Jordan Grubb

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I hope you will find this entry well worth the wait!  It will give you valuable insight about dance auditions, swinging, and as promised, it will give you a tiny glimpse of life “behind the table” with the incredible Jordan Grubb.

I don’t think anyone would begrudge Jordan the title of the hardest working man in the Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production of “My Fair Lady.”  We have been very lucky to have had him as our dance captain and off-stage swing for the past three months.  The “off-stage” part of the “off-stage swing” title, however, is a bit misleading.  He was constantly stepping in almost every single week for a different performer, even me for one performance!  On some extra frantic days when we had two performers out, he was also responsible to adjusting the choreography and blocking accordingly and making sure the rest of the cast up to date and rehearsed on the changes.   In addition to being the dance captain and off-stage swing, he also had a heavy hand in casting the production.

I haven’t even mentioned yet what a fantastic dancer he is!  Every single audience member who saw him perform should count themselves very lucky.  A true triple threat, Jordan also effortlessly switched vocal parts, singing solos ranging from the bass to tenor line and put his own individual acting stamp on each character he played. Not to mention, he is just a really great guy with a heart of gold.  He is a true inspiration!

So without further ado, I give you Jordan Grubb’s “Muscles for Musicians” interview!

Can you give us a little bit about your dance background?

Well, about 20 years ago, I started taking classes at my local studio in Easton, PA. That really gave me my technical foundation. Because I lived so close to New York, my mother used to take me into the city on weekends/summers to take class as well. Those trips were really important in shaping me as a dancer.

What is your advice for someone who is a singer but has never danced? How should they get started, and how often should they practice?

I think like anything, you need to start at the very basics. Take a basic ballet/jazz/tap class, and don’t be afraid to go in and push yourself. I think how often you take should be related to what you want out of it. If you fancy yourself a singer and you just want to feel more comfortable in movement calls, I think a reasonable commitment is 3 times a week. If you’re looking to be a full-on dancer, you need to be in class 6 days a week.

Do you have any favorite classes in New York City that you would recommend for a singer who moves?

I think Kat Wildish’s ballet class at Alvin Ailey is amazing. Finding a ballet class that can keep my attention can be daunting, but she creates this great low-stress environment. You can be an absolute beginner or a “trina” who needs to brush up on some things, and they both can get something out of it. Kat has a great sense of humor, and really puts forth a great class.

Jim Cooney’s Musical Theatre class at Broadway Dance Center is also a great place to start. He really makes you push yourself to be a better artist.

For tap, there’s no one out there better for a beginner than Ray Hesselink. He’s my main tap teacher out here, and he provides such an attentive and easy-going class.  He teaches at both BDC and Steps.

Do you have any advice for how to quickly pick up combinations during an audition?

I think the hardest thing for people to pick up is transitions. If you can remember the beginning to any transitional step, I think that at least gives you a road map of the combination. Also, many times everyone is so concerned about picking up the steps that they just tune out what the choreographer is saying. Pay attention to how he breaks everything down. More often than not, he’ll help you.  If you can’t retain everything, then really hammer down the most important steps. When a choreographer is watching a group of 3 or 4 dance, he can miss lot. Even if you do mess up, he may not have seen it, so you need to fake it ’til you make it.

Where do you like to stand during auditions?

I like to go toward the front. Oftentimes, you’ll have choreographers change lines, but if they don’t and you’re stuck in the back, it’s so much harder to pick up a combination.

When everyone is broken down into smaller groups to practice, it’s important that if you don’t know the combination, stand in the back. The audition starts the moment you walk in the room. Just because you’re not broken down into groups of 4 doesn’t mean you’re not being watched. It’s better to learn it and work out the kinks and THEN blow everyone away in small groups than to look slightly lost in the front. So to recap: LEARN in the FRONT. PRACTICE it FRONT or BACK according to your confidence that day.

What do you typically wear to a dance audition?

When I first moved here, I was told by a Broadway choreographer that I needed to invest in a good pair of slacks. It makes you look more masculine and professional. I found a black pair that was made of stretchy material, and I also invested in a pair of Lulu Lemon pants. I always wear a belt to make it look clean, and I usually wear a tank or tight t-shirt. Unless the audition calls for it, I would NEVER dress/style myself effeminately. I’m all for having your own individuality, but often times, men type themselves out of things because the choreographer can’t see past what they’re wearing.

More importantly, KNOW what you’re auditioning for. If it’s for “42nd Street,” I’m wearing a nice pair polo shirt with my hair slicked back. If it’s “Chicago,” I’m probably wearing something different. You have to be careful about this though. You want to have an allusion to the style, but not audition like you’re wearing a costume.

What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?

I put the steps I’m having trouble with on a mental shelf, and learn the combination. Once we have any downtime, I’ll practice my trouble spots. Even when we’re broken down into larger groups, I’ll mark everything on the side. If I can’t 100% get a certain step, I just adapt it to look as much of the original step as I can. I’d rather see a clean single turn than someone falling out a sloppy double.

