Why—and How—So Many Dancers Are Also Becoming Actresses/Models/Singers/Designers

Larsen Thompson showing off her dance (left) and modeling (right) skills (left photo by Jayme Thornton; right by Felipe Espinal, courtesy Thompson)

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."

Dancer to Dancer
Ballet Academy East student Stella MacDonald (Erin Baiano)

It's the rite of passage every young ballerina dreams of: getting her first pair of pointe shoes. But it's important to remember that a lot (and we mean a lot) of hard work and technique-honing leads up to this moment—not to mention getting the green light from your teacher. Dance Spirit turned to Jenna Lavin, former Miami City Ballet dancer and principal of the pre-professional division at Ballet Academy East in NYC, for three exercises meant to strengthen, train, and stabilize the muscles you'll be using once you're on pointe.

Keep Reading Show less
Fitness
Rochelle Mendoza-Axle, Courtesy Stiskin

In today's dance world, versatility is key. It's not enough to be a master of one style—even when they specialize in one area, dancers are frequently asked to fuse multiple genres, or step out of their comfort zone for specific projects. With their wide variety of summer programs, Joffrey Ballet School aims to prepare dancers for the demands of a professional career. We asked five faculty members to share how they do this:

Keep Reading Show less
Sponsored by Joffrey Ballet School
Kendra Oyesanya, Marcus Mitchell, and Carlito Olivero (courtesy YouTube/Lionsgate)

Happy "Step Up: High Water" eve, y'all! Everyone's favorite internet dance show makes its triumphant Season 2 return tomorrow, March 20th, on YouTube. In anticipation of the premiere, we turned to Kendra Oyesanya (Poppy), Marcus Mitchell (Dondre), and Carlito Olivero (Davis) for the scoop on all things "Step Up"—from on-set shenanigans, to embarrassing stories, to scenes to watch out for this season (hint: Episode 2's dance battle, and the season finale's final number!).

Keep Reading Show less
Dance News
The cast of "Oklahoma!" during last year's run at St. Ann's Warehouse (Teddy Wolff, courtesy DKC/O&M)

You may think you know Oklahoma!, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that made history when it first opened in 1943 and is best known for Agnes de Mille's groundbreaking dream ballet. But the latest Broadway iteration of the musical isn't your average trip to the frontier. Opening April 7, the revival features new choreography by Mark Morris alum John Heginbotham, and swaps the traditional windswept-prairie set and full orchestra for an intimate, minimalistic staging and a bluegrass band. Coming fresh off an acclaimed run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, the daring, unconventional production is sure to turn heads when it begins previews on Broadway tonight. Dance Spirit caught up with Heginbotham to get all the details on the dancing, and what it was like choreographing his first Broadway show.

Keep Reading Show less
Trending-posts
BLACKPINK has worked with A-list choreographers, including Kyle Hanagami and Parris Goebel.

K-pop is in the middle of a stateside takeover. South Korea's boy bands and girl groups can always be counted on to produce catchy, upbeat songs—and, most importantly for us dance fans, to feature colorful choreography prominently in their music videos. Over the past few years, the K-pop machine has been churning out a seemingly endless stream of talented groups with choreography worth watching on repeat, and some of them are starting to make names for themselves in the U.S. Check out our list of the dancetastic K-pop bands you need to know.

Keep Reading Show less
Commercial
Briar Nolet did NOT come to play. (NBC)

Have you ever felt that the Duels round on NBC's "World of Dance" was a bit unfair? During the Duels, each act's success hinges not on how objectively good they are, but on how good they are relative to a single challenger. Which means that mediocre acts can move forward if they best slightly-more-mediocre opponents, while frontrunners who're given tougher matchups end up knocked out.

Newly-engaged goddess J.Lo and her team get that. Which is why, last night, "WOD" introduced a twist designed to make the Duels more just: a redemption round. Formerly, five acts were eliminated in each division during the Duels. But from here out, the two highest scorers of those five will go head-to-head to earn a wild card spot. And that made last night's Upper Division Duels significantly more exciting.

