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!
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!