Dance – Having Heart and Taking Charge at the 2013 Dancers Forum

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The 2013 Dancers Forum, “The Evolving World of Dance: Stepping Into Hope and Change,” was held on Thursday, July 25 at The Actors Center on Wilshire Boulevard. Thanks to an email blast through the Dance Resource Center (DRC) I was alerted just a few days prior to the event. I cleared my calendar, hungry to hear what the Industry’s top professionals would share. What’s key for the working dancers in the industry? Would there be hope or hype? Should we be welcoming change or waiting for chance?

The entire event served as a discussion on the past, present, and future of commercial and professional dance and was sponsored by key organizations – SAG-AFTRA, Career Transitions For Dancers, Screen Actors Guild Foundation, The Actors Fund, Actors’ Equity, Dancers’ Alliance, and Art Works. Part one of the day was “Stepping Into Hope and Change” and began with a fantastic panel of four dance talent agents including Brianna Ancel (Clear Talent Group), Laney Filuk (Bloc Agency), JC Gutierrez (MSA), and Terry Lindholm (Go 2 Talent Agency), and was moderated by Bill Prudich, executive director of the EDGE Performing Arts Center. Mr. Prudich had a great line-up of questions prepared and asked each panelist to weigh in on each.

Several of the questions took a more predictable tone, asking what individual dancers could do to be successful and what were their most valuable assets. As the panelists spoke to the all-age audience of about 70 people, they reiterated that current and accurate headshots, resumes, reels, and websites are as essential as air! All of these promotional materials have to reflect you and your brand and your agent can help you hone in on the niche you are most suited for. Whether pierced and edgy, clean cut and technical, do a variety of styles and are older, strictly folk dance, and beyond – the scope of calls for dancers is broader than ever before.

Reiterated emphatically was the critical role that consistent communication plays. Agents need to be updated on their clients’ current projects, book out dates, and goals. The other side of the communication coin was brought to light by the agents as well – stay connected to the community! They reiterated that not only were their most successful dancers excellent at keeping up with their representation, but also with their fellow dancers, choreographers, and other networks. By being professional at all times, having an open attitude, attending dance events and choreographers’ workshops, and seeking out new connections, dancers must co-create their opportunities with their agents. They said that dancers can make the mistake of thinking their agent is going to get them all of their work, but most bookings come from both of you working in a professional collaboration for your career.

Other agent misconceptions were discussed, addressing the behind-the-scenes work agents do for their talent. Did you know that your agent is not calling you for some very good reasons? From negotiating contracts, to trying to collect fees, to discussing strategic approaches for getting their clientele out there, the juggling act is enormous. They wanted us to know that they are under enormous pressure to provide very exact submissions to the choreographers, producers, directors, and casting agents that call them, and it takes tremendous and continuous effort to be a successful agency. They too, have to bring a lot of passion and drive to their work.

So if you don’t have an agent – how do you get one? This question’s answers varied from each agent. In addition to talent and performance, JC Gutierrez exclaimed, “Heart! You have to love it [dance] so everyone can see it.” Terry Lindholm agreed that individuality, spark, and fire are always a factor for his decision, and continued to state that a good bond between the client and agent is a must for him. He must feel on the same page with his clients to work together and envision where he/she can fit into the LA marketplace. Laney Filuk mentioned technical background and training was something she honed in on – from the studio you trained at to what instructors your are currently taking with – to not only see what variety you have but what connections you’ve already made in the competitive LA scene. She continued to say that if invited to a meeting after the initial audition, she looks for potential clients who demonstrate an engagement in their career and bring self-knowledge about what their assets are and how much they have to offer.

Prudich was really smart to tap into the vast knowledge of these panelists to also include the question, “Does the competition world really prepare dancers or could it do better?” The panel mentioned that competition dancers have dedication, very high ability and performance experience, and younger dancers are demonstrating higher technical skills. Some of the areas where many competition studios are not preparing dancers well for professional careers are intrinsic to winning trophies – the style that wins competitions is not as marketable in the commercial world, studio dancers get limited or no exposure to other dance styles or teachers, and the focus on repetition often limits the ability to take on new material quickly. This training can limit versatility and often replaces technique with style, which can contribute to injuries and shortened careers. Competition dancers often have a hard time standing out as individuals and lack the audition skills to gain representation or bookings. They recommend dancers diversify their training by learning several styles and working with a wide-range of well qualified instructors in varying settings.

Audience members were invited to ask questions and welcomed to speak with the agents after the panel. Career counselors, Suzie Jary and Linda Bunch from Career Transitions for Dancers, followed next with workshops for skills identification and to offer developmental resources for dancers to either strengthen or transform their professional pursuits.

Part two of the forum was also a wonderful treat. The lively conversation between the So You Think You Can Dance greats Cat Deeley and keynote speaker, Nigel Lythgoe, spanned anecdotes of Lythgoe’s early days as a dancer to heartfelt advisory proclamations for today’s artists. Between physical demonstrations and funny quips, he wholeheartedly told the live audience of 100’s and many more via livestream, that dancers nowadays more than ever need to be very healthy and athletic. He warned against smoking, encouraged taking class every day, and having knowledge of dance history and industry predecessors. Lythgow mentioned that during auditions he looks for charisma and presence so great “that it changes the room.” When Deeley asked what mistakes people make at auditions, he simply stated that they shouldn’t take it personally, they were obviously not right for the job. His encouragement continued as he denounced the misconception that only those who dance professionally should be participating in this amazing art form. The idea is to enjoy it and not be inhibited because it is dance that builds bridges both internally and externally. As the dance shows begin to fade in popularity on American television, he hopes that dance awareness will continue to grow and eventually become accredited and be available to more and more people. This mission rings true with his work in the Dizzy Feet Foundation, whose gala will be a huge affair alongside the National Dance Day.

As though that was not a treat in itself, a stellar panel joined together afterwards led by dancer, director, and author Larry Billman. The panel included industry stars Stephen “Twitch” Boss, Kym Johnson, Adam Shankman, and Galen Hooks, co-owner of MSA Julie McDonald, and social media manager for, Dayna Hasson. Each shared their histories and turning points with dance, and most spoke at some point about the importance of being a true, grounded, and inspired professional. They discussed the proliferation of technology and how much it has affected the dance industry. Much of the advice given in the morning panel was echoed in the evening panel as well. The graciousness of the panel to share their experiences, funny stories, and bumps along the way was so uplifting. They also spoke of their work with dance advocacy and community outreach projects, such as Ms. Hooks’ work with the Dancers’ Alliance campaign for contracts for music video performers. For Shankman and McDonald, who started out as dancers and went on to transition to other roles in the industry, they encouraged others to keep going and be open to change. Adam Shankman said it best, “I always self-identify as a dancer first.”

I came away from the day impressed with the messages that were conveyed from start to finish, inspired by the passion that the community has for dance and innovation, and motivated by the recognition that dancers are some of the hardest working people on the planet. The future holds only a few knowns, and the best way to face it is to have heart and take charge! Because that’s how we dancers do!

The entire discussion with Deeley and Lythgoe and the evening panel is available for you to view on the SAG Foundation’s Video Gallery webpage. Here is the link. Please make sure you watch these two videos if you were unable to attend the event. There is a lot of very relevant and important information given here and you’ll have more than a few good laughs along the way!