My Summer In L.A.

I spent one week of my summer of 2009 in L.A. with Be Discovered and that week has changed who I am as a dancer and as a person.

Before I left, I would always write or say that this program was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. Now I can truly say; that Summer in L.A. has been an amazing life changing experience for me. I have learned so much, not only about the industry, but about myself, and who I am. Also, I have learned a lot about what it takes to make it or break it in the entertainment business

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This experience, for me, has created a new way of looking at dance. It is my life and my passion. I now know I live to dance and I will dance to live! This form of art moves me; it is one of the few things that truly makes me happy and feel alive. I am who I am when I move to the sound of the music.

There will be no looking back, I am only moving forward from now on, there is no doubt in my mind. On that note, I am the only one that can make that happen for me. It is not up to anyone else, it is all on me to make my dreams happen for myself; that is something I have learned from this program and from a very special, inspirational person I met during this experience of a lifetime in L.A.; His name is JJ Villar. I believe he helped bring out the life out of me, opened my eyes and my heart to a whole new outlook on my life, my dancing, what I love to do and the way I deliver.

Yes, sometimes waking up at 6 a.m. and dancing until midnight was tiring but that alone brought out the dancers’ true character, and it was a chance for us to prove to ourselves if this was what we really wanted. I did prove most importantly to myself, but as well to others that I am capable of making it, and that I want it with everything in me. I have learned to believe and trust yourself, if you want something bad enough you have to take it and not let ANYONE tell you different.

I have so many thoughts and emotions inside me but I am not sure how to put them into words and make it mean, and sound anything like what I truly feel. As of now, I have no question or doubt in my mind that this is what I thrive to do and will do! No matter what it takes…

Just some of the things I learnt during Summer in L.A.

Not everything in this industry is glitz and glamour as most seem to think.
Most directors/producers do not know anything or much about dance. They just look at the whole picture, and how it appeals to them. Therefore, sometimes those who are cut, it wasn’t due to their dancing- they just didn’t fit the “image” they were looking for.
Do NOT take anything personally.
Grow from every criticism.
Take as many classes as possible.
Take risks, it just has to be done.
Be versatile in all styles of dance. It is needed in the industry now more than ever.
You have to be comfortable with the camera. Therefore invest in one for yourself at home.
Know how to slate, and know how to do it well so that you’re remembered.
Make yourself noticeable and get yourself noticed.
Get an agent.
Know what to wear and what not to wear to an audition; sometimes that will either get you the job or get you cut. Something as simple as what you are wearing.
There is a difference between a ‘professional dancer’ and a ‘working professional dancer’; anybody can call themselves a professional dancer-and it may be true, but it’s the working professional dancers that book the jobs!
Remember that NOT everything is about YOU!

A brief recap on the events that took place; the first day I arrived in L.A. I met Diana Uribe, the creator and organizer of this program. If it had not been for her, none of us dancers would have been in L.A. I am so grateful to have come across her organization. I also met all the wonderful, talented dancers that I would be sharing this experience with. We were able to talk with an immigration attorney and learn about what it takes to get a working visa. After that, we did a “diva” hip hop dance class. This class was actually a “mock” audition and after we had all learned the combo, we danced it in smaller groups. Some dancers were cut and some were asked to stay. I was asked to stay until the very last cut, when it was between one other dancer and me. At the end of everything, I booked the job!

The following day we were at a top studio The Edge, where we were able to take as many classes as we liked. We were there from 9:30 am until 10:30 pm and to class from some of the industry’s top instructors.

For lunch and dinner, we had our food catered and it was brought to us, (this was the case for our entire week, the caterer brought the food to wherever we were). The food consisted of a variety for lunch and dinner, such as; roast beef or turkey sandwiches, salads, vegetables, different sorts of pasta, chicken, and much more. The snacks that were provided in between classes and throughout the day were all health conscious foods. How to feed my body was another important aspect I had learned during this program.

