When veteran performers talk about the moment their careers took off, their stories usually all have three things in common: They had the right skills, knew the right people, and were in the right place. For young dancers, achieving this not-so-secret trifecta of prerequisites is daunting, to say the least. And yet AMDA College of the Performing Arts has been helping aspiring professionals do just that, and more, for more than half a century.
Read on to see how AMDA's one-of-a-kind bicoastal dance training program prepares dancers to break into the industry—or industries, rather—with the training, connections and insider lowdown they need to succeed in both of the world's artistic capitals.
The People and Places Dancers Need to Succeed
At AMDA, the term "faculty" is basically code for "Professionals Already Doing What Students Dream Of." From Broadway to the big screen, AMDA's dance professors not only have drool-worthy performance resumés spanning both coasts, they're eager to share their hard-earned connections and experience with the next generation. And since most of them are still working in the industry, their info is always up-to-date, which is more crucial now than ever as the dance world continues to radically shift post-pandemic.
For AMDA alum Jazz Washington, connecting with teachers at AMDA in both L.A. and NYC was the first step to developing their network, and their confidence as a professional. "Since I was planning to stay in at least one of those cities after graduating, I could keep up those relationships and meet even more people in the arts community through them," Washington says. "Starting out postgrad, I felt like I knew so much more than the people I was auditioning alongside. The confidence that my AMDA teachers had in me gave me that special edge."
As a former AMDA alumnae herself, AMDA dance professor Chryssie Whitehead-Disbrow has a keen sense of the benefits of challenging students to step outside their comfort zones. "I'm rooting for these dancers, because I remember clearly what it was like to be in their shoes," she says. "My goal is for each one to see what's possible for them in all aspects of the performing arts."
At AMDA, developing your artistry is just one piece of the puzzle—navigating daily life in not just one but both entertainment capitals of the world is a whole other special skill in itself. That's why AMDA makes sure students are supported both in the studio and out. In NYC, AMDA houses students at one of two residence halls in the Upper West Side, just a short walk away from the campus, major arts attractions like Lincoln Center and the theater district, and the city's most renowned open-class dance studios. "Looking back, it's crazy that I lived by myself in NYC at 18 years old," Washington remembers. "It prepared me to roll with the punches and adapt to anything."
AMDA's L.A. campus is also built for convenience: According to AMDA alumnae and NYC-based artist Presley Gookin, "Everything you'd need is within walking distance—it's nice not to have to worry about the cliché of L.A. traffic right away." Spending time on the West Coast expanded Gookin's expectations not just of where she could live one day but of the path her career could take. "I was never too familiar with commercial styles, but now that I've gotten a few semesters at AMDA under my belt, and met people and learned how the city works, I feel like I could move to L.A. anytime, and have what I need to succeed," she says.
AMDA alumnae Presley Gookin
Taso Papadakis, Courtesy AMDA
The Creative Edge
As the pandemic has proven, the ability to stay open-minded and pivot quickly are musts for a sustainable dance career. For that reason, AMDA's curriculum makes creativity a top priority. From courses on storytelling and content creation to a dedicated Choreography Showcase, AMDA students graduate with the tools to not only book work, but also to produce opportunities of their own."You don't have to be competitive when you come to AMDA. It's about creation—we want to help you discover what makes you unique, and develop that," Whitehead-Disbrow says.
When her choreography class was moved to Zoom due to the pandemic last semester, Whitehead-Disbrow used the time to guide her students in producing their own dance films at home. "Throughout the whole process, I encouraged them to speak up about what they thought of the whole process. It was difficult for them, but they rose to it, and we found some silver linings during that time," she says.
Similarly, Washington's experience participating in the Choreography Workshop Showcase sparked their vision to one day start a company of their own. "Between our Senior Showcase, Choreography Workshop, and my courses, I had ample opportunities to practice not only being a dancer, but a director and choreographer, too. I learned what it takes to put on a show," Washington says.
