To look at all the cast members in Broadway’s many musicals, one would think that the New York theatre community is populated by a limitless number of triple threats — that is, performers who can act, sing and dance.
'The truth is many of them are single or double threats, who struggle their way through the third skill — something dancer and choreographer Erika Shannon knew.
“I talk to so many people and I see it on the other side of the table, the fear in their eyes when they come into a dance call,” she said of the dozens of singers and actors she encounters at auditions.
“They’re afraid,” she continued. “They feel out of their element. They feel very nervous. I have one attendee right now who had to excuse herself from an audition last week because she couldn’t pick up the choreography and felt really intimidated.”
That attendee is a student of “Don’t Dodge the Dance Call,” a new, four-week online class that Shannon created specifically for those dance-phobic singers and actors.
“I don’t know if it’s my Mom-ness,” said Shannon (who recently did become a mother), “or if I really want everyone to succeed, but I really wanted people to have the tools when they’re adults to have another opportunity to learn the basics of dance without having to go to one of the big New York studios and take a basic ballet class with a bunch of ten-year-olds.”
The seed for the idea was planted a few years ago when Shannon taught what was basically a proto, in-person version of “Don’t Dodge the Dance Call” at Pearl Studios in Manhattan.
“I got awesome feedback,” she said. “So my partner Tom Burke and I decided to turn it into an online course, to reach more people.”
For $149, a subscriber to “Don’t Dodge the Dance Call” receives a daily video in which Shannon teaches a basic step. Each step is related to that week’s basic fundamental teaching maxim — there are four fundamentals in all, one communicated during each of the four weeks. (To find out what these rules of thumb are, you have to sign up.) At the end of the week, the students put all the steps together during a live, online session with Shannon in which she also answers any questions.
Learning this basic footwork is important, said Shannon, if one is to succeed in tryouts. “When people are getting ready to go to an audition, you can know stuff,” she said, “but you also have to know how to learn choreography.”
All of this can be done in the students’ homes. “They don’t need a lot of space,” explained Shannon. “They don’t need fancy equipment or fancy shoes. If they can spread their arms out and spin in a circle, they have enough space to learns these basics.” The first “Don’t Dodge the Dance Call” online class in December filled up quickly, and the next one will begin Jan. 12. (You can register and find out more information at erikashannon.com/dontdodgeonline.)
“I think with the correct preparation and a lot of confidence, you can go in there,” said Shannon said of the audition process. “Part of this program is me teaching them how to fake it so they make it. They’re not going to be a diva dance after four weeks, but they’ll have a good foundation.”
As for the title, do performers really get so nervous about hoofing that they actually dodge the dance call, rather than embarrass themselves? “All the time,” said Shannon.