Paul McCartney had it right nearly 50 years ago when he wrote “The Long and Winding Road.” It’s a song that describes the journeys that make up one’s life. It reminds me of the trek that most stage performers will take before landing their first job on Broadway. It may be a long and winding road, but proper planning and preparation will make the road less bumpy and treacherous.
The foundation of this planning begins with a passion for the performing arts. It is not enough that your parents want you to be front and center; it must be within you. You must have a burning desire that is inexplicably pushing you harder and harder to be better. It must become a love affair.
Versatility is also key. A lot of young dancers today seem to focus on one style of dance. While it is great to excel in one or two, you must be proficient across the spectrum of dance as choreographers and producers look for multi-disciplined dancers who can adapt quickly. If not already, I suggest you continue to take classes in all styles. While I consciously made a decision to focus on ballet when I was about 14 years old, I still took late-night dance classes of all kinds. I wanted to be ready and broaden my talent.
Through it all, you must take care of and listen to your body. I cannot emphasize this enough. Eat mostly healthy foods to properly fuel your body for high demand—but certainly do not be afraid of splurging. Accept that injuries will happen; it is unavoidable. Having said that, you can do certain preventive things. I take ballet class every morning to wake up my body. I find that an additional 20–30 minutes of stretching before going onstage at the Imperial Theater (as I transition to play Louise in “Carousel”) is a wonder-drug. After the show is over, I consume several large glasses of water to rehydrate my body. Seeing a physical therapist several times per week is also a huge plus to fend off or nip nagging aches and pains.
Broadway most often demands that a dancer do more—much more. Who says to be a dancer you have to limit yourself to just dancing? Even though I’m a classically trained professional ballerina with the New York City Ballet, I also sing and act. My message? Audition for your school’s play. Join your church’s choir. Take voice lessons during your summer layoff. You don’t have to master everything or land leading roles, but you do need to have exposure and practice. It is important to broaden your skills.
But you also must prioritize your education. I meet far too many dancers who put their education on the bottom of their priority ladder. That’s a mistake. A high school diploma is a bare-bones minimum. A college degree is a necessity. An advanced degree, even better. Why is this important? Because a well-educated dancer, in my view, is more likely to be disciplined and be better able to interpret the choreographer and director’s wishes. I may take some heat for taking this position, but I honestly believe it.
So work hard, be disciplined, get a good education, accept rejections and failures graciously, and stay the course. Yes, there will be detours, speed bumps, and break downs along your road, but stay on it. Who knows? Maybe the lights of Broadway await you, too!
Brittany Pollack is currently making her Broadway debut in “Carousel.”
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