As far as style goes, look at the people who stand out. What are they doing that’s different than everyone else? Why are they standing out? Figure out what that is, and steal it and make it your own. Either way, you must have a semblance of style. Dancers who are just technique and no style don’t catch my eye. You need to have both.

Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

It’s fine to ask a question, but be sure to limit yourself to 1. You don’t want to come across as someone who can’t pick up a combination quickly. And make sure it’s something you can’t figure out later. Oftentimes, if you wait, your question will be answered.

How has dance captaining/swinging changed how you approach auditions?

It has helped me pick up choreography better. Right now, I’m covering 12 tracks. It’s been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. I’ve learned so much through this process, and even more than auditioning, I’ve learned how to approach performance. I now know as an actor how I should take a note and how to approach my dance captain about things. I’ve also gained so much respect for what a swing does on a daily basis. It can be one of the most random and on-your-toes position in this business.  It requires a TON of work and focus.

When running a dance audition, are there any specific habits dancers do when they are learning the combination that turn you off?

I can’t stand when dancers continue to practice on the sides after I’ve broken people down into audition groups. A) It’s distracting to me.  B) It’s disrespectful to the people who are auditioning.

I’d also be very conscious of the attitude you give off. Nothing is more unattractive to me than someone who comes in looking cocky and “over it”.

What qualities do you look for in someone you want to hire (besides technical dance ability)?

I ask myself: “Would this person be fun to work with?” At some point, there’s an even plane of talent. There could be 6 people in the room who could all do the track I’m looking for, but what separates one from the other is how easy they look to work with. Cast chemistry is important. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, so it’s important to approach every audition with a positive attitude and to give 100%. Those qualities show.

What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

I think it was when a casting director once told me that I shouldn’t be so nervous because they WANT us to do well. It makes the people behind the table’s jobs easier if the actors they’re auditioning are good. They’re rooting for us to be the best we can be. I think people get so caught up in fear and worrying about what everyone else things. It was kind of a liberating when I just let it all go and let myself be the best I could be.




You can learn more about Jordan and his current adventures by visiting his website!

Megan Reinking’s Audition Advice

Here it is – the entry you’ve all been waiting for – a feature on MEGAN REINKING!



My freshman year of college, a group of friends and I made plans to see the movie “Billy Elliot.”  There was time to kill, so we ended up in the Border’s across the street from the theatre.  In this group of friends was a girl I didn’t know, but somehow we both ended up in the “Discover Your Past Lives” section of the book store.  (I think we were both aiming for the history section, since we are both history buffs, but got distracted.)  While reading about the “purple mists of time” we ended up not seeing “Billy Elliot” and became best friends instead.

The MARVELOUS woman I met was none other than the incomparable Megan Reinking – a girl with both a voice and a heart of gold!  Since this blog is about “muscles for musicians,” I’ll spare you my dissertation on how incredible she is as a person and jump right on to her talents as a performer.   She is best known for her powerful high belt (which some have called the personification of fierce – see facebook group here ), but has a beautiful soprano voice as well.  What truly sets her apart is her acting ability.  She has the talent to truly “be” the character on stage, whether it’s a vampire (Lestat/Dracula), hippie (Hair), prohibition mistress (Boardwalk Empire), mother figure during World War II Germany (The People in the Picture), or cabaret singer (Les Enfants de Paris).  What perhaps few people know is she is actually an incredible dancer as well.   In her last Broadway show, “The People in the Picture,” in which she played Dobrisch, she totally held her own with some of Broadway’s best dancers!  Because she is a singer/actor who also has incredible dance skills, I thought she would have some valuable insight regarding the “singers who move” dance audition process.  I was right!  So without further ado – I’ll give the mic to the beautiful Megan Reinking!

Can you give us a little bit about your dance background?

I started dance lessons at the age of 3, ballet and tap. Later I added on jazz and lyrical as I got older. I majored in Musical Theatre in college at the University of Michigan, where I also took theatre dance. Overall, I have roughly 20 years of dance experience. However, I stopped training as a dancer when I moved to New York 8 years ago, though I do take the occasional class still. I decided to focus on my strengths, which were singing and acting as the degree of dance that I’ll be required to do as a singer/actor, I will always be able to do.

How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

I’ve come to accept that I will *never* know or understand what a casting director is looking for. So I have stopped trying to BE whatever it is that I *think* they want. As far as dance, you can’t get into your head about it. You can’t suddenly become a better dancer than you were before you walked in the room. Same as with singing, your technique is what you had up until that point. The only thing…the ONLY thing you can worry about in the audition room is telling the story. Remind yourself this is THEATRE, first and foremost. If you can’t tell a story, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your pirouette is. You never know what they are looking for. When I did HAIR, they were specifically looking for people who moved like REAL people, not dancers…yet there was a dance call. My favorite people in dance auditions are the storytellers. Focus on that.


Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?

I like to start in the front. It doesn’t matter what your level is. Don’t let the other dancers get in your head. What matters is being able to see the CHOREOGRAPHER. You can’t learn the combination off of the other dancers because then you are learning -their- interpretation of the choreography. Stand wherever you need to so you can see the choreographer and try to learn it as best you can off of them. Musical Theatre is all about style, and you will only observe the correct style from the choreographer. Don’t trust the girl in the sexy unitard to have it right. Usually they will switch up the lines anyway, but not until they’ve taught a significant portion of the combination, at which point you WANT to be in the back so you have room to do the combination full out. Most people crowd up to the front and there are leagues of room in the back. This gives you an advantage when it counts, because you will have done it full out a bunch of times. I always try to be up front when it’s first taught, and then move to the back where no one else seems to want to be and do things full out.

Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly in auditions?

Usually combinations are taught in groups of 8-counts, or 16 counts. I focus on the transitions so they naturally flow for me. You will have already practiced each 8-count individually, so when you’re given those moments to review (choreographer is finding music, talking, or looking through headshots)…those transitions are what I practice so each section flows in my head and feels natural. I’m also a “counts” person…I learn by what counts each step is on as opposed to the music feel like a lot of choreographers use. But it helps me learn. If I know the counts, I won’t forget what comes on the next beat.


What do you do if you have having trouble picking up a combination or style?

Ask questions. They will always answer questions. Just ask them at the appropriate time.

Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

Absolutely!!!! If you’re having trouble, do NOT be shy about it. The time working with a choreographer is your time. They WANT you to get it right and be brilliant. Don’t stay silent and mess up and beat yourself up about it. Don’t stay silent and assume they will give you notes if you’re doing it wrong. The important thing is to BE SPECIFIC. Don’t ask general questions. If there is just one part that you couldn’t see when it was taught, or you’re confused on a count, or you are unclear where your arms are at a certain point, ask that. I usually wait until the combination has been taught and we’ve reviewed. I try to give myself time to get it myself and watch the choreographer for those specific details, to see if I can answer it myself. If it has varied (sometimes a choreographer will do arms different every time…this drives me NUTS)…I will ask. However, don’t BLAME the choreographer! (ie…”you’ve done it differently every time”). I always phrase it that it is ME that is unsure…and sometimes they won’t realize they were doing it differently and it will force them to set it. 


What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it?

Probably the AMERICAN IDIOT dance call. I felt like I had been hit by a truck afterwards. I actually injured myself, pulled my quad, in the audition and couldn’t walk for a week! There is a lot of violent movement in the audition combination, and specifically throwing yourself in the air to land on the ground. Honestly, I’m not sure I “conquered” it, but I threw myself into it 200%. I told myself…don’t be shy of the movement. Attack it. Figure out how to not bruise yourself when you GET the job. 

What do you do to stay in shape? What are you favorite things to do at the gym?

Recently I’ve taken to doing Bikram Yoga more than gym workouts. It’s greatly increased my strength and flexibility as well as joint health. But it has also had great impacts in my health overall in many other ways than simply staying in shape and losing weight. 

What is the best audition advice you have ever received?

Be yourself. Just do you. You can’t be anyone else. You can’t be whatever this nebulous idea you have about what you think “they” want. All you can do is bring yourself, your creativity, you unique thing to whatever it is you are doing. Only then will you do anything unique, brilliant, and TRUE in that room. And that is what they are looking for ultimately. They want to be moved…and truth is moving. No one else is you. The only way you will stand out is if you can learn to bring that into the room.


Any other words of wisdom?

The best thing I learned is to throw out the negativity. Rejection can kill you in this business. As long as you do everything you can to prepare before you go in that audition. If you can see the show, if you can listen to it, if you can go to the Lincoln Center Library and watch a past production of it, if you can watch the movie it’s based on, anything you can think of to prepare yourself, then you are READY.

You need to get out of your head and throw away your doubts. You need to remind yourself that you are equal to the task of the role you are aspiring to. You need to be WILLING.

You need to remind yourself that you are fully capable of accessing within yourself everything that is required of you in this role. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by it. You are ABLE.

That is my pre-audition…pre-performance mantra. You are Ready. You are Willing. And you are Able. There is nothing standing in your way. This is yours.

Your confidence in yourself is your most invaluable asset.

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If you want to know MORE about Megan as a performer you can read Broadwayworld.com’s Gypsy of the Month feature of her here!  

You can also see her in “Les Enfants de Paris” currently performing at NYMF!  This is a BEAUTIFUL new musical that is to “Notre Dame de Paris” what “West Side Story” is to “Romeo and Juliet.”  I was lucky enough to see a few readings of the musical before it reached NYMF, and let me tell you, the music is glorious and the book is so intelligent.  If you only see one NYMF show, make it “Les Enfants de Paris.”  If you’ve never seen a NYMF show, this is a great one to start with!  This is a publicity shot of Megan for the show!  If that doesn’t get you to buy a ticket, I don’t know what will!

