How to thrive in L.A.’s Dance Scene
Open your mind to a range of opportunities.
When dancers move to L.A., their goals often include gracing the screen in a music video or dancing backup for top musical acts. While these aspirations are admirable and attainable, it’s important to adopt a broader focus. “Some people pigeonhole themselves into only doing hip-hop videos, but those are a small part of the big scheme,” says Kelley Parker, who recently acted as line captain and assistant choreographer for the Los Angeles Opera Grand Duchess production directed by Garry Marshall. “I’ve traveled all over the world doing musical theater, but if I’d decided I only wanted to do commercial work, I never would’ve been able to experience that.”
Choreographer Carey Ysais, who runs the popular Choreographer’s Carnival, agrees. He suggests dancers who are new to town get to know the producers and choreographers of small-scale music videos and burlesque shows such as 40 Deuce or Pussycat Dolls. “Dancers come here with stars in their eyes; they want to dance behind Britney or Janet, but when you come off those tours, you need to know how to eat and function,” he says. “There are a lot of untapped opportunities that dancers can benefit from.”
Get savvy on going rates.
What if you finally book a music video—but it only pays $100? McDonald/Selznick Associates agent Terry Lindholm says this scenario is common for dancers starting out, which is why being vigilant about payment standards is a must. “So many people move to town and have that raw passion and excitement, and sometimes that excitement overwhelms their sense of what’s fair,” says Lindholm, who recommends visiting union websites or the Dancers’ Alliance website (dancersalliance.com) for current salary information.
Expand your skill set.
At auditions, be prepared for whatever the job might call for. Parker says she has taken everything from ballet to ballroom classes to become a more well-rounded dancer. “If you sing, act or play an instrument, it will help you understand the music, and look at the choreographer’s piece in a different way,” she adds. Kristin Campbell-Taylor, a dance/events agent at Dorothy Day Otis Artists Agency, says that the number of genres a dancer is fluent in will be directly proportionate to the number of auditions he or she goes on.
Spend time wisely.
Taking classes is a smart way to get in the dance mix, especially at studios like EDGE and Millennium where well-known choreographers often take notice of talented newbies. “Tons of choreographers working in the field are teaching class,” says Brooke Lipton, a former Britney Spears dancer who now teaches at EDGE. “Taking class is a great way to learn L.A. style and to keep your mind and body fresh.”
Once you begin to book jobs, remember that landing the gig isn’t the end of your audition. Choreographers are always keeping tabs on dancers’ behavior and attitude in order to determine who to hire on future jobs. “I appreciate dancers who are in the moment, pay attention and listen,” says JoAnn Jansen, who has choreographed for films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Elizabethtown. “If you show respect and take constructive criticism well, people will adore you.”