Landing a Gig in L.A.: Insider Advise from Pro Dancers, Choreographers, and Agents at Grover Dale's Career Power Workshop on How to Stand Out

Article excerpt

Many young dancers migrate to southern California to fulfill their dream of dancing onstage next to their favorite pop star. But as dance agent Julie McDonald explained to a group gathered in a Beverly Hills dance studio one Saturday last September, commercial dance in Los Angeles is a breed unto itself.

"In New York there is Broadway, which offers long contracts and the security of a weekly paycheck. The same is true in Las Vegas," McDonald said. "But in Los Angeles, commercial dance encompasses a lot of short-term jobs in file music, film, and television industries. You can be a backup dancer in a music video one day and in a TV commercial the next."

And while landing a plum gig such as dancing at the SuperBowl or touring the world with a superstar can translate into big money--as much as $50,000 to $60,000 a year--these opportunities are few and far between, and competition for them is stiff. "There's a top echelon of maybe 50 dancers earning in that range," McDonald warned. "And there are hundreds or thousands of dancers in Los Angeles."

This means that dancers in L.A. are continually auditioning for their next job. Knowing how to audition well is vital if a dancer hopes to carve out a career in the commercial field.

McDonald, who established the first agency for commercial dancers in 1985 after a career as a dancer and teacher, offered her expertise as part of a workshop on making it in the entertainment industry sponsored by Grover Dale's Answers4 Dancers. Her comments came at the end of a long day during which participants, some of whom had come from across the United States and Canada, had listened to the advice of--and had the chance to dance for--Gil Duldulao, Janet Jackson's choreographer, and Jeri Slaughter, Christina Aguilera's choreographer. Three of Jackson's backup dancers--Melanie Benz, Nick Flores, and Stephani Kammer--also were on hand to offer their first-hand accounts about the preparation, professionalism, and perseverance that are crucial to succeed.

Here's a roundup of the tips that Dale and his all-star team offered. Most important is that the whole package--technical skills, style, and attitude--is being closely watched. How you act in an audition translates for the choreographer (or video producer or superstar) into what you will be like to work with in intensive rehearsals or on an extended tour.

COME PREPARED

Bring a headshot and resume. A black-and-white eight-by-ten photo is fine when first starting out. If you don't have professional experience, list your background training.

Be versatile. Hip hop may be the hot thing right now, but choreographers still want dancers who are adept at a range of idioms. Slaughter said, "I would rather hire someone who knows their ballet terms than someone who is just street." Kammer said she makes sure to pack her pointe shoes because, "You never know what they might ask you to do. …