A Dancer’s Transition from the Competition World to the Professional World
Author: Robb Gibbs
As a professional actor living in New York City, I think I’ve heard just about everything there is in an audition setting. When I first moved to NY, there was a huge stigma built around competition dancers in the musical theatre industry. Within the last several years, the tides have definitely turned. With choreographers like Mia Michaels and Sonya Tayeh now on the scene choreographing for upcoming Broadway productions, there is no better time than the present to let that part of your younger resume shine. Choreographers are looking for dancers who can do everything. They seem to be looking for individuals that are breaking out of cookie cutter molds. There seems to be a place for every level dancer in a multitude of different genres, including contemporary, which previously was reserved for the concert dance world..
There’s competition in everything we do. We have all been competing since an extremely early age. Our parents have instilled in us to be the best, the fastest, the smartest. Without knowing it, most young people want to be the first in their elementary school class to write a cursive “A” perfectly before anyone else. I have every bit of confidence that dance competitions continue to feed this healthy urge in a different setting. In my experience of competitions, both competing and now judging, the environment can be nothing but uplifting and preparatory for the future. I’ve heard millions of times dancers coming off stage and being congratulated by a complete stranger for how awesomely they just danced. This warms every inch of my being knowing that these people will hopefully one day be among the professional working community of the performance arts.
In no way am I trying to put out that every competition dancer will work endlessly or that performers that didn’t grow up competing will never work. I, however, think that my background has set me up for success. In an audition room, I am ready and willing to attack choreography as if I’m fighting for the title of Mr. Dance USA. Because of learning to dance in large groups as a young teen, I am fully aware of people around me at all times when dancing and learning choreography for the first time. Since growing up in the world of having outside choreographers come in for master classes frequently, I’m acclimated to picking up choreography quickly that I may not be comfortable moving in just yet.
On the subject of master class settings or conventions, let me offer a bit of advice. You never know who might return in your life from your past. I would love to tell every dancer that they never know if they’re auditioning in a dance class for a future employer. As with all aspects of life, you should treat everyone with the utmost respect. In our industry, you must be hyper-aware that you may need someone as a reference in the future. One of my teachers from college actually hired me for my first ever professional job in an Equity theater. I can only imagine that if I had an ill demeanor in his class while in school he would have built an opinion of me being unprofessional and not easy to work with. In the same breath, I have heard of dancers from competitions being hired directly for a gig from a solo video. This should scream to dancers that every performance must be the highest of their caliber. Never hold back. Be prepared to put on stage what you want the whole world to see. In the time we live in, every video has the chance to go viral. You should only want the best version of your talent displayed every time you perform.
I remember my first ever audition for a cruise ship. There were dancers there that could do any style, were in peak physical shape, and danced fearlessly in the audition setting. I have to, in my mind, equate this to their competing background and thirst for a little healthy competition. The only problem, it appeared, with a few was that they had never sung in front of a panel of people in their lives. From a performer that went to school at a musical theatre conservatory, I was comfortable with singing in front of casting directors, choreographers, or musical directors. I could tell these dancers were totally freaking out. In our industry at an audition, we carry with us a “book”. This is a folder with various amounts of sheet music that you should be willing and able to sing at the casting director’s request. These dancers did not even know they needed such a thing. I wanted to help these incredible performers so badly with their fear. They needed someone to tell them it doesn’t matter. They already had that “thing” that the casting personnel were looking for. They had danced circles around some of the people in the room. All they needed to do now was go through the motions of singing just because everyone had to do it. What they didn’t know or realize at the time was it didn’t matter. They had essentially already been hired in the right people’s eyes.
With the thought of students I’ve had, competitors I’ve judged, and performers I’ve yet to see soon to take on the real world outside of a dance studio, I feel confident that they all have within them the ability to accomplish all that they set out to do. Let no one diminish your accomplishments. No matter your ability level, technical background, or natural-given skill set, with the drive that you find in life especially found within and around dance competitions, I salute all that you are paving for your future. You, as a competition dancer, are an elite few that know what it takes to put yourself in the most vulnerable state of human nature. You allow yourself to fail, to fall, and get back up and finish what you started. You are an Atlas. You hold the world on your back. Don’t crumble under its weight but thrive under the pressure and succeed in your journey. I support you entirely.
Robb Gibbs is a professional dancer/singer/actor in New York City. Favorite career credits include: Greg in "A Chorus Line", "42nd Street", "Chicago" the Musical, "Hello Dolly", and "Singin' in the Rain". He is a graduate of The American Musical & Dramatic Academy of NY and has been on the roster of IDA Judges since our premier year.
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