Dancers: Proactive Job Searching & Electronic Casting

Are you a dancer that is looking for a job? Dance jobs are out there, but you may not be doing all that you can to find one that is a good match for you…

Rick Tjia is a Senior Artistic Talent Scout in the Dance Sector for the Cirque du Soleil Casting Department, and 4dancers asked him to share some thoughts on what dancers can do to connect with jobs out there. After all, there’s nothing quite like getting advice from someone who selects dancers for a living.

Here’s what he shared with us…

Rick Tjia, Photo by Michael Slobodian

I was a dancer for about 27 years, of which about 15 of it was as a professional. I have been a talent scout for dance at Cirque du Soleil for the last 9 years, and in my experience there is something that stands out to me about the way that many dancers approach job searches: dancers seem to wait until they see a casting call to act.  Their career management strategy is generally to wait for a role or a position to open up, to wait for opportunities to come their way.

General good management practices, however, dictate that leaving actions to the last minute are usually a poor planning choice for just about everything.  Acting last-minute means that people end up having to go with the only choice available, instead of increasing the odds of obtaining the ideal choice. Dance career management often falls under this last-minute type process. Part of what talent agencies actually do is to manage this last-minute industry model.

Since most people tend to make choices that favor situations they know, many hiring choices will be made with the tried and true: if the hirer knows whom he’s hiring already and has a good idea at the outset what he’s getting into, he will have a tendency to go with that.

Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as having said, “Ability is nothing without opportunity.” I would follow up by saying, “Intelligence and vision create opportunity.”  One needs to create an environment where opportunity is most likely to visit. Part of that is being proactive and not reactive; letting people know who you are before a job opening even exists. There is the general impression among employers that familiarity means less risk. So let employers know you’re there.  The truth is, many times when a casting call is advertised—when an audition is posted—it is in actuality already too late.

But it is an art to let people know you exist and how you dance without harassing them. Overselling is as bad as not selling at all.

Since I have spent almost the last decade casting for Cirque du Soleil, let me put this into context with respect to Cirque du Soleil. Cirque has gone so far as to set up its entire casting system on this preparatory principle.  Most auditions (what we call “general auditions”) are done simply to get to know you and what you do—and to get the best of that on video. When the casting call comes… well, we too go with what we know: we pull out videos of people who have already auditioned.

Think about it: a very slow casting year at Cirque du Soleil would be to cast about 200 artists.  If we were to go about casting in the traditional way – that is, post the casting calls as they come, then hold an audition to fill the call – we would be doing a minimum of 200 auditions per year. That’s more than one audition every two days. And with the reputation of having some of the best artists in the world in our casts, statistically the odds are not in our favor that the best artist for the job would always be available for an audition on the exact day of the audition. That is, IF they happen to be in the same country as the audition.

It doesn’t take an experienced casting agent to know that this does not make any sense, neither time-wise, nor economically. So we hold general dance auditions for every dance role possible all at the same time, videotape it for our electronic database, and make preliminary casting choices when the casting calls come using that video footage. That way we can hold one to three auditions per discipline family per year, instead of 200 or more.

And when no pre-auditioned dancer in the database fits the casting call? Then we look at the video demos of artists who are waiting for the next audition—hence, the importance of actually sending us one, not when you see a casting call, but as soon as you’re ready to show us what you’ve got.

But nothing can replace seeing people dance live, right? True. But a first choice by an artistic director can easily be made on video (no matter what a lot of them might say ;-)).  After that, a follow-up audition would already be a first callback. Much less hassle and much less expensive for everyone involved, both for the company hiring and for the dancer(s) being considered.

Moses Pendleton, artistic director of Momix, was quoted by Dance Magazine as saying:

“Technology is going to develop in ways that could radically change the audition process. I imagine a time when there will be an international web registry of dancers. We could draw from a wider pool, and it would be more democratic. Right now, we are limited by who can actually fly to an audition. We would like to be able to hunt for talent much the way Cirque du Soleil combs the world for the best gymnasts. In the future we will be able to do that via the web.”

He’s absolutely right. I would just like to add that we hunt for all talent that way, not just gymnasts, and that our “international web registry of dancers” already exists. All you have to do is put yourself in it.

BIO: Born in Columbia, Missouri, Rick Gavin Tjia spent most of his youth in Gainesville, Florida, where at age eight he began studies in tap dancing. Over the course of the next several years, he branched out into professional studies of classical ballet, jazz and contemporary dance, eventually training with such teachers as David Howard, Finis Jhung, Christine Busch, Bruce Marks, Laura Young and Geri Houlihan, among others.

He also began training in music, spending nine years playing the trumpet which led to the beginnings of composition at age 14, eventual professional playing contracts, and, more recently, guitar studies. After having had an extensive career in dance and acting that includes performances with companies such as Ballet Austin, Boston Ballet and Delta Festival Ballet, as well as three years of work in film and television in Los Angeles (working with choreographers like Twyla Tharp, Joe Layton, and film directors like Mark Rydell, and James Brooks), Rick joined La La La Human Steps in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in1993. After an eight year stint with La La La Human Steps which ended in December 2000, Rick has returned to music composition (both classical and alternative rock) and choreography.

He has also been a Talent Scout at Cirque du Soleil since 2004.

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Catherine L. Tully is the owner/editor at 4dancers.org. To learn more about Catherine and the other contributors at 4dancers, see the "Contributor" tab at the top of the page. To reach Catherine, send an e-mail to info (at) 4dancers (dot) org

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