For instance, for me I am always hungry especially if I am dancing for a long period of time but I have learned that if you feed your body correctly you won’t have that problem, because never once during this trip was I hungry. I came to a conclusion that we should eat healthy and not a lot at once, and especially no artificial sugars; the more we eat sugars, the more our body craves it. As a dancer it is critical that we keep our body healthy, our body is our tool, it is our business. I also learnt that our body is what we use for everything, as a dancer, therefore it is also important to take care of it physically and mentally. We need it to last, don’t be too hard on it- make smart choices.

Now on to my third day in L.A. With there being twenty dancers, we were split into 2 groups; the first going to do a photo shoot with well-known photographer Lee Cherry. He photographs Brian Friedman and the Pussy Cat Dolls to name a few. The other group went on a tour of Hollywood; visiting the neighbourhoods of Bel-air and Beverly Hills. We saw houses that belonged to Celine Dion, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, Leonardo DiCaprio and what used to be Justin Timberlake and Britany Spears’ house. After the tour, we did a bit of shopping on Hollywood Boulevard where we got to see many famous peoples’ “stars” on the Walk of Fame. MJ’s had flowers and memoirs around it. We also took pictures with the infamous “Hollywood” sign.

Then once both groups were finished, we switched; one then did the tour while the others got to do the photo shoot. After that finished around 8 pm, we then headed to Millennium Dance Complex, where we took two dance classes; one was Shane Sparks Hip Hop/Krump. That class was one of my favourites of the entire trip, I definitely worked up a sweat and after that class it felt like I just finished a long distance run. It felt good! The next class was also a workout but it was a lot of fun as well; only a few of us lasted for the second class though. After we had finished close to midnight, we all got into our shuttle bus and headed back to our hotel, the Sheraton at Universal Studios to SLEEP!

Thursday was a long but eventful day, one to remember for sure. This was the day of the taping of So You Think You Can Dance!!! Our call time was 8:30 am, this is where we watched the pre-taping of the group number of the top 8 dancers. The audience (all of us) stood the entire time, cheering over and over again until the camera captured the right shot. We got a break at 1:00, where we had lunch at a restaurant at “the Grove” and our lunch was pre-ordered for us. Following lunch, we were able to do some more shopping; the Grove is like an outdoor mall. The weather was beautiful, hot, but beautiful! No complaining done as I come from Canada of course. We then had to be back at the studio for the ‘live’ taping of SYTYCD!! To my surprise, the studio was much smaller than what it appears on television. I actually could touch the stage. During the night’s performance, I was fortunate enough to stand right in front of the judges table- I DID touch the table. Well, I can’t give away all the little secrets behind screen; otherwise it wouldn’t be fair to all who watch the show and who will be a part of Summer in L.A. I plan to attend again and I would tell all dancers wanting to get into the industry or those just wanting to have an amazing experience this summer to go for it!

When the taping was finished, around 7:30pm, we went back to the hotel to have dinner. After dinner we then had a wonderful Salsa class with JJ, at the end of that class JJ said that he would hire me in a second. He said “In fact, I am in need of a dancer for this coming Sunday. If you lived in L.A. you would have the job!” That comment made me feel really good about myself and my dancing!

Friday was the beginning of the Grover Dale Answers 4 Dancers workshop. The workshop consisted of learning about the industry and its professionals, and it was based mainly around the process of producing a music video; what choreographers have to go through to pitch their ideas, what dancers have to go through to get the job, and what producers go through to make the “project” a successful one. We learnt choreography by three different choreographers: Erin Lamont, Johnny Bern and Robert Shultz. Each choreographer had to put their choreography on the dancers at the workshop, and then pitch their ideas to the producers and the artist. The artist’s name was Kevin Stay; Kevin is a well-known artist in L.A., he is a dancer, singer and song-writer. He wrote the song and sung it as well; it was called “Elegant Dark”. We heard that song so many times, throughout the course of the three days, that I think I have it memorized. And thank goodness it was a good song!!

