Steps To Success For The Aspiring Dancer – Jill Kalfin of Steps On Broadway

Jill is a dancer and experienced Choreographer, Arts Administrator and Special Events Producer.

She is currently one of the Creative Directors at Steps on Broadway, in New York City, which is one of the largest professional dancing schools in the world.

Jill has been on staff at Steps for six years and is currently the Director of the Work/Study and Scholarship Division. She is also Artistic Director of The Scholarship Ensemble which is the resident company at Steps and produces the Faculty Studio Performances as well as, the Steps Performance Lab Series.

A successful teacher, choreographer, and studio owner for 20 years, Jill’s students have won many awards for choreography and performance at Tremaine and Hoctor Conventions and Competitions. She was on staff at the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training, and The Jupiter Theatre as movement instructor and choreographer where she choreographed Annie, A Christmas Carol, and Alice in Wonderland.

In association with her production company she has choreographed halftime shows for the Miami Heat and several revues for Cunard Cruise Lines.

Steps to success for the aspiring dancer

Itís imperative you get some training! The hallways and studios of a dance school hum with vitality, exciting gossip and the sort of cutting edge news that can be key to progressing in your career.

As the Work/Study and Scholarship Ensemble Director at Steps on Broadway, I know that I stand at an artistic crossroads that many aspiring dancers have used to become successful, respected performers. Taking advantage of the many programs and opportunities that a school like Steps can offer is an intelligent way to start off, gain visibility and acquire connections and guidance in the world of dance.

So your first step…

Step 1

Enroll in a school or onto a course. You will probably have to call to reserve a space at the interview or orientation meeting that you must attend in order to get onto a program. These are held on a regular basis, at Steps for example this is usually the second Friday of the month. Make sure that you are available to start the program immediately after the meeting and bear in mind that you will have made a long term commitment. Commercial schools will ask for a minimum length commitment, three months being typical.

Step 2

Arrive at your interview or orientation with everything you need! This is usually a picture, a resume, a completed application form and your application fee.

Step 3

Assuming you beat your interview you will now be able to start classes. If for any reason you fail your interview though, donít give up on your dream, just try another school!

Step 4

Once you begin classes you ëre going to have to Network! It is an honor to be a member of a good school and it is imperative that you introduce yourself to teachers and fellow students alike. Decide what classes will help you the most and ask the teachers who lead them for any guidance you need. Build a strong intellectual and artistic relationship with your teachers and become a regular in their class. Most of the teachers at Steps are also busy choreographers and often ask the students who regularly take their class to audition for and/or participate in their projects so it definitely pays to stay in your teacherís good books!

Step 5

If your school has a resident dance ensemble and you are a well rounded talented dancer proficient in Modern, Jazz, Musical Theatre, and Ballet, then audition! I can tell you first hand that being part of The Steps On Broadway Scholarship Ensemble is an incredible opportunity. It allows you to work one on one with renowned teachers, performers and choreographers and gives you the chance to prove yourself to them. If you manage this they can give you valuable professional references on your resume and even hire you for their companies and projects!

Step 6

At some point your school will most probably produce a show which you can apply to participate in or even choreograph. These shows provide valuable performance experience and exposure, as many choreographers and dance critics attend. They also look good on your resume.

Step 7

Go to as many auditions as possible and use the resume credits you have acquired at school to your advantage. If you are lucky the professionals at the audition will recognize your face from something they saw you in at school and you will stand out before you have even started the audition process. Whenever possible, ask a mentor at your school to mention your name to the people in charge of the audition. If the audition is held by a teacher at your school stop that teacher in the hallway and let them know that you will be there.

Step 8

Audition, audition, audition.

Get it?

Step 9

Get your first job and you’re off!

Let me warn you that these steps look easy on paper but unless you are completely dedicated to your dream, it won’t happen. The world is home to hundreds of thousands of talented performers, all competing for a relatively small number of jobs. Unless you reach star status the pay scale is average to below average and you will have to work gratis many times in order to build your resume. You must continue to study all disciplines. Be a triple threat. You must be able to sing and act, along with your dancing talents. Study everywhere and from everyone. Broaden your horizons. Consider related jobs, like choreography, directing, and teaching.

Handle and accept rejection. It is a big part of this world. Look at criticism as a learning experience, and use it to improve at your next audition. Persistance pays. When your face finally does become recognizable at auditions, you will start to get call backs, and this starts the ball rolling.

If you are truly dedicated, your persistence, discipline and love of the art form will get you through the tough times one day you will wake up and see your name on a program and it will all be worthwhile! Best of luck and if you want a headstart on the road to dancing success in New York, call Steps On Broadway, ask for me by name and say you heard of me on the PTC web site.

It’s not often you get the chance to speak to a director at one of the worlds leading dance schools so we were understandably keen to ask Jill all about it. What’s on offer at Steps? Who studies and teaches there? Is it available to non-Americans? And above all can anyone afford it!

Here’s what she said:

Steps On Broadway is on the upper West Side at 74th and Broadway in New York. It’s a dancer’s haven and one of the largest open enrollment, professional dance studios in the world. It is at center stage in the explosive and exciting dance world and its international world-class faculty epitomizes excellence in dance teaching in all its forms.

