Say My Name: The pros and cons of taking a stage name

Stage names give artists a measure of control over the way directors, agents and the public perceive them. So should you leave your birth name behind or stick with what your parents gave you? DS investigates. 


The unforgettable krumper Miss Prissy first made a name for herself in David LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary Rize. Now she has a reel that’s as long as Highway 5. Born Marquisa Irene Gardner, Miss Prissy earned her nickname in high school. “Everyone teased me because I was a girl from South Central, but I was so dainty and girly,” Miss Prissy remembers. “They used to say all I needed was a teacup and some doilies.”


When Miss Prissy began booking gigs, she decided to keep the name. “I turned it into a Clark Kent–meets–Superman thing. Marquisa is the girl who’s a regular, married woman and mother,” she explains. “Miss Prissy is the superhero. She’s as forceful as a man, and she’s as soft and gentle as a female. I thought the name fit well.”


There are many reasons to adopt a stage name—entertainers have been doing it since the golden days of Hollywood. Perhaps like Miss Prissy’s, your nickname has personal meaning and indicates something about your style. Maybe you’re looking for a name that is easier to pronounce or you want something unique and unforgettable. “It comes down to identity, and each person has to be responsible for what that identity is,” says Terry Lindholm, an agent at McDonald/Selznick Associates in Los Angeles.


What you don’t want is a stage name that will get you noticed for the wrong reasons. (Ahem: Remember Mr. Sex auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance” during the past three seasons—and Nigel’s command that he never return?) Before you cast off your birth name in search of something with more star power, here is what you should consider.


The Legacy
Stage names have a long and glorious tradition in dance. A beautiful-sounding name can stick in a person’s mind for a lifetime. Imagine if legendary British ballerina Margot Fonteyn had kept her birth name—Peggy Hookham. How about George Balanchine’s muse, Suzanne Farrell, who was born Roberta Sue Ficker? Broadway and ballet choreographer Jerome Robbins was born Jerome Rabinowitz. Cyd Charisse? Tula Ellice Finklea! Even Fred Astaire changed his last name, from Austerlitz.


Why did these glorious stars of screen and stage create new names for themselves? For Farrell, it was about her classmates, who teased her and called her “Bobby Sue.” Others aimed to simplify their names.


There are, of course, exceptions. In the nascent stages of Western ballet, it was common to adopt Russian stage names, because Russians were the most elite ballet dancers at the time. A Russian-sounding name carried status and authority. For example, when Charisse danced with the Ballets Russes, she used the names Maria Istomina and Felia Sidorova!

Deciding to Change
So what does this mean for you? If you have a very ethnic name but can dance a broad range of parts, you may want something more neutral, to avoid being pigeonholed. For instance, if you audition for the role of Maria in West Side Story—and you can pull off a Puerto Rican look even though your last name is Dimovitz—you don’t want to get dismissed before you’ve had a chance to show your talent. On the other hand, an ethnic last name can work to your advantage. It’s all about who you want to be.


Sometimes a funky name can be good. Dylan G-Bowley, who dances with the Trey McIntyre Project, decided not to change his name, even though it has an unusual and often confusing spelling. His parents created “G-Bowley” from his mother’s maiden name, Genovese, and his father’s surname, Bowley.


“I love it. It’s interesting and gets people’s attention, but it does cause problems,” says G-Bowley. “For one thing, computers don’t like it. Most programs won’t accept the hyphen, so I become ‘Gbowley.’ ”


In some cases, a name that matches your personality can make you memorable. Brooklyn Lavin of Clear Talent Group points out that one of her clients, Mr. Lucky, has had a lot of success with his name. “People love that he calls himself Mr. Lucky, because he has such a fun personality,” she says.


For women who get married, Lindholm says there are advantages to both retaining your maiden name or adopting your husband’s. “Sometimes a dancer says, ‘It’s a new way for people to look at me. It’s a new approach to myself.’ Maybe you might get an extra look,” says Lindholm. “But if you’ve built a tremendous reputation on your name and people know you, then my personal opinion is, don’t mess with what works.”


Stage names also come in handy if you have the same birth name as a celebrity or another dancer, which can be confusing for casting directors. The last thing you want is to be mistaken for someone else!


All name changes must be registered with the Screen Actors Guild (or whichever union represents you). If checks are cut to your stage name, you’ll need to alert your bank, as well. Typically they require you to show your union card.

Choices, Choices!
A stage name is like a screen name: Once you choose one, it’s a good idea to stick with it so fans and casting agents don’t get confused. So how do you come up with a name that you’ll continue to like as you grow?


Farrell found hers by flipping through the Manhattan phonebook! Think about any nicknames you have, or words that paint a vivid picture of who you are as a dancer and artist.  Talk to your family about places or names of relatives that have special significance. Or make a small adjustment, such as using your first and middle name, or your middle and last name.


“A good stage name is something that’s not harsh on the ears,” says Miss Prissy. “You want to keep it friendly.”


For urban dancers, it’s more common to receive a name as a sign of respect and acceptance. Alex Welch, aka B-Girl Shorty, earned hers when she was 12 years old. “Each B-boy/B-girl has to earn their name, and you’re being acknowledged as being worthy of being a B-boy/B-girl when you receive it,” she says. “Also, your name becomes your trademark, so it should fit the individual’s physical, psychological or technical characteristics. In my case, I was, and still am, diminutive!”


Whatever you decide, it must be a natural fit. Otherwise you’ll seem foolish. “If you can’t pull it off, no one else will buy it. If you are the quintessential caucasian girl from the Midwest and you change your name to something ethnic, people aren’t going to believe that,” says Lindholm.


“Finding out what’s unique about yourself is crucial, but you have to be aware that whatever you do to manipulate that vision of yourself should be something that you believe in and are fully behind.”


If changing your name will give you more confidence, change away! But in the end, it’s still about who you are as a dancer. Says Lavin: “Ultimately, it’s going to come down to your talent and the way you dance.”


Click here to find out what your stage name should be!


Photo: Andrew Zuckerman 

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Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.


You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)


As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.


Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).


Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.


We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.


You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.


Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.


You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?


You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.


You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.


Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.


Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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