There were a couple of professional dancers who observed and assisted as well; one I had worked with prior to this workshop, so it was nice to see a familiar face, Christian Vincent. The other was Nadine who move to L.A. from New York. We were there from 9am until 6pm. After a full day of dancing, it wasn’t over. We went back to the hotel and had dinner, then we had to get ready as if we were going to the audition for the agents. We would wear what we planned to wear for the real agent audition the next day. We then had individual, one-on-one, “mock” auditions and assessments with JJ and Diana. We were asked questions like: “Do you want to be a professional working dancer and why?” and “Why should I want to work with you?” and “What styles of dance do you do? Which do you do best?”

I was told that I have what it takes to make it in the industry, and I know that that is what I want more than anything. I am going to work my hardest and put my everything into training, educating myself and doing anything I need to get where I am headed. After the individual assessments/mock auditions, we had a lyrical/contemporary class with JJ. This piece meant a lot to him, and was a very emotional one for me as well after he told his inspiration for his choreography. This song played on his car radio after he had visited his aunt in the hospital and finding out that she had brain cancer. That hit home for me, because not too long ago I lost an aunt to cancer as well. I put my heart and soul into that piece, and in my eyes, it will be one I will never forget. At the end of the class Kelsie Benage, another Summer in L.A. dancer and I were chosen to perform it in front of everyone. I believe that it was a great opportunity for me show what that piece meant to me, and not only that but to give back something special to the choreographer who more than deserved it! When class ended, JJ pulled me aside and said “If you ever decide to move to L.A., give me a call.”… AH! So exciting for me to hear that. I smiled from ear to ear after that. Let me just say his class was a fabulous way to end my day…

The next day didn’t fall short of FUN! It was the second day of the Grover Dale workshop, and the one I looked forward to the most. It was the day of the Agent auditions. There were several agents, choreographers and producers that attended. We were set into groups with people around the same age. I was in a group of dancers aged 17-19 and there were about 10 of us. Earlier that morning we learned a lyrical jazz number from Grover that we were to perform along with one of the dances we had learned the previous day; the dance was choreographed by Robert Shultz, and finally we were to learn a combination in front of the agents therefore they were able to see how we learnt choreography or how quickly we picked it up. The combo was a technical jazz routine taught by Christian Vincent. We then performed that jazz routine in our groups. Again it ran from 9 am until 6 pm. We returned to our hotel to have dinner, and were lucky enough to get the chance to spend the night at Universal Studios City Walk. We did some shopping there, that’s where I did most of my souvenir and gift shopping. We had a blast, lots of singing, dancing and picture taking was done. Oh and on a side note… I FORGOT MY CAMERA!!!!* Who does that?!?! This was a treat for all of the dancers because Summer in L.A. was not really a vacation.

Last, but certainly not least, our final day in L.A.: started with us dancing at 9 am at the Grover Dale workshop. We rehearsed the three dances with the choreographers, and then presented them for the producers. We had to do our best, because it wasn’t just about us, we were presenting the choreographers’ ideas to the producers. We had to represent them.

Back at the hotel, we had our second last class with Misha Gabriel! It was probably my favourite hip hop routine that I had danced all week, other than Shane Sparks’. We all had a lot of fun with Misha. To share a little about him; he was a dancer on the Michael Jackson This is It! tour before MJ passed. Misha said that his biggest dream was to dance with Michael so when he passed, Misha was devastated. He cried for days and knows that he will never get that chance again.

Misha has been in the industry since he was 16 and he is now 22. He started off assisting Brian Friedman at various conventions so Brian remembered him and got him his first couple of jobs, like the Aaron Carter tours. Misha also said that he has been very fortunate within the industry and booking jobs.

The last class was a music interpretation and a ‘learning how to choreograph’ class with JJ. I found the class very interesting, and I learnt so many new things; different ways of listening to music, new ways of coming up with choreography “the first movement you come up with- don’t do it.” Take risks!!! Come up with something new and unique every time.

We then all said our goodbyes, and I of course got a little emotional and shed a few tears… it was hard for me to say goodbye; my brain quickly replayed everything I did and learnt that week, and to know that it was life changing and then to say good bye to that, plus to say good bye to my new friends and to the program I believe made the biggest impact on the changing of my life.

Don’t forget to… LIVE!!!!