If you’re hoping to become a more versatile dancer, the first step is to literally step outside your comfort zone. Change and growth come from learning from and adapting to new challenges and experiences. A versatile dancer is one who uses their mind, body, and spirit. Don’t think that you can just take one tap class and suddenly become a certified “hoofer.” Versatility is cultivated both in and outside of the studio. Sounds like a big undertaking, right? Well…it is! But here are a few tips on how you can dip your toe in the water and start your journey as a more well-rounded, marketable, and versatile dancer.
Take something new. Whether taking a new style, learning from a new teacher, or visiting a new studio, branching out from your normal routine will expand your movement vocabulary, strengthen different muscle groups, and train your brain to pick up exercises and choreography quickly. If you’re a ballerina, try taking a stylized musical theater class. If you normally take hip-hop, incorporate a contemporary class into your routine. You can also dive into other genres like tap, Flamenco, partnering, or social dances like Lindy Hop and swing.
Watch dance. Buy tickets to a dance company concert you’ve never seen before. Make use of all the incredible videos available to you on YouTube. Watch a dance documentary on Netflix. Dance is a visual art form, and you can learn a lot about style, virtuosity, storytelling, and dynamics simply through watching! And when you watch dance, don’t just be a passive audience member. Ask yourself questions, make connections, and try to articulate what inspired, excited, confused, or irked you about the performance.
Study history. Understanding dance history and evolution can provide you with useful information when learning and adapting to a new dance style. Did you know that Bob Fosse’s choreography was influenced by Charlie Chaplin, vaudeville, and old-school burlesque? Back in the 1800s, ballerinas finally brought their dancing “en pointe” in order to look even more divine and ethereal. And Voguing originated in the Harlem ballroom scene in the 1960s where dancers would imitate model poses from Vogue magazine to the beat of the music. Rent a dance history book from the library, ask your dance teacher for a recommendation, or even search the Internet to learn the roots and relationships of all the many different styles of dance.
Audition. And audition again. Even if it’s a project you’re not interested in, practicing auditioning is a great skill to help you build confidence, pick up choreography quickly, and perform on-the-spot. The more you audition, the more comfortable you’ll get—So when that dream audition comes your way, you’re not fazed a bit!
Think beyond “dance.” Taking other physical or performing arts classes like acting, voice, aerial work, tumbling, martial arts, synchronized swimming, and improv will increase your marketability as a performer because you have a toolkit of additional talents and skills that you bring to the table. Dancers used to be “versatile” if they could do tap, jazz, and ballet. But nowadays shows call for circus work, rollerblading, or even a dancer’s own ability to improvise movement. And the more versatile you are—beyond dancing alone—the greater chance you have of booking work.
Don’t let this overwhelm you. Becoming a versatile dancer is not an end goal, but rather a lifelong journey. Accept the challenge and let it excite you—a little bravery can take you a long way!