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Old March 12th, 2010, 08:59 AM   #1
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Dancers as actors?

I was working on a project where I interviewed a number of dancers - mostly burlesque and belly dance. A lot of them talked about how they were creating characters onstage. A lot of them are doing the dances solo, and they understand the concept of creating a character and committing to the character.

That made me think about some of the actors I've worked with - many of them absolutely wonderful. But the inexperienced ones often look at me and say 'Is this right? Did I do it right?'

I often tell them that at some point they have to create the character for themselves. I can talk until I'm blue in the face about the character and the scene. I do give them pointers and notes during rehearsal and filming. But it does seem like a conceptual block the actors often struggle with.

But I wonder if anyone has tried using dancers as actors? Of course, a lot of actors are also dancers, but the dancers I spoke to had never acted, but they talked about characters and story as if they were actors.

This is now a long, rambling post, but if anyone wanted to comment, I'd be interested.
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Old March 12th, 2010, 11:15 AM   #2
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I think artists of any kind frequently make good actors. All artists are involved in telling a story of one kind or another - even potters. But the thing that sets trained actors apart in a big way is their vocal ability, and dancing doesn't develop vocality. One of the assets dancers do bring is interesting movement, which is always valuable on screen.

When we cast something, the directing process begins when I call to schedule someone for an audition. I'm telling them what I want them to know about the character right then and there. I want them to walk into the audition well-informed, and with their wheels turning already. We never do sides - the stupidest audition method ever cooked up. I have people do monologues. What we want to see is how inventive they are with material they know well, and how well they take direction.
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Old March 14th, 2010, 03:30 PM   #3
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Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Melton Berle ,Jackie Cooper, Doris Day, Sammie Davis Jr, Judy Garland ... I think even John Wayne had a dancing part in a movie in the beginning of his career called 'Words and Music' 1929. A different era, but a good amount of great actors started out as dancers.
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Old March 15th, 2010, 10:19 AM   #4
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Many of the classic actors came out of the vaudeville / variety stage show tradition that doesn't exist anymore. A dancer had to learn how to speak on stage and sing, an actor had to learn how to dance and sing, a singer had to learn how to move and dance and act. They didn't always become great but they knew what to do. Things are much more compartmentalized these days, people don't get much on the job cross-training, and the business is skewed way over to the actors. It's as if the consensus is that dancers can't ever act so don't even let them try. Especially if one turns out to be an incredible actor AND dancer, that would be terrible!

There are no advertised great dancers on Broadway or the theater circuit anymore, there are great dancers but they are considered only as important to the show as the lighting grid and the sound system at this point in time. No more talents like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly or even Jimmy Cagney are going to come out the way things are. That's not to say that they are not out there, it's just that we now live in an entertainment system that can't give space to people like that anymore. I wince when people think that cowardly edit jobs like "Chicago" are anywhere near the quality of old Hollywood musicals. The real dancing talent was in the background of many of the shots and they kept cutting away so as to not upstage the lesser dancing talents of the "stars".

There's no reason for you to not try. I just saw a play with a professional stunt woman playing an acting part (as well as doing a lot of tough on-stage stunts). She was really good at both. But, in a way she's a threat to the system: Dancers in that corner, stunt people in that corner and $1,000,000 actors in the luxury trailers.
William Hohauser - New York City

Last edited by William Hohauser; March 15th, 2010 at 05:35 PM.
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