From Ballet Dancer to Triple Threat: How Three Artists Juggle Musical Theater, Acting and Dance Careers
Think you have to give up on your ballet dreams to pursue a career on the Great White Way or the silver screen? Think again. These three dancers took the risk to expand their reach artistically and professionally and found that they can have both ballet and acting on their calling cards. (The main takeaway from all three? Regular ballet class is an absolute must.)
Anaïs Blake lives in Los Angeles working as a freelance dancer and actor. Growing up in Chicago, she took ballet and dabbled in modeling and acting. “But being in a ballet company was something I had to do,” she says.
Blake danced professionally with The Sarasota Ballet for nine years, taking acting and voice lessons on the side. While there she performed in Susan Stroman’s Contact, a collaboration between Sarasota Ballet and the Asolo Repertory Theater. And during summer layoffs she did commercial work, short films and musical theater projects. When an opportunity came to perform in the national tour of Dirty Dancing as Penny Johnson, Blake says she thought, “This is it. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.” She left the company to join the tour and, afterwards, landed notable projects like Susan Stroman’s Little Dancer in Seattle and Broadway Dance Lab (now Dance Lab New York). Blake moved to Los Angeles when the pandemic hit, where she’s currently focused on television and film acting. But, she says, she’s “not over being a ballerina yet.”
In Los Angeles, Blake has found performing opportunities with State Street Ballet, Luminario Ballet and, of course, annual Nutcracker guestings. She takes daily ballet class with specific teachers who know that she still wants to be pushed in order keep up her strength and stamina.
Blake signed with an agent to pursue her acting career, and having a movement background has made her stand out. Her physical awareness makes learning fight choreography easy and has landed her the opportunity to create a character for a video game, as well as perform as Celine Dion’s dance double for a national commercial.
“As long as I just keep all the things moving and going, it’s amazing how many things are happening that you can be a part of,” she says about balancing her dance and acting careers. “You don’t have to just take everything you are offered, because there are so many opportunities out there.”
Coming from a strictly ballet background, Jolina Javier started expanding her vocabulary into modern and contemporary dance when she attended college at Purchase College, State University of New York. After graduation, she danced for smaller ballet, contemporary and theatrical dance companies in New York City. But she got her first taste of musical theater when she landed a job in the ensemble of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, where she has continued to perform for seven seasons. “I thought my brain was going to explode learning how to sing and dance at the same time, but I loved that it was fun and challenging,” Javier says.
She adds that pursuing the individual crafts of dancing, singing and acting has “made my storytelling better.” Over the years she’s had ample opportunity to develop these different aspects of performing. She’s worked in a variety of regional theaters, as well as on Broadway, in Phantom of the Opera. Her dance gigs include projects with companies like Ballet Noir, Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance and The Chase Brock Experience. Last year Javier had the opportunity to perform with Women In Motion, a New York City–based dance company that supports female choreographers through commissioning, producing and mentoring. And among her favorite projects has been performing in Susan Stroman’s Little Dancer at The Kennedy Center.
Javier takes many types of dance classes, along with Pilates and conditioning, to stay in shape and keep growing. But ballet class continues to take precedence over others. “It’s how I know how to warm up my body, and it’s like my meditation in the morning that sets me up for the day. It’s my foundation,” she says. “I’ve never felt as strong and maintained as I do now. I’m working with more finesse than when I was younger.”
During middle school in his native Australia, Francis Lawrence balanced his passion for musical theater and ballet by training in both equally. But when he was accepted into the Australian Ballet School at age 17, he narrowed his focus. Remembering his mom’s advice that “you can be jack-of-all-trades, but master of none,” Lawrence made a plan: He’d pursue a ballet career first, and return to acting later.
During his years dancing with Australian Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Grand Rapids Ballet, he kept up with singing lessons as his schedule allowed and sometimes did auditions to keep his musical theater skills strong. The month he turned 30, Lawrence landed a spot on the national tour of Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris and decided to go for it. After the tour completed, he made the decision to freelance in both ballet and musical theater instead of returning to steady company life.
When COVID shut down live performances, Lawrence suddenly had time to invest in acting. He enrolled in virtual on-camera classes and developed an acting website, reel, resumé and headshots. He soon signed with a manager. Though dancing has certainly helped move his film and television career forward—like a role in Hallmark Channel’s Sugarplum Twist and working with Debbie Allen in Netflix’s A Jazzman’s Blues—he’s also expanded into jobs that don’t highlight his dance background, like co-star in a recent television episode of “Law & Order.”
Since the world has reopened, Lawrence has been busy juggling dance, musical theater and acting. Highlights include completing another tour of An American in Paris in Australia, guesting with New Jersey Ballet and dancing in Andy Blankenbuehler’s restaged work Remember Our Song. In order to jump back into dancing an eight-hour rehearsal day, Lawrence thoughtfully and continually prepares. “I think the reason why I can go back and forth is because the number one thing I do in the morning—even though I do a million things—is go to a ballet class. That keeps my options open, rain or shine, every day of the week.”