Megan is also the current standby for the role of Dyanne in “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Annie’s Audition Advice

Ashley Anne Russ, who I know as Annie, is one of those incredibly luminous people who was born to dance.  Any audience would be lucky just to watch her take class, let alone sparkle on a stage.  


I met Annie back in the day when I was actually more of a director than a performer.  She auditioned for a show I was directing (choreographed by the brilliant Jeff Shade), nailed every aspect of the choreography, and was instantly cast.  Her work ethic makes choreographers and love working with her.  Her huge heart and giving spirit make dancers love working alongside of her.  Every time we audition together, I am astounded at how quickly she latches on to the choreographer’s style and executes the combination as though it were a final performance.  It is truly inspiring.  She is a true star inside and out, and Muscles for Musicians feels incredibly lucky that she was willing to share her audition experiences with us.   So without further ado, here is Annie’s audition advice!







Can you give us a little background your dance career?


I grew up in Chicago in more of a “concert dance” world. I was fortunate to get my jazz training at Gus Giordano, and I studied ballet in a studio my mom’s best friend owned. I would also take class at Lou Conte in the city on occasion. To further my training, I was accepted into ABT summer camp as well as three years with Chicago National Association of Dance Masters (CNADM). My first taste of musical theater was with Northstage Theater Company in Chicago where I connected with Rebecca Timms (former Broadway dancer turned choreographer). She got me an audition for West Virginia Public Theater which ended up being my first taste of summerstock (2 years in a row). Upon moving to the eastcoast, I attended SUNY Purchase Conservatory. Being so close to the city, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take the train into Manhattan for auditions. Needless to say, I didn’t last 4 years… I landed my first agent and immediately booked a show in the city. Since then, I haven’t stopped doing everything from regional work & tours, as well as international with Tokyo Disney.  I would consider myself a “theater jazz dancer”. While I am trained in everything from ballet, tap, contemporary, latin, etc. I am most comfortable in athletic movement that tells a clear story or emotion. 


How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

My approach to auditions has changed over the years since I have learned to not put so much pressure on myself. I am an assistant to a director/choreographer which has put me on the “other side of the table” for auditions. Casting a show is like putting together a puzzle. 90% of the time when you walk in the room, they may only be looking for 1 or 2 specific tracks. You can be cut before even learning the combination because they are looking for someone 5’8″ or someone who sings the alto line. I’ve learned to just show up, do MY best, have a good time, treat it as a free dance class or a chance to meet new people and if I’m not the puzzle piece they are looking to fill…”onto the next!” 







Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?

I like to stand toward the center in auditions. I don’t always put myself right in the front because I want a full view of the choreographer, but I stand where I can see and have the most space to move. 


Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly at an audition?

I have always been a “fast learner”, so picking up choreography has never been a problem for me. I do find that saying the steps in my head as I’m doing them helps. 





What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?

When it comes to style, I focus more on making the pictures and “less is more” to start. If it’s a style that doesn’t feel as comfortable in my body, I try and copy the shapes that the choreographer is making and allow my body to RELAX when making transitions. Feeling the music helps too.


Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

YES! Always ask questions and pay attention when other people ask questions too. There is nothing worse than asking a question that was just answered. When I am unsure of something I ask for clarification, ie. “Can you clarify this phrase—“, “Would you mind breaking down the steps before/after…”, …Be as professional as possible because how you ask a question says a lot about how you will be in a rehearsal setting. 


What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it? 

My most challenging audition was actually for the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil tour. Like I said before, I am a theater jazz dancer…the hip-hop/pop stuff isn’t my forte. I felt completely out of my comfort zone. Instead of comparing myself to the other girls in the room and trying to be a carbon copy of the choreographer, I decided to learn the steps as well as I could…have fun…show my personality…and even learn a new way of moving. I didn’t get cut right away, but I didn’t make it to the final round either. I actually learned a lot from that audition because there were dancers in the room who moved exactly like MJ—it was incredible to watch. They were made for that particular show. However, if they were auditioning against me for a show that I am perfect for, the tables would be turned. 







Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills? 

Just take class and vary it up! The more you challenge your brain & body outside the audition room, the easier it gets. I recommend Jeff Shade, Lisa Harvie, Scott Thompson…they all teach a beginner level and are wonderful at mixing up styles. All three of them were once performers themselves, so they get where you are coming from. 





What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I can give is to just show up. There is a puzzle that everyone fits in. Don’t take anything personally, and don’t try and be someone you’re not. Judy Garland once said, “Always try and be the first rate version of yourself instead of the second rate version of someone else.” By trying to be what you think the people behind the table want may cost you a job you are perfect for further down the line… I’ve been called in for shows after being seen at a different audition. You may not be right for the show you are auditioning for, but you may be perfect for their next project! Have fun and do what you love to do!




