Finding Your Spark: First As A Human, Then As A Dancer

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I decided to start the "Finding Your Spark" series to shine a light on different types of people who are following various paths – their OWN paths, whatever those may be. The whole idea is that there's no single way to live life and a person doesn't have to be "famous" to inspire others. These individuals have found what inspires them, motivates them, makes them happy. And they've run with it.

Read all posts in this series here.

Moving to LA as a starry-eyed dreamer is a tale as old as time, but this interview is with someone who did it and has a lot to show for it. Jamie and I went to high school together, and now I admire her accomplishments from afar as I see her killin' it every day as a professional dancer.

Jamie attended Columbia College Chicago and double-majored in dance and marketing, while also teaching dance classes in the city three times a week. After graduating, she moved to LA, where she's been for the past three years. She's taking a break on the teaching aspect to focus on her own goals with dance, attending classes about a five days a week, and waitressing as well.

Jamie has a lot of accomplishments under her belt that she's very modest about, so I'll brag about them on her behalf: She was a back-up dancer for Bright Lights' tour, Rival City Heights' "Take It Back" music video, and Waterparks' music video "Royal." She was also on set of an Ariana Grande music video and was a dancer on set for Chris Redd's "Anxiety" video.

We talk about her move to LA, common misconceptions about dance, the auditioning process, and more.

How long have you been involved in dance? What made you keep going?

Oh gosh. I've been involved in dance since I was three years old. I knew at a super young age that I loved it, and I didn't want to do anything else. My mom actually tried to get me involved in sports or music, but I wasn't interested. I loved performing. I loved working really hard to get choreography or a certain move. The reward that came with that was super fulfilling, even at a young age. 

Did you always know that dancing was something you'd want to pursue long-term? What do you like most about it?

Absolutely. Part of me wishes I didn't love it so much, because I probably could have had an easier life (just kidding but not kidding).

There are a lot of reasons why I love it. When I was in high school, I was super depressed. I never told my parents, and I never sought out therapy, so dance was all I had. I was a part of a company called SoleUnique, and I would travel an hour away six days a week to train and compete and perform. It consumed all of my time and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I have crazy memories of learning a contemporary piece as a 16-year-old and just bursting out into tears while I was dancing. I never talked about what was going on in my life, but I could always go to the studio and have a good cry.

What made you decide to become an instructor? What's the process for that?

Well, it's pretty common that once you graduate high school, the studio you grew up in kind of tries to sink their teeth into and make you come teach for them. My studio got me. 
I was living in Chicago for college, but I took the train down to the suburbs every Saturday to teach six classes in a row. Those kids were so freaking cute and I loved it. However, after a year of that, I needed to move on.

Cut to my senior year. One of my friends from college owned a BOMB little dance company based in the city. Since it was so close to me, I decided to teach and choreograph for their competition season. That was so rewarding to me. This is when I really fell in love with teaching. These kids were so special, so driven and focused. Just seriously little power houses. They inspired me so much. I wish I could have taken them to LA with me.

What's a common misconception about dancing, or something most people may not realize?

Literally the best is when I tell people in LA that I'm a dancer and they assume I mean stripper.

A lot of people think that dancing is super "cut throat." What does that even mean? LA is hard, but there are plenty of jobs for everyone, in my opinion. I think a lot of dancers are super competitive, but that has never been my nature. I mean, I have goals and I'm serious about achieving them, but at the end of the day, it's not life or death. Ugh... dancers weird me out sometimes.

What's the process for being a part of different performances? Is it similar to actors auditioning for roles?

Unpopular opinion: Acting auditions are way easier than dance auditions. It's true, though! Actors get to have a scheduled casting where they go in to read lines and hear back (or not) within a few days. Cattle call auditions for dancers is truly hell. 
You crash diet for a week before, cake on a bunch of makeup, and end up waiting around for six hours. At least for those open call auditions, it literally takes up your whole day.

The best auditions are closed auditions where you get sent from your agent. At least that way you know you have some of the features the director is looking for. I'd rather be typecasted because then you get cut knowing like, "Okay well I'm too short for this gig... and I can't really get shin implants to make myself taller, so it's not even about how I dance." That thought actually comforts me and makes me lol.

What made you want to move to LA?

I've wanted to move to LA since high school. I originally didn't even want to go to college, but I'm so glad I did. Can you imagine 19-year-old Jamie running around LA? I would just plain embarrass myself. When I was about to graduate college, I was faced with two options in life: Stay in Chicago and teach and live a safe life, or say F it and buy a one-way ticket without a plan. I convinced myself that if I didn't go then, I would never go, and I was probably right about that.

What was the reaction from your friends and family to you moving?

My parents saw it coming. The move was kind of unconventional because, like I said, I literally had no plan. I didn't tell most of my friends because honestly, I didn't know how long I would be staying. I'm serious... I told all of my friends that I was going for a month or so to see what it was like.

What was the best part? And most challenging?

The best part is all of the people that I have met and grown closer to. I definitely didn't think I would move to LA and find love.

The most challenging was in the beginning when I was struggling financially. I was barely making enough to pay rent, so I couldn't focus on dance. I'm super blessed though because I found a support system here, and I have a kickass serving job. I'm finally making enough to focus on why I'm out here. So it's gonna be a good year, you feel me?? 

What, if anything, would you have done differently in your journey?

Oh gosh, well, I think anyone would say that they wouldn't change a thing because of the lessons they have learned, and I guess I'll say that too. Everyone's journey is so different. I'm really hard on  myself because I'm not where I want to be yet career-wise, but that way of thinking is actually holding me back.

What are your goals moving forward?

My first goal is to stop overthinking. I'm working on myself first as a human, then as a dancer. I've learned since being here that I am the one holding myself back from being great. I am extremely insecure about the way I look, or I think I'm not talented enough. That way of thinking is so distracting and has crippled me from putting myself out there more.

Last year, I took a break from auditioning and I trained really hard. I want to continue training because not only does it help my craft, it also keeps me sane. However, I think it's time to really go for it. If not now, then freaking when?

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