Why All Actors Need Some Dance Training—Yes, Even You

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Photo Source: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

“I am a serious actor, and therefore I shall have no use for dance.” If you’ve ever had a thought such as this (give or take a “shall”), you’d be wise to reassess. Every single actor, whether they’re trying to make it in musical theater or on-camera as a straight actor or anything in between, could use some dance in their performance life. Don’t believe us? Below, Backstage Experts tell you why.

Dance alleviates actor stiffness.
“Learning to dance will put you at ease with your body and physicality, which will, in turn, help you be more comfortable in auditions. To be able to freely express yourself in an audition and to convey emotions through your body with ease is a gift.

“I’ve seen many actors show up for auditions who are rigid and tense. Their movement and performance aren’t natural, likely because they’re tense.

“Think about when you have a casual conversation with a friend: you don’t stand there stiffly, you communicate with ease and use mannerisms that come naturally. This is how you should be when you audition so as to communicate with natural ease and expression. Dance class can help with this.” —Lisa London, casting director and Backstage Expert

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Dance is a lesson in connecting to material.
“In any kind of performance, I’m always looking for more than just steps. You can have all the technique in the world, but if you’re just a robot and you aren’t connecting with the reasons or the emotions of the piece, then you're really not connecting with your audience.

“It’s all about storytelling and communicating with your audience. How can you touch someone without a sense of communication? The bridge between the dance and the audience is the acting. And if it truly comes from your soul, like the best actors in the world, then your audience will feel what you feel. Your message will be heard and your audience will see a true performer and thus be entertained.” —Charles Klapow, L.A.-based dancer

Dance helps your nonverbal communication skills.
“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 Voices.com, Backstage Expert

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It will make you engage with the real (non-digital) world.
“[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?”

Remember: It’s OK to look silly.
“You have to risk looking like an idiot in all sorts of different areas. 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 and teacher, and Backstage Expert

Not sure where to start with dance? We have you covered!