In many ways, 23-year-old Cassandra Naud is a typical commercial dancer on the rise. She trained in a variety of dance styles from a young age, attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy's L.A.-based College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts and hit the ground running after graduation, signing with The Movement Talent Agency (MTA) and jumping into the audition circuit. But Cassandra has something that makes her stand out from her peers: a birthmark that covers her right cheek. Cassandra opened up to Dance Spirit about how her birthmark has affected both her life and her dance career. —Kathryn Holmes
I was born with what's called a nevus birthmark on my face. When I was a baby, my parents considered having it removed, but the procedure could have left me with a lazy eye and bad scarring, so they decided to wait and let me make the decision when I was older.
As I grew up, the only time I seriously considered removing my birthmark was right before high school. We even made the appointment with the doctor. But I also kept thinking about how my birthmark wasn't hurting me. It wasn't unhealthy. So I decided to embrace how I looked. (I also realized that my apprehensions were less about my birthmark and more about starting high school.)
I began dancing when I was 5 years old, training at FM Dance Station, now called Generation Dance Studio, in Alberta, Canada. I started with jazz and ballet, then added tap, hip hop and contemporary. I was about 9 when I decided I wanted to pursue a dance career, and by high school, I was competing and going to conventions, including Coastal Dance Range, Monsters of Hip Hop and The PULSE on Tour. I even received a Protégé scholarship from The PULSE and got to travel to a few different cities.
I'd always wanted to dance in L.A., but since I'm Canadian, I knew I needed a visa to move there. So I researched colleges in L.A. AMDA was my first choice—and I got in! I enrolled in the BFA program for dance and theater, and I also took advantage of being in L.A.: I went to classes at Millennium Dance Complex, EDGE Performing Arts Center, Movement Lifestyle and Debbie Reynolds Studio. I graduated in 2014, and through an Optional Practical Training visa, I was able to stay and work in the U.S. for one more year. I signed with Movement Talent Agency (the agents attended AMDA's final showcase) and started going to auditions.
While some people might have expected my birthmark to hold me back, that definitely hasn't been the case. I think it's helped me stand out in a good way—people remember me at auditions. In my first year as a dancer, I booked an ESPN promo featuring Maroon 5 and I did a sizzle reel for the TV show “Bandolero," produced by Kenny Ortega and choreographed by Liz Imperio and Chad Carlberg.
Earlier this year, my birthmark actually helped me book a gig. In April, a writer in the UK saw me in a Facebook group for people with birthmarks, and she contacted me for an article about me in a small magazine. Her piece got passed on to the Daily Mail. From there, my story went viral. One day I woke up and suddenly had 6,000 new Instagram followers. The exposure helped me book a music video for Leona Lewis' song “Fire Under My Feet": The director saw my article and asked me to audition. The video was about finding what pushes you in life, and being unique is the fireunder my feet.
Right now, I'm back in Canada waiting for another visa to return to L.A. One day, I'd love to book a world tour or join a company. I've also started building a portfolio for modeling.
By now, I'm used to people looking at my birthmark like it's a problem. But I've learned not to dwell on what other people think. If someone on the street looks at me funny, I don't let it affect me. In the commercial dance world, standing out usually doesn't hurt. But when it does, I just have to remember that nobody gets every job she auditions for, whether it's because of a birthmark or just having the wrong hair color. A dance career is never easy—but being different doesn't have to be an obstacle.
Courtesy Tio Von Hale