Marisa’s Audition Advice

I first met the stunningly beautiful (inside AND out) Marisa Merliss while working on a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the Village Light Opera Group.  She was brought in as an assistant choreographer.  From the moment she stepped into the rehearsal room, she brought nothing but sunshine and happiness.  We had a huge cast which was comprised of performers ranging from six to eighty-six years old, most of non-dancers.  All needed to meet the challenge of executing the original Jerome Robbins choreography at a professional level, and yes this included the infamous bottle dance!  (Our brilliant director demanded nothing less than the best!)  Marisa was a true gift.   She attended every rehearsal, drilling the choreography with the cast and individually helping each performer with their technique, style, and emotional connection to the material.  Thanks to her hard work and expertise, the audience left the show saying that they couldn’t have seen better on Broadway.  She was asked to come in and do the same for the company’s production of “Carousel” this past spring.  While I was unable to attend, my friends who did all praised Marisa’s work above all compare.  In addition to her choreography/dance captain skills, Marisa is a gorgeous dancer and captivating performer.  Because of this,  I thought sharing her insight would be a beautiful way to start off the “Audition Advice” series of this blog.  So without further ado – here is MARISA MERLISS!

Can you give us a little background your dance career? ( where have you trained/worked, what would you say is your primary style)

I’ve been dancing since I was 3 and trained at the Hartford Conservatory, Atlanta Ballet, and currently take class at Steps, BDC and Peridance . Since graduation I’ve danced in several musicals, a few casino shows, and tons of dance industrials, concerts, and photoshoots. I’m currently the fit model for Capezio dancewear and am in the Off-Broadway Cabaret Show Erotic Broadway-Vintage Variety. I don’t really have a primary style at this point though theatre dance and tap are what I’m enjoying most these days.

How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

I used to get so nervous and worked up at auditions. I would get hyperfocused on what the people behind the table where thinking and if I fit into their idea of what they were looking for, etc, etc. Now I tend to look at it as an opportunity to dance and perform, I walk in and have a good time. And if I get a job great, if not at least I had a fun day!

Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
In the front close to the middle of the room. That way I’m seen, I can easily see what the choreographer is teaching and when it comes time to switch lines I can work out the choreography and screw it up, if need be, in a place where less people can see me.



Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly in auditions?

Stay IN THE ZONE and focus Focus FOCUS!!!!! Forget about the train delay that almost made you late for the audition, the fight you had with your boyfriend/girlfriend the night before, if you’ll be able to sublet your apt. if you get this job, blablablaaaaa…..keep what ever is weighing on your mind out of the audition room and out of your head. If there are a few steps you can’t get, even after you’ve asked the choreographer for help just focus on what you’re good at and figure out a way to get through it without drawing extra attention to your weaknesses. Don’t apologize in words or expression. Smile and perform with confidence, a lot of times choreographers really want to see if someone can pick up a style and perform rather than perfect every little step they threw at you in 10 minutes. Don’t sweat it, just go for it!

What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style? Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

If it’s a style issue I’ll pay close attention to the choreographers assistant since they are typically someone they have hired multiple times and who gets their style. Definitely ask a question if you need to, I wait for an appropriate moment and ask the choreographer or preferably the choreographer’s assistant. I also pay attention to the answers of the questions other people are asking. If the choreographer gives specific direction on a step, esp. one you asked a question about, do your best to execute that movement the way they directed you. Choreographers, just like directors, want to know that you are directable.




What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it? 

Hmmm…..I’ve had so many different kinds of challenging auditions it’s hard to choose. The first “challenging” audition that comes to mind was a dance agency audition about 4 years ago. I had been out of commission for 5 years due to severe injuries and multiple surgeries I had after having a terrible accident in a show I did. I was #622 on the sign in list and wanted to leave from the time I walked in the door. There were some really talented looking people covering every inch of the holding room and I remember feeling more intimidated than I was comfortable with. They brought us in the audition room in groups of 60 and taught the choreography so fast and I could barely see what was being taught through the sea of people. Then it was time to go and I thought to myself “ok, I can stress over getting half the steps and look like a fool or just go for it with the steps I’ve got, smile and enjoy the fact that I’m dancing again and hopefully look like a little less of a fool”. I did the latter and a week later I had a dance agent!



Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills? 

YES!!! Jim Cooney’s Beginner Theatre Dance Class at BDC is fantastic. If you want to focus in on Fosse Technique or learn choreography from shows Diana Laurenson at BDC/Steps is great. Jeff Shade has a great Beginner Theatre Dance Class at Steps which is so fun and creative, it helps you get out of your head and really enjoy “the dance” as he calls it! Find a good ballet class to work on your strength and I would recommend find a dancer friend and do a trade. Rent a studio, practice basic dance moves across the floor and work on specific choreography you may need to know for your auditions, then you help them on their audition songs or monologues. It’s a great free way for you both to boost your audition skills!

