Typecasting is repeatedly assigning a dancer (or actor) similar roles based on his or her appearance or “type.” You’ve probably heard of “types” such as “girl next door,” “bad boy,” “ingénue,” “showgirl,” “siren,” “villain,” and “quirky best friend.” If you’re 5’9” and still growing, you might be looked over for “younger” roles like Clara in The Nutcracker or Zaneeta in The Music Man. But you might be perfect for auditioning for The Radio City Rockettes, The Producers, and The Moulin Rouge. Realizing that typecasting is a very real factor in show business can be frustrating, but it can also give you an exciting and focused direction for your career. Here are a few ways to embrace your “type” without necessarily putting yourself in a box:
Understand your marketability: Take a moment to really analyze yourself—not in a critical way, but more observationally. How tall are you? Do you look older or younger than your age? What forms of dance have you trained in? How is that reflected on your resume? Once you’ve taken an objective look at yourself as a performer, start brainstorming some roles you might cast yourself in—not necessarily your “dream” roles, but ones you’d cast yourself in if you were a director. Figure out these characters “types”—do you notice any trends? You can certainly have more than one “type,” but understanding your niche will help you to tailor your look, resume, and training to work that you’re right for.
Do your research: If you’re more of an Anybodys (tomboy who wants to be a part of the Jets) than a Graziella (sassy ringleader of the Jet girls) in West Side Story, dress, dance, and act the part…pick sneakers instead of heels, go easy on the makeup, and maybe wear jazz pants and a tank top instead of a leotard and skirt. Pick a song that aligns with the character, too.
Recognize the role you’re going in for and represent yourself that way in the audition room, so casting can really see you in that part.
Look at role models: If you find yourself booking the same parts of some of your dance idols like Sutton Foster, Chita Rivera, or Charlotte d’Amboise. look at their careers and analyze how their success has come from their “type” (or many “types”). What styles of dance did they focus on? How did the roles they played evolve over time? What other special skills did they cultivate? Looking up to role models can help you realize the many different roles and “types” you might be right for throughout your own professional career.
Don’t limit yourself: If your dream roles don’t match up with the roles you’d objectively cast yourself in, try to understand why. If you dream of becoming a Rockette but just barely hit the height requirement, wear a higher cut leotard to make yourself appear taller. If you want to be in Hamilton but don’t show any theatre or hip-hop dance experience on your resume, focus on training in those styles and gaining some stepping-stone performance opportunities. Your “type” will keep evolving throughout your career, and it’s important to cultivate as many styles as possible so you can adapt to new roles and opportunities.
Realize that times are changing: Just because casting was done a certain way in the past does not mean that it is set in stone. Recent Broadway productions like Hamilton, Carousel, and Pippin and companies like ABT and Matthew Bourne have all broken from “traditional casting”—and they’ve had great success due to those choices. We live in an exciting age where dancers of different races, sexual orientations, and body types are being evermore celebrated.
Understanding typecasting can be difficult, and if you need a little more guidance, reach out to your dance teachers, team coaches, and mentors. Never let someone tell you that you can’t do something. But realize that if you don’t fit a certain “type,” you might have to work harder to achieve that job.