Ep. 130 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep. 130 Transcript

[Motivational Intro Music] Chelsea: Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea! Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast where, today, I’m talking with New York City-based professional dancer, Courtney Ortiz. Her career spans from stage to screen with credits including the Broadway National Tour of Finding Neverland, Lin Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring The Rockettes, and so much more. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to audition and perform in New York City, Courtney shares some great advice, and we cover the mental aspects of being a professional adult performer and how to pick up choreography quickly. That part you might want to share with any of your dancers who say they only dance to the lyrics or the rhythm and they can't count. Courtney has some great points about being able to pick up choreography quickly and adapt in a professional setting. Spoiler alert: you have to count! There’s even more to the conversation when we turn to judging. Outside of performing, Courtney is an international dance educator and in-demand dance adjudicator as well. She’s been teaching on faculty with numerous dance conventions and is currently on guest faculty at the legendary Steps on Broadway. So, of course, I asked about teaching and judging and how you build your confidence as a judge and if judges can really tell if you're nervous based on your walk on. Okay, let’s get to this! Here’s my conversation with New York City-based professional dancer, Courtney Ortiz! _______ [Motivational Intro Music] Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this! [Motivational Intro Music] _______   Chelsea: Hi Courtney! Welcome to the show! Courtney: Hi! Thanks so much for having me! Chelsea: Of course! I was excited to bring you on. I loved being a guest on Making The Impact podcast with you. Courtney: Yeah! Chelsea: And it was finally time! Thank you for coming and talking with me. I wanted to hear more about you and your journey and your story. So will you just please introduce yourself? Let us know your dance journey. Courtney’s Dance Journey – 2:20Courtney: Sure. So my name is Courtney Ortiz. I live in New York City. I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland. That’s where I grew up, and I grew up training there at a competitive dance studio my entire childhood, and I ended up wanting to pursue this as a career and move to New York City for school. At 18, I went to Marymount Manhattan, and I definitely felt pressured to go to school from my parents, so I kind of just pleased them and went to college for them, but I really wanted to jump into the industry right away. School didn't last for me, unfortunately. I gave it a try. Chelsea: Hey, we tried. That’s good. Yep. Courtney: Yes, we did. We did the thing, and I ended up leaving early and going straight into my first professional job dancing on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which is where I actually met my co-host on my podcast, Lesley, and we were roommates on that ship, our very first job together. After that, I saved all my money and moved to New York City and then started my professional performance career, which has been just a dream, and I’m still here. I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world performing, and I’ve dabbled in all sides of the professional industry. So I primarily have worked in a lot of different musicals and performance contracts, West Side Story, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, In The Heights, Finding Neverland, a lot of musicals that I’ve been a part of. Then I have always actually been involved heavily in teaching. That also kind of fell into my lap very early on when I was young. I was honestly not even really experienced to be considered a teacher. I got an opportunity to teach on a dance convention, which is wild and crazy at, like, 21 years old. That’s what kind of broke me into the education side of my career, which I’m always, looking back, just so grateful for because I have a huge passion for it, and I’ve been lucky enough to be on multiple different dance conventions for the last decade. And so, now, I’m still performing occasionally, the life of a New York City auditioning dancer, but I also heavily focus on the teaching aspect of my career where I get to travel and go teach on dance convention faculty as a jazz teacher. I teach at Steps on Broadway in New York City, and it’s just been a dream! Looking back, it’s a beautiful career. Chelsea: Yeah! Courtney: I also have a business as well, which is my side hustle, I’d say. So whenever I’m not teaching, not at an audition, not performing, I am at home in my home office either recording a podcast or also working on my side hustle, which is called Impact Dance Adjudicators. We supply judges to dance competitions. So we created a service, essentially, for the competitive dance industry where we prescreen and vet an entire roster of judges where we work with different competitions to provide them with the quality judges they're looking for to sit behind a table and help inspire the next generation. Chelsea: I love that. Courtney: Yeah! Courtney Talks In The Heights – 5:27Chelsea: Wow, and so many good things. Okay. I want to talk specifically about the teaching and the judging piece because I know that’s a lot of my audience. But before I go there, I just have to say, when you're throwing out “the things I’ve done,” In The Heights has to be my favorite thing I’ve ever seen. I loved that. How was In The Heights? Was it fun to do? Courtney: Okay, I will tell you very briefly that it was a dream. Actually, when I look back at it, it was always something that I wanted to achieve in my career, so it was one of the very first musicals I saw when I moved to New York City because In The Heights was existing on Broadway around 2006-2009. I moved here in 2007, so it was one of the shows that I saw. My last name’s Ortiz. I grew up in a very predominantly white neighborhood of — my neighborhood in Maryland was very predominately white. There weren't many other Hispanic people around, but I’m also barely Hispanic. I’m only a quarter. My dad is half Italian, half Mexican. But for some reason, when I got to see In The Heights and see this type of representation onstage and seeing this culture being shown on Broadway in such a unique, different way, it really