Lastly, you are an incredibly fit person, what sort of cross-training do you do to stay in shape? Is there anything you would especially suggest to singers?


Well first off, thank you! And secondly the best thing I think you can do is to find a couple or more workout that you enjoy or semi-enjoy doing. The best way to lose inches, tone, or if your at your optimal weight/size the best way to maintain it is to confuse your muscles. Change it up, don’t do the same thing every time you workout. I run a couple times a month but I can’t stand the treadmill or the eliptical so I picked up rollerblading and biking. Both of these activities are easier on your joints and less counterproductive to dancing. I also do pilates, occasionally yoga and I stretch every day. If you are into non-dance workout videos I really enjoy Rev Abs and Brazilian Butt Lift by Beachbody. I do a lot of workout video shoots and these programs were the ones I found to be most effective and fun.





Any other words of wisdom?

Hmm…..let’s see…..
Don’t offer to do anything in an audition that you don’t want to do 8 shows a week. If you’re worried about injuring yourself in an audition don’t be afraid to say no or walk out, jeopardizing your health is not worth it.
Find a way to enjoy the audition process and surround yourself with supportive positive people at auditions and more importantly in life!


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You can learn more about Marisa Merliss and her career by visiting her website.  You will see that in addition to being an incredible dancer, she is a kind giving spirit, who is intelligent (She’s a pediatric nurse!) and a national baton twirling champion!  You can currently see her in Erotic Broadway at the Triad at 158. West 72nd street!  

SPOTLIGHT ON AVITAL!

It’s been a week since my last post, but trust me, good things are worth waiting for!  Today my SPOTLIGHT is on a wonderful talented lady named Avital Asuleen who is currently teaching beginning theatre dance classes at Liberated Movement.  If you are smart, you will take her class because boy can this lady audition!:)  And she will help you rock your auditions as well!  She describes here class thus:

A great class for actors, singers who move, or dancers looking to brush up on their acting! This class will begin with a high energy show tune warm up that will stretch, align, and tone the body. We will then move across the floor, working our kicks, turns, and jumps, and will culminate each week with an original center combination.  Combinations will range stylistically from traditional theater through Fosse and Bennett, and will always help you dance with more confidence and style! Open to dancers of any level, although some previous dance experience is suggested but not required. Please wear comfortable clothes, and character shoes, jazz shoes, or jazz sneakers if you have them. Otherwise, bring a pair of socks!
It is taught every other Monday so the next class is February 21.  Mark your calendars NOW!
She was kind enough to create a video for this blog that will give you a tiny sample of her theatre dance class!  Additionally, with it, you can practice learning choreography in your living room!  She rocks.  So without further ado – here is AVITAL!
(P.S. we are all jealous of Avital for how closely she resembles Snow White!)

What is your pursued career? 


Musical theater performer, choreographer, and director. 

What are favorite forms of exercise and why? 


I love hill sprinting for a great total body workout- run up a hill with as much intensity as you can for 20 seconds, rest for 90 seconds, and repeat until you feel like you might die. On a lighter note, I love a great Jazz class, yoga, and Pilates!


What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them? 


I love Randy Skinner’s Theater Dance and Tap classes. He’s a true genius, and his class packs so much ” bang for your buck”, so to speak. Also, I love Jody Moccia’s Floor barre. It’s not a class I get to often anymore, but man, if you want to figure out your alignment, it’s the BEST! Both of these classes are at Steps on Broadway. 


What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can’t get to a class or the gym?


I play with my Therabands a lot- these are great stretchy resistance bands that come in all colors/levels. Great to work your feet with! I also enjoy just moving though a series of my favorite stretches, giving myself short ballet barres and I hold a planks (think a pushup position before you go down to the ground), both regularly, then with out one arm and one leg, and then side planks. 

How do you approach a dance/movement audition? 


Honestly, probably a lot like a singer- while I consider myself a strong dancer, dance auditions STILL fill me with anxiety. But, I usually think of the job at the end of it- if I want the job, then I think of the characters in the show, and how I can bring that to the table in the audition room.


What advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?


 Stay grounded, and stay on the beat. Truly gifted dancers take command of the space- and they do this by controlling gravity in ALL directions. You want to focus on looking Solid, even if you can’t catch all the steps. So you miss the big tricks- really land the final pose! Think of how a gymnast “sticks” to a mat when they really nail it- try for that, no matter what happened before.


Ditto for the beat- dance on the music, even if that means jumping over every other step! It shows a far greater amount of professionalism than trying to chase the combination. 

***
And now for the best part!  AVITAL’S VIDEOS!  (all filmed at Steps on Broadway)
Here she is teaching a small section of a beginning theatre dance combination:
And here she is doing the combination full out with music!
And now she breaks down a step ball change – a very important theatre dance step!
I hope you enjoyed Avital’s Q&A and videos!  Don’t forget to take her class at Liberated Movement!  