Steps is open seven days a week, year round with over 50 classes a day from basic to professional levels, in disciplines ranging from ballet, tap, jazz, musical theatre, modern, ethnic yoga, hip hop, tango, flamenco, to other specialty forms of dance. Six thousand people a week cross through the doors to select from a choice of 50 classes a day, taught by a variety of over 200 regular faculty members, as well as, 100 guest faculty. This rich creative environment provides a unique training ground for the beginner to professional student to nurture their talents and help them absorb the discipline of dance in all its forms. Our legendary studios offer dancers of all styles, levels, and ages the opportunity to partake in a unique dance experience.

Steps studios are home to a staff of accomplished teachers and musicians, including world renowned choreographers, performers, and company directors. This all goes to making Steps the exciting, innovative, creative and delightfully crazy place that it is and, further, makes it the ideal place for artists to evolve and mature. Only at Steps can you see Baryshnikov, and Jacques d’Amboise taking class together, spot Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca in the inimitable Willie Burmann’s class and wait! Mia Michaels is coming in for a week when only yesterday Anne Reinking was teaching a guest class!

A vast range of artists, and generally creative characters pass through the doors at Steps On Broadway: Tony Stevens, Chet Walker, Dana Moore, Donna Mckechnie ñ these people have written chapters in the Broadway history book. Weíve had Michael Flaherty rehearsing in the Loft studio, Christina Aguilera preparing for her world tour, David Howard, Peff Modelski, the list goes on and on. Teachers, writers, producers, artistic directors, all the Broadway gypsies, film and video performers, actors, singers, specialized performers and civilians from bag ladies to attorneys come to Steps to hone their skills on a daily basis. And why? Because at Steps On Broadway we’re attentive to our artists needs, we’re committed to your art, we work to extend your limits and we keep the beat for all styles, ages and levels.

For non Americans wishing to come and study at Steps, an International Student Visa Program is in the works. We cannot currently offer students a visa opportunity, but have applied for the program and hope to be authorized by the Federal Government to issue 1-20 Certificates of Eligibility to qualifying nonimmigrant students, for M-1 student visa status by late 2004. What this will mean is that students enrolled with us will be able to live, work and study hassle free in New York.

It needn’t be prohibitively expensive either. The Work/Study Program we provide enables dancers in need of financial assistance to take discounted classes in exchange for help with running the studio in areas such as, registration, record keeping, the cafÈ, boutique sales, assistant teaching, reception and cleaning and maintenance. Certain management and arts administration positions even offer students the opportunity to take classes at no charge at all!

This program affords dancers from all over the world the opportunity to develop as a dancer and performer, learn additional dance related skills, be surrounded by world-class dancers, teachers, and choreographers, while opening doors in the dance world and arts administration as well. The selection process is based on a desire to dance, the skills you can bring to the program, a personal interview (with me!) and successful completion of ten hours of training and a training evaluation.

At any one time there are 120 Work/Study students from all over the world on staff. It is a very transient program with 25 new students a month entering and leaving. Many students have been very clever about working the system and have been in an out of the Steps program for years without ever paying the full price for a class! The Work/Study Program is designed not only to allow you to study affordably but also to give you the flexibility to audition and work while you do so.

Another money saving programs on offer at Steps On Broadway is The Scholarship Ensemble Division. Students can audition for this – the Steps Performing Company – and enter onto what is truly a scholarship program. If accepted applicants receive free unlimited classes, company classes, individually designed curriculum, performance opportunities, choreography workshops from world- renowned choreographers, exposure on the web, and other perks. This program offers a more intense and structured level of training and development, with no work hours required. Company members work with our faculty in a personally designed and focused environment that is geared specifically to mentor, train, and set the ground work to launch talented dancers into successful careers.

At Steps On Broadway Performance Opportunities are many and include a Faculty Studio Performance each year, where students can take the opportunity to share their work in dance, music, song, or word, in a supportive environment made up of their peers. Works in progress, new creative ideas, or staging of old works are welcome and encouraged. Shows are supported by professional lighting, sound, and technical staff and seating for 120 is provided, along with program, professional videotaping, photography and box office and promotional support.

Another performance approach available at Steps is the Choreography Lab Series. This series is open to all established and emerging choreographers wanting to test or try out a performance piece. A ìbare bonesî lab environment is provided with simplistic lighting and production support. Audience members are invited to offer the performing artists confidential written feedback in an effort to enhance the creative process and to further the understanding between audience members and performing artists

Other programs offered at Steps include: specialized group visits, a curriculum based school for young dancers, ongoing workshops in specialized dance and choreographic subjects, lectures, alternative approaches such as yoga and pilates, and specific Masterclasses as well as Series with prominent teachers and specialists in dance and performing arts.

Steps On Broadway’s comprehensive classes are there to guide dancers through the early stages of establishing themselves as a dancer in New York.

I hope one day to see you here.

For more information on Steps On Broadway visit their web site at