hit me. Also seeing the dancing in the show. Chelsea: Yes, I love the dancing in the show! Courtney: I mean, absolutely unreal. Unreal! Chelsea: So good. Courtney: I saw that, and I sat in the audience, and I was like I know I can be in this show, and I need to be in this show. So, at the time, I was just breaking into the industry as a brand-new Broadway dancer in New York City, young and green and 19. I went to every In The Heights audition I possibly could, and I got very, very close to getting the national tour many times, and I just never got it. And then fast forward to many more years later where I had more experience under my belt, and they did the show at Pittsburgh CLO, it’s a regional theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and they did the original Broadway choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler. A lot of the original castmates were a part of the production. It was only a one-month run of the show, but I got to be the exact dancer role that I wanted to be that I saw ten years earlier. I was just like a dream come true! I couldn't have asked for anything more. Chelsea: Yeah! That is such a good resilience story, too, of you had this dream. It didn't happen the first time or the first few times, and then deciding that doesn't mean it’s over. Courtney: Yeah. Exactly. That’s the tough thing for dancers to kind of figure out because a lot of dancers really will get discouraged right away and say, “Oh, well, I guess I can't do this! This isn't in the cards for me. I can't deal with the rejection,” and it’s like of course that’s a part of this world. It’s a part of life in general. But I truly thought that chance for me was completely done because the show was no longer on Broadway. The show was no longer touring. So you’re thinking, “Okay, I guess it’s not gonna happen.”  Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: But you never know. Chelsea: Right, and you know me, I go right to the mindset place of so when you go to audition for the show when it’s back and you get a chance to go do it in the other theatre, were you more nervous or was it more like excitement that there’s this opportunity. What was your mindset about the audition? Courtney: I was super thrilled for the opportunity, and I was nervous because I asked my agent for an audition and they didn't do agent auditions, so you had to go to the open cattle call to be considered for this, and I knew I needed to go, but of course, there’s always something that gets in your way. I was on a teaching gig the weekend before, and I was flying in at the time of the audition, so I wasn't gonna be able to make it to the female-identifying dancer audition. So I took a risk, and I went to the male dancer audition. Chelsea: Wow. Courtney: I was hoping that they would see me, and luckily, I was two females that were in the room with a bunch of men, and maybe that helped me chances. I don't know. Maybe it did. But I felt very confident walking in and holding my own against a pool of male dancers. And then we also had to do some Latin partnering, and I have had the opportunity to work with the actual choreographer of the Latin movement in a previous show that I did. So then I already knew what I was doing. I was like, “Okay, I got this!” I’d done all the work and put in the time everywhere else to feel confident, but I was definitely nervous. I think I was just nervous because of my audition situation, you know? Chelsea: Sure. Yeah. Courtney: So not being around the girls, and going with the guys, and not knowing any of the choreographers either, but I think I made a good impression, and then it all happened to work out! Chelsea: What a crazy audition story. But you're right. I think confidence comes so much when we can look back like, “I did the work. I’ve done this training.” Courtney: Yes. Chelsea: Which is, as you said, different from when you audition the first time around when you were first in the industry. Courtney: Exactly. Chelsea: It’s having that underneath you, yeah. Courtney: Because if people know In The Heights, it’s very hip-hop movement, contemporary styles, but then there’s a whole Latin dance section. Chelsea: Right. Courtney: The first time when I auditioned, that was the final part where you have to partner someone and do Latin ballroom. I’d never done that in my entire life, so I did not feel confident at all doing that. And then this next time around, years later, I’ve done a Latin partnering show at this point. I have the experience under my belt. I’ve made the right connections to be able to feel confident in that moment later. Sometimes that’s what needs to happen is you just have to wait and put the work in and that’s when your time will come. Chelsea: Yes, such good advice. Thank you! Okay, thank you for the sidebar story before we get into judging and teaching. Courtney: Yeah! The Mental Skills Involved in Judging – 11:10Chelsea: I just love it. Okay, I want to talk about judging because I know with your competitive dance world experience and, as you said, running your side gig that is such a successful business but is technically a side gig. I love that. Courtney: [Laughs] Chelsea: I want to talk about the mental skills involved in judging because I think we don't always remember that judges are human, and judges are also dealing with their own mental skills and trying to be confident. So, speaking about confidence, do you think it’s important for the judge to be confident in their role? If so, how does a judge build their confidence? Courtney: Yeah, that’s a tough question. It is a hard job to be a competitive dance judge, and it’s blown up in the industry for sure, as far as just competitions in general. I mean, when I was growing up, there weren't a lot of competitions. There were maybe 30, 40 maximum. Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: Now there are 200+ in just The United States. So there’s such a demand and need for dance competition judges. The hardest part I think is finding judges that can cover every genre of dance. I think that is the most insane expectation of our industry to be able to be “qualified enough” to sit behind that table. I think that a lot of the attendees will always find something to complain about when it comes to a dance competition judge, whether it’s, “Oh, you don't know how to score,” or “Oh, your bio is nothing but ballet, so how do you know how to judge tap?” or “Oh, wow, you obviously have never taken a hip-hop class before because you're using incorrect terms in your critiques.” There’s always something. Chelsea: Right. Courtney: So then it just kind of really pushes us down and really makes us not feel confident, to be completely honest. Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: Even if we feel like we have done the work and have the training to back up what we’re saying, there are so many times that I have questioned myself as a tap judge when I grew up training in tap my entire life. And sure, I’m not actively teaching tap. That’s not really where my career is taking me, but if I go to an audition and I tap, I’m one of the stronger ones in the room. Now, there is a difference between being a great tap dancer and being a great tap judge or being a great tap teacher. But I will say that, specifically when it comes to tap, that’s where I think most judges lack confidence because even the strongest tap dancers and tap judges have a hard time critiquing it. If you really think about it, you have to be listening to what’s happening, with the music, the tempo, and the rhythms that the dancers are creating because they're using their shoe as an instrument. To then add a layer of dialogue on top of that, it’s kind of hard. Chelsea: Right. Courtney: I think that a lot of the people that always complain about tap in particular on their critiques, I think you have to take a step back and try it for yourself first before you judge the judges on how they're delivering their feedback because it’s a whole different world. It’s completely different than being in the front of the room doing the steps with your feet and explaining it. You have to just sit there and listen and try to give some helpful feedback when you're trying to decipher, “What did I just watch? What was that sound supposed to be? What were we even going for there?” So I think that is definitely discouraging for a lot of judges who also might not feel strong in tap, and they know they're about to get bashed probably no matter what, because maybe they're a jazz dancer, or maybe they excel at lyrical, or maybe they're a fantastic hip-hop dancer, but they're not the strongest tapper. So I would say tap is one of the harder genres that feels a little bit discouraging when it comes to sitting behind the table and feeling confident. I think it’s just that expectation of being expected to be experts in every genre of dance is something that’s hard for a lot of judges to wrap their head around. Chelsea: Right. I agree. I think there are two pieces to that. One, we have the expectation that you're an expert in everything, which is an unrealistic expectation. Then it’s kind of back to rejection or that you know you're gonna get yelled at, you know you're gonna be in trouble. And so, it’s really hard to perform your duties, in this case, giving good feedback. It’s really hard to perform, and you're like, “I know this isn't gonna go well.” It’s hard to ask that of people. Agreed. Courtney: It has gotten to a point where judges are scared. Judges have literally come to me saying, “I am questioning if I should be sitting behind this table anymore.” I tell them, well, on my end, in particular, we vet our judges to join Impact Dance Adjudicators. We make them submit three different styles of critiques, and we listen to them, we analyze them, we give them feedback on how they can be better. We wouldn't have brought them into the roster if we didn't see their potential as a judge. So I always remind them, “We think you're great, and the only way you're gonna get better at judging is getting out there and doing it. So don't second guess yourself. You’ve made it to this point to be able to join our roster, and our roster, we feel, is very boutique and prestigious in the industry,” which we’ve created a great name for ourselves, and it really stirred the pot a bit as far as the expectation of the judges behind the table, but because of that pressure, it’s almost getting in their head a little bit of, “Oh, no, am I living up to that expectation as well and delivering?” Chelsea: Absolutely. Oh, yeah, and I know I judged for a long time but have definitely stepped back from it because it was not fun anymore in the sense that the teacher in me loved it because I was like I get to connect and try to serve and help. And then it got to a place where it was like there’s too much pressure. I don't like this anymore. Courtney: I know! Chelsea: This doesn't have that same — yeah. I personally lost the joy in it. But I think that doesn't have to be true, right? Like you said, knowing that it’s okay to be a beginner at it. It’s okay to get through it and get better as you're doing it. I love that you're helping those judges feel better about it. That’s great. Courtney: I agree. I know a lot of judges that are in that position where they're like, “I used to love this. I don't really love it anymore,” and it’s also just how the industry has shifted as well. It’s turned into a place where, yes, we’re here to help the dancers, but also the teachers have somehow been completely eliminated and pulled away from the equation of competition critique, and I think that a lot of judges find frustration in that because there are a lot of things that if the teachers just tweaked this training method or if the teachers just tweaked the song choice or changed the costume or something like that, and if we as judges, we’re allowed to say that, then there would be more progress in the industry. But we’ve almost been silenced from speaking to the choreographers and the teachers and the studio owners, so a lot of judges just find it really frustrating. We’re almost limiting what we’re able to share and our opinions and what we’ve learned from our training. So a lot of people have said, “I don't really want to do this anymore,” and I’m like I get it, I do, but I hope that our industry starts to shift a bit where, with competitions, we’ll start listening to conversations like these to open up the dialogue a bit, in a very constructive way, to the teachers and the choreographers. Chelsea: Yeah, oh, that’s a really good point. I think it’s back to what’s the point of the competition? Are we there to educate and learn and grow from it? If that’s truly the purpose, you can't limit or restrict what you're able to talk about like that. You're missing what you should be able to get out of a competition. Courtney: Yeah, totally agree. Do Judges Notice Body Language? – 19:12Chelsea: Okay, when