Here's Our Featured Dancer To Watch: Carrie Lee
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 Carrie Lee: A Dancer To Watch
Have you ever heard the phrase “Still waters run deep”? The Great Guru Wikipedia translates that to mean “A placid exterior hides a passionate nature”- well, Carrie Lee’s placid waters run passionately deep. Her measured, well thought-out tone of conversation belies an iron-fisted, forged-in-fire commitment to dance. With the logic and steady approach of an English major, Carrie has navigated all kinds of storms – and won. Beneath her intellectual exterior beats the heart of a warrior. You don’t necessarily hear fireworks in the cadence of her voice, but you sure see them in her results. Hers are quiet fireworks. But they dazzle. Read on to hear how Carrie’s perseverance and self-marketing skills have created a lasting career. But first, check her out in the 1:30 video below:
BEST KNOWN CREDITS:
J-line – Music videos, live shows, national tours
Stage shows Lincoln Center
Dancer New York Fashion Week
Fitness Print Model
30 QUESTIONS WITH CARRIE LEE:
Suzy: So! Dance. How, when, why?
CL: My sister and I wanted to be just like our babysitter- a dancer. At 4 years old, I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
Suzy: You knew that early?
CL: Yes! And it never stopped. All my high school friends were hitting the mall, but not me – “This dressing room is exactly where I want to be!”
Suzy: Did you major in dance?
CL: English major, dance minor. Mom always said, “You can be a dancer, but college first.”
Suzy: Other skills are important. Cause you never know.
CL: Seeing dancers move on to other careers is fascinating. My makeup artist on “The Doctors” was a Paula Abdul dancer. We’re everywhere!
Suzy: So many “retired” dancers go into fields they found dancing. Photographers, hairstylists, directors …
CL: Physical therapists, teachers … even what you’re doing right now.
Suzy: Rewind, what was “The Doctors” gig?
CL: (Laughs) A reality show. They were testing semi-permanent eyebrow makeup. They chose me because I’m a dancer, always sweating and wiping my face. “Hey, great candidate for a makeup trial!” I thought, “It’s an experience why not?”
Suzy: Those gigs make the best stories.
CL: People see you on TV and think you’ve made it. (Laughs) “I’m just trying on makeup, this isn’t really what I do!”
Suzy: What did you do after college?
CL: Home to Portland to save money, then NYC. I auditioned for Steps Rep Ensemble; my first year was endless classes and rehearsals.
Suzy: Why New York?
CL: I was there at 16 with my dance group and loved it ... the energy, the smells, the theater. I got home and told my parents “I’m moving to New York.” “Okay honey, sure.” Mom said she never took me seriously till I came downstairs with my plane ticket two years later!
Suzy: Ha! Were you nervous?
CL: Excited. I knew this was where I should be. I just jumped. I got an apartment and restaurant job on my third day; I worked there for 10 years. They were great about letting me leave and come back as needed.
Suzy: Was working and dancing full-time challenging?
CL: Between the two, I had a 72-hour work week! Hey, we do what we have to. Because not dancing isn’t an option; this is what I do and I love it. Then I was chronically injured - Achilles tendonitis in both legs. I couldn’t even relevé. But, that opened the door to hiphop, which I do a lot these days.
Suzy: Lemonade from lemons.
CL: My first reaction was “maybe this is it for dance, maybe it’s time for new career.” But nothing else felt like an option. So again, I did what I had to and recreated my career with other styles.
Suzy: You’ve danced in a Bollywood movie, one of my guilty pleasures.
CL: Unashamedly throwing in dances and music … just because we can!
Suzy: Yes! The precision stuns me. How long were rehearsals?
CL: Just two hours; we learned the rest between takes. Luckily, I’d already done an unpaid Bhangra music video for an Indian artist. I knew I’d learn new skills I‘d use someday, and indeed I did!
Suzy: Good freebies pay off.
CL: Knowing when to say yes or no to them is a skill all its own.
Suzy: How do you decide?
CL: My gut feeling plays a part; do I feel good about the style, the choreography, is it a professional environment? Mainly I think “What will I have gained when I walk away from this experience?” … be it financial, a new style, working with good people, etc.
Suzy: How did you get your first agent?
CL: A huge open casting call. I felt great about my audition, but they cut me first round. I went home and thought, “Well, at least I did a good job, who knows why they cut me.” Then I got a phone call: “We sent out your headshot; you have an audition Tuesday.” “I didn’t know you guys even chose me!” “What? No, we knew we wanted you right away, so we sent you home!”
Suzy: They cut the dancers they knew they wanted!
CL: Yep. So you never know.
Suzy: Do you have an agent now?
CL: I’m on my own.
Suzy: Ah, renegade lone wolf.
CL: (Laughs) A forced lone wolf state. I go on agency auditions, but for some reason none have clicked. That’s okay though; I’m very self-motivated and hunt down the jobs. I have limitations but hey, I’m my own business; who can market me better?
Suzy: You’ve probably developed self-marketing skills agency dancers never have to. And that’s a great thing. Have you always been pro-active?
