Updated: Feb 18
10 years earlier I was a nobody...
Meeting Johnny Depp
The photo to the left is from New Years Eve 2019. I met Johnny Depp at the Paris Opera a few hours earlier and invited him to see me dance. He did. So I invited him to meet the cast. And he did.
I was a successful artist with enough swagger to entice an A-list star.
10 years earlier I was a nobody. A recent dance college graduate into the Great Recession of 2008 in America. Job prospects were nil and I carried student loan debt. Typical millennial generation story. I held down 5 jobs and still had to give up my car. I was the epitome of struggling artists who had no idea how to tap my own potential.
It took several trails and many empty-handed return trips home to finally perform at the international level in Europe. Everyone has a journey, mine is a bit more winding than most. I regularly meet and dance alongside 19 years old who had success their first audition out of dance school. Inwardly, I laugh at myself for having taken so long!
It was what I learned in times of failure and rejection that led to me success.
At 18 years old I made up my mind to dance in Europe. 10 years later I achieved that goal. In 2015 I opened Franco Dragone's European debut at the Lido de Paris was a triumphant personal achievement. I made it.
Why did it take me 10 years to achieve my dream? Despite my best efforts, Europe remained a mystery for so long while I was living in the Western part of the United States. After graduating university with a dance degree I was at a loss as to how to get a viable paying dance job with a visa. I watched as my friends went to NYC or Europe but returned empty handed or returned to begin their masters degree and become a professor. The mere idea (not to mention expense!) of flying solo to any European city was overwhelming. E-mailing companies was not productive. Crushing student debt, multiple low paying gigs, part-time jobs, and managing a start-up business - I couldn't justify dropping everything to make a poorly planned attempt at a far off dream.
What was missing? Was it talent? No, got that. Was it training? No, I was continually working with top coaches.
What was I missing? The answer lies in the lessons I learned through rejection and failure. Oh life is the most painful teacher! Ah yes, I'll share a few stories of failure that led, ultimately, to my success.
Embrace the reality of your god-given appearance influences and limits your choice in companies.
Upon graduating university I took my savings and flew to Montreal to audition for Ultima Vez. They liked me, however, they kept dancers who were 5'5" maximum. I am 5'9". I had put all my hopes and dreams on this one audition and left broken in spirit and wallet. I needed to accept that in order to succeed I must look at "tall" companies or be soloist material. The simple fact of the matter is: super-star outliers are rare. Yes I had a 6'0" teacher who was principal of the L.A. Ballet in the 1980s, but is that the norm? No. Realistically, I would have a better chance at nailing an audition if I chose a company that had a role for me.
This meant many of my dream companies became out of reach. Letting go and re-orienting with realistic expectations is one major step forward to finding success in this industry.
Your first contract may not be your dream contract. You might need to build up your resume.
I started focusing on jobs I knew hired me for my height and ability. Yet, I only went after my dream companies. Perhaps, I had a high opinion of myself! Certainly, many dancers get their dream contracts right out of school - I just wasn't one of them. I was going out for a Cirque du Soleil resident show in Orlando. I made it through the equally inspiring and grueling 8 hour first day. I made it through the second day cuts. They taught us choreography from the show, the cast was there. I blended in... there were 6 of us left...and I got cut in the last 15 minutes. Devastated, I pulled myself together and asked the casting director what about me made her keep and cut me last minute. Her advice put me on the runway to success. She said I have it all except my resume was weak. I needed to prove to my top company that I could perform for tens of thousands.
I had a weak resume for a top tier company. It wasn't my talent or look - it was my experiences. Staying in a small mid-sized city (Salt Lake City) was not giving the experiences I needed to succeed. I flew home from that audition in tears, but with a fire lit deep in my soul because I knew what I needed to do.
You bet your socks I booked the next job that gave me the greatest exposure. The next 6 months I performed 60 shows for 30,000 people while sailing around the world on a cruise. Was it my dream job? No. Did it take me to the next step in my career? You bet.
Find your niche. Your dream is not what you expect. Sometimes it's better and something unexpected. Sometimes you have to compromise.
The realities of the dance industry were shaping me. No longer did I hold the belief that, if I worked hard enough, I could have any job I wanted. Instead, I understood that if I wanted to be successful I needed to play by the rules of the industry. Find my look, build my performing resume, and finally, welcome the unexpected.
This last lesson I never saw coming. I never, in my wildest dreams imagined I would share the stage with Johnny Depp, Victoria Secret Models, and president's wives. I never imagined performing on the Champs-Elysees in Paris nor living next to the Eiffel Tower. However, I learned that taking risks and dreaming big will lead you down unexpected paths.
I found my success in the wild world of Paris Cabaret. I found it because one, top industry professionals (Franco Dragone, Benoit Pouffer-Swan) wanted intelligent American dancers to redefine the genre of Paris Cabaret in a world premiere. But also because the fine art ballet and contemporary companies of Europe could not offer visa support or working documents. 3 month unpaid tourist visa or a type of unpaid student-study were my options. I wanted to make a life, therefore, I accepted a full-time contract at a company I knew nothing about, yet would come to define my life for years to come.
The reality was... if I wanted to work in Europe, I needed to work for a large established company that offered work sponsorship. Look, we are not all Sarah Lamb or Carlos Acosta, we are not of super-star status. But I am certainly an employable, talented dancer of a professional level. Lesson 3 is we must work with the reality of our industry. I found my niche.
I shot for the moon and was sent back down to earth a few times before I found myself among the stars.
Maybe you are like me - an undeterred dreamer. Or maybe you are like my friends - already practical enough to not need to learn these lessons the hard way.
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Photo of Lido 2018 Talent Show, starring as Sally Bowls in a rendition of Cabaret
Costumes and Realization by ReveArte founders