I think about judges, and when I was judging too, I always hear dancers tell each other and stuff to take the stage with confidence, hold your head up because the judges can tell if you're nervous, right? There’s always that dialogue. Do you agree? Do you think judges notice the body language cues, and does that influence your judging if it looks like dancers are nervous when they're taking the stage? Courtney: We can tell, definitely. I mean, I can tell by, like you said, the body language. I think that’s usually the one thing that you can kind of get a taste of the dancer, even just how they walk onstage. It is interesting. That’s our first impression, and you never know. A judge could have their head down finishing up their scores or writing notes or something for that walk onto stage or they might be watching you. The moment you step out of those wings, that’s our very, very first impression, even before the music has started. So you have to get into that mindset of here we go. I’m in my “character.” Whatever place you need to be to get emotionally connected and invested into the performance that you're about to deliver. So even just the way you walk onstage tells me so much in your body language on are you terrified in this moment, are you confident and ready to give us your all, or are you just like, “Here we go! Let’s just do this,” you know? And there are a lot of dancers who change my mind after they start performing. I feel like, “Oh, man. They look super, super nervous with that walk on,” and then they just blow my mind when the music starts. I’m like, “Wow!” And maybe they just needed the music to get into it, but I do think it does change the approach and it does change 100% the performance score on if you are — I mean, let’s be real. We’re all gonna be nervous. I get nervous going onstage. It doesn't matter what I’m doing. I can only imagine, especially for soloists, in particular, getting onstage, being in that vulnerable place where it’s just you, stage lights, and an open stage. That’s kind of terrifying if you think about it. So I’m sure that all dancers have the butterflies and jitters before they go onstage, but also remembering that that is your safe place, and you are here because you love it, and you are here to show us your hard work and your passion for dance. If you really dig deep to try to find that, I think that you can get that performance quality up a bit and let that lack of confidence, if that’s what it is, or terrified, scared expression just pass by and dig deep to find that performance because that is a part of the score – performance. Chelsea: It is. Yeah, and I was hoping you would say that you could tell, and you see it and it influences because I was — same idea of getting in that right mindset of you can't wait for the music to start to be in the right place. Courtney: Right. Chelsea: So if you're not there by the walk on, for most dancers, it’s not gonna miraculously change when the music starts. And so, it’s like how you're talking to yourself and what you're thinking about matters before the music starts, but you're gonna see it in your body, and the judges see it too. Courtney: Exactly. Chelsea: I figured you’d agree. Thank you. Courtney: [Laughs] Creating a Safe Space in Class – 22:33Chelsea: All right, let’s turn to teaching, since, again, I know most people listening are teachers and coaches. Will you talk about creating a safe space in your class? I’ve seen you kind of talk about it before. It’s something that seems to be really important to you. Do you believe it’s a teacher’s responsibility to create that culture in a classroom? And if so, how do you create that positive class experience? Courtney: Yeah, I absolutely do. I mean, you have to make sure that your dancers feel safe with you, feel like they can be open with you, and like we just said, dance can be very vulnerable, and you have to really find that expression through your movement usually. So creating that environment even in something as a training class or choreography class or an improv class or a jazz class, a hip-hop class. Whatever it is, I think that environment is what is really going to make the dancers fall in love with dance even more. So that is such a huge skill to learn how to do, and a lot of teachers are great at it, and others might struggle with that, pending what their experiences were like in their studio setting growing up. I think that a lot of people always go back to that. We, as educators, always reference back to what did we learn when we were younger, and sometimes if you look back, maybe the environment that you had wasn't the best, but maybe that’s all you know, and you never have had another opportunity that was welcoming and warm and encouraging. So you want to try to create that appropriate environment. I mean, of course, we have to be harsh sometimes. We have to reprimand a little bit sometimes, for discipline purposes, but at the same time, you don't want to scare dancers off. I know for me, right now I’m teaching a lot in New York City at Steps on Broadway, and I think one of the harder things to think about in those types of settings for me is it’s a different approach than if I’m teaching kids because I’m now working with adults and professionals usually. So how do I create an environment for them that they want to continue to come back to my class versus in a studio setting, the kids are registered usually for the whole year. Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: They're probably coming back next week. They're in this studio training setting, and there are a bunch of different teachers that they're learning from every single day every single week. So you don't want them to go to another studio. You want to keep them in the studio as well. But especially when I teach at Steps, it is challenging for me to create a place where I feel like I’m not overstepping my position as a teacher because a lot of times I’m the same age as the dancers that are dancing in the room with me, and it feels a little like a different approach that I’m still navigating where I don't want to give them too many corrections and scare them off because they're professionals. Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: You know? Chelsea: It is different. Courtney: I think about it all the time because it’s very different. Whereas when it’s younger dancers, studio kids, 18 and younger, I’m the adult in the room. I’m the experienced professional in the room. So I’m happy to go give them corrections. It’s what I’m there to do, and I’ve talked to different professionals about it, class takers that take class regularly in New York, and something I always mention to people that sometimes you don't realize is that once you become an adult in this dance world, once you become a professional, you kind of stop getting criticism and feedback and corrections. Chelsea: Mm-hmm. Interesting. Courtney: You know, in an audition setting, you go to auditions, and you get cut, and you don't know why, and you wonder and question, “Why did I get cut,” for years and years and years. They never give you feedback. The people behind the table don't say, “Oh, well, it was because you didn't point your foot on that battement.” That’s not what — they never tell you it. So it’s probably not even that. It was probably you wore the wrong outfit, or they didn't like your hair or whatever it is, you know? Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: So it’s an interesting thing to try to create that appropriate atmosphere in the room. Even speaking on auditions, I actually just finished yesterday. I teach for RWS Entertainment, which is a company based in New York City, but they cast for cruise ships. I am the audition choreographer for them. So we just had two rounds of New York City auditions in the past two days, and that’s another thing that I try to bring into that atmosphere of the room is a safe environment where we’re not overly judging you, where you feel like you don't have to be exactly perfect all the time, because auditions are so scary and stressful, and if there are smiling, happy faces behind the table, it’s gonna make your experience more enjoyable, and you can relax, and you can perform your best. I’ve been in so many audition rooms where I’m terrified, I don't like the vibe, and if I’m not vibing with the energy in the room, I’m probably not gonna like the job if I got the job, you know? Chelsea: Right. Yeah. Courtney: So I think it all ties in from the training to the class taking to auditioning to being a studio owner. Chelsea: Absolutely. Oh, it’s all the same, but I think that’s such an interesting point about not ever really getting feedback so much as an adult. Courtney: Yes. Chelsea: It’s like such a weird irony. I’m finally in a place as an adult where I want the feedback. Tell me what I’m doing. We have moved past some of the insecurities where you want more of that, but then you're not getting it anymore. Courtney: Exactly. Chelsea: I can see that’s such a challenge to navigate that as peers even, yeah. Courtney: I think the mental aspect of being a professional adult performer is so hard to navigate. It is something that — I’ve never even really thought about the mental health aspect of dance much until I started to be professional and thinking about rejection, always questioning the why, not understanding why this happened, not understanding how casting works, not understanding how Broadway works, and that most of the time, you have to fit into the costume of the replacement because it’s gonna save the producers money, and it has nothing to do with your talent. It has nothing to do with this or that. It’s something so miniscule and small that has nothing to do with all the work you’ve put in for your training. That was such a hard thing for me to get my head wrapped around when I was first breaking in because I was like, “I was the best dancer in the room. Why did I get cut?” And it was, “Well, you're 5’2”, and they wanted to hire a 5’8”.” Oh, okay, well, I guess that makes me feel a little bit better? But also… Chelsea: Right. Like, I can't control that, but… [Laughs] Courtney: Yes! But that’s the thing that’s hard to figure out. I think that can be absolutely relatable to a lot of dancers that are training in studios as well or even teachers who might be looking for a new teaching job or things. There are so many things that are out of your control that you’ve done what you could, and it was just not meant to be in that moment, and you have to take it as a steppingstone and a choice and just change it up next time and see if anything works better in your favor. You just really never know. That’s a tough thing to figure out in this industry. Chelsea: It is. Well, and it’s something I talk about a lot that my listeners are familiar with of that idea of control the controllables, and I love that you're saying that in the professional industry it’s the same thing. You can control, basically, your concentration, your focus and attitude, and your effort, and then beyond that, the person behind the table’s making choices that you may not be able to do anything different to change what they're looking for. Courtney: It’s funny because, especially being on the other side of the table now, and when I teach on conventions even, a lot of times, they have audition classes. So I love auditioning. I have always been the type of dancer that has really enjoyed it. I look at every experience as a new class, a new opportunity. I learn new things from the choreographers. I like getting in front of people. I like learning on the spot. I like that competitive feel in the room. It’s exciting for me. There are a lot of people that don't like auditioning, but I do feel like that’s a different approach when I’m sitting on the opposite end and not being the auditioner and now being the audition choreographer and getting to see how casting is determining certain things. It’s truly eye opening, and it’s made me learn, “Hmm.” I’ve learned so much from the choices that people are making in front of me on how I could do better the next time I’m in that position. And of course, not everyone’s gonna get an opportunity to sit behind the table, but I think it is interesting to see how it all works. There is more that is out of your control in those moments where you've done what you could, but at the same time, again, it goes back to the feedback like do you want to know what you could have done better next time? And most of the time, you never get to hear that unless you're an 18 and younger training dancer who’s going to competitions and requesting that type of feedback or at the studio regularly. Chelsea: I love your mindset about auditions and going into it as a learning experience. I think when your frame around that experience is I get to show, I’m excited, I love the energy, rather than I have to prove, it’s like I get to show, and that is