Why—and How—So Many Dancers Are Also Becoming Actresses/Models/Singers/Designers
Before dance phenom Larsen Thompson booked her first modeling job, she'd never even considered modeling. "I was working on a commercial as a lead dancer, and a woman approached me to ask me to model for a print campaign," Thompson remembers. "At first I didn't think much of it, but then I realized I could incorporate my love of movement into my modeling." After she made that connection, Thompson's modeling career took off.
These days, a lot of young dancers are feeling the urge to branch out into dance-adjacent fields like singing, acting, modeling, and designing. In fact, especially in the commercial world, agents and casting directors increasingly expect that dancers will have the chops to book jobs as actors and models. But how can you explore non-dance passions while maintaining your technique? We spoke with Thompson and three other multitalented dancers to hear their advice on navigating the changing demands of the entertainment industry.
Using Your Training
As a dancer, you may already have a leg up (pun intended!) at that modeling call or acting audition. Many multitalented performers say that dance is the reason they've found success in other fields. "Dance is in every industry, because it's movement," says Thompson. "If I had started with modeling and not dancing, I wouldn't know how to pose or give my 'sneaky eye' expression."
Dancer-actress Logan Hassel agrees: Her dance skills helped her land her most recent gig, on the Netflix series "Fuller House." "I auditioned as part of an acting call, but my character is on the dance team," she explains. "Having multiple talents on your resumé makes you a stronger candidate." And Hassel credits her dance training with preparing her for acting, too. "Dancers end up being really good actors because we've been telling stories our entire life without words—and now we get to use them. We also grew up learning fast and taking corrections right away, and directors like that work ethic."
Thompson in model mode (photo by Felipe Espinal, courtesy Thompson)
For some performers, dance is a way to get a foot in the door in a non-dance industry. When singer and dancer Helene Britany first moved to L.A., she had her heart set on a music contract. "But I also kept taking dance classes, and started to realize that people were booking dance jobs that got them onto great sets," she says. She started working as a dancer, and her skills opened up great triple-threat opportunities, including performing in Hairspray Live! on NBC.
Making Tough Choices
Here's a hard reality of the entertainment world: Sometimes, pursuing one type of career can mean sacrificing another. Though Mollee Gray made a name for herself as a dancer on "So You Think You Can Dance" and in the High School Musical series, she eventually fell in love with acting, and discovered that being known as a bubbly dancer made it harder for her to book acting jobs. "It was difficult to convince casting agents that I was a serious actor," she says. "I decided to take some time off from dance jobs and build my acting credits."
Most dancers don't choose to completely break from dance to pursue other careers, but the busy schedule of a multi-hyphenate talent almost inevitably means less time for dancing. "It's definitely more difficult to get into dance classes," Hassel says. "Being on set all day, you get tired—then you have to be back on set by 6 am the next morning."
Logan Hassel (right) in Justin Bieber's "Purpose" music video (courtesy Hassel)
Pursuing multiple passions also means having to choose between different auditions and opportunities. "Sometimes, I've wanted to be out in L.A. for pilot season but I've already booked a modeling gig in New York, or I've committed to a dance job that conflicts with a commercial I'd love to do," Hassel says. "You have to decide what's going to benefit you the most, and know that more opportunities will come."
Enhancing Your Dancing
Despite the challenges, pursuing other fields will ultimately make you a stronger dancer and overall performer. "I've never danced more confidently," Hassel says. "If I take a heels class, I feel more graceful from my modeling. If I'm doing a contemporary routine, I can get more into the emotions because of my acting."
Gray, who's still choreographing, now passes on advice about acting to her students at dance conventions. "The choreographer is giving you a script, and you have to make it come to life," she says. "If I'm choreographing, I'm going to give you the dance moves, like lines, and it's up to you to 'read' them with personality and character so I see a talented performer, not just a technical dancer."
Hassel (left) modeling at L.A. Swim Week (photo by Jon Malan, courtesy Hassel)
No matter what industries you choose to pursue, stay true to yourself. Explore the fields that really interest you, rather than the ones everybody else is into, or the ones an agent says will help you book more jobs. Very few dancers can be truly committed to singing and acting and modeling and designing. Sticking with your passions will ensure that you're having fun, rather than heading for burnout.
To read more about dancers branching out into other careers, click here.
A version of this story appeared in the February 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Multi-Hyphenate Dancer."