Dancer To Watch: Rachel Perlman
We are pleased to introduce you to Rachel Perlman: A Dancer To Watch
In an interview with A4D's Suzy Miller
From the first hello, I hear it - happy, friendly, full of life, even though I just woke her up. (Theater hours, my friends.) The voice matches the photos on her A4D profile; this is a dancer who loves her life, heck, who loves life in general. Her passion is musical theater, and her tips for going pro are must-reads for all aspiring dancers. She can articulate what she’s learned from each job, sets specific goals, and understands the complicated puzzle pieces that have to fit to get the gigs. Timing, persistence and relationships are themes with this upbeat, steadfast dancer. Check out her photo video below, then read on to enter Rachel World, a magical, insightful, delightful place to be.
Best Known Credits:
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National/International Tour
Tuacahn Ampitheatre: Prince of Egypt, Matilda, Cinderella
Grease: The Musical on Royal Caribbean
Over 16 major musicals at Equity/Non-Equity theaters across the United States including: West Side Story, Mary Poppins, 42nd Street, All Shook Up, Singin’ in the Rain
25 QUESTIONS WITH RACHEL
Suzy: Complete: I started dancing…
RACHEL: At age two. I was born pigeon-toed with turned in hips. To be sure my leg development would be normal, they considered a brace, or surgery. But our doctor said first, try ballet class. (Laughs) They put me in ballet to walk, and I came out dancing!
Suzy: Your lines are gorgeous now!
RACHEL: Thank you! I thought I could never go pro; turnout’s still a struggle. But, the golden rule – fake it till you make it! I still do splits every night at home. I’m that dancer stretching in the wings at every costume change.
Suzy: So many passionate dancers facing big obstacles create fantastic careers - we have to want it extra badly to succeed. A4D Dancers To Watch are big successes who overcame big obstacles. So then?
RACHEL: At age 4 I trained at a real show-biz studio - acting, singing, commercials … and I fell in love with tap; I was hooked. Then I went to a straight dance studio on Cape Cod, a tiny peninsula … My studio was small, but we did conventions, summer intensives, winter intensives in NY …
Suzy: Any voice?
RACHEL: Choir in synagogue and school. And I have musical parents. Mom majored in music, Dad did shows in high school. How many times did I watch Music Man and Guys and Dolls while he re-lived his youth!!
Suzy: (Laughs) Nathan Detroit: “If a Guy did not have a Girl, who would holler at them?” So the studio…
RACHEL: I lived there. - Assisting classes, working the desk to help pay- three daughters in dance wasn’t easy! It was just dance dance dance. My teachers didn’t encourage me to pursue performing … they knew I loved it and could teach it, but my body was so limited.
Suzy: They missed out there. On stage, you absolutely radiate joy.
RACHEL: It feels like HOME; just let me onstage! Like, I’ll be a tree, just let me stand up there! (Laughs). I could be Ensemble Number 17 in the background and be so happy because I’m part of the story. The magic of Musical theater. I’m part of something wonderful whether I’m Chimney Sweep Number Two, or flying a kite stage left!
RACHEL: Anyway, I liked teaching and the business end; I thought after college I’d open my own studio. So I wanted to major in dance, and minor in business. I graduated Magna Cum Laude at Elon University in North Carolina with a BFA in Dance Performance & Choreography and minor in Business Administration.
Suzy: And then?
RACHEL: Honestly, it’s hard for a dance major to break into musical theater classes, but my teacher let me, and I was like “WOW, how can I do THIS for the rest of my life?” My teacher said “You’d be great in ethnic-looking character roles,” and I thought “Maybe I don’t need perfect turnout or cookie-cutter body.” It blew my mind that what makes me special could make me marketable.
Suzy: Limitations are just hidden strengths.
RACHEL: My University hosted regional theaters/cruise auditions. I had no idea how it worked in this world; so different from auditioning for a dance company. So eye opening! I actually got a callback for Cats, the non-union tour. A casting director saw something in me - in that moment, my dreams doubled. They said ‘Can you get to NY for callbacks?’ “I’m in!” I booked a flight and got the biggest reality check of my life. (Laughs) I stepped into the audition studio in NYC where everyone knew what they were doing, and my headshot wasn’t even an 8x10! It was like there was a big flashing sign over my head, “THIS GIRL DOESN’T BELONG HERE!” (Laughs)
Suzy: Ha! Been there!
RACHEL: I got cut, and thought, “well, that’s probably the worst it will ever feel, and now I know what to expect.” I learned so much in that short snippet of time. Sometimes in auditions; I remember that little girl. I had no idea what I was walking into, but knew it was the beginning of a long path I needed to follow.
Suzy: What a great reaction.
RACHEL: Having someone see something in you in a serious way, even when you’re 20 zillion steps away, that brings you one step closer to this far-fetched dream. I also auditioned for Holland America and made their “hire list”, meaning I was in their files – sometimes you’re right for a job, but they don’t need you right then. They said email them every two months to update availability. I’m driven and persistent, so if someone tells me to market a certain way and stay in touch, I’m going to do that!
Suzy: Amen sister.
RACHEL: Every two months I sent a new picture of myself, gently reminded them of my graduation date, and said I’m ready to go! (Laughs) Just waiting for them to need a 5 foot 3 spunky little brunette dancer. Maintaining relationships is crucial. Even if you have a spark of a relationship, you have to learn to make it into a fire.
Suzy: Dancers, listen up! Wisdom in that paragraph!
RACHEL: Even just "Hi, I’m still available, just checking in.” In a friendly, not annoying way. So when senior year ended, I thought I had no job, no idea where to go … But a week before graduation, I got that phone call I had been waiting for - the offer for my first ship contract. One of the happiest moments of my life!
Suzy: From cap and gown to sequins and character heels. Fantastic.
RACHEL: Someone wants to pay me to dance on a stage, save money, see the world, and do what I love? Come on! … “Wow, this isn’t a recital, I’m performing for an audience who’re paying to see me do it!” Quality shows, beautiful costumes … We did a Broadway review-style show filled with all the classic Broadway hits, and when I realized that this show was my favorite to perform, and I knew I needed to move to New York City to pursue musical theatre.
Suzy: But first, you booked The Aluminum Show…?
RACHEL: It was like Blueman Group meets STOMP meets athletic contemporary dance. Story-based without singing or words. Huge props, puppetry, aerials. We toured Brazil and Spain.
SUZY: How was that audition?
RACHEL: Intense! So athletic, and 100 dancers for 2 spots. I booked an immediate replacement I actually replaced my friend, a similar dancer with similar attack and versatility. Knowing I was the right type helped me give a really confident audition.
Next I booked another cruise – 7 continents in 11 months; I couldn’t pass that up! My Aunt and Grandma travelled, and I always wanted to. I was Dance Captain; maintaining the shows, keeping morale up and giving notes. In our business everyone takes everything personally; of course we do because it’s US, but I learned to approach notes as a leader.
Suzy: How so?
RACHEL: Putting myself in that person’s position – ‘I know traffic is tricky here, how can we get to place on count?” Never blame, always talk like we’re trying to solve the problem together, and always from positivity. “I love how you did that 8, could you use that to travel?”
Suzy: One wonderful thing about cruises is no food or rent bills…
RACHEL: Yes! I saved up 11 months of money, returned to NYC and said here we go! I lived in a tiny studio in Hells Kitchen with 2 other girls – 3 of us in a studio! Not as glamorous as it might sound! (Laughs) Zero privacy – we slept on mattresses head to toe. But it didn’t matter; I was laser-focused on my goals, blinders on, going full force. Auditions, voice lessons, and classes … after doing the same show for a year, you have to work your body back into different styles.
Suzy: When did you join A4D?
RACHEL: In college. After that eye opener Cats audition I thought yikes, what am I doing, I need help! I googled auditions and saw Backstage etc., but then Answers4Dancers popped up and I found a community. I wasn’t alone, I was with other people searching where to begin their journey, discussing reels, giving feedback … we made each other better, stronger. I loved the audition calendar; so easy to read and navigate.
RACHEL: Not like the overwhelmingness of Backstage where you sift through masses to find dancer-related stuff. A4D targeted my needs; so many pages with experiences, D2W’s, what sparked and helped others, tips, tricks – I soaked it up.
Suzy: Did Answers4Dancers help transition to NYC?
RACHEL: Yes! Not just auditions; they promote members, teach about agencies - help just getting in the door. The open forum is great; ‘I went to this audition’, ‘I saw you there! Wasn’t it crazy’, ‘They taught so fast’ … an open, comfortable place that connected me to people in real life.
Suzy: Did this help your auditioning?
RACHEL: Yes! If I know people at an audition, I’m at ease, comfortable, confident. We support each other. A4D helped me show up. We go anyway, give us a 5-6-7-8 and we’re there (Laughs) But knowing people gives a ‘Just-another-day-at-the-office’ mentality instead of being something scary. You’re there with your friends. Good environments make good auditions.
Suzy: Were you signed?
RACHEL: Grover Dale connected me to an agent and we met twice, but she said I still needed work on my voice – so you better believe I did. Also at the moment she had lots of dancers like me … timing is part of the puzzle.
Suzy: A huge part. In life as well. So then?
RACHEL: I judged dance competitions and taught conventions on weekends. Taught intensives and choreographed for competition dance studios during the summer. In the city I did ‘survival jobs’ – coat checks late at night so I didn’t miss classes or auditions – extra work on tv shows– even if you’re just an extra its interesting to see that world. I taught classes in New Jersey and Queens on weekends, sold merchandise at Broadway shows; odds and ends that fit my audition schedule.
RACHEL: Auditions are the real job; I audition like I’m getting paid to do it. Booking a show is the bonus, like you won a vacation. I treat auditions like they ARE my job.
Suzy: I’m gonna repeat that because it’s brilliant. Listen up dancers! “Auditions are the real job; I audition like I’m getting paid to do it. Booking a show is the bonus, like you won a vacation. I treat auditions like they ARE my job.”
RACHEL: (Laughs.) So, I found an audition at a theatre near my Mom’s house, New Bedford Festival Theatre, for Singin’ in the Rain. I took a bus from NY and booked my first true musical wearing a microphone, wigs, and costumes that didn’t have to be stretchy! (Laughs) My gears shifted, “OK Rachel you’ve never been so happy, how do we keep doing this.” I submitted to agencies and was called in to sing– they knew from my resume I’m a ‘dancer-dancer’, but I finally sang well enough to get signed by Across The Board Talent Agency and have been represented by them since. Voice lessons are so expensive in the city, but I’d made them a priority, and it paid off.
Suzy: More pearls of wisdom. Voice lessons everybody! How is being signed different?
RACHEL: Often times, you get to skip a step … you go directly to invited calls without having to go through open calls. And its like a stamp of approval; someone vouches for me, that I do it and do it well. They wouldn’t associate their name with me if I wasn’t up to their standard.
Suzy: Are you Equity?
RACHEL: After my current contract, I'll have enough EMC points that I can chose to become Equity, but I may stay non-Equity for at least another contract or two so I can work more frequently, until I reach the point maximum. In a way, I’m more castable because I’m more affordable; no less talented, but honestly (and unfortunately), in our current casting environment and financial times, Equity contracts are not usually for Female Ensemble Dancers. Not to belittle what I do; being in the ensemble is in some ways harder than leading roles. But what it comes down to, for me, is that I just want to be onstage. As much as I grind away at auditions and keep showing up, the goal isn’t to keep auditioning, it’s to be onstage and getting paid for that. In my experience and career thus far, I feel like being non-equity gives me more opportunities for that to happen.
Suzy: How do you feel about traveling so much?
RACHEL: People say ‘you leave town so much, you need to stay in the city and get seen’… While I understand that, it depends on your goals. Even if your only goal is Broadway, how do you get the regional credits your resume needs so that casting and directors know you’re not “just a dancer”, but you can also make sounds (singing and acting)!
RACHEL: Next I worked Christmas shows for an entertainment company; the closest I’ll get to being a Rockette 'cause I'm 5’3”. (Laughs) And I did a children's tour, character costumes like "What the – well, it’ll build my resume and help me save money." Plus I wanted to see what living on a tour bus was like. I loved it. Then more auditions, till a connection from college needed a swing in Virginia.
Suzy: Auditioning has a karmic element; like even if you don’t get the jobs you audition for, you get payback in some other job.
RACHEL: Yes! Same with ballet class – if you go, you get ballet karma points and next week you book a job. (Laughs) Next I saw a post for a summerstock, Interlakes Summer Theatre. My agent wasn’t into it because it paid so little, but I thought “4 musicals for my resume in one summer? Of course!” In 42nd Street, I was Anytime Annie, huge for someone with no roles on her resume. Miss Saigon, Hello, Dolly!, and The Wiz … if any four musicals would show I’m versatile and ethnically ambiguous…!
Suzy: (Laughs) I call myself “Mystery Ethnic”.
RACHEL: Yes! I have what I (now) lovingly consider an ethnically ambiguous look. My actual heritage is Russian Jew.
Suzy: Me too!
RACHEL: So you feel me. Everyone asks what are you, Italian? Hispanic?
Suzy: Mideastern? Greek?
RACHEL: Lebanese?! No one knows! My response is – ‘What do you NEED me to be?” I used to think it was a curse; ‘ I’ll never be in Music Man or Hairspray!’ But being ‘Ethnically Ambiguous Girl’ has actually worked well for me, especially as times change.
Suzy: Yes. Diversity and inclusion are everything now.
RACHEL: Dark hair, light eyes, dark complexion; I fit many puzzle pieces. So after Summerstock… well, I auditioned for Busch Gardens in college and never made it … but I wanted that experience, even if just to tell young dancers what it’s like. I thought ‘I’m a little beyond this now’; I’d done so much. But … why not?!
Suzy: I love that you want to try every type of experience you can.
RACHEL: It was fun! Weekend performances only, so during the week we’d all drive in one car to NY to audition. I audition for most theaters many times; casting agents told me they like to see you over and over again – see you’ve improved and gained more experience and then, “She’s ready now, lets grab her."
Suzy: Again, maintaining relationships.
RACHEL: I booked All Shook Up at The Palace Theatre in New Hampshire. They had me stay another contract to do A Christmas Carol, as well! From New Hampshire, I bussed every week to NY to audition, and booked Mary Poppins at Arkansas Rep Theatre, my first Equity theater. I’d never experienced such structured, super professionalism. Proper break times, my own apartment – that NEVER happens for dancers! (Laughs) And the pay is better, even as a non-Equity member.
Suzy: Was the cast caliber different?
RACHEL: I learned so much from people who’d worked on Broadway - their work ethic and preparedness. They’d done research, knew their roles inside out. Plus I met my fiancé!
Suzy: Do tell!
RACHEL: We were friends offstage first, but partnered in many scenes and had great chemistry. The cast was so supportive.
Suzy: What if you get long-term jobs apart?
RACHEL: Well, right now I’m in Utah for 6 months and he’s in NY. We Facetime and talk everyday. Dating someone in the biz can be hard, but for us it’s great. We don’t have to explain anything Like “We had an awful tech.” “Oh. What’s tech?!” We know what to say after auditions ‘cause we know what we’d want someone to say to us. “Maybe you didn’t fit the costume, maybe it wasn’t right for you” – sometimes you can’t explain feelings, and we don’t have to.
Suzy: Gypsy shorthand. So then?
RACHEL: I kept auditioning, even flew back on some red-eyes from my theater in Arkansas for invented calls my agent got me and callbacks. My goal was a national tour. I got through final callbacks for multiple tours, measured for costumes even, but nothing happened. I had to force myself to be patient, trust the timing, and try to believe that whole ‘everything happens for a reason’ thing. I’d put in all the work and was doing my best, all I could do was keep going.
Suzy: When times are tough, the tough keep auditioning!
RACHEL: Finally, I was at the gym on the treadmill, huffing and puffing and my agent called … “Rachel, I know you’re disappointed and I just want to say you’re doing it right, it's all timing,” and I said, “Yeah, I understand” and he said “… And it’s the right time! You booked Joseph!” I fell on the floor, people were like “are you okay?” (Laughs)
Suzy: You kept the dream alive and it paid off.
RACHEL: In tough times when nothings happening, you feel maybe it’s not possible. You reach bottom; you’re about to give up, but know you won’t – a lot of us in this biz are just ‘Nope, I can't give up, even though my body, heart and soul want to, I just will not do it!’ – And I landed the national tour of Joseph…Technicolor Dreamcoat choreographed by Andy Blankenbueller (Tony Award winning choreographer of Hamilton), an incredible master of story-telling through dance.
Suzy: He’s freak-of-nature-Genius.
RACHEL: It was the most fulfilling ensemble experience ever. He made us feel as important as the character telling the story. Ooh, here’s another tip: we had a winter layoff, so I reached out to the theater I did Swing at and said Hey, we have 2 months off … They gave Erik and me both roles and we were able to do 42nd Street during our tour layoff! Again, keeping connections, letting people know you’re available – being pro-active. So important.
Suzy: Then you toured Tokyo…
RACHEL: It was an amazing experience. Audiences met us at the stage door with gifts, drew art of us, made us into cartoon characters, so cool. Then we went back to NY, auditioning our lives away. We auditioned at a wonderful regional theater while visiting my Mom in Massachusetts, and got invited to the callbacks in NY! TIP: Attend local auditions wherever you are whenever you can. In NY you can get passed over so easily; so many people, it’s overwhelming for the casting team. In local auditions, they spend more time with you, they really see you.
Suzy: And you did the iconic West Side Story.
RACHEL: Yes! At North Shore Music Theatre with Bob Richard and Diane Laurenson … A dream come true - I had wanted to do that show since I was a little girl watching the movie at summer dance camp sleepovers. I’m dark and ethnic, and Erik’s clean-cut All-American boy, so he was a Jet and I was a Shark. It was perfect … we did the original Jerome Robbins choreography! A year later, I ran into the same theatre’s artistic director at a workshop; he knew I was a local and hired me for an upcoming production of Madagascar on the spot. Again, maintain connections!
Suzy: A dancer’s mantra.
RACHEL: Next we auditioned for Grease on Royal Caribbean. I’d auditioned for them over 15 times, Persistent with a capital P! They were like “Rachel, you can teach the audition combo, you know it!.” (Laughs) They saw me improving and the timing was finally right. We both booked it; I was Cha Cha, which was SUCH a fun and great role for a dancer, and Erik played Doody/Danny understudy. For 11 months, we sailed the Mediterranean and Baltic, a magical trip we never could’ve done otherwise.
Suzy: A paid romantic bucket-list!
RACHEL: Then back to the city with savings, and we were able to move into a nice apartment on the Upper West Side. I hopped right back into voice lessons and classes. People hadn’t seen my face for a year, so I did a casting workshop. You have to put yourself out there, get exposure, and never stop growing with the times, now more than ever. To be versatile and a true triple threat is so important.
Suzy: I love your resume’s special skills. “Comfortable with heights and small spaces–“
RACHEL: In Aluminum we had to run and jump on ten foot tall balloons/pillows. Lots of people are afraid of heights, so its good to mention. “Fits in small places”; I’m not claustrophobic which is great for magic tricks where you’re in a small box (Laughs). And sewing – the ship paid me extra as wardrobe mistress – fix a zipper, a hem, a button…
SUZY: And my favorite, ‘Child Magnet’.
RACHEL: (Laughs) I’ve worked with a lot of kids; Mary Poppins, Matilda – directors and agents want to know you work well with kids.
Suzy: And Ballroom?
RACHEL: For the ship show, a Ukranian Champion couple gave us weekly classes. Walking in a circle was never so hard in my life! (Laughs) We learned jive salsa chacha, rumba, polka!
Suzy: Another reason to take every gig you can; each experience broadens your skill set big time. Has height ever been a problem?
RACHEL: Some tap shows want tall, long-legged girls, which has sometimes been unfortunate for me as a short, but fierce, tapper. But, I’ve gotten jobs because of my size, too. I’m a versatile height; in Matilda I play a big kid, then in 3-inch heels I’m a party guest in Cinderella. It’s a great height for my abilities and skill set. I’m small, can be lifted, and as we know, fit in small places.
Suzy: (Laughs) What were your biggest obstacles?
RACHEL: Probably voice. A tip; get into voice now! Just do it! It’s a muscle like your hamstrings or hip flexors. You have to work it, stretch it, and do it every day … even for 30 minutes! Also my lack of flexibility was a physical obstacle; it took a lot of work, sweat, and tears. Other obstacles – So many teachers said I couldn’t do it – one professor actually called me “uncastable”. But I have fire and drive, I learned to ignore them and become more determined to reach my goals and prove the doubters wrong. I know I can do whatever I put my mind to.
Suzy: Beautiful careers are the best revenge!
TOP 10 THINGS RACHEL DID TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS:
1 – Worked her physical limitations steadfastly.
2 – Didn’t let anyone’s lack of faith in her stop her.
3 – Used every experience along the way as information rather than discouragement.
4 – Pursued resources online for info, found Answers4Dancers … and USED it!
5 – Maintained relationships consciously and persistently.
6 – Took every job opportunity to develop her skill sets
7 – Took the advice of professionals seriously and pursued what they said she needed.
8 – Knowing the importance of vocals, stayed in voice classes unwaveringly.
9 – Set continuing specific goals for her career path.
10 – Treats auditions as the job itself. Schedules jobs around them. Travels wherever she has to to take them. Auditioned, auditioned, auditioned.
TOP 3 CHALLENGES RACHEL HAD TO FACE:
Challenge #1: VOICE
Rachel’s passion is in a field where vocals are as important as dance.
SOLUTION: She made this a priority, and persisted till she trained herself into a real singer… and continues training.
Challenge #2: PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS
Born severely turned in, Rachel had to fight extreme hip rotation limitations and pigeon toes.
SOLUTION: Rachel was and is relentless in shaping her body through constant stretching. She doesn’t take it for granted and focuses seriously on maintenance.
Challenge #3: BEING TOLD SHE WAS UNCASTABLE
Many of Rachel’s teachers didn’t feel she could create a professional performing career.
SOLUTION: Haters didn’t stop her! She knew if she put in the work and laser-focused on her goals, she would get there, step by insightful step.
5 QUICK FUN FACTS FOR RACHEL:
We ended the interview with some quick "fun fact" questions. We gave Rachel 15 seconds to answer. Ready? Go!
Suzy: You have 15 seconds to answer each question. Ready? Whats in your dance bag?
RACHEL: Shoes, binders of music, cough drops.
Suzy: Secret celebrity crush?
RACHEL: I'm not embarrassed; Zac Efron!
Suzy: I was his first choreographer!
RACHEL: I’m jealous! Seriously, he can sing and dance, and he's so pretty. I’m sure my fiancé would agree!
Suzy: Go-to power food?
RACHEL: Greek yogurt fresh berries and granola.
Suzy: If not a dancer, I'd be –
RACHEL: In fitness, maybe a trainer.
SUZY: Three adjectives that describe you
RACHEL: Driven, unwavering ... and passionate.
Rachel has been a member of Answers4Dancers since 2012.
Photo credit: EJC Media
Photo credit: R.M. Hunt Photography
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