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Increase Your Dance Odds by Making Your Own Luck

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It may sound cliche, but dancers have to make their own luck. You’ve heard about being in the right place at the right time, but it’s so much more than that. A successful career isn’t just about being talented—it’s about making yourself known and cultivating personal relationships with choreographers, agents and fellow dancers. Read on for tips to help you get the job.

Be a Familiar Face 

Find one memorable trait people can associate with your name—like a unique haircut, accessory or lipstick shade. If you’re unsure what your “thing” could be, talk to your agent. “We work hard to find that one thing that makes each of our clients special and different,” says Brandon Sierra, an agent at Clear Talent Group. “We help them discover fresh ways to stand out while still being able to adapt to what choreographers are looking for.” Don’t have an agent? Ask a fashion-forward friend who knows your personal style for advice.

Get Rehired

You’ve booked your first job. Hooray! But how can you make sure the choreographer will hire you again? Be on time, work hard and take corrections—but most importantly, make sure everyone you work with has your contact information. Have small business cards in a wallet so it’s easy to hand out my information at the end of a shoot. Also, a simple “thank you” to the choreographer—both in person and in a follow-up email—goes a long way.

Keep in mind that most choreographers and directors meet and work with hundreds of dancers each month, so the next time you see a choreographer you’ve worked with, reintroduce yourself. Remind him or her where you worked together and how great you thought the project turned out. My only caution: Be careful with your timing. Don’t bother a choreographer who’s busy and be aware of when your time is up. It can take three or four meetings before someone remembers you, but it will be worth it!

When Sarah Mitchell, who has worked with Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry and starred in E!’s “The Dance Scene,” first booked a commercial with Aguilera choreographer Jeri Slaughter, she was nervous: She knew this relationship could lead to great things and wanted to continue working for him. “I made sure I handled everything I could control well,” Sarah says. “I was on time, I knew the choreography and I worked hard.” It paid off: Not only did she book more jobs with Slaughter, but he also helped jump-start Sarah’s career by recommending her for other jobs. “People saw me dancing on his jobs and wanted to hire me,” Sarah says. “I’m so grateful!”

Make Sincere Friendships

The dance and commercial worlds are all about relationships. It’s important to treat everyone you meet with respect and start every job with humility. One of the most important things you can do in your dance career is make long-lasting friendships with fellow dancers. At some point, someone is going to ask one of your friends if he or she knows anyone who want to work—and they’re going to recommend you! “You need to develop sincere friendships, because you never know when the girl you loaned your jazz shoes to will be the one casting the next big movie,” says musical theater and commercial dance veteran Allie Meixner.

Never create false friendships or use people to get ahead. It might seem like an easy way to book the job you want next week, but taking advantage of others will hurt your chances of building a long-term career. The key to success is to be a great person first and a great dancer second.

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The Red Shoes Revisited: Life Lessons from the Classic Dance Film

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Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life. – Irving Stone

Why does the movie The Red Shoes(1946) continue to enchant viewers after so many years? I decided to retrace this timeless story to find an answer.

One of the major themes of The Red Shoes is, of course, its great ballet dancing. But equally as strong is another related theme which the shoes symbolize and which many dancers and others are unfortunately familiar with - sacrificing your family, friends, your life for your work, art, or dream.  The red shoes are a reminder that you can’t have it all and that if you are a dancer and are serious about your art, there is little room for anything else other than your chosen pursuit.

In the film, young ingénue Victoria Page (played by prima ballerina Moira Shearer) is forced to choose between the chance to be a “great dancer” under the wing of impresario Boris Lermentov (played with breathtaking intensity by Anton Walbrook) and her life with her beloved husband, former musical director of the Lermentov company, Julian Craster (played by Marius Goring) in a parallel to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Red Shoes, in which the magicalshoes of the title take over a young girl and force her to dance endlessly until she dies.

Achieving the pinnacle of success in many fields of human endeavor requires an almost superhuman devotion that would seem to rule out any other pursuits, including love. Think of training for an Olympicgold medal; achieving fame in film, theater, or music; or becoming an world-renowned writer, artist, or intellectual, all of which require exceptional dedication and focus.

The movie is a study in psychology, human nature and obsessions. The same sort of relationships exist on football fields, in institutions of higher learning, in prisons, in boardrooms, offices, corporations, religious hierarchies and governments, as well as in families and social situations. People comprise all these “playing” fields, playing the roles in them. In order to successfully navigate any of them, understanding people with clarity is essential, especially oneself.

While there are many artists who do have both family and career….how much energy can one devote to both and how long is this sustainable? Ultimately, the message of the film is that you will be forced to choose. But that message is narrow minded and wrong. There is no “have this or that.” You can choose to be and to have many things in your life -career, love - these can coexist if you want them to.

The Red Shoes shows us the ultimate sacrifice - suicide - but it need not be that extreme to be just as tragic. Think of the athlete who spends almost every waking moment training, the composer hunched over the keyboard throughout the night, the academic ignoring his or her family to get one more article out. All of them are wearing the red shoes of Andersen’s story, and if they don’t take them off, they’ll pay the price. The character Boris Lermontov says it perfectly in the film,

"At the end of the evening she is tired, and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired."

One’s passion, desire and love for dance never tires

The dancer in the ballet who wears the shoes and inevitably dies from exhaustion is symbolic of the human body, time and mortality. It’s something that every dancer no matter whether they are professionals or not have to face and it is something that no body on this planet can defy and that is the laws of time and how one day, despite all the drive in the world and the will and want to do it - the body will not keep up. The ballet of The Red Shoes symbolizes a dancers spirit - forever yearning to keep dancing, but the body will not go on forever.

I don’t mean to speak against pursuing dreams or goals which can be an important source of meaning and joy in life. And it can seem at times that that particular meaning or joy can be achieved with nothing less than ultimate devotion. But few of us will be satisfied with just that one type of meaning or joy. For instance, successes are often the sweetest when shared, but there will be no one to share them with if you shun all human relationships in pursuit of your dream. Your work matters. But so does your health, your relationships, your happiness. In the end, you are in charge. If it feels like your life is being dictated by your work, or that your work has become your entire life, you need to pull back.

Maybe the key is to not to abandon your dreams but to broaden them. The Olympic hopeful may be dreaming of that gold medal, the dancer in the corps de ballet becoming a principal dancer, but is he/she also dreaming of having no friends or lovers to experience that joy and pride with? What does that success mean to him/her? Will it make him/her happy, even given the extreme costs? I think the lesson is that we can pursue our dreams wholeheartedly only if our dreams themselves incorporate balance, balance between all good things life has to offer, rather than just success in our chosen fields. We can dream of success and people to share it with, which for most of us would be immensely more joyful and meaningful, and then we can pursue that “composite” dream with focus and dedication.

Victoria Page couldn’t find that balance, and she suffered the consequences. From her and the movie, we should lean to take control of our own “red shoes” before they take control of us.

Video Discussing the Making of the Film