AMDA alum Jazz Washington
Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, Courtesy AMDA
Practical Training, Practical Results
From courses on networking to how to create an industry-standard reel, AMDA's Dance Theatre curriculum is a pre-professional's paradise. Aside from daily core technique classes, students have ample time to dive into those cherry-on-top dance styles, like ballroom and partnering, that today's dance work demands. "We'll never promise any dancer at AMDA that they're going to book. But we give them all of the tools they need to be successful in today's climate, and prepare them for their actual job, which is to audition," Whitehead-Disbrow explains.
Thanks to AMDA's bicoastal design that allows BFA students to spend 4 semesters at each campus, Gookin learned practical skills to succeed in both the commercial and theater-dance worlds. "My favorite class in L.A. was Heels," she says. "It was a whole semester dedicated to learning the technique and fundamentals of dancing in stilettos, which you don't get from taking drop-in classes." Similarly, Gookin's musical-theater training went one step further in NYC. "Faculty and AMDA alumni taught us original Broadway choreography and songs from shows they were in," she explains. "It was my first introduction to singing and dancing at the same time, a difficult, but super-necessary skill to develop."
Both in and out of class, the folks at AMDA are committed to helping their students jumpstart their performance careers. "In your final semester in NYC, all of your classes get moved to afternoons and evenings, so you can audition or take class and network during the day," Gookin says.
In her case, that led to booking a contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines. Thanks to her advisors at AMDA, Gookin was able to take time off to perform, and when she returned, she picked up right where she had left off. "AMDA was so flexible in helping me navigate when it was best for me to finish my BFA. Even though I was gone for a while, they never forgot me or my goals," she says. Ultimately, Gookin's time at AMDA culminated in one of the L.A. campus's Industry Showcases, where top agents and directors are invited to scout new talent. "The Senior Showcase is like you auditioning for L.A., and I was fortunate enough to sign with MSA shortly after," she says.
Students have multiple performance opportunities throughout their time at AMDA
Taso Papadakis, Courtesy AMDA
Ready to Audition? You’ve Got Options
'Tis the season for college auditions, and this year, AMDA is providing options for in-person, virtual or video auditions. If you're nervous about applying to AMDA's Dance Theatre program, or just wary of virtual auditions in general (we feel you), take heart: AMDA's professors understand the unique challenges of Zoom, and they're not looking for perfection.
"Choose material that you love and resonate with, not what you think we want to see, and be prepared to talk about it," says Whitehead-Disbrow. "At AMDA we're big on individuality and things being a two-way street—we want both teachers and students to share our experiences and learn from each other." Basic technique in ballet and jazz is recommended, but not always required, for admission. "We know not everyone has the resources to receive proper training," Whitehead-Disbrow says. "Along with technique, we also truly value whether someone has the necessary raw talent and work ethic, and the desire to perform in their heart."
If you'd like to attend one of AMDA's virtual open houses or schedule an audition, check out more information and dates here.
As dancers, we all have our vices—those little technique cheats that we know are incorrect, and we try our best to fix whenever we can remember...but at the end of the day, we just can't seem to banish them for good. After all, these cheats usually appear to help us: They can get our legs higher and our petit allégro a little faster, not to mention help us crank out that one extra rotation in a turn we dream about. Unfortunately, cheating proper technique also sets dancers up for a myriad injuries caused by improper alignment and undue stress on the body.
The good news: Every cheat can be beat. That is, when you know exactly what muscles and mobility pathways you need to strengthen in order to execute the step correctly. To help on that front, Amber Tacy, personal trainer and founder of the dancer-focused fitness community Dancers Who Lift, is here to guide you through a series of exercises designed to help you overcome the most common dancer cheats.
The Cheat: Flailing and winding arms for turns and leaps
Equipment You'll Need: Mini loop, TheraBand or long loop
- Start with your arms straight and fully extended in front of you, holding a light-tension band. Contract and brace your abs. This brings your ribs closer to your pelvis, eliminating back extension.
- With your arms parallel to the floor, palms facing down, and your shoulders protracted, slowly pull the band apart by extending your arms to either side of your body.
- Pull the band apart until it makes contact with your chest, feeling tension in the back of your shoulders.
- Hold the fully contracted position for two seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Complete 10–12 repetitions.
Equipment You'll Need: TheraBand
- Wrap a band around your shoulders, holding one end in each hand.
