If you’re an energetic, enthusiastic and expressive dancer looking for a fun and challenging performance job, theme park performances are a great option to explore! And with more than 60,000 cast members employed at the park as performers and characters, Disney World is an awesome place to try.
I spoke to one of those performers, Ty, who dances at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Ty is 23 and grew up in Florida, so Disney was never too far away. Here’s what he had to say about dancing everyday at “the happiest place on Earth”:
Me: So, let’s start at the beginning. When did you start dancing and what type of training did you have?
Ty: I started dancing in 2010 at a local studio that focused on competition dancing. From there I went to college to study dance with a focus in classical ballet and various forms of modern dance. All other training came from experiences in small companies as an apprentice or company member.
Me: And then eventually you got to Disney. What made you decide to audition for a job in the entertainment section of Disney World?
Ty: It was on a whim. The company I dance for was about to be off season and I needed a summer job. I went to a cattle call audition and was hired on the spot. They assured me of how fortunate I was and how it rarely happens for most performers that way.
Me: Wow, that’s so impressive! What was the audition process like?
Ty: There are about four rounds. The first is basic movement that travels across the floor. They look at your face and build for costumes and character stuff. Then there’s a series of jazz squares and waves that you have to make very natural-looking. The next round is a movement phase which incorporates the movement quality of the shows within the park. After that, it’s “animation” which is essentially a game of charades in a small group where you create a story or scenario based on themes the casting director gives. If they ask for a fourth round of people to perform something, it’s usually to cast something specific, like a new show or a rare role. That doesn’t happen often.
Me: That’s such a full audition: across the floor combos, waving, and group acting exercises! Now that you’re an official Disney entertainment employee, talk about what you actually do. Where do you perform?
Ty: I’m “global” but Animal Kingdom mostly.
(The term “global” means Ty can perform in a number of different shows at different locations in Disney World.)
Me: What are the shows you perform in like?
Ty: The shows I’m in are fun and cute. The movement is based strongly in character and character-like dancing. A fun aspect that some may find hard to get used to is the absence of the fourth wall. Guests are on your level so you can see them and they can see you seeing them. You are expected to interact with them, within the confines of your choreography. Some performers love it. Others, like myself, find it to be a bit of a balancing act. Like any challenge, it’s cool once you get the hang of it.
Me: That is definitely something unique to theme park entertainment. It would take me so long to get used to interacting with the audience like that. What about rehearsals? I’m sure a lot goes into the shows before the guests see them.
Ty: Rehearsals can vary. If it’s a shorter rehearsal period, like a week, you will probably be there overnight every night. If it’s longer, a week to two weeks, the rehearsals will vary between morning and night rehearsals. You stretch and then you spend hours of rigorous study on a show you will do so much, you wake up screaming in your sleep! The rehearsals are run by maintenance choreographers, whose job is to maintain the integrity of the movement and characters of a specific show. Every now and then your director and/or original choreographer will come and check on your progress. There are a few choreographers who are very hands-on with their show and will be there throughout the rehearsal process.
Me: And are you cast in the same role in the show each time you rehearse and perform it?
Ty: Rehearsals aren’t a guarantee of casting. They’re more like auditions. If you make it through the rehearsal, you deserve to perform it, but they can deny you of that if they have a better casting decision in mind.
Me: So, what’s the most challenging part of dancing at Disney?
Ty: The most challenging part of working here is that you’re a very small fish. Scheduling and casting is based on seniority because it’s much easier to consider the talent and work ethic of the [more seasoned] performer.
Me: What about your favorite part?
Ty: When you’re in a show because it’s a much friendlier environment- the smaller cast allows you to interact with your managers and directors more.
Me: Final question, what advice do you have for young dancers looking to potentially go into theme park entertainment like you?
Ty: I would just say it’s a job, so carry yourself like a professional. Talk to your superiors. Remember to choose your relationships wisely because not every girl in the tunnel is the Anna to your Elsa and not every boy down there is that prince you have been waiting to rescue you from life for 20 years. So share responsibly. You don’t need distraction because moving up is hard and if you truly want to strive you must be smart, tactical, and focused.
Thanks to Ty for sharing his experiences! If this sounds like a performance job you’d love to have, check out open call auditions for theme parks. There are several parks throughout the country that have performances throughout the year that require lots of talented dancers.
Emily Strickland is a professional ballet dancer and writer from Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is currently dancing with Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas, where she’s had the opportunity to perform ballets like The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake, as well as in a collaborative performance with Cirque du Soleil. Previously she was an artist at Columbia Classical Ballet and a trainee at Richmond Ballet, where she was the featured soloist in Connor Frain’s premiere piece “Inertia”. She has trained with Richmond Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Festival Ballet Providence, Nashville Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition, she is a ballet instructor at Avery Ballet.
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