Who You Need to Know Can Finally Get to Know You!
By Deborah Searle
Esteemed dance manager Jim Keith of The Movement has recently started a unique series of workshops in Los Angeles for professional dancers seeking to arm themselves with the knowledge and the contacts to succeed. Since the first workshop in October, The Dance Group offers weekly two hour-long networking and audition workshops with a rotating roster of LA’s top dance industry professionals. Creating an environment for dancers to meet, learn from, dance for and network directly with choreographers, directors and casting directors, Jim Keith is passionate about the The Dance Group’s potential to equip dancers for career success.
Dance Informa spoke with Jim to find out more about these new workshops that are all the buzz across LA.
Why did you start The Dance Group?
When I was a dance agent, signing new clients, I’d always hold two hour long orientation sessions. I would discuss things like marketing materials, networking, agent-client relations, audition techniques, etiquette, dancer rates, working conditions, and so on. I tried to cover all the basics with my new clients and instill in them a sense of knowledge and security that would stay with them for years to come. After doing this for some time, I started to notice that I could give them all the knowledge in the world but that wouldn’t necessarily cause specific result in their lives. I was looking for something that would produce actual results. Two of my closest friends are actors and they would attend casting director and agency workshops. They would perform monologues or mock commercial auditions and get noticed and coached. Their bookings actually increased. No one was doing this for dancers yet. Not this way.
There are many dance workshops out there that discuss various audition techniques and try to share “industry insight” and knowledge. What makes The Dance Group different?
Those workshops are wonderful and some of them make amazing differences in the lives of dancers but they don’t necessarily put you in front of the people who will be making the final call on whether or not you book a job. That’s the difference with The Dance Group. Auditioning in Los Angeles is about three things and three things only, and unfortunately none of those things necessarily have to do with how good you are. Chances are that if you have representation you’re ‘good enough’ so that isn’t an issue. Booking jobs as a dancer is about who you know, how good you look and how well you sell.
The ‘who you know’ part is key, because quite frankly, the dance market in Los Angeles is completely oversaturated. Hundreds upon hundreds of dancers show up at cattle calls that last hours. Amazing dancers all make it to the final cut, but in the end, it’s 99% about who you know that gets you kept. Things like look, ability and performance quality get you all the way to the end, but it’s who you know that will keep you standing there when the cutting is done.
Why is networking so important to success in this industry?
Most dancers don’t realize that the choreographer’s job and reputation is on the line as well. A choreographer is more inclined to choose people he or she knows or has worked with before because it is less of a risk for the choreographer and creates an environment of creativity and trust. If the choreographer doesn’t have to worry about the dancer’s work ethic, reputation or ability, then they are left freer to create better work. At The Dance Group, we create a unique environment that puts dancers directly in front of industry leading dance professionals. They get personal critiques and one-on-one coaching each session in a room that is limited to only 45-60 dancers at a time. The limited class size ensures maximum exposure.
What other benefits does the workshop provide?
Each choreographer has a different way of seeing and doing things in regards to auditioning, so it is important that dancers know each individual choreographer’s methodology. We ask them to dress the part, like they were going to an actual audition for that specific choreographer, and to bring their photos and resumes. Everything is analyzed and critiqued from the moment they walk in. Everything is assessed and commented on, from what they are wearing, to their photos, to their execution of the choreography or their ability to pick up the steps. They learn choreography and have to execute it in an audition type pace. They learn each choreographer’s way of doing things, what they like and what they don’t. It arms the dancers with specific knowledge to give them an advantage in a real audition situation. We also have a 30 minute Q & A at the end if the students have any more specific questions or comments. If the choreographer likes any of the dancers they see, we also prepare a package of headshots for the choreographer so they can keep them on file for future reference.
Any success stories yet as a result of the workshops?
YES! Marguerite Derricks confirmed that she hired five new dancers for a pilot she was choreographing for, due to the workshops we held with her. Marguerite is very specific about what she wants to see at auditions and what she needs to get from dancers that work for her. These girls probably never would have worked for Marguerite so quickly if it wasn’t for the workshops. The Dance Group gave these young dancers the tools they needed to get a ‘leg up’ on the competition. They knew how to dress for Marguerite, what she likes to see while auditioning and how she likes her choreography executed; all key elements to a successful audition.
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