a subtle mindset shift, but I imagine it makes a big difference in not only your experience in the room but your opportunities to get jobs because of that mindset approach to auditions. Courtney: Absolutely, and too, let’s be real, there are some auditions that I would go to that I was just like, “Meh, I’m just going to go. This is the only audition today. I don't really want this job, but maybe it’ll be fun. It’s a great class,” and your approach when you walk in is very different than if you're going in for that job that you want. If you want that job, you're gonna be completely tuned in, focused, doing whatever it takes, or just kind of going through the motions, and, “I’m just here to be here.” So even that type of mindset is interesting to think about. When I look back, too, I’ve been way more selective with what I go into now. I’m not really gonna go waste my time, but when I was first starting out, I would go to absolutely everything just to kind of get my name out there and get the experience. I mean, now I’m wondering could they tell behind the table because of my body language if I was in it to win it or just kind of showing up today, you know what I mean? Chelsea: Right! Yeah, maybe they could. Courtney: I know. Chelsea: Well, and you said that you like learning on the spot in the audition setting of having that quick choreography, and I feel like that’s such a unique skill for dancers, and there are some dancers that are like, “Oh, I just don't learn fast,” and it’s become this fixed-mindset thing of, “I just can't do that.” Courtney: Right. Yep. Courtney’s Tips for Picking Up Choreography Quickly – 33:48Chelsea: So I assume if you like it you feel like you're also relatively good at it or it wouldn't be fun. [Laughs] So any thoughts or tips for dancers or choreographers who are teaching, either side of this, about picking up choreography quickly? Courtney: Absolutely! I’ll definitely start on the teaching and choreography end of it. I can't remember where I’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s an interesting perspective and approach because I’ve been on all sides of it, and there have been many times where even if I’m taking a class or if I’m going to an audition where, as the dancer in the room learning the material, if the choreographer is not giving me the tools to succeed and giving me the details properly, teaching it accurately, giving the timing, the counts, the musicality, the where’s my focus supposed to be here — I mean, if the actual teacher isn't a good teacher, then I'm not gonna succeed, and that’s something I’ve been so frustrated in rooms so many times about because, again, I know that I’m a great dancer that can pick up things quickly. But if you aren't explaining it properly, how am I supposed to do my job? [Laughs] Chelsea: Right. Yeah. Courtney: Here’s another spinoff to that. A lot of people who are doing these choreography jobs, a lot of the choreographers, they’re hired to be a choreographer, not a teacher. Now, there are two different — Chelsea: A different skillset. Courtney: Yes, different skillset. There are some exceptional choreographers out there that will blow your mind with what they end up creating. They are the artist. They are the creator. But they need other people to then dissect it and explain it to then teach it to other people, and that is okay. Everyone has their strengths, their weaknesses. But a lot of times choreographers will be put in positions where they have to teach, and maybe it’s not their strength, and then the dancers in the room are frustrated and confused because they aren't getting those tools. So I always try to approach, on my end, from all the years that I’ve been an auditioning dancer in New York City and all the different experiences I’ve had, that I want to give the dancers the tools to succeed when I am the choreographer. So I let them ask me questions. I give them the counts. I give them the rhythm. I give them the lyrics. I give them every head look. I demonstrate it for them if I have to. I want to make sure that you are going to have the best audition that you can have, and with that, they will probably succeed and feel good when they leave the room. I think that’s the important thing. Sure, we’re gonna have a good day and a bad day. Maybe they taught it faster than you wanted, but they taught it well, and it was actually you today that wasn't — you weren't there, and you weren't picking it up as fast as you wanted to because there’s that scenario too. But if I have the time and I can teach it thoroughly and I can tell that the dancers really grasp the material properly, then it’s a win for me because I’ve done my job, and now it’s up to the dancer. Chelsea: Right.  Courtney: So, for the dancers out there who are feeling frustrated if they're not able to pick up the material quick, it might not be you all the time, and I want them to know that. Chelsea: That’s a good point! Courtney: Yeah, it’s like, I mean, who knows. It might be you. You might feel like, “Well, they really did give me a lot of details, but what’s wrong? I can't get this quick enough,” and to me, I just always say if you're not a counter, start counting because me as a counter, the choreographer might not give you the counts, and they might say, “A-shoon-ta-ta,” but I’ll always know in my head, “A-one-and-two.” Everybody learns differently, but if that works for you, then do that. If the choreographer is counting and you don't like to count and you like a rhythm, then put it into your head as a rhythm. They said, “It’s one-and-two, three-and-four.” Then you go, “A-shoon-ta-ta, a-foom-ba-ba.” Whatever you need to do to make it work for you as the individual because everyone’s gonna learn differently, and you have to be adaptable and willing to work on the fly, and I think that’s probably what could hinder dancers from picking up quickly is if they're only ever learning one way of learning in their studio setting, then they're never being exposed to other ways of taking in the material. So getting out into different types of classes with different types of teachers, that’s why I’m a huge fan of dance conventions because they really just kind of put you through, “Okay, you're in a jazz class over here. You're in contemporary over here. You've gotta go to hip-hop in the next hour,” and your brain’s moving a mile a minute and trying to switch gears to adapt to different teaching methods, different genres of dance, and how to