CL: Innately. I don’t want to wait around for someone to do it for me, I’m better when I’m moving forward, energy flowing. There are times it’s exhausting, but I always pop back.
Suzy: Give us an example of a job you created.
CL: In LA, I auditioned for a singer. We did freestyle, then they said “Somebody come up with something.” Before I knew it, I was the choreographer of a music video!
Suzy: Well done. Are you in LA or NY now?
CL: Both. I love LA’s commercial aspect, but I love the city and people of NY so much.
Suzy: When did you join A4D?
CL: Just after moving to New York. Someone mentioned it at an audition. At first, I saw it as just casting calls. I liked how thorough it was, breaking down jobs very clearly; other sites just gave snippets of info. As I got more involved, I was like “Wow this is so much more valuable than I realized!” I used Forum4Dancers (formerly iDance2), learned how to make my first reel, and so much more.
Suzy: Grover told me a great story about you standing up for dancers..?
CL: I saw an audition post, and scheduled with the casting director. Then I saw a note Grover wrote - “We don’t want to take any opportunities away, but be aware, this job requires the choreographer to pay the dancers out of their own pay.” I thought, “Why would you even think that’s okay?!” Grover looks out for us, and I take his words into account. I decided not to go, but then I thought about the stigma people have thinking dancers are flakey or unprofessional, and I didn’t want them to assume that. I wanted to let them know in a professional way, “If you’re not aware, this isn’t a fair arrangement.” So I wrote an email saying “This doesn’t really align with my views of entertainers’ rights to fair pay, and I’m just not comfortable being in a situation where the choreographer isn’t being valued.”
Suzy: Right on.
CL: I was so surprised, they wrote back right away saying “We get it, we reworked our budget.” I thought I’d get no response, or a quick snappy one! After the audition, I said “I really appreciate you taking what I said into consideration; a lot of people wouldn’t.” The casting director said he’d heard it from a few people, but a dancers’ p.o.v. woke him up. We’re all entertainers; we need to support each other. I took a chance, and it couldn’t have gone better. You never know how you’ll be received.
Suzy: Bravo for professional presentation.
CL: It always helps to take a minute, especially nowadays with emails and texts… tones get lost, it’s easy to misunderstand meanings. I take time to word everything precisely, that’s the English major in me. “How can I present this that isn’t an attack, but clear, concise, and factual?” People respond better to facts than emotion. I always think how it will be received at the other end, and make sure my intent is clear.
Suzy: Very wise. How do you feel as a dancer over 30?
CL: People think your body fails you after a certain amount of years, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained more awareness. I got certified in Pilates; I use alignment in a smarter, more efficient way. I can do more than I used to. And there’s something a performer gains as they get older; I’ve seen it in many people, especially Broadway stars. They’re seasoned, comfortable, confident.
Suzy: Is age an issue in casting?
CL: LA often wants younger on-camera looks. You make peace with it; I am who I am, if they want it they take it, and if not that’s okay too. I’m not interested in plastic surgery; I just try to stay healthy for a healthy on-camera look.
Suzy: You look great. You work with a fantastic electro pop artist… Tell us about JLINE.
CL: Another example of thinking I wasn’t cast! I auditioned. Five months later, I get a phone call; “You auditioned for me five months ago, are you still interested?” He’d videoed the audition and kept our headshots. At first we did small shows anywhere possible – a lot of school shows with songs about his struggles with being bullied. At the end of the shows, we shared our own stories. I'd tell about my struggles with A.D.D. in middle school, and how dance kept me going.
Suzy: Artistic activism.
CL: Yes! Over time, JLiNE got a broader fan base and we started touring, months at a time, doing concerts in addition to the school shows. Flash forward six years, and we've gone from small gymnasiums to video debuts on MTV, and performing at festivals with artists like Lady Gaga and Kelly Rowland in the lineup.
Suzy: How do you find time for relationships?
CL: It’s hard. We’re constantly checking our devices to make sure we’re not missing jobs, promoting ourselves on social media, searching for part-time jobs for rent. It’s hard to think ‘Okay now I’m gonna make time for relationships” rather than using the little time I have on me.
Suzy: How do you deal?
CL: I’m not sure I have! This summer my sister had her third baby, it’s been a long time since I was with family. I took time off, but was constantly checking sites, looking for auditions, taking classes… I don’t know the answer on balance.
Suzy: I schedule in unscheduled time.
CL: (Laughs) Because once it’s in our schedule, we’ll actually make the time for it.
Suzy: Nothing is just something you have to do once in a while. You seem so calm and collected, with such an even keel. Not easily ruffled. That’s a great gift.
CL: I’ve never been quick to anger; I’m introspective and take everything in before reacting. But we need all types in our lives. Some of the most fun people are those who get excited and passionate about things.
Suzy: What have been your biggest obstacles?
CL: The Achilles tendonitis. For 2 months, I could barely even walk. It was hard to stay motivated to do the exercises every day and think “This isn’t it Carrie, this is just a hiccup, I can come back, I’ll be okay.”
Suzy: Advice for young dancers?
