When Ebony Williams goes grocery shopping,
people often stop her. “Do the ‘Single Ladies’
dance!” they beg. Seven years after Beyoncé’s
“Single Ladies” video debuted, Williams—one
of just two backup dancers in the video—still
gets called out in public. “People have said
they recognize my butt cheeks,” Williams says,
with a laugh. Although she spent 10 years as a
veritable star in Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, it was her performance with Beyoncé that
skyrocketed her to household-name fame.
superstar stories like Williams’ are inspiring.
But they’re not typical. Making the transi-
tion from the concert world to the fast-paced
and unpredictable commercial scene requires
adaptability, persistence and thick skin.
WHY MAKE THE SWITCH?
Matthew Shaffer started his career with the
Giordano Dance Chicago touring company. But
he craved variety. “I get bored easily,” he says.
“One of the biggest appeals of the commercial
world is you’re doing something different every
day.” Once you’ve wrapped, it’s on to new cho-
reography, new costumes and a new set.
The same was true for Williams. “I wasn’t
doing any hip hop,” she says. So she sought out
the style in her spare time. “I would rehearse
from 10 to 6 with Cedar Lake, and then I would
go to Broadway Dance Center to take hip hop,”
she says. “It felt like recess!” Williams booked
her ;rst commercial job performing with
Rihanna at Fashion Rocks and eventually signed
with Clear Talent Group.
Remember that commercial auditions are unlike
company auditions. “Your look takes precedence,” says Williams. “A haircut can get you a
job.” Know what you’re auditioning for, and
out;t yourself accordingly—while
maintaining your personal style,
so the casting team will remember you. Consider having a
signature hairstyle, accessory
or shoe to brand yourself.
Typically, the casting
team is looking for someone
speci;c: They may need a
tall blonde who can vogue,
or a short Asian with huge
muscles. Typecasting is unavoidable. “They’re looking for the best
match, not the best dancer,” says Jessica Lee
Keller, a former member of Cedar Lake who
has danced on “Dancing with the Stars,” “The
Voice” and in Teen Beach Movie.
Whether or not you’re the best match,
you’re likely replaceable. “If you can’t make it,
they move on to the next person,” says Williams.
GET AN AGENT
Most agencies hold open calls, but if you have
connections, a referral helps. Once you land
an agent, they will tell you about upcoming
auditions and negotiate your working condi-
tions, salary and other legal items, explains Shaf-
fer. Your agent will also help you navigate the
SAG/AFTRA union, which protects dancers.
When you were dancing with a company, you
It’s also wise to enroll
probably had class every day. Now you have
to take control of your training. “Take classes
that are foreign to you,” says Shaffer. “You’re
already great at contemporary—now take jazz,
hip hop or whatever class is taught by the cho-
reographer you want to work with.”
While the best way to network is in person,
there is tremendous power on social media. Post
videos on your channels, interact with
your favorite choreographers and
share posts you ;nd valuable. The
more people in your network—
both in real life and on the
in singing and acting classes.
“We’re used to using our bodies
to convey emotions,” says Shaf-
fer. “But it’s no longer just about
“I make four times as much money on commercial jobs as I did when I was in a company,” says
Shaffer. The major variable is that with a company contract comes a steady paycheck, plus
bene;ts, while on commercial gigs, you may
get one huge check, but you have to make it last
until your next job. If you work on a television
show or in a movie, however, you can expect
residuals. “You can go to the mailbox and have a
check for a movie you did two years ago,” says
Shaffer. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.” ■
When you’re on set, remember to take care of
yourself. “You don’t get an hour to warm up,”
says dancer Jessica Lee Keller. “You’ll be in hair
and makeup for two hours, and then you get
dressed and go right to set. It’s up to you to
know how to get your most efficient warm-up in
a short amount of time. The cameras need you
to be full-out, so take the five minutes you have
to do what best serves your body, whether it’s a
few splits or a quick core workout.” —AF
Making the shift from
the concert dance
world to the commercial
industry? Here’s what
you need to know.
BY ALISON FELLER
You’re going to
Ebony Williams advises
want to be where the action
is, and most of it is in Los
Angeles. While there are
opportunities elsewhere, like
in New York City, Atlanta or
Chicago, the heart of the
industry is in
dancers to highlight their
personal style in auditions.