- Straighten your arms out to the sides of your body, so palms are facing forward, and soften your elbows.
- Exhale, and bring your hands together toward the midline of your body, pausing when the hands are reaching forward and in line with the armpits. Focus on maintaining tension in the chest muscles.
- Inhale and open the arms to reset. Complete 10–12 repetitions.
- Start in a high plank position, thumbs in line with your armpits, and chin tucked. Tilt your pelvis forward towards your rib cage to engage the abs.
- Begin to bend your elbows, maintaining a 45-degree angle between the upper arms and the sides of your torso.
- Go as low as you can, as slowly as possible, while maintaining the plank position.
- Once you've reached your lowest point, omit the push upward by dropping your knees and resetting to the high plank position.
- Repeat 5–8 times, moving with as much control as possible.
To honor the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, online dance platform CLI Studios is hosting a free, virtual event that will get you moving.
This Friday, April 16, starting at 2 pm Pacific, CLI Studios presents the livestream of "Movement Speaks," five classes featuring prominent artists from the AAPI community.
Tune in via YouTube for the following lineup (all times Pacific):
- 2:15–2:35 pm: Jazz progressions with USC Kaufman alumni Justin Pham
- 2:45–3:15 pm: Intermediate low-fly with "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 14 winner, Lex Ishimoto, who will share a combination set to "Passport" by Masego
- 3:30–4 pm: "Manifest Your Goals" session with Mel Mah, filmmaker, yoga teacher and dancer
- 4:15–5 pm: Advanced hip hop with Kinjaz dance group co-creator Anthony Lee, who will teach choreography set to "2U" by David Guetta (feat. Justin Bieber)
- 5–5:30 pm: Cypher with the Kinjaz
In lieu of class fees, CLI Studios encourages participants to consider donating to the Asian American Arts Alliance, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, AAPI Women Lead, or the Asian Mental Health Collective.
I have a confession to make: I think I only saw this movie once during my childhood. By the time this film was released, I had already begun to outgrow my Barbie fandom.
But if TikTok is any indication, Barbie in the Twelve Dancing Princesses is a fan favorite among Barbie movie connoisseurs. What could be better than one dancing princess Barbie? Twelve dancing princesses Barbies, of course!
Naturally, I have high hopes going into this movie. Here are my moment-by-moment reactions to what many consider to be the *absolute zenith* of Barbie ballet movies.
1. Apparently Universal Studios made all of these Barbie movies. Could we potentially see a Barbie-themed area in a Universal Studios theme park one day?
2. Unlike the other dance-heavy Barbie films, this one is not based on a Tchaikovsky ballet. Does this mean the plot will make even less sense?
3. This theme music is an absolute jam. Tchaikovsky wishes he wrote such a bop.
4. Once again, choreographed by Peter Martins. Get out of my childhood movies, Peter Martins!
5. I kind of miss the Barbie frame narrative. This time we're jumping straight into the main story.
6. Mattel was onto something brilliant with this movie. Twelve different princesses, each with different hair and outfits? Imagine the merchandise potential.
7. King Randolph seems like a cool dad.
8. Oh, I get it. The daughters are named in alphabetical order! That's a cute vibe.
9. The cat is named Twyla! Please tell me that's a Twyla Tharp reference slipped in for the dance fans.
10. Genevieve has the most Main Character Energy out of all the sisters. She gets her own hairstyle *and* a fancier fit.
11. "They're just shoes!" Cue the horrified gasps.
12. To be fair, I was equally excited for my first pointe shoes.
13. Derek the royal cobbler is going to be our love interest. But he's *different* from other brown-haired love interests in Barbie movies! He has a talking parrot.
14. So, these shoes are kind of pointe shoes but not? They don't seem to have ribbons, but the princesses still dance en pointe.
15. Derek just pulls a recorder-type instrument out of thin air and proceeds to lay down the sickest beat the 12 princesses have ever heard.
