So you want to be in an Irish dancing show…
It’s a great time to be an Irish dancer with professional aspirations. There are many opportunities for dancers to go into shows, with multiple companies touring the world and employing dancers who are living out their dreams. But is being in a show right for you? What kind of dancer is suited to being in a show, and all the rigours that come with it. Do shows only accept world champions? How do you even get an audition?
According to Breandán De Gallaí, the most important trait for a show dancer is being a team player. De Gallaí, who has spent years involved in professional shows, including seven years as the lead in Riverdance, Riverdance Dance Director, creator and choreographer of many works including Noċtú and Rite of Spring, and presenter for TG4 and RTÉ, explains “Once in a show it is important to be a team-player. I often noticed that dancers I was auditioning were so eager to be selected that when they eventually made the cut they were simply euphoric. Yet when I would visit the show a few weeks into their contract they had become moaning menaces, whinging about how many numbers they had been rotated onto on a given evening. What happened to the delight to be selected? Contracts are relatively short and there is no guarantee that they will be renewed. Having a good attitude and maintaining a sense that you’re one of the fortunate ones is crucial if you want to stay in the company.”
Along with being a team player, looking after yourself physically is a crucial aspect of surviving in a show. On this, de Gallaí says, “Although injuries are inevitable, a dancer who is seemingly delicate, constantly complaining, regularly looking for shows or numbers off, is of little use to a company. The people who run commercial shows are business men and women and can be ruthless when it comes to selecting dancers. Once on the road, one must maintain a professional disposition, looking after themselves and preparing properly for each and every show.” It’s important to note that ‘competition fit’ and ‘show fit’ are two very different things, and dancers need a different type of fitness for the day-to-day strains of a touring show.
If tour life is something that you want to be involved in, the first step is auditioning. De Gallaí points out that the show website should be your first point of contact, as most sites have a page with audition information. If there is not, he advises, “send an email to the show office with a 1-pager CV/Résumé, a head shot, and a full length photo stating that you are interested in auditioning.” You may be asked for videos of your dancing. His advice is to film them as professionally as possible, and even most phone cameras can shoot something of excellent quality. When it comes to sharing the video, “Post them on YouTube/Vimeo so that you can send the link. The easier you make it for the decision maker, the more likely you will make a positive impression. Don’t try any fancy stuff with the editing. I just wanted to see the dancer dancing. Clever edits were annoying and often badly done (pictures not in sync with sound for example). I always suggested that the entire dancer be in the frame at all times.”
When de Gallaí was casting for Riverdance, he was looking for, “A dancer with good technique and in good athletic shape. If the dancer had bad posture it was a major disadvantage.” While looking at audition tapes and dancers in person, “I was not swayed by an overly confident/cocky performance. When I was deciding between my preferred top few dancers I couldn’t help being impressed by difficult, interesting material. That said, dancers doing material that was beyond their ability would have been better of doing something solid and less complicated. I guess I’m saying that an auditionee should be certain that they can pull off what they are doing.” It’s important to put your best foot forward in audition tapes, showing a range of skills in both soft and hard shoe.
While it’s important to have a professional, polished video ready to go on YouTube or Vimeo, what about all the other social media channels? Does a strong social profile play a part in show selection? According to Jason Oremus, Creative Director of Hammerstep and the upcoming show Indigo Grey, “Connecting and networking with talented dancers all across the US and internationally has been made a lot quicker and easier by the web. The exposure for dancers has also increased.” Sometimes that exposure is not the kind that you want though – remember that you are auditioning for a professional paid job and you will represent the company, so be mindful of what is posted publicly on social media.
Do 15 second clips on Instagram have an impact on getting seen or getting an audition? Oremus explains, “It is handy to initially scout for dancers and spread the word regarding auditions and training sessions, but it does not necessarily reflect the quality of a dancer – often a social media profile is just a show of popularity. Talent is not often reflected, so it is important to not make a social profile the most important quality when looking for quality dancers and performers. The most important thing for us to bring dancers in with skill, versatility and the passion to be a part of the team.”
At the end of the day, tour life is fun, challenging, and an amazing opportunity. The final word from de Gallaí is this, “It is important to be able to enjoy yourself. A company is like a family and everyone should make an effort to include themselves in the entire life of the company.”