I am often asked what it takes to become a Hubbard Street dancer.
If I’m asked this question in a workshop setting, I like to turn it around and hear from the dancer. “What excites you when you watch a performance?” They often answer by telling me what inspires them, and I am the same. I want the same qualities in a dancer that excites them as an audience member. I’m looking for dancers who inspire their colleagues, our choreographers and audiences, and the generation of artists that will follow them.
Defining an “inspired dancer” is the hardest part and, of course, the most subjective. I am looking for a dancer that encompasses my version of the “triple threat.” In the world of musical theater, a “triple threat” is someone who is highly skilled at acting, singing and dancing. At Hubbard Street, a “triple threat” is a dancer whose creativity is reflected by their mind, body and spirit.
A sharp mind is crucial to being able to pick up steps quickly and to process the intricate details of choreographed movement. An aware mind uses every bit of information available to understand complex coordination and musicality. Years of training, introspective thought and an organized quiet mind shows confidence in your work. I always encourage people to approach new things one step at a time and that sense of calm becomes apparent.
The body of a Hubbard Street dancer is healthy and fit, so it can function at its optimum level. I equate being a dancer to being an Olympic athlete. Imagine the discipline and physical prowess it takes to shave a full second off your best time running or swimming. Imagine what it means to manage all of the tasks necessary to return a tennis ball served at the very edge of your reach, or to clear a bar just an inch higher than you’ve ever been able to jump. Dance asks for those same things, for a finely tuned body ready to accommodate and coordinate movements to any tempo — while making it all look effortless. We enter the studio every day to jump higher, reach further, expand our range of movement and strive for artistic betterment. That’s the goal.
Spirit and motivation go hand in hand, and I don’t think there’s anything more uplifting than witnessing someone’s determination to achieve. As dancers, the art of striving, integrity and a strong work ethic are vital to your success. To be clear, I’m not talking about having an aggressive, “pick me, pick me!” mentality but, rather, taking a true and honest approach to being an artist. At an audition, I’d prefer to point you out as being creative, musical, versatile or physically powerful, as opposed to being distracted by your attitude or fashion choices.
Alongside these key qualities of mind, body and spirit, there’s an element of which no one wants to hear, that terrible word, “talent.” Years of training may not pay off in the ways you would hope or expect. Unfortunately today, more students earn degrees in dance than opportunities exist for professional work. However, there are endless places and ways to apply your training and the fundamental lessons you’ve received by being a dancer, and it’s important for me to validate the wide range of career paths that are open to dancers today. True artists are always willing to go deeper, to explore beyond the superficial, and to reach within themselves. After leaving our company, Hubbard Street dancers have gone on to become many things: novelists, chemists, adaptive dance researchers, producers, journalists, entrepreneurs, designers, and so much more. I believe this is due less to the experiences they had while they were with us at Hubbard Street, but rather, this is more a reflection of the fact that Hubbard Street dancers have always had diverse interests, motivations and personal goals.
Always bear in mind that simplicity is important. Here at Hubbard Street, at any moment, we’re more likely to be working to determine what we can get rid of, than to be looking for what we can add. Many things considered “given” in everyday life are often unnecessary in dance. I am always on the lookout for dancers who can deliver images and ideas with clarity and honesty.
Indeed, one of my favorite memories is of the great dancer Alessandra Ferri, performing as Juliet, simply sitting on the edge of a bed. “Nothing” was happening and yet absolutely everything was happening. You could see Juliet’s short life pass before Alessandra’s eyes. That is the moment I still remember from her performance of Romeo and Juliet that night — not a split penchée.
A dancer that generates and illuminates energy is inspired. A dancer unleashed and able to tear up the space with powerful agility is inspired. Dance reflects that most basic of human needs, interaction, whether what’s being communicated is love, or fear, or anything else in between. Dance is not a competition, but rather the self-expression of an individual, combined with that individual’s appreciation for the others around them. There are many reasons that make it easy for us to forget our humanity. Dance at its best reminds us of it.
Hubbard Street premiered its first work by Trey McIntyre, Split, in 2000 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, with support from the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Full Grown Man premiered at the Joyce Theater in 2003, created with funds from the Prince Prize for Commissioning Original Work, awarded to Trey McIntyre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago by the Prince Charitable Trusts.