"The Shortcuts to Success" by Jo Bolden on danceplug.com

I was scrolling through Instagram yesterday and saw a bunch of get-success-quick style posts. And I started thinking about shortcuts in dance. If they exist, what they look like and whether they’re worth it. The life-hacks of the dance world so to speak.

Four big ones come to mind.

A socially familiar face is not necessarily a dancer someone will hire

The Networking Shortcut

I’ve heard people talk about ‘hanging with the IN crowd’, doing what they do and going where they go - and how that can be a chance to ‘hot wire’ your way to dance opportunities. It’s true - you can definitely get familiar with the people who are current in the Industry. You can become a familiar face, a recognizable presence. Here’s what I know to be the trouble with this one…

  1. A socially familiar face is not necessarily a dancer that someone will hire. A dancer they will hire is one who executes the work the way they like it, who brings something to the work.
  2. If you have to, in any way, pretend to be something you’re not in order to fit in with the IN crowd, then it costs you way more than it’s worth. It costs you your sense of self which is actually the most magnetic thing about you. It’s what makes you 'you' and different to every other human and dancer. Pretending in this way is also exhausting and so hard to keep up.  It erodes your confidence and doesn’t help you build a genuine community. A community to grow with and lean into. Which every dancer needs. Genuine connection means that you become trusted dance family rather than a familiar face.
  3. Desperation reads. Humans can read when a person is around him or her simply in the hope of getting something in return, simply in order to ‘climb’ their way to a gig.  It pushes people away. Side note: if this ever does seem to work at any stage, it’s generally because the above human is enjoying the attention and/or boost to their ego. Neither is good for them, or for you. People go quickly, in this way, from one person to the next- chasing the ego ‘hit’.
  4. The IN crowd is always changing. And changing masks so many times to keep up is exhausting. And not you. And unhealthy. And virtually impossible to maintain.
You want a career not just a job

The Trend-Specialist Shortcut

Saving on class costs, taking every class and workshop with the latest choreographers and most followed YouTube teachers sounds like a good strategy… knowing and nailing the latest trends in style.

In all honesty, there’s nothing wrong with this one – unless it’s the only thing that you’re doing. Because…

  1. As a dancer, only knowing the right-now trendy stuff means, like above, you have to constantly keep up and trade out one style for the next, one choreographer for the next as it all changes. Exhausting and a lot of redefining of yourself at each step.
  2. You want a career not just a job. Meaning you want to create a long distance, long lasting dance career rather than just get the next gig.  If the trend rapidly changes next month, will you still be able to walk into a class or an audition? What you really want is versatility and authenticity.
  3. It limits your potential as a dancer if you don’t have a great grounding in a huge range of styles. None of us can accurately predict what’s next. It pays to give yourself a strong foundation so that you can be ready for whatever the dance world throws at you or asks of you.
  4. When people ‘class-hop’ from one trendy teacher to the next they’re often chasing the gloss and hype – this isn’t something you can catch and keep nor is it a healthy reason to take class.
It is impossible to ever predict exactly what any opportunity will look like...

The Go-Hard-When-it-Counts Shortcut

Saving up your energy for the choreographers that count, for the important moments on stage or in auditions, for the audiences that are the largest, for when you’re in the front or for the class to be filmed for YouTube. Waiting to give it your all until you know it will mean something. Until you’re sure it really counts. This ultimately involves being able to pick or predict which moments to be at your best so you can truly show up, in every sense, for them all. The problems with this one start right there…

  1. It is impossible to ever predict exactly what any opportunity will look like or when it will show up. Often they look nothing like our expectations!!
  2. You can turn up for an audition, ready to be at your finest and walk into the room to discover that you’ve taken this particular choreographer’s class multiple times but never really given 110% because you didn’t think that they were relevant or that it would lead to anything. Cue panic! So, it’s incredibly important to know that people see you all the time, that you’re telling people who you are all the time, so what you tell them every time counts.
Seeing something with your eyeballs is not the same thing as experiencing it in person.

The Social Media Shortcut

Watching the footage, connecting with the people, following the trending accounts, ‘liking’ the posts, memorizing what works, what choices people are making and what gets attention, knowing who’s who and what’s fashionable… There are actually benefits to knowing what’s out there and this is all harmless enough unless you’re doing this instead of training.

  1. Seeing something with your eyeballs is not the same thing as experiencing it in person.
  2. Thinking you can accumulate skill by following social media, being an observer and fan is a problem. You can watch and recognize work but there’s a gap between what your mind has acknowledged and your body can do – like those times in class when you understand the shapes ‘in your head’ but your body takes longer to show it!!
  3. What works for somebody else won’t necessarily work for you. You are different - your skill set, your gifts are for you to discover. You’re more likely to discover them in class than on the couch with your phone in your hand. You know it. We all do.

The truth is that there aren’t any shortcuts. The bad news (if you want to call it that) is that nothing replaces the work, the investment, the time, the effort. The good news is that we’re all in the same boat! The closest thing to a shortcut, the only one any of us really get, is having real confidence in yourself as a dancer.  Once you have that, then you can save time wondering what to do, where you should go, who you should be and what anyone else thinks about it. You just do you.

About the author

Often heard saying 'Stand like you mean it' and 'You don't get this moment twice', Jo is an enthusiast. ​A teacher with experience from across the globe, a choreographer and dancer spanning film, TV and live performance. A writer and former children's talent agent. 

Currently LA-based, Jo makes regular appearances at EDGE PAC (Hollywood) and is represented by Go 2 Talent Agency. She is also one half of the creative partnership As1creative and co-creator of in-studio workshop OneDanceEpic.