Who just dueled it? Who was redeemed? Who made Derek Hough scream like a teenage girl? Onward to the episode highlights!

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher (left) meeting with Bloch owner David Fox (right) in NYC. (Marius Bugge for Bloch)

For professional ballet dancers, the search for the perfect pointe shoe is a lifelong quest. Even the smallest adjustment in manufacturing can make the difference between a shoe that allows a ballerina to soar and a shoe that detracts from her dancing. So what goes into creating the perfect fit? A lot of hard work, patience, and masterful attention to detail. We got the inside scoop on how a Bloch pointe shoe is made from beginning to end, and went inside one of American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher's touch-up fittings with Bloch owner David Fox in NYC.

Keep Reading Show less
Ballet
Martina Sandionigi as Giselle

We updated your favorite story-ballet tutus with modern details that'll please any 21st-century prima ballerina. Who needs a cavalier, anyway?

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Fashion
Dancers are total brainiacs.

Dancing impacts pretty much every aspect of our lives—including our brains. That's right: Dance makes us smart. Like, super smart. Here are seven ways being a dancer enhances your brainpower.

Keep Reading Show less
Just for Fun
Ballet Academy East student Stella MacDonald (Erin Baiano)

It's the rite of passage every young ballerina dreams of: getting her first pair of pointe shoes. But it's important to remember that a lot (and we mean a lot) of hard work and technique-honing leads up to this moment—not to mention getting the green light from your teacher. Dance Spirit turned to Jenna Lavin, former Miami City Ballet dancer and principal of the pre-professional division at Ballet Academy East in NYC, for three exercises meant to strengthen, train, and stabilize the muscles you'll be using once you're on pointe.

Keep Reading Show less
Fitness
The ultimate dance mom: Debbie Allen with her daughter, Vivian Nixon (courtesy Nixon)

Dance moms: Where would we be without them? We all know how much support and help they give us—in addition to loads of love. Here are 10 reasons real-life dance moms are undeniably the best.

Keep Reading Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Samantha Little

It's the fall of 2018. As the Brigham Young University Cougarettes step onto the field at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo, UT, a crowd of nearly 64 thousand erupts into cheers. The dancers take their places, and a feeling of anticipation hangs in the air: Their reputation precedes them.

The music—Ciara's banger "Level Up"—begins, and unbelievable precision ensues. Eighteen dancers attack the highly technical choreography, which nods at viral social-dance sensations and continuously builds in energy. The school's mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, joins the team on the field, and the audience goes wild. As the piece ends, the sound in the stadium is deafening. The 16-time national-title-winning group has proved once again why they're the standard for college dance team success—they're just that good.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Team
Paloma Garcia-Lee (center, in gold) and the cast of "Fosse/Verdon" (FX)

The extraordinary Paloma Garcia-Lee, who's danced in no fewer than five Broadway shows, can adapt to any choreographer's style. And before heading back to Broadway this spring in Moulin Rouge! (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), she's tackling the work of one of the most iconic choreographers of all time: Bob Fosse.

Garcia-Lee plays Adrienne in the new FX limited series "Fosse/Verdon," premiering April 9, which follows the romantic and creative relationship of Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his muse Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Steve Levenson, and Andy Blankenbuehler serve as executive producers, with Kail directing and Blankenbuehler choreographing.

With the exception of performing on The Tony Awards, "Fosse/Verdon" marks Garcia-Lee's TV debut. "I'm really setting my sights on more on-camera work," she says. "Getting the chance to flex my muscles as an actress in this different medium, but still have the dance part, is all really exciting." (She's got real acting chops, too: While a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she actually quit dance briefly to study acting instead.)

Dance Spirit spoke to Garcia-Lee about "Fosse/Verdon"'s epic final callback, how she got cast, and the transition from stage to screen.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Giveaways