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Guest Column, 1-16: Julie McDonald: An L.A. Original
Hollywood's Original Dance Agent Talks to Workshop Dancers

By Grover Dale
Copyright 2007 Grover Dale

Second of two articles. (Click here to read part 1.) Previously published on Answers4dancers.com.

As busy as dance agent Julie McDonald is, she still finds time to talk to students who enroll for the Career Power Workshops in Hollywood. Meeting 40 dancers on a Saturday morning (her only day off!) her voice resonates with passion about the pursuit of satisfying dance employment.

Setting up L.A.'s first dance agency in 1986 must have been challenging. How did producers react to what you were doing?

Once they understood that I saved them time and money, it was clear sailing.

Half the job of casting was done for them....

It was back then and still is. For example... they tell us what they're looking for. We pre-screen clients and send info about them. After they decide who they want to see, we go to work contacting clients with details about the audition. We confirm who's attending and who isn't. Outcome: the producers walk into the audition knowing they'll be seeing the best dancers in town for their project. We negotiate contracts, we follow-through on rehearsal and on-the-set issues as they come up, and we distribute checks to our clients. Producers usually pay 10% commission on top of the salary. No cost to the dancer.

Did you meet any resistance in the early days?

The idea wasn't as openly received by some choreographers who had their own methods of casting dancers. Over time, they, too, recognized the benefits of saving time and the opportunity to see new talent they might not have seen otherwise.

You've got new talent sitting in front of you. What can they do now to be considered for representation?

They can start by sending us a photo, a resume, and a few words about themselves.

What do you look for in the package?

We look for training on the resume. Based on that, we decide whether to invite the dancer to audition for the agency.

What kind of headshots should they invest in?

Newcomers shouldn't invest a lot of money on photos. If they do, they'll probably end up spending double. Most agents have specific ideas on photos and might require you to reshoot them.

In other words, wait until you've secured representation?

Absolutely.

Is it okay to submit a snapshot the first time out?

For a beginner, sure. We'll look at everything. Once a client is signed, we get into creating the package.

The right headshot becomes important, right?

Yes, they're your entree into auditions, but they're also hard to do. Dancers think that they have to take great pictures right away, but sometimes it takes four, five, or six photo shoots before you finally figure out how to get great pictures. The image has to say, "This is who I am." Finding that image can bring up a lot of stuff.

Is there a certain type of photographer to look for?

You'd better find a photographer you feel comfortable with, someone who's going to help you relax and have fun on the shoot. If you interview a photographer and they're making you feel uptight, don't go with them. It's really important that you find someone you have a rapport with. That's key. For example, if you wake up on the day of your photo shoot and have a huge pimple, you have to cancel. You just do. You can't go. You just have to call and tell the photographer, "I can't come in. I'm broken out. I'm sorry."

Let's go back to the initial contact with an agency....

If you're going to send an agent your resume and a snapshot, your picture's got to be decent. You've got to like your snapshot. No matter what you send in, you've got to like it. You should even write a letter saying that you don't have pictures yet, that you're waiting to get an agent and this is what you have for now.

How about the resume?

If your resume says you only have training and you're just starting out, that's fine. If you're young and just beginning your career you're not supposed to have professional credits. Don't make things up or fabricate your experience. Use your high school or college plays as credits. Add this workshop to your resume. ŠAgencies know that Grover's Career Power Workshop produces "informed" dancers.

What about special skills?

Gymnastics, roller blading, martial arts, stilt dancing, basketball, musical instruments, tumbling.... Those things are used all the time.

Social dancing?

Social dancing is really important. But if it's something you just sort of know, don't include it. But if it's something you're really good at, it's important to put it down. As you get a bigger resume, certain things drop off your resume as professional credits come on.

Resumes can be overloaded, too....

You want a resume that a choreographer can turn over and give it no more than five or six seconds to scan. So if the print is teeny tiny and you've got a lot of stuff jammed together, the chances of it being read aren't good.

What catches your attention?

Definitely, the training. I'll look down and go, "Oh wow -- Jerry Evans, Kevin Columbus, Todd Thompson, Doug Caldwell, Sally Whalen." That's always a plus for me, especially if there's ballet training. (To students) How many of you are studying singing? (Six raise their hands.) That's so important. Not that you have to be great singers, you just have to have two songs at your disposal. If you want to do musical theater you can get to Broadway from Los Angeles, but you have to be doing that voice thing. And you should be doing musical theater workshops. But all dancers should have two songs ready at all times, an up-tempo and a ballad. So if you're asked to sing, you can pull your sheet music out of your bag and go, "Here it is."

How much does a dancer make on music videos?

You make Dancers' Alliance rates, which are currently $250 a day for rehearsals and $475 a day for shooting. The rates are good, but most videos last only a few days. (Note: Dancers' Alliance is not a union. They can only recommend. They cannot enforce.)

Broadway dancers work 52 weeks a year....

The base pay for a national tour is $1,465 a week plus per diem. Plus pension and healthcare benefits. Music videos are non-union -- they don't pay health or pension.

What about pop tours?

That's where you can make some really good money. And if you're with somebody major, you get to see the world first-class. There's just nothing that could be more fun than that for a dancer. But only a very lucky few get to do pop tours.

Pay rates are...?

$1500 to $2200 a week working with a major artist, plus per diem, plus hotel. No pension or health insurance, but usually you get well taken care of.

Lots of options to think about. How important is union membership?

When you work in film and television and get your union card, you qualify for health insurance and pension credit. If you get SAG or AFTRA jobs in film and television, you get residuals. If you do commercials, you get residuals. Membership protects you in many ways. Getting those union cards is very important.


Wrap-up: Grover provides additional "agent" info on Answers4dancers.com. See the text pages "40 Agent Turn-ons & Turn-offs," "Agent Listings," and "Agent Auditions."

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