Dealing with Casting in Dance
At just about every level, dancers experience the doubt and insecurity that comes with casting decisions by artistic staff. Dealing with casting in dance can be difficult.
I remember all the way back to my first experience with casting in the Nutcracker at age 12. As a late starter, this was the first time I had the opportunity to dance in the Nutcracker. I was pretty disappointed with my role as a soldier and wondered why I couldn’t be in the party scene. (Their costumes were so much prettier!)
Of course, at the time I had no understanding of how casting decisions worked and didn’t realize that children’s parts were largely dictated by height. At 12, I was already much too tall to be a party child.
As you move along as a dancer from pre-professional training to (sometimes) college to company life, casting sheets can continue to be a source of anxiety.
All too often, we begin to quantify our value based on what roles are bestowed upon us.
Managing casting, friendships, and comparison.
In college, my best friend Alice was consistently cast in better roles than me. Beyond being close friends, we were the same height with similar body shapes. It got to a point where I expected that outcome and reinforced the story in my head: “She’s just better than me, there’s really nothing I can do about it.”
When we started auditioning for companies, I began to realize that I was basing my thoughts about myself on the opinions of one group of people: my college professors. The artistic staff at every company Alice and I auditioned for assessed our abilities in totally different ways.
When they made cuts throughout auditions, we were rarely kept for the same length of time. Sometimes she made it to the end and sometimes I did. We each got different offers. I finally realized that while we were the same height with similar body types, we were different people and had different strengths.
Here are some ways to feel empowered even when you’re unhappy with your roles.
Remember that every role, no matter how small, is an opportunity to grow.
It sounds cheesy but it’s true. Are you playing the maid in the Nutcracker? Even that small part can have a story. How will you convey that story to the audience? How can you make this character role your own? Is there a way to hone some acting skills?
Use this as an opportunity to start a discussion.
If you’re disappointed with the casting decisions, can you use this as an opportunity to start a discussion on your growth? Set up a meeting with someone on the artistic staff who you trust and know has your best interest at heart.
Ask them if there’s something more you could or should be doing to improve. Is there a way they’d like to see you develop technically or artistically that would lead to bigger roles or more responsibility? Having these talks can be scary, but they can also bring to light things you would have otherwise stayed in the dark about. It also might lead to more opportunities. Consider asking to understudy something you weren’t originally cast to understudy.
Reassess the energy you bring to the studio.
Are you too comfortable in your current environment? Are you relying too heavily on your “talent” or “facility” and not taking things to the next level on your own? Would you benefit from setting more goals around your dancing?
Remember that you can’t control the roles and opportunities you’re given, but you can control the energy you bring with you. Casting may be out of your hands, but the work you put in is very much up to you. Start approaching your corrections with more fervor and focus and see if things shift.
Consider your meal plan and cross-training routines.
Adjusting food and cross-training is not about changing how you look — it’s about increasing your confidence so you dance more freely.
Some food swaps and cross-training switch-ups can make a big impact on how you perform. Have you started relying on too much sugar or caffeine for energy? Focus on increasing the length and quality of your sleep. Incorporate lots of simple and complex carbs for consistent energy throughout the day.
If you’ve been doing the same cross-training for years, you might benefit from trying something new. Experiment with weight training or employ a trainer who works with dancers to see if there’s a weakness you haven’t addressed.
You might not be dancing at the best company for you.
If you’ve been plugging away at the same company for a few years and haven’t been getting the response you had hoped for or the roles you were promised, it might be time to move on. I’d encourage you to open up a conversation first, but then be willing to accept that maybe you haven’t found the right fit.
Be honest with yourself about the company environment you’re in. If they reward weight loss or constantly give you feedback on your body shape or size, it might be time to look elsewhere. Roles should be determined based on your skill and hard work.
Unhealthy extremes to fit the mold of a particular company is not a sustainable approach to a dance career. Many dancers benefit from support in nutrition, body image, and even career mentorship to confidently determine when they’re at their healthiest.
Check in with your mental well-being.
Has dance left you feeling drained? Have you been in the trainee or apprentice spot for a while and started wondering if you’ll ever move beyond it?
Check your mental well-being.
If you’re consistently telling yourself you’re not good enough or that all the other dancers are so much better, it will feel nearly impossible to progress. Once your thoughts start to improve, I guarantee you’ll feel changes within yourself and your dancing. You need to retrain your mind for confidence and expect success!
Don’t forget, it all takes time.
Pursuing dance at the professional level is a process and an arduous one at that. Every dancer develops at a different rate. Your friend might skyrocket to principal while you’re working away in the corps. It’s helpful to trust the timing of your life.
Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. You’ll learn so many lessons along the way as long as you’re open to them. If your love for dance is strong and you stay committed, you can reach your goals. And don’t forget: “success” is a concept you get to define. So, maybe define “success” as doing what you love. Perhaps you’ve already achieved that.