Strike a Pose: Meet Model and Dancer, Lisa Byrnes

Ever sat by the phone waiting for word on that big audition? Well, what if you couldn’t get the phone to stop ringing? Welcome to Lisa Byrnes’ world. With a marketable modeling look and dance skills to match, Lisa often finds herself in high demand for gigs on both ends of the spectrum. Case in point—last year’s Grammy Awards. “I got a call to dance for Katy Perry, but I was already modeling as one of the ‘trophy girls,’” recalls Lisa, who got the chance to share the stage with Whitney Houston and Kanye West while handing out awards to winners. “Sometimes opportunities can collide, but it’s great to be in that position.”

It’s a familiar situation for Lisa, whose worlds collide more often than not. Some jobs require both dancing and modeling, like the Fall 2008 Pussycat Dolls Fashion Week show—where she worked it in dance numbers and on the catwalk. Other times, it’s about making a swift transition from one job to another, as in 2004, a mega-busy year in which Lisa finished Paul McCartney’s world tour and then started a denim campaign with designer Adriano Goldschmied. On the heels of those gigs, Lisa had a recurring dance job on NBC’s “The Singing Bee,” plus a featured role on VH1’s “America’s Most Smartest Model.” Says Lisa of her dual life, “I’m like a juggling clown. I never get bored!”

Of course, the juggling act can get complicated. Recently, a Citizens of Humanity billboard shoot landed on the same day as a TV shoot for Fox’s “Glee.” The same situation arose when Lisa was tapped to dance alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards but already had a modeling shoot scheduled. She ended up getting to do both. “It’s about balance and weighing which job will help move your career forward,” says Lisa.

Tiny Dancer

Lisa’s been dancing and modeling since she was old enough to utter the words, “Sashay, shantay!” At 3, she started taking dance classes, and at 5, she signed with Elite Model Management. Soon Lisa was modeling for brands like Esprit, JCPenney and Macy’s. But it was important to Lisa to keep up her dance training, so she continued to take ballet, jazz and tap classes several times a week. At 18, her love of dance inspired her to make a major leap—a move to L.A., where she snagged a scholarship at EDGE Performing Arts Center.

Making it Happen

Today Lisa continues to work as both a dancer and a model in L.A., where she is represented by McDonald Selznick Associates and often goes on as many as 10 auditions and go-sees (a tryout for models) in a week. As for earning a living? Print work for catalogs can pay around $150 to $250 per hour, while magazine editorial work offers higher prestige but lower pay, averaging just $150 per day. Pay for runway work can be as much as $500 per hour!

Landing an Agent

For Lisa, finding an agency that reps both models and dancers was the perfect path after arriving in L.A. “It’s good to be with an agency that has print, on-camera and dance departments, as you’ll be sent on an array of jobs,” she advises. So how do you get the coveted agency signing? According to Lisa, open calls are few and far between, but agencies have submission sites online where aspiring models can send photos and info.

“There are a lot of models out there,” Lisa says. “Make sure your agency has a place for you so you don’t end up in an unattended file. Edgy, All-American, California Girl—if your agency has 60 girls just like you, keep searching. There’s a place for everyone.” Simply ask what types of people the agency is currently representing. Adds Lisa: “That’s not a common question for people who don’t know the business, so agents will respect someone who asks that.”

Blessings & Curses

“I was always a beanpole, towering over all the boys in class pictures,” says 5' 9" Lisa. And while her height is certainly good for modeling, it sometimes presents a challenge on the dance front: “Most dancers are between 5' 3" and 5' 7", and I often find myself too tall to dance with a partner or tour with shorter artists.”

In some ways, Lisa’s dance experience is both a help and a hindrance: “Dance definitely provided my body with a certain type of movement language and confidence, but it has also developed a more athletic look as opposed to a waif look, which at times can typecast me.” Yet her body type has also been instrumental in landing certain jobs. For the Rush Hour 3 audition, director Brett Ratner requested 10 athletic-looking dancers—and Lisa made the cut.

To maintain the long, lean look required of models, Lisa is strategic about her workouts. She keeps her body from becoming too athletic by using dance as her main means of exercise. “I can’t lift weights or do kickboxing. Even cardio barre is hard because I tend to bulk up really fast,” Lisa says.

But for the most part, dancing has furthered Lisa’s modeling career by adding style to her runway walk and improving her ability to take direction. “As a model, you don’t just walk or pose for the camera. You exude style, emotion and versatility,” Lisa says. “Dance has taught me to be aware of my body and connect to the audience. I’m able to express myself to my full potential.”

Ready For Your Close-Up?

Wondering if you have what it takes to rock the runway? Clear Talent Agents Brooklyn Lavin and Wendy Bogdan have all the A's to your Q's.

Q: On “America’s Next Top Model,” Tyra Banks criticizes girls who look too much like dancers. Is this accurate in the industry?

A: According to Wendy, Clear Talent’s print/model booker, this can often be true in the world of high fashion, but a dance background can benefit a model who does commercial print work. Lisa adds that certain jobs do require you to put on your model face and put away your dancin’ shoes. “Sometimes you have to turn it off and just model,” Lisa says. “Some models give dancer poses and balletic movement, instead of making it more natural or couture-style.”

Q: Do I need super-expensive headshots to get started?

A: Not necessarily, Wendy says: “A snapshot will work when you’re starting out. Once you find an agent, you’ll have to get new shots that are marketable.”

Q: How tall do I need to be?

A: “It’s a myth that you have to be six feet tall to be a model,” says Brooklyn, an agent with Clear Talent’s Dance Division. “For runway modeling, being at least 5'9" is a must, but for print work, you can book a job based off your look, ethnicity or body frame.” Wendy adds, “Some of my top booking models are under 5'6"! Clients look for beautiful faces, toned bodies and great personalities.”

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A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi, dance friends. It is a strange time to be a person in the world, and an especially strange time to be a dancer. As the dance community faces the coronavirus crisis, a lot of you are coping with closed studios, canceled performances and competitions, and a general sense of anxiety about how your world will look going forward.

Yes, dancers are super resilient, and there's been a lot of inspiring community-building happening. #LivingRoomDances and Instagram dance parties and virtual ballet classes with the pros are wonderful. Dance can, and should, be a bright spot in the darkness. But that weird, empty feeling you have? It might be grief. The loss of the certainty of daily class, the loss of the promise of that big end-of-year performance—that's real. The dance studio has always been a safe place; it's especially hard not to have that outlet now, when you need it most.

We're here for you. We—and our friends at Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, The Dance Edit, and Dance Business Weekly—are doing our best to document the hurdles facing the dance industry, and to advocate for dancers in need. We're developing more online content that will help you maintain and improve your technique while you're at home, and process the mental and emotional fallout of all this upheaval. (You can keep up with the latest stories here.) And we're still making our print magazine. We have issues planned and shot, full of great dance stories and beautiful photos. We're not going anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Talk to us. Or dance to us. Or both. We won't stop moving, and you shouldn't, either.

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