Going Pro: Industrials

March 18, 2009

The word industrial usually conjures up images of gritty smokestacks and rough factory workers. To dancers, however, an industrial is a flashy stage show sponsored by a corporation to promote a new product or concept—and hundreds of dancers stay gainfully employed through them. “[Industrial shows] are something to keep these computer geeks or executives awake while watching products [flashed] on screens,” says Brian Friedman, who recently choreographed a large industrial job for Macy’s. “What better way to entertain than [through] dance?”

Choreographer JT Horenstein agrees. In September, he choreographed an industrial in Cleveland at a summit for 14,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Set to live performances by Bruce Hornsby, Tina Turner and others, 18 dancers performed a massive rock tribute at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. “Industrials are such a great way [for dancers and choreographers] to make money,” says Horenstein. “You can work constantly, and your salaries can be double what a concert tour pays or triple what a Broadway show pays per week.” (Salaries average around $1,500–2,000 per week.)

Landing the Gig

When aiming for industrial jobs, it’s helpful to investigate everything about the company, including corporate culture and reputation. “Dancers who want these jobs need to do their homework,” says Horenstein, who has choreographed industrials for Harry Winston and McDonald’s. “Look online at a company’s mission statement or pictures of past events,” says Horenstein, to get valuable clues on whether or not you have the right image for the job and how to look when you show up at the audition. For instance, a Nike industrial might call for clean-cut, sporty dancers with athletic bodies, while a Swarovski Crystal industrial may seek a slender, sophisticated type.

Tony Gonzales, who has choreographed industrials for La Quinta Hotels and Converse, uses the needs of these two companies as examples of the variety needed in industrial work: “For La Quinta, we had to appeal to a broad market, so we looked for real people who looked like they would stay at these venues, whereas Converse wanted flashy, sexy dancers with the ability to groove.”

After figuring out how to fit the corporate mold, getting your body in peak shape is a must. Rehearsals typically entail six- to eight-hour days for at least one week, and the shows are nonstop dancing. (Dancers might be required to perform up to five times per day in high-energy shows lasting as long as 25 minutes.) Plus, industrials for companies like Skechers or Reebok often involve lots of tricky footwork and athletic jumps. “This [gig] is not for lazy dancers,” warns Horenstein. “You have to be in perfect health and agility to get through some jobs.” Friedman agrees, and says that because this work is so demanding, dancers need to be especially health-conscious when pursuing industrials. “You have to really take care of your body, because you do so many shows per day and injuries are a concern,” he says.

Those who want a lead role in industrial shows should hone their performance prowess and technical skills, too, as many gigs call for singing, acting and public speaking, as well as being fluent in all dance genres. For Horenstein’s IBEW industrial, eight of the 18 dancers were required to sing. Specialty skills like aerial work, fire-throwing or even hula hooping can also come in handy, as “atmosphere” dancers are often needed.

The Perks and Pitfalls

Ask dancers the ultimate benefit of doing industrial work, and they will likely say, “stability.” Corporate clients can be more loyal than the commercial world, and tend to use the same dancers again and again. “People who do Nike industrials work for years,” says Gonzales. “You could be even picked for a campaign as a model. These industrials are ongoing, and companies like to bring back talented people.” On the flip side, dancers may encounter non-compete clauses for companies with similar products. For instance, Pepsi dancers may not be able to do Coke industrials, or Asics dancers might not be permitted to do Puma shows. Therefore, dancers must be smart about reading their contracts and thinking ahead when accepting jobs.

Besides great pay and travel perks, many dancers enjoy the free swag afforded by industrial work. In many cases, dancers get to keep the clothes, shoes and jewelry worn onstage, or take home bags full of free products. Industrials are also a great avenue for dancers trying to break into the commercial dance industry. Though many move west in hopes of gracing the screen or stage, industrials should not be overlooked as a viable employment option. “A lot of young dancers get their start doing industrials, and it’s the only type of work you can get without having your ‘look’ down,” says Friedman. “I love industrials, because they’re like a bare canvas.”