Dancing in LA vs NYC
Dancers Talk about Working Professionally in Both Cities
By Stephanie Wolf of Dance Informa
When considering the nation’s top dance metropolises, two cities seem to have the strongest pull for aspiring and working dancers: Los Angeles and New York City. Hundreds of dancers flock to these cities every year and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Here, dancers who have worked on both coasts talk about the ups and downs of each city and how to best navigate the two different dance communities.
Dancing in LA
One of the biggest perks to dancing in LA is its proximity to the television and film world; this opens up an abundance of unique opportunities for dancers, allowing individuals to dabble in both concert and commercial dance. Miguel Perez, a LA-based dancer with BodyTraffic, relocated back to the city for the diversity of the dance work. Yet, he admits success doesn’t happen overnight in the City of Angels.
Due to its hybrid nature, it can be a tricky scene to break into. Therefore, a dancer has to be ready to devote some time to building a network and support system of others in the industry. While touring with Celine Dion’s show, A New Day, Perez met a lot of prominent individuals from the LA dance scene, including Mia Michaels, Mandy Moore, and other So You Think You Can Dance personalities. Having this type of network made his move out West smoother. “It’s a lot about connections and people you know,” he explains. “There are a lot of dancers and it’s very competitive.”
Growing up, Tiffanie Carson, a current MFA student at NYU’s Tisch School, hoped to immerse herself in the commercial dance world, which has an undeniable prevalence in the LA dance scene. But she claims it takes a certain mental and physical approach to building your career there. “You must be confident...[or] fake it,” she says. She agrees with Perez that a network of notable dancers, choreographers, and teachers will increase the possibility of employment and emphasizes that “the LA community is also very much about image and trend.”
Image-driven or not, the idea of getting to do both concert and commercial dance appeals to many artists, including Krystal Matsuyama, who relocated back to the West Coast after apprenticing with Complexions Contemporary Ballet in NYC. To find out about auditions and book gigs, she believes an agent is the best option and is signed on with MSA Talent. Perez also has an agent to find commercial engagements.
Despite the city’s heavy traffic and image-focused industry, many dancers enjoy a slower paced, more comfortable lifestyle. Perez believes LA is a “thriving city for dance” and, thanks to shows like SYTYCD, “the concert world is starting to get a name for itself.” He enjoys the warm weather and LA is less expensive than NYC.
Dancing in NYC
The NYC dance community seems to be the biggest pull for dancers. “In general, I feel the NYC dance community has a deeper connection to their arts,” says Matsuyama. Li-Ann Lim, who performed with H.T. Chen and Dancers while in NYC, agrees. She calls the community “amazing” and says, “There is such a high concentration of companies with really high quality dancers that create internationally recognized work.”
But for Christopher Morgan, who now has his own company in Washington DC called Christopher K. Morgan & Artists, New York’s inconsistency and unpredictability for employment and income can be one of the hardest things to overcome. “The climate of the companies and funding in NY is much more project based,” he says. Many of these gigs don’t pay well and some don’t pay at all. But by staying positive and establishing sound working relationships, the city can be generous. Morgan professes, “Each time I thought it wasn’t going to work out in NYC, a gig would come through.”
Money is often on the minds of NYC dancers. The city is incredibly expensive and the dance scene is not always lucrative. Carson advises saving up before moving there. Other dancers get creative and find ways to supplement their erratic dancer incomes. Lim relied on her dressmaking skills to earn extra money. It gave her flexibility in her schedule, while providing financial stability. Other dancers wait tables, teach, or do administrative jobs. But, Lim didn’t mind having to put in extra hours at her sewing machine. “I liked living in a big city.”
The city’s dance community is rich and rewarding, but the lifestyle is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to walk a lot and anticipate toting all of your necessities with you all day long—it can be draining. “There’s definitely a reason why they say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” says Matsuyama about the fast-paced vibe of NYC and its transit system. But, for many artists the MTA, tight living spaces, and go-go-go mentality can be exhilarating. “It’s kind of cool,” says Carson.
Ultimately, preference for either Manhattan or Los Angeles is dependent on an individual’s personality. For Lim, NYC was a better fit. “I felt like my temperament was more suited to New York than LA,” she says, whereas Perez feels more balanced basing himself out of LA. He rationalizes, “I enjoy my space. The weather is nice...I feel like I have a lot of opportunities living here.”
All of the dancers agree that versatility and having an open mind is essential to live and work in either city. Learn as many dance styles as possible and pay attention to what directors are looking for. Morgan offers some additional advice to dancers planning on taking the leap of faith in either metropolitan setting. “Get your feet wet and build your professional experience in a smaller city,” he recommends. He believes it’s a great way to build a solid network in the dance world and assures, “lots of great work is being made in other cities.” Morgan also encourages dancers to be open to traveling for work and to find a living situation that can accommodate that type of lifestyle. And most importantly, he says, “be the artist people seek to re-hire.” This involves being punctual, easy to work with, and “ferocious in your craft."