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Backstage Experts

9 Dance Tips That Will Help You as an Actor

9 Dance Tips That Will Help You as an Actor
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Whether you’re an actor who moves well or you have a total aversion to eight-counts, there’s an undeniable overlap between acting and dance. Don’t try to fight it! Instead, heed the dance advice from these nine industry experts below, to find out how you can pas de bourree and plié towards becoming a stronger and more well-rounded performer.

Don’t be afraid to look silly.
“You have to risk looking like an idiot in all sorts of different areas,” the creator says. “In dance, there’s this idea you have to be slick all the time, and dance theater is about being so exposed, and destroying and rebuilding and digging into areas in your craft or psyche that haven’t been touched in a long time, if ever. You have to be committed to the medium being your life, which is a very different process to showing up, clocking in, and feeling fantastic every day. It’s a terrifying process so I encourage a different timeline because if you don’t play the long game, I don’t know what game you’re playing.” —Shannon Gillen, contemporary dance choreographer + teacher

Dance is dialogue-free acting.  
“A lot of times, actors are so involved with the characters that they neglect their physical fitness. One should not ignore the simple physical benefits of dancing.

“[Dancers] learn how to take different stances through body language and gesture: ‘Am I proud? Downtrodden?’ Simply the posture can reflect those feelings.” [Gesture is] acting, completely without dialogue.” —Susan Perlis, dance instructor at Louisiana State University

Dancing can help you to act with purpose.
“Watching a show that involved no spoken language was a stretch for me. Even so, I had a good understanding of what was going on because the dancers worked together to convey the plot through movement, expression, and yes, a bit of comedy. From the orchestra pit, the symphony told the story through sound, providing further insight at every wave of the conductor’s baton. Sergei Prokofiev’s musical score set the tone for the drama as it unfolded on stage, just as sound does in commercials, video games, and film. Why did this work so well? Simply put, everyone had a role to play, knew how their characters related to others, and understood why they were on the stage at any given moment. The dancers were able to live authentically in their fabricated world to deliver a solid performance that drove home the director’s intent.” —Stephanie Ciccarelli, co-founder and chief brand officer of, Backstage Expert

Dance can help you grow as an artist.  
“Dance continues to be a very vivid tool for my personal growth. It’s anything from overcoming fear and learning how to be vulnerable and expressive in movement, to shifting from my technical background and experimenting with the abstract world of freestyle. I find that with dance—and with the arts in general—because I want to grow in my performance, I have to come face to face with my own personal challenges. It gives me an outlet to explore new parts of myself while still having the structure and the goal of the performance, the meaning of the show. Honestly, without art and dance I think I would be a very safe, black-and-white thinker. I wouldn’t dare to take any risks, or see so much of the world in myself and other people!” —Alyson Stoner, dancer + actor

Breaks are healthy in dance, too.
“Years ago, when I started training dance in London I remember one of my good friends and mentor, a successful industry choreographer, say, ‘I’ve been dancing too much. I can’t create anything at the moment, so I’m going to visit a museum.’ From the very beginning I was intrigued by those words. How could a visit to a museum help you to create choreography? According to him, you can’t keep crafting new concepts while being immersed in the same art form you are trying to create. In other words, you can’t generate new notions in dance by being immersed solely in dance, the same way you can’t work on a monologue by insisting on the same ideas that so far haven’t worked. For him, it was not only inspiration but also a break from his stressful daily work.” —Carlos Neto, choreographer, dance teacher, actor, and Backstage Expert 

Don’t veer from the choreo when auditioning.
“You’ve worked with a choreographer, memorized the steps, survived the long lines, and now it’s finally your turn to step into the audition room. Whether it’s for a small theater production or a large-scale national television show, it can be difficult for performers to allow themselves to be vulnerable during the process. So how can one succeed in the audition environment? The easy answer is to perform the choreography you’ve worked on tirelessly.” — Stephanie Pitera

Don’t let daunting prospects deter your efforts.  
“Had I been told over and over again, ‘After four years of training, you probably have a one percent chance to get into a professional company,’ that would have completely blocked my ability to believe, which I think creates opportunity for people. Had I been told, ‘You’re going to be the only black woman in ABT for 10 years, so good luck with that!’ I probably would have walked away or gone another route. So I feel like my experiences throughout my career have [taught me] that sometimes it’s better not to know certain things, and to go in and make your own judgments and experience things for yourself to a certain extent.” —Misty Copeland, former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer 

The industry evolves—and you should keep up.
“When I first came to New York in ‘98, there was no ‘So You Think You Can Dance’; there was no ‘Glee’; it was not mainstream and it was charming. It was leotards and tan tights, and [the original production of] ‘Cats’ was playing on Broadway. Dance has changed since then. The style is so much more pop, [and there are] so many rock and jukebox musicals and fresh material as a result of the mainstream; it’s heavily populated this world. So the competition’s a lot stiffer; it’s harder now, it’s faster now, and you have to keep up.” —Erika Shannon, dancer, dance teacher, Backstage Expert

Don’t overthink it: it’s fun.  
“[Dance] is just the idea of getting on your feet and off the couch. Putting down the social media and the iPhones, tablets, computers—don’t get me wrong, I love it—and being active. If you’re just starting out, a hip-hop class is really fun. A jazz or ballet class, too. Certainly you’re not going to hurt yourself standing at a ballet barre doing a couple of tendus and dégagés!” —Matthew Shaffer, dancer, actor, author of “So You Want to Be a Dancer?”

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