Dance Agents: Proceed With Caution
By Kelly Lafarga
It is 7 a.m. The alarm goes off and it’s time to run in the shower. Once done, it’s time to pick out the perfect outfit. Is this too sexy? Does this add 20 pounds? Carefully the makeup is applied in just the right way as to not look too old. It’s 8:30. Time to get going to get to the front of the line. The trains aren’t running, but a cab is too expensive. A bus will do just fine. Arrive at 9:30. Already number 150 on the list. This is going to take all day. It’s tiring, it’s stressful, and it’s the life of a dancer in New York City. Actually, it’s the life of a dancer without an agent.
Many dancers come to New York with the dream of being successful. The first thing most dancers have in mind is that they must get an agent in order to get into the right auditions. Before this is achieved, dancers use resources such as Backstage, a newspaper featuring many auditions of different genres, in order to try to get some work. Most find this insufficient for many reasons. Twenty-one year-old Ricky Derenzis said, “It’s really frustrating having to go to these open auditions where anyone can go. There are hundreds of people and you end up having to wait for hours. I have a fulltime job and I can’t just spend a whole day waiting in the hopes of booking a gig. I have to pay my rent.”
Many other dancers share Derenzis’s view. They get up at early hours and sometimes don’t get out until five or six o’clock and those are the ones that aren’t even chosen. In order to bypass the waiting and stress, most dancers try to get an agent.
An agent does all the work for the dancer. They find the right auditions for them to go to and they simply call them with a day and time. Auditions can last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. Sometimes they don’t even start until the afternoon. There is still plenty of time for dancers to have jobs and do other things during their day.
This seems like the dream situation for any dancer. “Ever since I came to New York I’ve been trying to get an agent. I’ve sent my headshot and resume to at least five different ones and never heard a response,” Derenzis said.
It’s extremely hard to get an agent. A few hold auditions, but sometimes only choose one or two out of a few hundred. For the rest it’s just a face and resume. Most of the times these items are tossed to the side without even a second glance.
Sometimes having an agent isn’t as ideal as it may appear. Many dancers find themselves feeling very unhappy with their agents once they get them. Amanda Cohen, 23, said, “I hadn’t booked a job after my first few auditions and my agent just stopped calling me. I hear about auditions through my friends and wonder why I wasn’t called for them. When I confront them, they usually give me the excuse that I wasn’t what they were looking for. Clearly, I was when I know that there were two other girls I know that were the same type as me. It comes across as being shady.”
Some dancers feel they are often lied to and mistreated by their agents. “In the end I know how they make their money so they shouldn’t be treating me like this,” Cohen said. Dance agents receive 10% of any money that one of their dancers makes on the job. That can sometimes come out to a lot of money depending on the size of the check.
A lot of times the agents fall behind on getting the money to the dancers. Usually a dancer should get a check about a month after they finished the job, sometimes it can be two. Sometimes it takes a lot longer. George Jones, 23, said he finished a job more than four months ago and he still hasn’t received his check. “I’ve been calling my agent and they keep telling me that they’re working on it. It’s unacceptable. I finally had to contact the people that I did the job for. I shouldn’t have to be doing that, that’s what I’m paying my agent to do. They received 10% of my check when they didn’t even really get me the job. I knew the choreographer and that’s how I honestly got it.”
Agents have many clients and obviously can’t give their full attention to any one dancer. This can be a major downside in having an agent. They give the most attention to whoever is the “hot” dancer at that time. “Because I wasn’t booking jobs they weren’t calling me,” said Cohen. “The worst part was they kept lying about why I wasn’t getting called. Just be honest with me. I had to start looking at Backstage and going to the open auditions. The second I booked a job, all of a sudden they loved me and were overly nice and accommodating. They came across as being so fake. It makes me not want to have an agent at all anymore,” she said.
Former agent Debbie Reed says that it is really hard to deal with so many people. “There was no way that we could give the same attention to all of our clients at the same time. Dancers also don’t realize that the reason that they won’t get called isn’t necessarily our fault. We submit all headshots and whoever is casting it picks who they want to see. The dancer automatically thinks that we don’t like them and that’s why they’re not getting called for auditions. It’s a lot bigger than us,” Reed says.
The truth is no one knows whether having a dance agent is wise. On one hand there’s no more waking up at 7 a.m. and standing in a line for hours. However, you can end up losing money and being mistreated. Every dancer strives to have an agent because it’s known to make things a whole lot easier. What they may not know is possible added stress of having one.