Tips & Advice

Tips From Dancers, For Dancers: Life on Tour

'Running Wild' from the national tour of 'Bullets Over Broadway'. Photo by Murphy Made Photography.

Whether you’re a commercial or theatre dancer, you’re likely to find yourself on tour at some point in your career. A tour is a production that travels nationally or internationally, playing at a different location in each city. Tours can last from a few weeks to a year or more, and sit-downs in any given city can vary from one-nighters to several weeks. I’m currently on tour with the First National cast of Bullets over Broadway. This is my first time “on the road”, and I’ve learned a lot from my own experiences, as well as helpful tips and tricks from my cast mates who have toured before.

First day of rehearsals for the first national tour of 'Bullets Over Broadway'. Photo courtesy of Mary Callahan.

First day of rehearsals for the first national tour of ‘Bullets Over Broadway’. Photo courtesy of Mary Callahan.

To be honest, tour is tough. You’re away from your home, family and friends for an extended period of time. You live in various hotel rooms, travel long trips by bus, and, just when you start to get comfortable in a city or theatre, it’s time to move on to the next! But tour is also so wonderful — an opportunity every dancer should try to experience during their career. You get to travel to exciting new cities, bring the joy of your performance to people across the country and world, form a new, tight-knit family of cast and crew, and earn a living doing what you love. While the pro’s of tour most definitely outweigh the con’s, harder moments are part of the job. Here are a few important tips to make your tour experience a great one!

Five tips from tour:

1. Warm up!

We hear it a lot, but as a dancer, your body really is your instrument. You always do a long warm-up in dance class, but for some reason it’s harder when you’re accountable for warming yourself up for a show. A proper warm-up is especially important while on tour, since you can go from sitting on a cramped bus for nine hours straight to the theatre for a show that evening! Your warm-up should be a part of your pre-show ritual (just like putting on your makeup and tying your hair into pin curls). Always begin with a little cardio to get your body warm and your heart rate up (jumping jacks, high knees and booty-kicks are all great options if you don’t have a lot of space). Next, move into some active stretching (runner’s pose, yoga sun salutations.). Finish your warm-up with a series of planks to fire up your core and help find your center. It’s also important to cater your warm-up to the choreography in the show. In Bullets over Broadway, the girls do a lot of high kicks and leaps, so we make sure our hamstrings and hip flexors are really warm and ready to go at the top of the show. The boys always include pushups in their warm-up to prepare for the different lifts they have to execute throughout the show.

Mary Callahan on stage at the Academy of Music Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Callahan.

Mary Callahan on stage at the Academy of Music Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Callahan.

2. Spend and save.

To be frank, finances can be difficult to figure out when you’re on tour. Your paycheck will include your weekly salary, as well as your per diem. In the case of my tour, we are responsible for paying for our own hotel rooms. As a result, we are given a greater per diem. You can choose to single, double, triple, or even quad in a hotel room with your cast mates to save money (or some choose to live with family nearby or rent a room or apartment through Airbnb). Saving money on housing can give you more financial freedom to really explore the city you’re in (visit museums, eat at fun restaurants, shop at local stores). You can also save money by buying simple groceries rather than eating out for every meal. (PB&J’s are a staple of mine! Also take advantage of complimentary breakfasts at your hotels.) While it’s definitely a good idea to save money while on tour, don’t forget to enjoy the experience! On our first day of rehearsal, Susan Stroman encouraged us to “visit the best art museum, treat yourself to a great meal, and take advantage of the city because experience enhances art.” Spend money on the experiences and the memories — but save money

3. Be kind to everyone you meet.

This may seem obvious, but introducing yourself to locals and always being respectful can go a long way. The local crew at the theatre can really make or break your performance (in terms of quick changes, moving sets and making sure all the backstage choreography runs smoothly). Talk through your track with your dresser so you’re both on the same page. If something goes wrong during the show, just roll with it — that’s the excitement of live theatre! It’s often customary to give a small gift or thank-you card to your local dresser at the end of your run in that city. They work hard backstage to make you look good on the stage. Be grateful! Also, be friendly to people you interact with in town. You’re representing both your show and the theatre at which you’re performing. If you get a few free tickets to a given performance, invite your coffee shop barista, your Uber driver, or the helpful front desk staff at the hotel. Sometimes if you mention you’re in the show, local businesses will offer discounts on food, fitness classes/gym passes and fun things to do around town.

A backstage cast nap during tech week for the first national tour of 'Bullets Over Broadway'. Photo courtesy of Mary Callahan.

A backstage cast nap during tech week for the first national tour of ‘Bullets Over Broadway’. Photo courtesy of Mary Callahan.

4. Treat your body like it’s your job.

As a performer, your body is your instrument. And on tour, you’ve been hired to keep that instrument in tip-top shape to perform eight shows per week. With the tough touring lifestyle (long travel days, living in hotels, eating out often), it is critical for you to keep yourself healthy and able to do your show. You know the basics: drink plenty of water (2.5-3L/day); make sure you eat fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein; get adequate sleep (your body will become exhausted as you adjust to tour life; allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate); wash your hands; take your vitamins; moderate caffeine intake; and exercise or do yoga a few times per week. Illness and injury might arise and, once again, it’s your job to heal as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you’re feeling physical pain, treat it as soon as possible. Talk to your dance captain, visit a local physical therapist or masseuse, and be careful about pushing through serious pain. If you feel a cold or sore throat coming along, drink lots of fluids, get an extra hour or so two of sleep each night, and wash your hands often. Your job is to give 100 percent on stage each night. Keep yourself feeling healthy and strong so that you can give your all and feel your best.

5. Make time for yourself.

This tip is perhaps the most beneficial, to me. On tour, it’s as if you’re living in a big, big family — you travel together, live together, eat together, and then have to go to work together. While you’ll surely make friends who will last long after the run of your tour, it’s so important to make time for yourself while on the road. Go on a walk through town, write a postcard to your friends from home, visit a museum or local park, curl up in a coffee shop with a good book, or even try and meditate in your hotel room. Step away from your cast and from social media for at least 20 minutes each day to check in with how you’re really feeling and acknowledge what you need.  

By Mary Callahan of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): ‘Running Wild’ from the national tour of ‘Bullets Over Broadway’. Photo by Murphy Made Photography.

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