interpret the material. So I think the more experience in that, the better. Chelsea: Yeah, absolutely. I think you're right. We get comfortable learning from a certain person or two in your studio, which is great, and there’s a comfortability with that and a place for growth. But for picking up choreography, you have to test lots of different ways of learning it, and I love that you talk about the rhythm versus the counts. I was talking to another professional about this. I always say I am a counter. I have to have counts. If I don't, it drives me crazy. I will find them. I will count anything. He was like, “I’m all rhythm. Screw the counts. I can't do it.” Courtney: Yeah. Yeah! Chelsea: It’s like you can be successful both ways, but I like your point that it definitely influences how you pick up choreography, because if the teacher is doing it in your not-preferred style, I could see some dancers kind of just shut down, and they're like, “Ugh, he’s not counting. I can't do this.” Courtney: Exactly. Chelsea: It’s like, okay, that’s not how it’s being taught, but how do you receive it, and can you put it in the way it fits you. Courtney: Absolutely. Yeah, there have been so many times when I’m in that position all the time because I’m also a counter. So I will, no matter what, convert it into counts in my head, and I’ll hear them say it, then I’ll watch them demonstrate it, and most of the time when they demonstrate it, it’s not the counts or the rhythm that they said it was supposed to be, and then I’m like, “Oh, so you're doing that on the “and” not the “five.” Okay, got it. It’s in my head now. I hear that musicality.” I have to really make sure I’m connecting it to the music for it to really sink in. Chelsea: Sure. Courtney: Because the choreographer understands it best. They created it. So it could be harder for them to explain it properly, and then when they demonstrate it and you're like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Those are not the counts that you said,” That’s always the most frustrating part for me as a learner. Chelsea: Yes! Yes. Courtney: It sometimes happens. Chelsea: It does. I think lots of dancers, when I think about younger studio and school teams, sometimes you will learn the entire thing almost and then put it to music, and then there’s like, “Oh, I can't do it,” or “I can't go that fast,” and it’s like, well, because maybe the counts were wrong. Courtney: Right. Chelsea: Or there’s a musicality that’s not a straight count that you haven't heard before. Courtney: Yep. Rhythm and Counts – 40:37Chelsea: So, yeah. Will you speak to that? When you teach, do you go more back and forth from counts to music to help make sure that that doesn't happen? Courtney: Yeah. I always will give a count, and I always tell everyone that. I start off class, especially if it’s new dancers, and I say, “I’m a counter, so if you don't like counts, start loving counts.” Chelsea: [Laughs]  Courtney: “But I will give you the tools to succeed,” so if there is a lyric that I’m hitting a certain move on within my choreography, I’ll be like, “This is on the lyric ‘and,’” or whatever the lyric may be. “But it’s also count five.” So I will try to connect those dots so they're learning in the process of, “Oh, wow, okay! I see what we’re going for here because most of the time I will sing the rhythm as well as I count it. So if there’s syncopation being included in the eight count, I’ll try to reflect that in the way that I say the counts, so you know that’s an accent here or if this is a pushed beat here, whatever it is. Then I always tell dancers that once the music comes on, it should be easy breezy. Chelsea: Right. Courtney: If I gave you the counts and you're counting it properly, I should be able to put any song on and you're doing those exact counts to any song. Of course, my material’s created to this particular song and that’s why there’s musicality, but if you are a counter, you should be able to — I could put any song on. People always are like, “Oh, well, I like to dance the lyrics.” I’m like, “Well, how do you dance the lyrics if you don't even know what the song is yet? Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: They’re like, “Oh, what? Oh, well, I don't know! I mean… I have to hear the song.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I haven't even played it yet! I’ve given you counts, so now I need you to dance the music with the counts.” So that’s why I’m just a huge advocate and huge supporter of counting your music. Even for me, someone who didn't grow up singing and didn't grow up in musical theatre and that’s where my career led me in New York City, understanding counts helped me so much to transition to using my voice as I perform and learning how to read sheet music. Not that I really know how, but I can tell that’s a whole note, that’s a half note, that’s a rest here, and connecting that, it was just so helpful. I always think about dancers who want to be on Broadway that don't know how to count, and it stresses me out for them because I’m like it’s gonna be ten times harder for you to transition into that because, yeah, you also have to learn how to sing, but now you have to connect your voice to your movement on a specific count. It’s a whole new layer. Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: So I’m a big supporter of counting. As a teacher, I incorporate everything possible because I want people to adapt to my teaching method, but at the same time, I don't want them to fail. My job is to educate, and I want to make sure that they're feeling good about it. Chelsea: Right. Oh, I like that, and I think it’s so powerful as a teacher to be able to give multiple modalities, to set that they are successful. Courtney: Yeah. Chelsea: But I could see with the count to rhythm, if you are someone who doesn't count, it doesn't mean you can't be successful. Courtney: Right. Chelsea: But if you hear rhythm, it’s hard to translate to counts. If you hear counts, you can do both. Courtney: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. Chelsea: I feel like as a counter, as you were saying, I could listen to a teacher who’s not using counts and still get it. Courtney: Exactly. Chelsea: Versus the other way around doesn't really work. Courtney: Yeah, it’s true! Honestly, yeah, that’s a great way to look at it, and it’s so true. Chelsea: Like they brought in the professional side of it too because it’s gonna make a big difference in