CL: When you’re standing in front of those Casting Directors – they want you to succeed, they want it to be you! Knowing they’re on your side takes fear and anxiety out of auditions. Also, always think of yourself as a business. A lot of us are more right brain, but we are providing a service. Marketing yourself, carrying yourself professionally, putting yourself forward, carrying business cards is constant.
Suzy: Should young dancers go to college?
CL: I’ve thought about this; did I lose time doing college first? It’s different for everyone. For me, it was good because I had a lot of life skills to learn … I wasn’t ready at 18 to move across country. I also needed my eyes open to new styles, and it was great to have that in a smaller environment.
Suzy: When should young dancers join A4D?
CL: Right away, especially starting out! You get a community and all the tools you can use – what an agent looks for, how to make a reel and resume… it’s also good to stick with A4D once you’re a pro, because, besides the constant auditions, the connections you make and stories you hear keep you glued in. Your ear is toward the dance door every day. It’s a more active than other sites – on other sites you don’t feel connected; with A4D you’re an active participant and part of something great.
Suzy: What other values do members get?
CL: Just the other day I was looking through the connect categories, reading choreographers and performers talk about being cut at auditions. Things like that really help. It’s great to see someone I respect, who’s career I admire, experienced this too. “It’s not just me, and this is how they got through it.” I love Forum4Dancers (formerly iD2). Sometimes in auditions the vibe can be mean. Forum4Dancers is changing that … we see people on the site, and hear them speak positively and supportively, so running into them at auditions is a very different interaction. We have history, we’re not judging each other, we’re like ‘thank you for what you said on the site the other day!”
Suzy: In conclusion! How do you feel about your career this exact second?
CL: (Laughs). People ask “What’s your end goal, what do you want to achieve before you say ‘I’ve made it, now I’m done”. I don’t think of it as a straight line going forward. As long as I’m a working dancer proud of my work, gaining new skills and exploring new avenues –that’s how I’m happy. It’s how I feel about my career every day, not how I feel about my career on the way to something.
Suzy: That’s beautiful. The journey IS the destination.
TOP 10 THINGS CARRIE DID TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS:
1 – Set goals and stayed steady on her path. Knew she wanted to be a dancer at 4, knew at 16 she’d someday move to NYC, and kept her eye on the ball every day.
2 – Made decisions on college based on who she was – felt learning all she needed to be ready was easier for her in a small environment.
3 – Hit the ground running – found a day job within 3 days of moving to NYC to support herself.
4 – Maintained all relationships as worthwhile – therefore, worked at the same restaurant for 10 years with maximum flexibility.
5 – Patiently came back from a debilitating injury. Educated herself and stayed pro-active. Switched dance directions when her injury prevented her from certain styles. Adapted to styles she could do.
6 – Understood the value of selective 'freebies' knowing she’d gain skills she would use later in her career.
7 – Stays on top of self-management and promotion at all times.
8 – Doesn’t waste time on insecurity or doubts; does everything she can at auditions, and leaves with a positive energy knowing the results are not a personal rejection.
9 – Doesn’t let age or limitations stop her; keeps a realistic position on who she is each step of the way, and adapts her direction, presentation, and goals.
10 – Takes the time to word things appropriately so she can always stand up for herself without offending any party.
3 CHALLENGES CARRIE HAD TO FACE:
Challenge #1: GAME-CHANGING INJURY
Carrie’s injury took her out of ballet for good.
SOLUTION: Carrie switched her emphasis to a style she COULD do, and made a new career out of it.
Challenge #2: CURRENTLY UNREPRESENTED
Carrie is currently without agency representation.
SOLUTION: Carrie is pro-active. She’s constantly up to date on auditions, self-promotes, manages her own marketing and business, networks, and stays consistently active on A4D for opportunities, auditions, and ideas.
Challenge #3: MAINTAINING A LONG-TERM DANCE CAREER
Carrie is in it for the long haul.
SOLUTION: Carrie trained in Pilates and is in the best shape of her life. She maintains a radiant healthy look for commercial marketing rather than pursuing cosmetic solutions. She takes care of her body and is active in preventative measures against injury, as well as knowledgeable in coming back from them.
FUN FACTS FOR CARRIE:
We gave Carrie 15 seconds to answer each question. Ready? Go!
1- What’s in your dance bag?
CL: Heels, ballet shoes, tights, business cards, bandaids, and dry shampoo. Cause bangs sticking to your head at an audition is not a good look!
2- Celebrity crush?
3- Go-to dancer power food?
CL: Peanut butter!
4- Hairstyles you’ve had?
CL: Alternating pink and purple streaks, bangs, no bangs, short bobs, really long hair. I don’t like one style for too long. One day in class I looked in mirror and saw 2 of us with long hair and bangs. Time to change again!
5- Dream celeb to tour with?
CL: Pink. She embraces all styles, isn’t afraid to do things differently, and her dancers really dance.
6- Special skills on your resume?
CL: Walk on my hands!
Carrie Lee has been a member of Answers4dancers since Summer 2013.
Here's Carrie's video interview with celebrity choreographer Liz Imperio. This is the story of Carrie's stand she took for dancers: