By Kristin Yancy
I spent my first year as an aspiring professional dancer with a small sorority of girls living in a 2-turned-4 bedroom apartment on the Upper-Upper West Side. One of my roommates that year was a close friend from a previous dance intensive, we’ll call her Megan.
Megan is a talented dancer, a tumbler and a contortionist. But it quickly became clear to me that Megan’s most useful skill wasn’t her round off back hand spring, it was her earnest and eager way of meeting and connecting with other people.
Here is the reality. Dancing may feel like a hugely different career choice because we wear spandex to work and others wear suits, but this industry bears some uncanny resemblances to a nine-to-five, dare I say it, normal job. It’s all about who you know. That dancer with the body of an Olympic goddess who just booked the job over your 15+ years of training may have done a little friendly prep work before she came to the audition. These days, more and more job openings are being passed around based on connections, and less by an open call for resumes or interviews. Regardless of your career choice, it’s time to slap a smile on our faces and get to networking.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not encouraging the whole world to turn into an insincere shmooze-fest. In fact, I think sincerity is the first rule of good networking. What’s the second? Let’s go back to my friend Megan, and the tips I picked up by watching her navigate that first year in dance.
1. Honesty Megan was totally honest in her desire to get to know people. And people responded to that earnestness. Nothing will be so beneficial to you in your networking pursuits as being sincerely interested in meeting other people and hearing what they have to say.
2. Listen Pay attention! You can never be sure who you’re talking to—they could be the next Baryshnikov for all you know. And trust me, people will remember someone who actually listened to them when they spoke.
3. Be Positive Never gossip about other dancers in the room with a new friend. You don’t want to lose a job because a casting director overheard your snarky attitude on a water break. An audition holding room may feel casual, but it’s still your workplace and a professional environment. So keep those less-than-positive opinions to yourself.
4. Encourage others Tell others when they’ve done a good job! No one on the planet dislikes a little gentle encouragement. Tip: When someone has told you good job, ask for her name. She’s already taken care of the hard part by coming up to you, so why not take advantage of the opportunity and introduce yourself?
5. Don’t be afraid All networking starts with a simple hello. Worst-case scenario? They smile at you, or say hello back, and keep on walking. Best-case? You’ve just met your new best friend (or the person in charge of inviting dancers to Madonna’s next closed call!).
6. Don’t push it You know when the vibe just isn’t right. If it seems like the conversation is not going to happen, don’t force it. Just smile, let them know it was nice to meet them, and move along. Chances are, the next time they see you they’ll remember your friendly, genuine, and thankfully brief hello.