16. And the princesses whip out some perfectly in-synch choreo, on the grass no less.
17. A whole castle is available and yet these princesses still have roommates. Major "The Bachelor" vibes.
18. The evil duchess has a monkey. This might be a record number of animal sidekicks.
19. A LITERAL JUMP SCARE in a Barbie movie?! Why is this monkey so menacing omg.
20. Props to Duchess Rowena for showing up at the castle with carbon copies of each girl's dress in grey. That's some forethought.
21. Never mind, King Randolph is not exactly winning father of the year. He let Rowena come into his own castle and turn it into a joyless prison because his daughters were...too quirky? Okay, hater.
22. Oh, she is absolutely going to poison him with this tea.
23. More instruments coming out of thin air! And a bop of a birthday song and dance.
24. Dancing is forbidden! Cue Footloose.
25. This magical self-steering gondola would make a good theme park ride…cough cough Universal Studios.
26. I'm a little less impressed by the choreography in this movie so far, compared to the other Barbie movies. Lots of waltz steps, and the développés look kind of funky.
27. As I suspected, the king is sick and Rowena is acting sus. She's clearly hoping to dispatch the king and all the princesses in order to take the throne.
28. The princesses are going to heal the king with the power of...lyric-less choir singing. Sure.
29. If you're going to dump out the medicine, Rowena, maybe wait until the doctor has at least left the hallway.
30. I love the implication that Derek's only job and source of income is to make shoes for the princesses. These secret midnight dance sessions must be good for business.
31. It was kind of Rowena to leave the princesses with their signature color hair accessories, or I'd have no idea who's who.
32. Gosh Genevieve, stop hogging the magic dance steps. Maybe one of your sisters wants to open the portal this time.
33. "What should we dance to first?" "We love ballet!" Is ballet a music genre?
34. "I wish we had ballet music!" Apparently, the answer is yes.
35. It wouldn't be a ballet-centric Barbie movie without the ribbons tied all the way up the knees.
36. These ballet outfits are cute. I'll make allowances for the hilariously large donut buns.
37. Okay, this choreo is fun. Lots of tour jetés and some seriously impressive Italian pas de chats.
38. I feel like if you actually tried to do pirouettes from 5th on grass you would drill a hole into the ground.
39. The princesses are dancing en pointe, but the ball and heel of their shoes are completely worn out. No amount of Jet Glue will fix those dead shoes.
40. Okay, but even if Rowena poisons the king, wouldn't the princesses take over the kingdom? I'm not following her plan here.
41. Derek, aka Sherlock Holmes, spots shoe polish footprints on the magic steps. Meanwhile I'm left wondering what kind of pointe shoes need to be polished.
42. Well, that answers my question about Rowena's master plan. Rowena has no reservations about locking the princesses away forever.
43. Nooo Randolph, you dummy. Stop drinking the tea!
44. "You have to dance together! Oh, how romantic!" Took the words right out of my mouth…*checks notes* Princess Fallon.
45. While some of the sisters definitely suffer from lack of character development, Derek is one of the more interesting love interests from these movies. I'm very here for this dance scene he has with Genevieve.
46. He makes shoes, plays the recorder, and can dance? Derek is the Barbie renaissance man.
47. They're dancing on air! And the cat can dance too! This is amazing, I have nothing funny to say, I love this movie.
48. I'm glad the princesses get to keep their magical ballet outfits for the final showdown with Rowena.
49. And Derek can swordfight with a fire poker. What a man.
50. Lacey to the rescue! Big or small, there's a difference only you can make.
51. And so the evil duchess is hit with her own curse and dances into the night. That's another theme in these movies: The villain being taken down by their own curse.
52. Now the princesses are riding a carriage big enough for all twelve of them. First off, that would be *the most* coveted Barbie carriage if Mattel actually made it. And second, I knew we weren't getting through this movie without a pretty carriage turning up.
53. Genevieve and Derek are getting married! Why am I so emotional?
54. First up in the credits are Charles Askegard, Maria Kowroski, Tiler Peck, and Abi Stafford from NYCB. I'm loving that they're listed before any of the voice actors.
55. The credits song is another *bop* and a perfect end to another cinematic masterpiece.
If you're a college student, there are some guarantees. The dining hall food will be bad. Your communal shower will be gross. You will sleep through class (at least) once. And at the end of it all, you will walk across a stage and move the tassel on your hat and—finally!—graduate.
