Dear Musical Theater Dancer Girl
Dear musical theater dancer girl,
This past week I found myself in a room auditioning with some of the cities most top notch dancers. Seriously, there was nobody in that studio who didn’t belong. I felt so grateful to be there and to be part of a community of hard working, generous, supportive people. It made me think about what it means to be a dancer in New York, specifically a female-identifying musical theater dancer, and how badass a group of humans we are.
I know that sometimes it might feel like you’re the smallest person in this city and that your voice doesn’t matter. I know it can be challenging to keep your head in the game and maintain a positive perspective. I get it. But I want to remind you that your gifts are imperative to this industry and that your efforts do not go unnoticed.
You are one of the hardest working people in musical theater. Given the demands of today’s industry you pretty much have to be able to do it all. Not only must you dance at a technical level that can only be gained from years of rigorous training, but many times you’re also given understudy responsibilities so you have to have the vocal chops necessary to sing challenging musical theater repertoire and be able to carry a show. Or maybe you’re cast as a swing and you have to have the mental capacity to remember what everyone in the ensemble is doing from overture to curtain call. Your organizational skills must be top notch so you can keep all this information straight. You obviously take dance classes to keep your body in tip top shape but because of all these additional demands you also must budget voice lessons and acting classes into your training so that you can be ready to go at a moment’s notice. You must be level headed and have the emotional capacity to stay calm in stressful situations because swings are often under rehearsed and understudies can be thrown on mid-show.
I know that sometimes all of these demands can seem like a lot. It might get overwhelming at times, especially when money feels tight and you’re struggling to find time to give yourself a day off. I understand this because I’ve been there. But know that you do deserve to take a break when you manage to find the time. And trust that money will always come and go. It’s natural for it to flow.
But most importantly, I want to emphasize your value here in this city. The work you do makes a difference in the lives of people who get to watch you do it; it makes them feel joy, helps them heal from trauma, and touches their hearts without them even knowing why they’re so emotionally connected to an art form without words. And if that isn’t enough in and of itself, don’t discount the positive impact your dancing has on your own life as well. As Cassie says, “a dancer dances.” Only a fellow dancer can understand the sense of complete wholeness that we feel when we’re dancing. That feeling is valuable. It is precious and even rare. Don’t take it for granted.
So next time you find yourself dancing behind the star of the show and bowing before the standing ovation starts, or taking an overly crowded dance class at Steps on Broadway, or dancing in a group of six at an audition and you can’t help but wonder if the people behind the table are even truly watching, remember that I’m cheering you on. Your fellow dancers are cheering you on. We know how hard you’ve worked to get to this moment. We know every physical pain you’ve been through because dancing is sometimes dangerous but it’s also well worth the risk. You are part of the most loving club around and we want to see you soar higher than the sun.
Love & admiration,
P.S. Ever think about how silly it is that our fellow singer/actor counterparts get to have the whole audition room to themselves while they’re doing their thing but we have to dance in groups? In reality, I know that this is done in the interest of time. But isn’t it magical how when we’re forced into a situation that you think would pit us against one another (we watch our “competition” audition before, during, and after our own audition), we still find a way to fill that room with love, support, and encouragement for one another. This says a lot about who we are as people. I’m honored to be one of you.