Ballet West)

Ballet West's Allison DeBona first became a major figure on the pop-culture scene with her stint on The CW series “Breaking Pointe." Her ethereal grace and commanding stage presence have kept her there since. DeBona trained with the Parou Ballet Company (now New Castle Regional Ballet) in New Castle, PA, and the Pittsburgh Youth Ballet while growing up. She later attended Indiana University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in ballet before joining Ballet West in 2007. In 2011 she was promoted to demi-soloist, was given the soloist title in 2013 and, finally, was named first soloist in 2015. Catch her next month in the company's production of Madame Butterfly, and read on for The Dirt!

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Dancer to Dancer
Rob Daly, courtesy Teddy Forance

Whether he's onstage with Shaping Sound—the company he helped co-found with Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini and Kyle Robinson—or performing with artists like P!nk, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga or Usher, contemporary dancer Teddy Forance never delivers anything less than jaw-dropping performances. His technique is flawless and he leaves everything he has on the stage, every single time. The Easthampton, MA, native grew up dancing at the Hackworth School of Performing Arts, which was founded by his great-grandfather and has been owned by his family for more than 80 years. At 17, Forance toured Greece as a dancer with pop star Anna Vissi. He later assisted on Céline Dion's Taking Chances world tour and was a lead dancer in Cirque du Soleil's Delirium. He's performed on and choreographed for “So You Think You Can Dance" and “Dancing with the Stars," and starred in the Step Up Revolution film. Currently, he choreographs for Shaping Sound and is on faculty with JUMP Dance Convention.

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Dancer to Dancer
Kathryn Morgon (Jayme Thornton)

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

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Your Body
Lealand Eve

As a teenager, contemporary dancer Eveline Kleinjans felt like nothing she did was good enough. Auditioning for university dance programs paralyzed her: “I was so focused on every move I made and what people would think that I wasn't able to be free, to be myself," she says. And her intense perfectionism had real repercussions. “I'd get negative feedback saying, 'We don't see you.' "

Perfectionism is extremely common in the dance world, because dancers hold themselves to terrifically high standards. It's easy to get a little discouraged when you aren't improving as quickly as you want. But there's a difference between healthy self-criticism and an unhealthy obsession with perfection. How can you tell when your drive to be better has crossed the line—and what can you do to get back on track?

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Dancer to Dancer
Melany Centeno's commercial shot (Lindsay Rosenberg)

L.A.-based dancer McKenzie Anderson recently booked a major industrial for Reebok. When she saw the photos of the other dancers they hired, she noticed one thing they all had in common: “Everybody who booked the job had a fitness headshot. There were no commercial headshots."

“Open auditions barely happen anymore, so your headshot is often your first audition," says Jennie LaCovey, an agent at Bloc. “If you don't have a great picture with great hair and makeup, you're not going to get called in." So what can you do to make sure your headshot gets you in the door? Read on to find out.

What Makes a Great Picture?

When casting directors look at your headshot, they should be able to imagine you in a range of different roles. That means you need to avoid anything distracting and keep the focus on your face. In commercial headshots, LaCovey recommends skipping the jewelry, crazy poses and busy backgrounds. Carolyn McLeod, who cast the recent movie High Strung, says casting directors look for images that “convey personality and energy." Even if you're auditioning for a dance role, they won't just be looking at your lines. “Don't forget to engage the face and eyes," McLeod says.

While it may be tempting to wear lots of makeup or ask for heavy photo editing, remember that you still need to look like yourself. “There's nothing worse than someone coming in to a casting and looking nothing like their photograph," McLeod says.

How Many Different Looks Do I Need?

For dancers hoping to book a wide range of jobs—from tours to movies to commercials—having a range of headshots is crucial. In addition to her fitness shot, Anderson has an “edgy" dance shot she submitted for a music video with pop artist Sofia Carson, and a clean-cut shot that helped her land a commercial for Amazon.

At minimum, LaCovey advises dancers to have two looks: a commercial shot and an edgier body shot. Commercial shots are generic and clean-cut—think light makeup, no jewelry and a bright T-shirt. Full-body (non-dance) shots are used for auditions for tours and music videos. Wear formfitting clothing, but make sure you're comfortable (if you're not, it'll show in your pictures).

Nicole Niestemski's fitness shot (Lindsay Rosenberg)

Most dancers opt to do one or two additional looks, depending on their budget and the types of auditions they're hoping to land. Dancers with a younger look often do a shot geared toward the kind of teen-focused roles you might see on the Disney or Nickelodeon channels. For these, you can take on more of a character—think layers or a mix of bright colors. A trendy or fashion-forward shot works well for dancers who often go on hip-hop auditions or to castings that ask you to “show your personal style." If you're interested in fitness modeling gigs, be sure to include a shot that shows your athleticism, highlighting muscle tone and flexibility.

What Should I Wear?

Picking your outfits can be the hardest part of the process. If you have an agency, make sure to run your outfits by them first. You don't want to spend money on photos only to find out afterward that your agency doesn't want to use them. “What looks good in person sometimes isn't what looks great on camera," Anderson says. Photographer Lindsay Rosenberg recommends steering clear of highly visible brand logos in your fitness shots. “Not wearing a huge logo is usually better so that you're not appealing to just one company."

How Should I Wear My Hair and Makeup?

While dancers spend a lot of time worrying about what to wear for headshots, hair and makeup are just as important. LaCovey says that one of the biggest problems she sees is when dancers don't vary their hairstyle or makeup between looks. “They don't change their commercial makeup into more intense makeup for an edgier shot, or they don't change their hairstyle, so when the pictures come back everything looks the same."

Consider enlisting professional help. While dancers are used to doing their makeup for the stage, professional makeup artists know what looks good on camera. They'll also have higher-quality makeup and be there to touch you up throughout the day. Check with your photographer for hair or makeup recommendations—most will have a list of people they work well with.

Be Confident

Rosenberg loves when dancers come in with a clear sense of what their goals are. “If you know yourself and you know what you want out of your dance career, it's a lot easier for us to work as a team to get you exactly the shots you need to get hired."

Don't be afraid to speak up on the day of the shoot. Your photographer and your hair and makeup artists will likely check in to see if you like how you look or how the shots are turning out. “If you're not happy about something, say it!" says Rosenberg. “Don't say yes to please anybody. This is your shoot, your day. Don't worry about offending us."

How to Find a Photographer
  1. Get recommendations: If you have an agent, they'll have a list of recommended photographers. If you're unrepresented, talk to working dancers and see who they've had good experiences with.
  2. Do your research: Look at the photographer's work online. Think about what your style is, and whether you fit in with the other dancers the photographer has shot. Anderson suggests looking at dancers who are booking the kind of jobs you want—who shot their photos?
  3. Think about budget: Headshots can be a big investment. Consider which photographers fit into your price range. Prices vary depending on things like how many looks you do, so see what different packages they offer.
  4. Talk to the photographers: Chat on the phone or in person to see if they're a good fit. If you're not comfortable, your pictures won't come out well.

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