But not even college traditions are immune to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Because while dining hall food may remain terrible, communal bathrooms disgusting and alarm clocks just a little too quiet, graduating in the midst of a global pandemic will be different.
And that's not just because, at many schools, COVID protocols will require that your graduation be held virtually. Dancers today are graduating into a different job market—one plagued by company closures, performance cancellations, and significant challenges facing the arts industry as a whole.
We know, we know. It sounds pretty bleak. But with vaccination rates rising and live performances slowly returning to stages, there is a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. And to make sure you're ready for graduation (even in a time that nobody could have prepared for), we spoke with faculty at two top dance schools about what students can do differently this year to prep for life postgrad.
How this year will be different
It's undeniable that the dance job market will look different this year. "Funding in general is more scarce," says Bruce McCormick, assistant professor of practice at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. "Many employers are taking care of their own for the moment, keeping the dancers they have employed and not hiring new ones." So in that sense, it may be more challenging for new college grads to get hired to dance.
But this doesn't mean that there aren't jobs to be found. "Everybody is revolutionizing how we work," says Giada Matteini, teacher and academic director at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and director of Tisch's Second Avenue Dance Company. Companies are creating more digital work than ever before, and are learning to be more creative in how they present content. And in this, there is room for growth.
This also means that hiring directors may be looking for slightly different skills. "If they're changing the format of how they're presenting work, they might be looking for a different kind of dancer," says Matteini. "If companies are going to incorporate more outdoor space, or more videos, or more intercontinental relationships, who knows?" Because of this, you may want to broaden your scope—consider companies or jobs that in an ordinary year you might not have. You never know where your perfect fit might be found.
Bruce McCormick leads a virtual ballet class at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (Mary Mallaney, courtesy USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance)
How you can take advantage of the moment
Start making virtual connections wherever you can. If there's a company or choreographer you've always been inspired by, do some research, and find a point of contact so you can connect with them. "Right now, everyone is feeling a deep human need to connect, so people are even more open to connecting," says Matteini. "I have made so many connections just because someone else like me is in dire need of having a conversation with a fellow artist."
McCormick agrees, and encourages students to be politely persistent. "Some directors are going to be less responsive than others, depending on their own situation, and you should be sensitive to that," he says. "But if there's somebody you're really interested in working with, keep trying, and stay patient."
While it can be incredibly intimidating to make that first connection, consider the advantages of the time we're in. Many people will be more willing to jump on Zoom or on a phone call because their schedules are freer than in typical years. And while in a normal year, you might need to travel (even internationally) to attend a company class or audition, you may be able to do so virtually in 2021.
How you can prepare financially
Consider the moment: The dance world is more digital than ever. "Dance is being shown on more platforms and in virtual spaces and reaching a broader audience in more ways than it ever has before," says McCormick. And while this, of course, presents opportunities for dancers, it also presents more opportunities for work behind the scenes.
Are you famous in your friend group for taking the best dance shots? Do you dabble in filmmaking on weekends? Is social media your second language? If so, there's probably a dance company out there that needs your help. "Find nonprofits and small companies who need help with digital content," says Matteini. "So many companies need that kind of help, but they don't have the time or the know-how."
And if you aren't particularly versed in the virtual world? Find a way to bulk up on those skills before graduating. It could land you a side gig to help get by, or it could even land you the dance job of your dreams. "I imagine that if dancers are skilled with digital media, that is probably an asset that more and more directors are going to start looking for," says McCormick.
How you can stay positive
Though it can be challenging, in a time when we're all so socially distanced from each other, try to stay connected with your social networks—they can help you to stay positive in these trying times. "Stay connected with your classmates," says McCormick. "Especially after graduation, keep checking in. And if you're struggling, don't be afraid to tell someone—because often you aren't the only one."
You can reach out to your faculty for support, as well. "If you have professors or teachers that you trust who support you, stay close to them, and keep asking for help," says Matteini.
And trust that this time isn't wasted. "I think the dancers who are living through this pandemic are going to bring a beautiful sense of depth and introspection," says McCormick. "I know that's going to come through in their work—it already is."