SPOTLIGHT ON DANIELLE!

Next in our SPOTLIGHT series is the gorgeous, talented, and infinitely generous Danielle!

I first met Danielle in ballet class at STEPS where her long legs were the envy of everyone in the class and her cheery hard working personality inspired all!   Though she hadn’t chosen teaching as her profession at the time, she was already working as a teacher at the “School at Steps.”  She asked me to be her teaching assistant for a class of three year olds.  This task seemed incredibly daunting to me, but I was soo gobsmacked by how Danielle made ballet fun and appropriately challenging each of her students, from the one who would rather be coloring outside to the one who would be future prima ballerina.  They were truly lucky students.  (Her students today continue to be lucky students!)

She also has a super power that I can only dream of – she is a FABULOUS TAPPER!  (I am quite possibly the world’s most horrendous tapper.  I have virtually zero sense of rhythm, I’m a ballerina so my feet always want to point and be above my head instead of relaxed and tapping near the ground, and to make matters worse, I’m actually allergic to the metal the taps are made out!  Now if that isn’t a sign!)  At any rate, Ms. Danielle generously offered to help me learn to tap, and I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for the patience and humor she brought to each of our sessions.   Knowing my unwavering love of THE LITTLE MERMAID, she would even bring in arrangements of UNDER THE SEA knowing that if any song was gonna get me tapping, that was it!

THE BEST NEWS OF ALL is that YOU TOO can take class with Ms. Danielle!  She teaches both Zumba (at Steps Wed. at 8 p.m. and Ballet Hispanico Thursday at 7 p.m.) and Pilates (at Pilates on Fifth!)


Here’s a description of her Zumba class:

The Zumba® program fuses hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy-to-follow moves to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that will blow you away. Our goal is simple: We want you to want to work out, to love working out, to get hooked. Zumba® Fanatics achieve long-term benefits while experiencing an absolute blast in one exciting hour of calorie-burning, body-energizing, awe-inspiring movements meant to engage and captivate for life!

***(M4M note – Zumba is a FABULOUS way to get into dance, even if you have never danced a day in your life!  We will hopefully be doing a Zumba special in the future featuring Danielle!)

I NOW WITHOUT FURTHER ADO – I INTRODUCE YOU DANIELLE!





What is your pursued career?  (Singer, dancer, actor, lawyer?) 
I refer to myself as a “Movement Educator”. I primarily teach dance to kids, but I am also a licensed ZUMBA Instructor and Certified to teach Pilates (Mat and Machines)

What are favorite forms of exercise and why?  
I love to move so I try to mix it up regularly! I did a lot of Pilates before I started teaching it but I am trying to rekindle my love for it. I am currently loving Yoga and Gyrotonic. Of course, there’s also dance class- ballet, tap, jazz, modern….Since I started teaching Zumba I have no interest in Cardio equipment except the rebounder.

What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them?
Classes at Sonic Yoga, especially those taught by Johanna Aldrich (she is AMAZING- you will think about your life in ways you might not usually- while you have your shoulder tucked under your elbow and your other knee by your ear-it’s everything yoga shoud be- contemplative, yet hot and sweaty, and flowing and a kick tush workout!)  They also do 6 week beginner workshops regularly for people who have no yoga experience at all.

Barre Sculpt and Cardiolates at Pilates on Fifth– These classes take pilates ideas and meld them with ballet barre work and weights and the rebounder, respectively, and they are fun ways to mix up your routine.

ZUMBA (is it too self serving if I say taught by ME) I teach at Steps on Broadway and Ballet Hispanico, but you can find amazing classes all over! http://38595.zumba.com/ It’s FUN and it is a non monotonous way of doing cardio!

What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can’t get to a class or the gym?The flexband is your best friend. It’s tiny and portable and makes doing mat work or just toning and stretching exercises more interesting on the road. I also like www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com. Its a free service if you want to use it on your laptop, or you can pay to download workout videos to your mobile device. Katherine and Kimberly Corp lead a whole slew of awesome Pilates workouts to suit every need and level.

How do you approach a dance/movement audition and what advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?  
I don’t (audition) anymore, because I’m an amazing teacher and a mediocre auditioner. However, I had the most success at auditions when I was wearing something that I felt good about my body in. (Leotards, goodbye. Hello, Lululemon tank and Skort). I also found that I performed best when I was really relaxed and didn’t get over invested in any specific call. If you put forth all of your energy when you take dance class, treating an audition “like class” in your head really helps. If you take class regularly and give it your all and take risks in class (It’s great to fall on your but in class), you have a stronger arsenal of things to help you in auditions.

