Careers Clinic: How do I move from dancing to acting?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I have racked up a strong CV as a professional dancer including many West End and touring shows. I’ve always been equally interested in acting and have taken several part-time courses around work commitments. I’ve also been able to learn up-close from many top actors in shows I’ve worked on.

Last year, one of the leads in a small tour I was dancing in had to drop out. I was asked to cover the role and it went really well. They asked me to stay for the rest of the tour and brought me back for a further tour in the same role.

Since then I have been applying for other acting roles. I’ve done an ‘acting makeover’ on my casting profile, cropping some of my dance and model shots to create headshots and adding some music video scenes, which are filmic and dramatic and involve me playing characters as my showreel. But so far, not much response on the acting front.

I’m still happy to take on dance work, but is there anything else I can do to shift the perception from dancer to actor for those kind of submissions?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE By coincidence, your query came in while I was doing some script editing as a favour to a screenwriter friend. On that kind of job, before getting down to editing dialogue, checking spelling and other ‘nitty gritty’ tasks I usually do a quick read-through to find any story elements the writer may believe are clear in the script but which are actually only clear in the writer’s head.

It’s easily done, and it’s one of the reasons for having someone objective to cast an eye over our work. Your casting profile is also a story that you are presenting to people who don’t know you. You may be confident in your acting abilities and because you have already been not only cast in, but also rebooked in, an acting role by people who have money invested in your doing it properly would suggest that this confidence is entirely justified.

However, for those of us who haven’t yet seen you on stage or screen, if the evidence isn’t visible on your casting profile it will be hard to start thinking of you in an acting light. Fortunately, we have moved on from the days when a casting profile involved one picture and one CV in the pages of a book that was changed only once a year.

Most casting platforms now give you a degree of flexibility not only in how you arrange the pieces of information and accompanying photographs and video, but often on which of those elements you highlight for a particular casting. The appropriate professional elements need to be there in the first place, though.

In the short term, I would advise you to focus less on ‘disguising’ that your main experience so far has been in dance, but consider instead what you need to add to strengthen the acting aspect of your profile.

An obvious investment would be more acting-orientated photographs. Yes, there are one or two of your dance and model close-ups which, with a bit of cropping and a leap of imagination, might relate to acting roles, but a busy casting director or assistant probably won’t have time to do that extra brain work.

Similarly, dance music videos, even ‘dramatic’ ones, just won’t provide the confirmation a producer needs that you can also act. Professional headshots and a professionally made showreel scene or two won’t be cheap but the payback will be that, rather than being seen as a professional dancer who does acting as a hobby, you will make an equally professional and committed presentation for the acting roles you are pitching for. I think that’s an investment worth making.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne