Dancer To Watch: NaTonia Monét
Dancers To Watch
A4D is a dance family. A large family, with over 1,000 members. We want you to meet some of your tribe who are making it all happen right here, right now. From SYTYCD to Broadway ... Hollywood to Regional Tours ... these dancers are living the dream.
These are people just like you, who started out new and green, and stuck it through to create real careers. Want to know how? Let us take you behind the scenes. Why these members? Because they're vibrant, living examples of the success stories in the A4D community. Hearing their stories will help you write your own.
We are pleased to introduce you to NaTonia Monét: A Dancer To Watch
NATONIA MONÉT is so much fun, it’s almost surprising to learn how determined and organized she is. She approaches serious matters with an organic light touch. She’s easygoing on the outside …. with a practical hard candy center inside. Delicious evidence of her wry sense of humor are short videos she’s written and produced – “Unbooked”, and “The Great Black Way.” These videos are hilarious, clever, and produced on a shoestring. They shine a hilarious light on the daily trials dancers and actors face. Some make us laugh about experiences unique to black talent, others on universal industry adventures. They are addictive. Seriously.
NaTonia’s own story is a classic “young dancer moves to the big city knowing nothing” success story. We’re proud of this A4D member, and reading her story will surely help you create your own. But first, watch this short video for your chance to meet this dynamic dancer and performer:
BEST KNOWN CREDITS:
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on Broadway
International Tour West Side Story
Dreamgirls, Saturday Night Fever Regional
Saturday Night Live
25 QUESTIONS WITH NATONIA MONÉT:
Suzy: Take it from the top, 5678!
NM: Ok! I’m from Richmond, Virginia. I started dancing at 4. Mom says I danced out of the womb. She and Grandma raised me to be strong and independent - a blessing and a curse.
Suzy: A “blurse”.
NM: (Laughs.) Yes. I like to do it all on my own. The problem is I don’t know anything!
Suzy: Ha! What style did you study?
NM: Ballet. I was a skinny baby Trina, my little leggings were always baggy! I got to apprentice level, but I wanted to fit in and hang out with my friends… ballet was 5 times a week, so intense. So, by tenth grade, I decided on High School dance instead. To be popular. And a cheerleader.
Suzy: Were you dating the football captain in a week?!
NM: (Laughs.) The basketball captain.
Suzy: What was your neighborhood like?
NM: Suburban. A regular neighborhood, every house had a yard.
Suzy: Was it well integrated?
NM: At the studio, I was the only black girl, but it felt so normal, I didn’t even notice. But now I look back… like Nutcracker auditions; they put me up against another girl for Clara. I did amazing. I could have been Richmond’s first black Clara. Put your thumb and pointer finger together and blow and it separates a tiny bit … THAT’S how close we were. They finally said, “Sorry, you’re just too tall.” I cried, “Noooooo!” Mom told me her heart broke that day.
Suzy: Did you go to college?
NM: Florida State University in Tallahassee; their program was second in the nation after Julliard. Suzanne Farrell was a full-time ballet professor! I wanted dance, but didn’t want to go to Julliard for the same reason I became a cheerleader; I wanted the full college experience. I wanted a football team, I wanted sororities!
Suzy: Ha! So THEN did you date the Football Captain?
NM: No, a linebacker. (Laughs.) And I joined the first black sorority in the US, started in 1908 at Howard University. Coretta Scott King was a member; Eleanor Roosevelt is our honorary member. I made so many connections there. You’re in a sorority till the day you die.
Suzy: You studied Ballet and modern. No jazz, hip-hop, tap, acro?
NM: I was in our hip-hop company, “Phlava”. Acro - I taught myself an aerial when I was a kid – when you’re young you have no fears! After college, I wanted to do Broadway. So I moved to … NEW YORK!
Suzy: Ha - our readers can’t hear you, but your “New York” sounded like “TA-DA!!” Were you scared?
NM: Yes. It was intimidating! The biggest thing we’re scared of is failure. But you have to realize, as long as you’re not trying, you’re failing.
Suzy: Put that on a needlepoint pillow! Did you have vocal training?
NM: Church choir, and a year of high school chorus. I hated it, but Mom wanted me to do something musical. I’m grateful now.
Suzy: Was Broadway always your goal?
NM: In high school, I thought “I’ll be a Laker Girl and a physical therapist, I’ll be whacking at halftime, then fixing injured Lakers backstage!“ (Laughs.) I knew I’d never get into a ballet company - even though I’m a ‘trina, my butt’s big; I’m just not super what they look for.
Suzy: Had you seen Broadway shows?
NM: “Annie Get Your Gun” in 11th grade. I liked it, but was bored by the plot.
Suzy: As far as I’m concerned, plots are what happen in between dances.
NM: Then I saw DREAMGIRLS, and my life lit up - “I’m gonna do THAT!” I called Mom right up, and sang “And I Am Telling You “on the phone, the whole song with no vocal training, and she stayed on that phone and listened to every terrible word.
Suzy: We heart Moms. I love that “Dreamgirls” became the dream, which you eventually got a dream role in.
NM: It was the deciding factor. I had an Aunt and cousins in New York, so I moved with $2,500 and one big suitcase. $2,500 is not enough to move to NYC! It was gone in a month. I maxed out credit cards, I just tried to survive. It took 3 months to find a job. Staying with family for a few weeks turned in 3 years!
Suzy: Where in NYC were you?
NM: West Harlem - it’s awesome! Everything’s better on the West Side. (Laughs) It’s very gentrified, artists and City College students, near everything, easy to get to midtown. Very hip. I finally found a job at the front desk of a Gym.
Suzy: And auditions?
NM: I had no idea where or how to audition, I knew nothing! I learned through dance classes, people, word of mouth – I didn’t even know where to FIND auditions until I found Answers4dancers 6 months later!
Suzy: Your personality must be an advantage in approaching people.
NM: I just talked to people after class, that’s all. They said, “Look at Backstage, Playbill”… but I didn’t have proper packaging. I didn’t want to show up at pro auditions without that. I needed headshots. But I got scammed.
NM: Yes. I went on Craig’s List. The pics were horrible. The wrong size, faded – I asked for my money back, I had to contact the Better Business Bureau.
Suzy: Good for you.
NM: I never got the money back, but I didn’t want others to have to go through it. I lost about $200 – a lot when you’re living off credit cards! I took little bitty jobs here and there… then I took acting seminars and a commercial class with casting directors. They tell you about packaging, what to do, who to use. So finally, I got headshots!
NM: Then I went to meet-and-greets with agents, but here’s the thing – I thought I needed to meet an agent to build a resume, but in fact, you need to build your resume to get an agent! Agents are like, “If you can’t book on your own, how will you book for me? You need experience.” I was all “Agent, agent agent”, but I was trying to do it backwards. A lot of people do. I take friends under my wing, they’re like “I need an agent!” They get so discouraged. You need to focus on booking your own jobs first, because then you’re WAY more appealing to agents.
Suzy: And you finally got yours…?
NM: Thanks to Answers4dancers! A4D introduced me to an agent, Lucille DiCampli … she told me to work on my singing, then come back. I was devastated. I immediately took voice lessons.
Suzy: Right on top of it! That will get you far.
NM: 6 months later, I booked West Side Story international tour. She negotiated my contract and signed me.
Suzy: How’d you get West Side Story?
NM: An open call – international tours aren’t equity jurisdiction; they don’t recognize our unions overseas. There were 3 days of auditions. The first day I made it past the ballet, then got cut after “America.” The next day there was a blizzard, and I sat in my apartment thinking “I REALLY want this job!” So, I put my hair in a bun, changed my outfit and my look, went again and booked the gig.
Suzy: What a GREAT story!
NM: I ‘d been to 25 auditions before that. So when I opened my email and saw that I booked the show, I screamed “Whaaaaaaaat?!”
Suzy: And then … Europe!
NM: England, Italy, Germany, France … my first time overseas. I got my passport the year before because I dreamed of travel. Talk about the law of attraction!
Suzy: “If you build it, they will come!”
NM: Right! It was a 2-year contract with an option out after the first year. I gotta say, it was hard on my body. The same intense Jerome Robbins movements over and over, all on the same side! I counted once; I did over 4,000 America jumps. Hamstring strains, achilles tendonitis … after a year, I said “You guys gotta give me more money cause I am dead!”
NM: I was scared, but I said, “I’ve enjoyed myself on tour, but as Consuela is a featured role, I feel I deserve a pay raise.” They’ll either say yes or not, but if you don’t ask the answer is always no.
Suzy: Another needlepoint. And after West Side Story?
NM: Right back to auditioning. West Side Story was a great resume credit; people know if you were Consuela, you’re sharp – you were really dancing and singing, not just step touch. I booked a new show in Dallas – a lot of this biz is who you know; the choreographer was my college hip-hop company director.
Suzy: You have to be good to everyone you meet because you never know who’s gonna become what.
NM: Yep. Next I booked a commercial. Then my agent called: “They want another commercial with you!”
Suzy: Gigs lead to gigs! Commercials are great pay, no?
NM: If they’re union; non-union is just okay. This was a buy out, but it played during the Super Bowl, so it paid well. Then I took a commercial acting class to learn commercial audition techniques; how to look, what colors to wear, improv, teleprompters, cue cards. It paid off immediately; they booked me for a Sister Act promo. Right out of class.
Suzy: Then, rinse and repeat; back to auditions. You booked Dreamgirls regional company in 2015, but how did you pay bills between gigs?
NM: Catering, alcohol promotions at clubs, teaching after school programs – you do whatever you can. Dreamgirls was a great job. Then my agent called: “Natonia, can you get to an audition by noon?” Oh my God, yes! One perk of living in Manhattan; you can get anywhere in 20 minutes. I booked a TV show called The Knick. Then I got Saturday Night Fever at the same theater I did Dreamgirls.
Suzy: Did working there before help you book that? And what was your role?
NM: We were the black disco couple, ha ha! Yes, it was the same choreographer. Also I was non-union, so I was cheaper. Then that choreographer direct booked me for “Saturday Night Live.”
Suzy: Direct Booking – on Saturday Night Live?!
NM: Another dream. It was Tracy Morgan’s first show back after that huge car crash, a huge episode. Then it was mouth to mouth again, paycheck to paycheck. When gigs come, you feel safe for a bit – but you can’t really relax till you have something stable and secure. Money goes so quick in the city; you need first month and last month rent to even get a place, and then all the bills …. It’s stressful. I meditate a lot!
Suzy: (Laughs.) Do you imagine dancing forever?
NM: I’m venturing into improv and comedy now – when I can’t dance anymore, at a certain age, I’ll have to do something else, and it has to be artistic, not in an office. A lot of my Broadway friends start their own businesses - Broadway Babysitters, teaching exercise for pregnant mothers, “Broadway Vegan” ... everyone starts their own backup business here.
Suzy: And you’re doing these awesome videos, getting thousands of hits – any way to monetize those?
NM: I can’t right now; that takes massive time and effort. I’m focusing on voice lessons; the first year of being Equity is really hard. A lot of shows only call for 1 or 2 equity roles with 300 girls auditioning. So, what can I do? Work on my voice like never before, so I have a shot at more Equity gigs.
Suzy: It’s ironic that finally getting Equity can actually offer fewer job ops.
NM: Everyone has their own journey, but for me it’s been a challenge.
Suzy: Okay, I’m chomping at the bit to talk about your videos!
NM: (Laughs.) I just wanted to do sketches about auditioning on Broadway. My friend Nikko Kimzin worked with me, and we were like, let’s do 2 days of filming. We had to rush because I was leaving for Sister Act. I was very organized. I knew a videographer, I booked friends; “I can’t pay you, but I’d love you to be in this!” It’s a market that hadn’t been touched, no one’s targeted the black actor’s community this way, and everyone was like “Great, I’d love to!” We didn’t have mic lavaliers or real lighting, we just rented a room and filmed. We were so low budget! And the highest view we have is over 87,000 views!
Suzy: That’s fantastic. Plus, you got the experience of producing efficiently and affordably – the pressure is so intense to get things done FAST in the video business. Shameless Plug: My all-time favorites are:
“To Hood or Not to Be”
“When You Know Everybody”.
Have the videos led to anything yet?
NM: On the subway last week a girl said “Omg! I’m in A Bronx Tale and we watch your videos in our dressing room all the time!” And two casting directors shared “When You Can’t Riff” that was crazy.
Suzy: Has Answers4dancers helped your pathway?
NM: Amaziiiiiing. I found auditions, developed my first reel, gained many friends (Emily Dann and her Mom, Nancy Dann, are a tag team of bliss). After attending Grover's workshops, he introduced me to several agencies. If it wasn't for Answers4dancers, things could've taken a lot longer.
Suzy: Your best advice for young dancers?
NM: FIND A MENTOR! You’ll waste less time and move a lot faster if you find someone who’s where you want to be, doing what you want to do.
Suzy: You actually have been a mentor, on A4D Forum for Dancers. Tell us about that.
NM: I was sort of a welcoming committee, welcoming them to the site, encouraging them to reach out.
Suzy: How do newbies know who to reach out to?
NM: Look for the people who talk the most! See who’s giving advice to others, and ask questions – what do you think of my headshots, I’m new in town; where do I find classes? You don’t even have to friend people first; just message people, just be engaged.
Suzy: What did being active on Forum4Dancers do for you?
NM: I was noticed. Grover saw I was trying, taking and giving input; I was helping and being helped by others in our A4D community. I was engaged, so he saw me. Then he gave me my first agent introduction.
Suzy: What’s been your biggest obstacle?
NM: If we wanna be real, my skin color. Unless it’s The Color Purple, there aren’t a lot of ensemble choruses for blacks! Maybe 2 or 3 slots if you’re lucky.
Suzy: Another of my favorite videos; where you audition for the Music Man! "When You're Typed Out" So, how do you overcome that obstacle?
NM: I train however I need to, I do all I can on my part, so I know if I don’t get something it’s not on me. As long as I do my part and my best, I didn’t hinder myself. I showed up and did what I had to do.
TOP 10 THINGS NATONIA DID TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS:
1 – Overcame fear and made the big move to New York City.
2 – Realistic with her goals – her body type wasn’t typical Ballet Company, so she found another style she loved where she had better chances.
3 – Wastes no time - Trains immediately in whatever she needs for the next steps.
4 – ASKED! Didn’t know anything, fearlessly approached other dancers and people in the business and asked questions.
5 – Resilient – Lost $200 in bad headshots, used it as a learning experience and got right back on the horse.
6 – Overcame disappointment – whether it was losing the role of Clara as a young girl, or not signing with an agent, she bounced back and kept her eye on the ball.
7 – Learned from her experiences. Figured out she was going about getting representation backwards, flipped the priorities.
8 – TOOK CLASSES! Whatever she needed to learn, from voice lessons to how to audition, she found a pro class and took it.
9 – Made great impressions on all her jobs, which led to other jobs.
10 – Self-starter…. Created her videos from scratch, multiplying her social media exposure invaluably.
5 CHALLENGES NATONIA HAD TO OVERCOME:
CHALLENGE #1: BODY TYPE
Natonia loved ballet, but her body type is not what pro ballet companies look for.
SOLUTION: She found a passion for Broadway, and trained in multiple styles to make herself as marketable as possible.
CHALLENGE #2: WHAT TO DO TO REACH HER GOAL
Natonia got to New York with no idea of how to crack the Musical Theater world.
SOLUTION: QUESTIONS QUESTIONS QUESTIONS! She fearlessly approached other dancers in class for tips. She took classes with casting directors. And she joined A4D.
CHALLENGE #3: SKIN COLOR
Spots in musical theater are slim for African Americans.
SOLUTION: She shows up for all auditions, whether they traditionally cast Black dancers or not. She keeps her sense of humor, creating comedy videos about her experiences. And she trains in vocals and acting to make herself as book-able as possible.
CHALLENGE #4: PAYING THE BILLS
Life between gigs is financially challenging, especially in New York.
SOLUTION: She took on side-jobs wherever she could… front desk, promotions, teaching.
CHALLENGE #5: THE FUTURE
A dancer can’t earn forever. Age is inevitable.
SOLUTION: Natonia takes note of the creative side businesses her friends create. She knows her future has to stay in the performing arts, so again, she’s developing her acting and voice skills, where age isn’t a finite limitation
5 QUICK FUN FACTS FOR NATONIA:
We gave NaTonia 15 seconds to answer each question. Ready? Go!
1 - Favorite song?
NM: I’m a music whore, I just got Apple Music and now I’m overwhelmed.
2 - Go-to power food?
NM: You don’t wanna know! When I’m cut from an audition, Cinnabon is my power food. The icing, the warm cream cheese – I get my life back!
3 – Last thing you actually ate?
NM: A spinach and ricotta organic pizza. It’s amazing. And addictive.
4 - What’s in your dance bag?
NM: Leotard, flesh tone tights, character shoes, and an umbrella cause it’s raining.
5 - Big dance bag! Celebrity crush?
NM: Oh my Gahhhh! This is so embarrassing. Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans.
Don’t be embarrassed, you are not alone.
NM: Yeah, but what if I meet them one day and they read this?!
Natonia Monet has been a member of A4D since 2009.
Be sure to follow NaTonia on her YouTube Channel. Click here.
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