The Grapevine and Three Step Turn

Two basic steps you will see a lot at movement calls are the “grapevine” and “three step turn.” You will see many variations of the steps at different speeds, with different arms, different “buttons” or endings, and different moods.  (They can be made “peppy,” “sexy,” “western,” “graceful,” etc.  Play around with them.  See how quickly you can get your feet moving.  See if you can put your arms on your hips, above your head, waving around.  Put on different music and see how Beyonce informs the movement differently than “Grease Lightening,” or a Strauss Waltz.    They are super easy to practice at home!  It’s Sunday!  Have fun!:)

THE GRAPEVINE
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THE THREE STEP TURN

Learning Choreography During Rehearsals

When you memorize lines you have a script, when learning music you have a score, when learning dance you have…

Well – there is specific dance notation called Labanotation , but it is both difficult to learn and read.  In fact, most professional dancers have never learned labanotation.   In ballet, you have a language, every step has a specific name, so you can write it down “tombe pas de bourree glisade grande jete,” but most musical theatre/stage choreography uses movements without names.  So what to do?  Well, here are some ideas of what I do.

The BEST suggestion I can give you is to VIDEO your rehearsals.  (or at least the final “run” of a piece of choreography in a rehearsal.)  This allows you to go back and reference movements and counts similar to a score or a script.  It also gives you an opportunity to evaluate yourself and see where you can improve.  I will just bring my canon point and shoot camera to rehearsal and use the video function.  I”ve seen people with flip recorders, cell phones, and video cameras.  Whatever floats your boat.  Two words of advice, sometimes the best angle you get is to record your reflection in the mirror rather than trying to record straight on, and most importantly, always always *ALWAYS*  ask permission of everyone involved with the rehearsal.  Sometimes people, for a variety of reasons, don’t want to do video-ed and you need to respect their wishes.

With the video, I will often rent a studio, bring my laptop with the video on it, and rehearse alone.  You can also rehearse in your living room, or the park, or a hidden corner of the rehearsal studio.  If you start reviewing during rehearsal or on a break, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how many people are in your same boat, and will join you to review.

So, if you can’t video what do you do?  If you can, assign every “section” a name and every step within a section a name.  For example, you could have the “opening hoe-down section” “the drunk section” “the rhumba section” “the cheesey finale section.”  Within the “opening hoe-down section” you might assign names such as “thigh smacks, spit on hands, jump with heel clicks, 3 quick turns in place, clap, clap, clap, clap.” The actual words don’t matter so long as they make sense to YOU.   You can also draw fun stick figures to help to help you remember what positions are.  If the choreography goes along with words, you can write the steps/stick figures under the words in your score.  If it’s instrumental, I like to notate them vertically on a white piece of paper.  If you are rhythmic, you can add counts to your image.  Here is an example.

You can also make a birds-eye view of the stage, (or ask the stage manager for a set outline, they often have many copies for their own records, and make many copies for yourself.) Using this outline as a base, document your place on stage during choreography.  You can write notations that make sense to you in the borders or on the opposite pages.  You can document everyone’s choreography, just your own, or just you and your dance partners.  It’s up to you.  I suggest you highlight your “track” with either a different color or highlighter so it’s easy to find when glimpsing at the pages.   Also, find abbreviations for everyone’s names or stage characters.  Initials, letters, numbers, colors, all help.  Here are five pages of documented choreography from THE WOMAN IN WHITE.  I hope the powers that be won’t mind me sharing the information with you as a learning tool.  All of the choreography and staging is attributed to Trevor Nunn and Wayne McGregor.  

What you can hopefully see in the above pictures is that on the top line of the page there is either a lyric or cue such as “Lammastide Entrances” “Winds of the Winter” (which is a lyric) and “Lammastide Dance Starting Positions” (which started the first section of the dance proper.   There are letters that represent each character and where they stand, and arrows pointing the direction and course in which they move to their next position.  At the bottom of the page are further notes about what is happening.  (stage rotates, corn is passed to girl on “winds of the winter,” “CDG and father break off,”  “Laura is now carrying Corn Dolly Doll,” etc…  Notate what you need to notate to help your own brain.  You will notice one of the notations says “go to lines illustrated on page 3.”  What that means is, I made another page with information that didn’t fit onto that choreography sheet more, which will need to be referred to at that point.  Depending on what is needed, it could be a sheet like first one posted with stick figures and counts, or another birds eye view.
For the record, everyone develops their own style of writing track sheets.  For example, the London dance captain of the same show wrote his track sheets like this:  (which again I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing as a learning tool.)
You know how your mind works, so embellish your notes where needed.  If you need visuals, use more drawings, if you need words, create words, write paragraphs, etc…  Your personal notations will develop with practice. There is no right or wrong, so you win no matter what you do!:)
Perhaps the most helpful thing to do is get together with your cast mates and review the choreography together before, after, and during rehearsals.  Everyone will have different strengths and remember different sections of choreography.  Your powers combined, you are expert sources of choreography.  Also, don’t be afraid of asking your dance captain (if there is one), director, or choreographer to review choreography with you!  They are there to help and want you to succeed!