What Choreographers Look for When Hiring Dancers

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I believe that some of you only know me as an actor, but did you know that I’m also a television, stage, and video choreographer? I’ve had the pleasure of working on many projects from television shows including “iCarly” and “Victorious,” choreographing for the K-pop boy band EXP, and stage shows such as “Rock N’ Roll Debauchery” and “Freckleface Strawberry - The Musical Tour” to name but a few.

No matter the gig, I always find selecting dancers to be the most interesting part. It’s the part I love the most. Sure, it would be nice to hire all of my dance friends, but sometimes (depending on the project) you can’t. Sometimes the producers need a certain height, gender, or ethnicity. Many factors go into hiring dancers.

The main thing I look for in a dancer is someone who can pick up my style and flavor quickly. I love smart dancers who think on their feet and live to perform! (When called for) I love when the girls are “girly” and the men are “masculine.” Lastly, I love working with fun and focused dancers. I won’t hire dancers who are late, full of excuses, or who are gossipy or whiney. These qualities bring a negative energy to the stage and will follow you as you continue with your career.

Now, those are just a few qualities I look for when hiring dancers. I thought it would be fun to check in with some of my awesome choreographer friends to get their take on what they value in dancers. Here are a few:

Richard J. Hinds (Broadway’s “Newsies the Musical,” “Jekyll & “Hyde”)
I find that dancers sometimes think the casting decision is based on “who has the most turns” or “the highest kicks,” but it is much more than that. When I hire dancers, I am asking them to take a collaborative journey with me, so beyond being strong technicians, I need people who don’t bring an ego into the room, are open and present during the learning process, and who really want to be there.

I watch people the second they walk into the audition room and can usually obtain that information before we ever break down into groups. At the end of the day, we will spend most of our time together in the studio rehearsing so I need to know that we will be compatible in this capacity. I also check at least one reference on everyone’s résumé before I make any final casting decisions. What does that mean? Be the best you can be on every project because your reputation will always follow you.

Rosero McCoy (“Step Up,” “America’s Best Dance Crew,” “Shake It Up”)
I look for that spark of originality that adds to the flavor of my choreo. For me, a dancer who can adapt to the feel of my choreography and still maintain their originality, I love!

Nancy O’Meara (“Hannah Montana; Tours: John Legend, Vanessa Hudgens)
What I look for in auditions? Do you research! Know who you’re auditioning for. Dress for your body. Confidence. I wish I could change the spelling to “confidance.” If you work hard and take care of yourself everyday, then bring it with you to the audition. I want to see you succeed. The Golden Rule applies to dancers, too. I treat dancers the way I wanted to be treated. There are many choreographers that I’ve worked with when I was dancing who I’d see and say, “I never want to be you when I grow up. No need for a power trip.”

There’s a simple recipe: Hard work pays off. When you get cut from an audition, go take a class. Keep working. Don’t compare yourself to others. And as cliche as it is, believe in yourself. You signed up for personal rejection on a daily basis. It’s important to know how you will deal with the rejection.

Be on time, And if you’re late, you better pick up the choreography faster than everyone else. Relax, be yourself, and don’t ask questions just to get our attention. Focus and remember it’s not a job, it’s your career.

Inspired by this post? Check out our dance audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Lane Napper
Actor, choreographer, and dialogue coach Lane Napper’s energy and flare have made him one of the most sought after and coveted teachers on the scene today. His style is fun, invigorating, and extremely educational for performers trying to take their skills to the next level. Napper has established himself in many facets of show business as a teacher, an actor, and a choreographer. He is currently teaching theater and acting classes at Broadway Dance Center in New York City.
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