the audition setting if you're with somebody new and being able to adapt to what they want. Courtney: Yeah, and that’s the hardest part about being a dancer in the industry is working with different choreographers and what their expectation is for you in the room. You might not even get the opportunity to be in the room with the choreographer because you didn't book the job because you weren't counting, or you weren't doing the rhythms, or you weren't adapting enough in the audition. So they need to know in that audition that you are moldable and adaptable and willing to take a note, willing to pick up fast, willing to have a smile on your face while you do it, not complain. All of these aspects of being just a good dancer but a good human at the same time all comes into play in something as small as a quick 20-minute audition. Then once you get on the job, are you gonna be able to deliver those things. Chelsea: Yes. Yes, great advice. Thank you. I want to ask one last question before we go. Courtney: Sure! Courtney’s Take on Success – 45:13Chelsea: I love to check in with successful professionals for your take on success. What does success mean to you? Courtney: Hmm, what does success mean? Oh, that’s a great one. I mean, I think that success can mean a lot of different things, and I think a lot of people probably put success very high up on their list of these dream goals that we have to check off our list or we’re not successful. I don't think that’s necessarily true. I think that we need to make some realistic goals on our checklist as well and also some stepping-stone goals because each thing will probably lead you to the next. We started off this conversation talking about how my goal being in In The Heights on Broadway didn't happen, and that was a goal of mine. That was like, “I will be successful if I’m on Broadway and in this show,” but I had to then take other jobs to lead me to the next one, and I think that’s success, and that’s progress in the process. I will say that it’s hard to not question ourselves and our success in the industry no matter how much you've done and how much you’ve achieved. For me, a goal of mine that I feel like will be the final thing on my list of checklist career successes is to be on Broadway. Funny enough, I actually haven't been on the Broadway, and for a Broadway performer in New York City and an auditioning professional who’s been in this biz now for 15 years, that’s pretty much everyone’s goal And no matter how many things you've achieved in the process, if you, as a Broadway professional, still can't say that you are on the Broadway, you feel like you haven't succeeded, and it’s so discouraging. The past few years I’ve had to really put that out of my head because it was a goal for so long, and it’s not really necessarily my goal anymore, to be completely honest. But I’ve questioned my ability of, “Well, am I even qualified to teach “musical theatre” and “Broadway” on a dance convention because I have never been on the Broadway. Have I performed in Broadway shows? Absolutely. National tours and regional productions with the original choreography with some of the biggest choreographers in the industry. That's a success right there. I need to look back at that and say, “Wow, what a success. What an achievement. So many people haven't had that opportunity, and I somehow got that opportunity and did it and lived it and grew from it, and I have to be proud of that.” But it’s definitely mentally very hard to put a goal that you’ve set yourself up for for your entire career, that you still haven't checked off and finally say, “I don't need that to be successful.” It’s so hard to do, and I think that, yes, we can dream big. We absolutely can. But that doesn't define who you are as an artist, who you are as a person, who you are in your career. It absolutely doesn't define you. You can set a new path for yourself. You never know where life will take you. I didn't move to New York City to become a convention teacher for dance conventions, but it fell into my lap, and I’m so glad that it did because I absolutely love it. Education is something that I love to do, so you don't know where your life will take you, and I look at my education career, and I’m like, “Wow, it’s been so successful.” I’ve taught on multiple conventions. Dancers look up to me. I see my name on people’s resumes now because I’ve trained them. That is so successful even though, yeah, I haven't been on Broadway. That’s okay. Chelsea: Yeah, that’s okay. Courtney: That’s one goal that I haven't checked off, and maybe I won't, and I’m absolutely okay with that at this point, but I do think those hurdles are hard to get over sometimes for a lot of people who have those really big goals in life and just know that your career’s gonna take you in so many different directions, and you've just got to go along with the ride and be ready for it. Chelsea: That is all such good advice. I love that goals are fluid, but success is self-defined. Courtney: Yes. Chelsea: You get to decide if it is. Thank you so much for sharing that. I really appreciate that. Courtney: Yes! Chelsea: I think that’s gonna resonate with a lot of people. Courtney: Yes, absolutely. Chelsea: Before we leave, will you just share where to find you so people can learn more from you? Courtney: Sure! So you can find me on Instagram. That’s the main platform that I post on a lot. I don't do TikTok, so, sorry about it. Chelsea: Me neither. Courtney: [Laughs] I just can't. Chelsea: It’s not my thing. Courtney: I can't get into it. But I love Instagram, so you can find me on Instagram @courtney.ortiz. That’s where I post all of my professional career, teaching, fun things. You can also listen to my podcast called Making The Impact: A Dance Competition Podcast. I know I’ve had you on as a guest, and I think that was season three if I’m correct. I’ll have to get back to you on that. Chelsea: I don't remember. Courtney: But it was a great discussion. Chelsea: Yeah. Courtney: We talk about all things, not just competitive dance, but just dance in general. So if you want  more dance chats, give it a listen. You can listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and follow us on Instagram @impactdanceadjudicators. [Motional Outro Music] Chelsea: Thank you so much for sharing today, Courtney! It was really fun! Courtney: Awesome! Thanks for having me! [Motional Outro Music]  

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