What It's Really Like to Dance at a Theme Park
After completing the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program in NYC, Janelle Jones was working as a server and doing freelance gigs. When she got a job as a dancer in a new show at Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, VA, she was initially hesitant. A Virginia native, she was worried that it might be a step backwards to take a job near home. She'd heard that some dancers looked down on these jobs and that the choreography might not make use of her high-level training. As it turns out, she couldn't have been more wrong.
“It was a great experience for a first professional job. After being there for six months, I had so much inspiration for my next job and confidence in myself." She's now performed in three shows at the park and has no regrets. “Each time, I meet more people and make more connections to take back to New York."
If you're a versatile dancer who loves kids, dancing at a theme park might be a great fit. We talked to current theme park dancers around the country to find out more about what life among the crowds, rides and characters is like.
Courtney Calloway performing in Disney's "Boo to You" Halloween Show(Austin Bigoney)
Getting the Job
Normally, hundreds of dancers show up for theme park auditions. Instead of a long phrase, auditioners might give just a few counts to see who can do a clean double pirouette, and then make cuts. What they're looking for, says Walt Disney World dancer Courtney Callaway, is your ability to perform and connect with audiences. “You have to be ready to make an impression when it counts!" Be confident, pick up the choreography quickly and show off your clean technique. And of course, don't forget to smile!
At most parks, auditions will be fairly similar to those for musical theater or Broadway jobs. Disney parks work a bit differently, since they have separate auditions for stage shows (which are Equity) and parade performers or characters. They offer a “performer toolkit" on their website with advice and videos on what to expect and how to prepare. Bottom line: Do your research before heading to the audition.
Being comfortable with different dance styles is also a major plus in booking a theme park job. In her roles at Walt Disney World, Callaway jumps from hip hop to classical partnering to Rockettes-style precision dancing. Check the audition listing to see what styles a particular role or production requires.
Focus on Performing
While dancing professionally with the Virginia Ballet Theatre and Todd Rosenlieb Dance, Callaway often wished for less time spent in rehearsals and more time performing. That dream came true when she was hired as a Character and Parade Performer at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. “Even though it was a bit different from what I trained for, it has been a joy. We're with the kids, and you get to see the impact that you have every single day." She also loves the variety of productions she gets to perform in, including the classic Main Street Electrical Parade and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party on the stage of Cinderella's Castle.
While stage shows will have a format similar to any theatrical performance, for parades or events, you'll also need to learn how to interact directly with an audience. During one “street party" parade at the park, for example, Callaway and the other dancers teach the audience the steps so they can join in.
Almost all of Callaway's performances are outside—which creates a whole new set of challenges. Your body has to adjust to dancing on different surfaces (there's no marley in the streets!) and avoiding obstacles like trolley tracks. Dancers also have to deal with sometimes challenging weather conditions, like heat, humidity and storms. (If there's a substantial storm, though, they do a modified parade—in raincoats and boots!—to keep the performers safe.)
Many parks operate on a seasonal schedule, with shows for Halloween, the holiday season and during the summer. Even parks with year-round contracts may have busier schedules during these seasons. Depending on your contract, you might perform up to five or six days a week, or you might perform only on weekends. Shows are usually about 30 minutes long, and you can expect to perform three or four times a day.
Most productions have a short rehearsal period (longer if it's a new show) at the beginning of a season. Once the season starts, you probably won't rehearse again unless new people join the cast. Jones says that the grueling schedule is the biggest challenge of the job. “It really teaches you a lot about being a healthy dancer," she says. Be smart about staying warmed up and take advantage of sports medicine resources the park may offer.
(courtesy Lopez)Lopez, second from left, performing at Six Flags
Beyond the Park
Britne Lopez, a dancer and dance captain at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA, finds that dancing at Six Flags allows her to keep up with other opportunities, like performing as a dance double on the TV show “Hit the Floor" and with the magic show Masters of Illusion Live. She signed with an agency soon after starting at Six Flags, and still has the flexibility to make it to important auditions.
At Busch Gardens, Jones has worked with choreographers and directors who work on Broadway, on national tours, and in the contemporary dance scene, like Chase Brock, whose credits also include Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway. These can be great contacts when you're building your resumé. Some of Jones' fellow performers have also gone on to sign with agencies, dance on Broadway or tour with musical artists.
Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."
"Whole, low-fat, or skim?" The question of which milk to drink has gotten a little more complicated lately, with a wide variety of nondairy milks popping up in grocery stores. To find out which ones are worth your milk money, we had registered dietitian Monika Saigal answer some FAQs.
Yesterday, the dance community was heartbroken to learn that Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran, both 14-year-old dancers, were among the 17 people killed on Valentine's Day in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
American Ballet Theatre principal Sarah Lane charms audiences with her bright energy and crisp technique. The San Francisco, CA, native first started dancing at age 4 at a local community center, and at age 7 started training in Memphis, TN, at the Classical Ballet Memphis. Her family later moved to Rochester, NY, where she continued studying at the Draper Center for Dance Education. In 2002, she was a YoungArts Foundation winner in dance, allowing her to become a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. She joined American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in 2003, was made a soloist in 2007, and was promoted to principal last fall. Recently, she originated the role of Princess Praline in Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. Catch her later this spring during ABT's Metropolitan Opera season. —Courtney Bowers
You and I both know that dancing is the best thing since chocolate chip cookies! But its always nice when dance gets the recognition it deserves from non–dance-world peeps. That's why we did our own happy dance when we saw Shape magazine's article on how dancing can actually make you a better athlete.
When Ruby Castro became a Top 10 finalist on "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 13, she was a fresh, feisty new face to most at-home viewers. But in the dance world—particularly on the ballroom circuit—Ruby was already a household name. Miami-based Ruby grew up as a belle of the ballroom: Her parents, Manny and Lory Castro, are veritable superstars of the scene. They're the owners of Dance Town, an ultra-competitive studio in Doral, FL, and raised Ruby to follow in their furiously fast footsteps. Before she graced the "SYT" stage, Ruby had already been named a U.S. Junior Champion in Latin Ballroom, and competed on "America's Got Talent"—twice!
So, we know she's talented, we know she's versatile, we know she's stunning, and we know she can dance. But here's what you may not know about Ruby.
You know that thing when you're onstage at a competition and you catch your teacher unconsciously marking through every step of the choreography in the wings, just willing you and the rest of the group to dance perfectly?
Yeah—that happens in ice dancing, too. Case in point: the scene at the Olympic rink yesterday, as Canadian ice-dancing legends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated their way to their third Olympic gold.
Obviously, their performance was all kinds of epic. But the off-ice "performance" given by their coach, Marie-France Dubreuil, was EVERYTHING.
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
I want to dance in a ballet company, but I'm insecure about my body. I'm not skinny, and I don't think I ever will be, because that's just not the way I'm built. Please be honest with me: If I don't have the traditional ballet body, do I have a future in professional ballet?