Dealing with Casting

At just about every level, dancers experience the doubt and insecurity that comes with casting decisions by artistic staff.

I remember back all the way to my first experience with casting in the Nutcracker at age 12. I was somewhat disappointed with my role as a soldier, wondering 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 casting and didn’t realize that children’s parts are largely dictated by height. I was 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 often continue to be a source of anxiety.

All too often, we begin to quantify our value based on what roles are bestowed upon us.

In college, my best friend Alice was consistently cast in better roles than me. 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.”

Butler Ballet
Alice and I are on each end – a rare occasion when we were cast in the same role!

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 together assessed our abilities in a totally different way.

We each got different offers. I finally realized that while we were the same height and very similar body types, we were different people and had different strengths.

Here are some ways to start to view casting in a more positive light…

Every role, no matter how small is an opportunity to grow:

It sounds cheesy but its 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?

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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 who you 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.

Reassess your work ethic:

Are you at a place where you’ve gotten too comfortable? 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’re in the drivers seat. Casting may be out of your hands but the work you put in is very much up to you.

Clean up your meal plan and cross – training routines:

Even if you feel super confident in your body and dancing, there are food swaps and cross training switch ups that can make a big impact on how you perform. Have you started relying on too much sugar or caffeine for energy? Clean energy sources like fruit and fresh vegetables might improve how you feel and show up in the studio.

Maybe you have been doing the same cross training for years and would 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 been addressing.

By showing some initiative in these areas the shifts will be apparent.

Maybe you haven’t yet found the right fit:

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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.

Are you hoping to dance principal or soloist roles soon? Maybe a transition to a smaller company will make those opportunities available to you.

Check your mindset:

Has professional dancing messed with your psyche? Have you been in the Trainee or Apprentice spot for a while and started wondering if you’ll ever move beyond it?

Check your mindset.

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 to 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.

What has your journey taught you? Have you learned any lessons from small roles? Please share below!
Dealing with Casting
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Jess Spinner

Jess is a former professional ballet dancer turned Holistic Health, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Coach for high level dancers. She founded The Whole Dancer in 2015 after identifying a greater need for balance, wellness and support in the dance world. Since The Whole Dancer was founded, Jess has worked with 100's of dancers worldwide at top companies and schools. She has been featured in or written for Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine, Pointe Magazine, and Dance Spirit Magazine.

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