Key dance skills needed for musical theatre performers


How many dance classes do I really need? Will I be able to squeeze by if the director likes my acting or singing? I don't have a serious dance background, but I'm teachable.... does this sound familiar? Let's be honest, being a triple threat is an ideal that many of us will be able to convincingly pull off, but underneath the facade, we all started from one core skill, and for two thirds of us it's singing or acting rather than dance. If you're primarily a dancer by trade, congratulations!, but this post is not for you. The rest of us who come to musical theatre from a strong singing or acting background will need to develop our dance skills enough to the point where we can impress in auditions and learn quickly in rehearsals. So what skills do you need to be considered "good enough"? Here are a few core elements for success:

The ability to move well: you need to move gracefully and naturally, with agility and flexibility, and understanding the emotional-body connection. A dancer's instrument is their body, as is an actor's, so you need to be able to control your body to the point that you can communicate messages with it. The basics of body movement should be something you're familiar with from acting classes.

A familiarity with many dance styles: there is no one style of dance that is most important to learn for musical theatre anymore. Historically, jazz, tap and ballroom styles dominated in musical theatre, but new musicals have been written to include everything from ballet to hip hop to burlesque and more. You'll want to consider which types of musicals you'll often audition for, new or old, and take dance classes that speak to those styles. A mastery of all dance styles is not necessary, but a basic familiarity, being able to name a style when you see it, and execute a handful of main steps in that style, is vital.

Knowing which types of musicals you're likely to be cast in: if you're not a formally trained, serious dancer, it's probably not a good use of your time to attempt prepping for an audition in Footloose, Movin' Out, Dirty Dancin', or any other "dance-ical," which is a musical that has a story mainly told through dance rather than speaking or song. Those types of shows require a level of dance skill that is probably beyond what you have time to prepare for, unless you want to commit to delving deep into intensive dance training. In that case, go for it!

Being teachable: the three above skills all culminate here - in order to be teachable, you need to move well, be familiar with many styles, and understand your casting strengths. If you can wow a director with your acting or singing, they'll still want to see your dance chops, and you'll need to be able to follow the choreographer quickly and replicate the steps with about 75% accuracy. The only way to get good at this is to learn speed, speed, speed, through practice, practice, practice! Personally, I force myself to drop into random dance classes a few times monthly and make a fool of myself (standing in the back row, of course) trying to follow the choreographer, who is moving at lightning speed. It hurts my ego but over time it has equipped me to watch, replicate quickly, and quit analyzing so much.


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