Alek Paliński’s Tips for Success: The Journey to a Professional Career
TIPS FOR SUCCESS: The Journey to a Professional Career
By Alek Paliński
To ensure a successful career as a professional dancer, you should be prepared to perform in many different settings. In my journey of the last 15 years as a professional dancer, I’ve worked in over 20 countries, having been hired on many diverse projects: from assisting choreographers, dancing on live stage, reality and scripted television, film – to also being a choreographer myself. One of the most important distinctions I noticed was the one between performing as a soloist and in a larger group. I learned that each of those settings comes with its own traits, requirements and differences.
Let’s explore them and dive right in!
- Preparation and Rehearsal Process
A dance soloist will typically be working one-on-one with the choreographer, and may be asked to learn a pre-choreographed routine or it may be custom-built for them in rehearsals. The latter usually allows for a more collaborative process between the dancer and the choreographer. There’s more freedom to explore artistic choices and adapt the routine to the dancer’s unique strengths. A soloist should be able to offer suggestions and share their ideas with the choreographer. This allows the choreographer to get to know their vessel, with all of their strengths and weaknesses, which in turn helps to highlight their best qualities within the piece. With that said, the dancer must also trust the choreographer. The elements of the piece may often be out of their comfort zone but are necessary to elevate the performance and end up pushing the dancer to the next level.
Dancers in a group get less individual attention from the choreographer in rehearsal. They must quickly pick up on all notes and details, as well as be able to “clean” their own movement individually. If a general note is given, a dancer should assume it’s directed to them and apply it. Unlike in a solo performance, dancers in a group need to pay attention to others around them. They should maintain consistent execution and performance quality as a collective. This includes energy, levels, synchronization, musical pocket, textures, dynamics, etc. There’s a thin line between having individuality, being a star and standing out in a good way, and standing out too much. At times dancers may have to dial down certain elements in their execution to match the rest of the group. It’s always great to shine with emotions, passion, and strong execution, while not changing or over-stylizing the steps!
- Skill set
Performing solo and in a group both require technical skill. However, there are some distinct differences in the abilities crucial for each type of performance.
A solo dance performance typically emphasizes storytelling. Therefore, a dancer’s artistic interpretation and connection to the story of the piece is one of the most important elements. Additionally, they must have a strong stage presence, command attention, and possess the ability to emotionally connect with the audience. Think of going to a concert and watching a singer perform with a group of dancers. That singer is the “main event” with the focus being primarily on them. In a solo performance, the dancer takes on the role of that singer. The task of captivating the audience is entirely theirs. With all eyes on them, it’s extremely important that the dancer exudes confidence in their choices from beginning to end.
Using that same concert example, dancers in a group do not have everybody’s attention on them the entire time. While performing with a recording artist, the dancers’ task is to support them, compliment their movements and enhance their performance overall. However, in this setting, dancers also need to excel in adaptability. They need to learn quickly and implement changes flawlessly, often being exposed to last-minute adjustments in formations, show order, or even the set list. The big challenge is to exude star quality while blending seamlessly with the group and complimenting the lead performer or singer at the same time, which is an ability only the best industry dancers possess.
As previously mentioned, while building a solo performance, the choreographer should take into consideration the dancer’s specific strengths and weaknesses. All advanced performers have their unique “superpowers” that should be identified and utilized in the routine.
While choreographing for Dita Von Teese’s world tour, I was given the task of creating a solo number and setting it on three different dancers. Once the choreography was finished, it was great to keep setting it on new dancers, tapping into each performer’s abilities and making adjustments to the piece. This resulted in the number evolving, being executed in three different ways – each unique and beautiful in its own way.
Additionally, choreography for a solo piece should allow for moments to connect with the audience. The viewers love to feel included in the performance and become a part of the dancer’s experience in the same way they love to connect with a singer in a concert.
On the contrary, choreography for a group performance is typically more structured, allowing less freedom for interpretation by the individual dancer. Since all dancers need to be on the same page, individuality is limited. There’s a strong focus on synchronizing multiple movers, which doesn’t exist in a solo. This type of choreography should utilize formations and transitions to create a cohesive visual experience. I like to think of group choreography as one “visual organism.” The choreographer should utilize the main artist’s strengths, make them feel supported and look powerful to enhance the overall performance.
- Focus and communication
In a solo performance, all the attention is obviously focused on the individual dancer. Communication happens between them and the audience. Soloists need to be able to engage and communicate with the spectators through their expressions, body language, and storytelling. As the only performer, be it on stage or in front of the camera, the dancer is entirely responsible for captivating the audience and maintaining their presence throughout the number. Their artistic choices and expressions should be particularly polished and not accidental.
In a group performance, the attention is divided between multiple dancers. If it’s a show with a recording artist, the audience’s focus will be directed to them first, the dancers second. Here, performers communicate primarily with one another for any last minute adjustments while “in the moment.” Dancers in a group should still use any opportunity in the choreography that allows them to exchange energy with the viewers. As a group it’s always still special to connect to your audience and enhance their experience… and yours!
If a professional dance career is what you’re after, you should become as versatile as possible! This means many things: proficiency in multiple styles, the ability to dance in front of the live audience as well as on camera, or the readiness to deliver a seamless solo performance as well as shine in a group.
Hopefully, this deeper dive can help equip you on your future path as a dancer, wherever it takes you next!
Blue background: Nick Demoura
All others: Matt Lee Morgan Photography