a dancer’s life: the Transition
a dancer’s life: the Transition [a new post for the new year]
it’s 2017, which means a new start.. a new look.. a new year. this year, i’ve decided to make my blog sort of a regularity (yay!) and since audition season is upon us, i want to start off with something i’ve been asked about a lot recently… how did you transition?
the “transition” is always funny to me because it sounds like something morbid or life changing, but i get it.
how did you change from the concert world to the commercial world? the concert world, being the fine arts: opera, ballet/contemporary companies, etc. to the commercial world: film, commercials, music videos & my specialty: broadway.
for starters, i’ve only started to feel like i’ve “transitioned” very recently; probably within the past year. before that, i always considered myself this random ballet boy that happened to do theater. like i was always waiting for some dance company work, but theater gigs would come first. in fact, i did end up dancing in a ballet company between two theater jobs… but i digress.
i don’t know if there is a “how” outside of putting yourself out there and going to an audition (which can be very frightening or exhilarating , depending on how you feel about auditioning in general). but i thought (for this post at least), instead of going down my long list of jobs (you can read that elsewhere), i’d go through some lessons i’ve learned along the way.
i should preface by saying, i’ve always enjoyed auditioning ever since i auditioned for my first summer intensive. i’ve always thought: it’s my own time to stand out from the crowd and show who i am and what i can do. but that’s me and i know lots of folks don’t feel that way. once you get passed that terror, then you’re halfway there and you can move onto these…
1. Sing! (aka get to know your voice..)
…because you have to! i don’t mean to scare you with this, but it’s apart of theater. you have to [at least] carry a tune and speak on stage. if that’s one of your fears, you’ll have to get over it. just like you invested in your dancing, you'll have to invest in your voice as well, which means taking lessons and adamantly practicing on your own. you'll need to find someone to help you understand your voice and what songs work well in your voice for auditions. you'll need to learn music styles: traditional musical theater, contemporary musical theater, pop/rock, etc. so when you're asked for a certain style or you see a certain style on an breakdown (audition notice), you'll know what's appropriate to sing.
when i began auditioning, i knew none of this, so i had lots of terrible vocal auditions. time and time again, i would get past the dance portion, have to sing and would clam up. it took me years to really be comfortable with my voice and feel comfortable singing in a room full of people. the first time getting to "final callbacks" for a big show, i walked into the audition room (at one of the biggest casting agencies), saw 11 people behind that casting table and immediately seized up. needless to say, that was one of the worst auditions i've ever had. on the song styles front, i got down to the final callback for another show and all i had to do was sing. now at this time, i'd been auditioning for musicals for about a year. i knew a handful of songs because I grew up doing dinner theater, but only had about five songs in my book (i only sang three of those five songs in auditions. i also had a terrible habit of listening to the youtube clips or recordings and never hearing what the sheet music sounded like on a piano, until i walked into the audition room, smh!). at any rate, i came with my lil five songs ready to sing. now the show was ”pop/rock”, but i didn’t really have any of that in my book. so i sang my little mid-tempo ballad, that was semi appropriate. then, the musical director asked if i had anything else more uptempo… *blank stare*. i had one song in my book that was fast, but it definitely wasn’t appropriate for the show. i went for it anyways and did my best. i ended up booking the show, but the musical director gave a note right after i finished singing.. “you sound good. but don’t ever riff in a gershwin song again.” (smh again!)
as soon as you’re comfortable with your voice, you need to find those songs that you love to sing and sound great in your voice. a voice teacher can help you with that (i went about it pretty randomly before i got a coach). it requires a lot of practicing on your own, but once you find songs that you love and that show off your voice, you’ll see the difference in your auditions. now by show off your voice, i really mean the vocal version of: triple pirouette.. double tour.. 32 fouettes.. switch leap! you’re showing off your vocal quality and whatever voice type you are. it’s another way of showing yourself off.
i know this seems simple but (for me at least) it took a while to understand. as a dancer from the concert world, i tended to think technique first, storyline second. in commercial dance you need to act first.. smile first.. emote first.. or act like you can emote.
i first learned this with a well known christmas show. i auditioned for the show twice. the first time, i was kinda snarky and majorly technical and thought that the technique would pull me through, as it did in my ballet auditions. i was wrong! needless to say, i learned my lesson and came back the next year acting as if christmas was shooting out from my ears. i booked it that year. it’s not always that simple, but for that job it was the deal breaker.
directors and choreographers want to see joy or pain or anguish or power or anything. you have to sell them the idea they have in their head and the circumstances that cause “the dance” to happen. it can’t only be done with your legs and feet. sometimes, it is, in fact, no more than simple dance steps. in that case, you can fill it with whatever you like (..christmas coming out of your ears is always a good one to fill it with). But you must fill it.... which brings me to my last little lesson (for the time being)
3. Technique! (let it go.. like ELSA!)
i know, i know… sacrilege! this is the hardest and i still struggle with it. mainly because growing up a ballet boy, it’s all i knew to judge by and it’s what i love to see. but… i’m not the choreographer, so it’s not up to what i like.
one time, a choreographer came backstage to give me notes after seeing me perform one of his pieces. he asked me how i felt and i immediately started to spew out all the technical flaws: “this turn could’ve been better… i could’ve balanced longer in this step… blah, blah, blah” he said: “but you told the story. i saw you find new things and discoveries. sometimes we lose a bit of the technique for the theatricality… and it’s forgiven.”
unfortunately, no one cares. wait… that’s not an absolute, of course people care. there are definitely opportunities, choreographers and choreography that require the utmost technique. but a lot of times, you just need to tell the story. a lot of times, you’re playing a normal human (sometimes you’re an elf or an animal or the home and garden section at home depot) and while technique is admired, it doesn’t need to be at the forefront, because there’s no need for it. my mindset is to take things at face value and understand what you’re auditioning for. if it’s for a high school basketball player or a cat or a patron visiting the local juke joint, they’re all different and need different details for their story telling. more often, style is the most important. every choreographer sees dance differently and wants different nuances from it. some choreographers are way more character driven, others love technique with an edge, lots are very collaborative and want open, imaginative dancers from varied styles and backgrounds. this is why paying attention to style is so important. many times, it’s about what you bring to the movement and how you interpret the details, more than how correctly the steps are done. of course, a battement is always a battement and when a turn is given… pull up! otherwise, let yourself go and dance! that’s what they want to see, someone injecting their personality, hitting the details and living fully in the movement… not a technician.
of course, take from this what you will. all three points could (and maybe will) be separate posts by themselves. lord knows, these are things i’ve learned and worked on through lots of good and bad auditions and lots of trial and error (i still have plenty bad auditions with lots of error). there’s definitely no science to it and transitioning can take more time than you think it should, but if you put in the work outside of the audition room, keep grinding and showing up to the calls, eventually you’re gonna get you’re break.
…just keep swimming and may the odds forever be in your favor!