Sarah Reasons performing a solo at The Dance Awards (courtesy TDA)

When Kylie Peitz, an independent dancer in West Palm Beach, FL, took the stage to perform "The Impossible Dream" last year, she wasn't just dancing another competition solo. A couple years earlier, Peitz had left her studio for financial reasons, but she didn't want to let that stop her from working towards becoming a professional dancer. The solo depicted her post-studio journey through movement. "That was basically the story of me leaving my studio and saying that this is a dream I want to pursue," she says. "You can tell me that I'll never make it on my own, but I'm still going to push as hard as I can to reach my dream." She performed the solo at several competitions, winning titles like Top Solo and Teen Miss Hype at Hype Regionals, and First Overall Elite Teen Solo at Fusion Nationals.

Going independent has helped Kylie broaden her training and get more serious about her goals as a dancer. But while competing independently allows a certain level of flexibility and freedom, it can also mean having less of a support system. If you're thinking about giving it a shot, here are a few things to know.

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Competition
Darius Hickman and Taylor Sieve in Travis Wall's "It Takes a Lot to Know a Man" (Adam Rose, courtesy FOX)

As an audience member, it's easy to overlook how much work went into the performance onstage—a dancer's job is to make it look effortless, after all. But every pro has tackled a role that made them doubt themselves, whether by testing their stamina, pushing them out of their comfort zones, or touching on their vulnerabilities and insecurities. Here, six dancers share some of their toughest roles, how they made it through, and what they learned.

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Dancer to Dancer
Sophie Sotsky (right) performing (Paul B. Goode, courtesy Sotsky)

When Sophie Sotsky moved to NYC in 2011, she was fresh out of college and hoping to sustain herself as a dancer and choreographer in the big city. That's when a production internship at New York Live Arts caught her eye. The company, formerly Dance Theatre Workshop, had just merged with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and was about to begin its first season at NYLA. It needed interns to help with all the behind-the-scenes technical work that makes a show happen, from running cables to hanging lights to laying marley. Stotsky didn't have experience with any of that, but she was game to learn.

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Branch Out
The Chase Brock Experience performing "Splendor we only partially imagined" (Kyle Froman, courtesy Rayn or Shine PR)

For many musical theater dancers, joining Actors' Equity—the union that represents theater performers—is one of the biggest milestones in their career. All Broadway shows fall under Equity, as do many off-Broadway shows, regional productions, and national tours. However, while getting your card can be great, it can also hinder—"especially if you're just coming into the business," says dancer Travante S. Baker, who's performed in the West Side Story international tour. "A lot of theaters have to conserve money and they can't always hire Equity performers because their rates are too expensive." So, is it better to go for your card right away, or try to book lots of jobs in smaller, regional theaters first? And if you are working toward a card, how do you make the most of the process?

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Musical Theater
The Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklórico performing dances from the Costa Chica region in Guerrero, Mexico (David Martinez, courtesy Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklórico)

Picture a group of dancers with brightly colored skirts, embroidered jackets and hats, and fleet feet that tap out a syncopated beat as lively music plays. The women fan out their skirts, rippling them like waves as they twirl and stamp.

This is folklórico, a dance style with as much complexity, variety, and history as the country of Mexico itself. Folklórico actually refers to many traditional dances from Mexico's different regions and states, rather than one single style, and you could fill multiple books with the details of every dance. Still, if you're interested in diving into folklórico, there are a few basics you should know.

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Dancer to Dancer
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.

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Trending-posts
Jan Horvath with vocal students at Steps on Broadway in NYC (courtesy Horvath)

You've been perfecting your technique for years, and now you're thinking about auditioning for musicals—but how are you supposed to conquer acting and singing, too? While dance may be your number-one strength, that doesn't mean you can't bring some serious skill to the table with your vocals and your ability to portray a character. We asked singing and acting coaches about some of the most common challenges dancers face—and their tips for tackling them.

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Musical Theater
Shannon Mather's Body Love being performed at competition (photo by Art Lee, courtesy Shannon Mather)

When Shannon Mather choreographed Body Love on a group of dancers from her Mather Dance Company, a video of the work was so popular that it ended up going viral, garnering over a million views on YouTube. Set to a spoken-word poem by Mary Lambert on themes of body image, unhealthy beauty standards, and self-confidence, the piece resonated not only with competition judges (who placed the piece in the top three at Hall of Fame Dance Challenge), but also with the teenage dancers in the cast. "It spoke a lot to girls," Mather says. "I got so many messages."

Dancing to spoken word can be incredibly powerful, and help you stand out in a competition. But it comes with its own set of challenges, especially if you're used to having music backing you up. Here's what you need to know if you're thinking about tackling a spoken-word piece.

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How To
n RWS Entertainment Group Audition (courtesy RWS Entertainment Group)

Figuring out how to avoid getting cut in a musical theater audition can feel like a mystery. "It's not just about your technique, it's about the whole package of the person," says Justin Bohon, a casting director at Binder Casting, whose clients include The Lion King on Broadway. But how do you present yourself in the best way possible, and avoid making a faux pas that distracts from what's most important—your dancing? Bohon and three other casting directors gave us the scoop on their biggest audition pet peeves.

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Dancer to Dancer

Performing on a Broadway stage might seem glamorous, but it comes with one of the most grueling schedules a dancer can face. Maintaining your stamina and energy, warding off injury and keeping the material fresh for eight shows a week is no joke. So how do dancers do it? Dance Spirit talked to ensemble members from some of Broadway's danciest shows to get their survival tips.

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How To

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