How Modeling Gigs Can Help You Earn Extra Income

October 26, 2008

Modeling is a great way to help pay the bills, and as a dancer, your ability to move well is a big asset in front of a camera. If you’re dancing in a company, chances are you already have experience in front of a lens posing for publicity and marketing photographs. Like the dance industry, modeling is a tough field, but many dancers have found it to be a rewarding experience.

Determine Your Niche

There are as many different kinds of modeling as there are dance disciplines, with varying requirements for each. Runway fashion shows, for instance, dictate that women must be taller than 5’9″ and men, 6′ or taller. As a 5’6″ NYC–based dancer, Chantel Marie Gonsalves knew she was too short for these kinds of jobs, but has been able to build a resumé that includes editorial and catalog work for Popular Photography magazine and Nordstrom department stores.

Ask former model and swing dancer Nelia Vishnevsky what it takes to succeed in the modeling industry, and “being pretty” isn’t necessarily top of the list. It’s more about having that “it” factor. “There’s a misconception that a good model is a pretty girl,” says Vishnevsky, whose seven-year career in the Philadelphia area included print work, runway jobs for bridal shows and a gig on QVC. “In real life, [models] just have to have a certain look and move well.”

Find an Agency

Think you have what it takes to sign on the dotted line? Be careful. Con artists are everywhere, making it tough to know who’s legit and who’s not. Most reputable agencies don’t look for talent in the street.

To hook up with a legitimate agency, you’ll have to do the research. Check the internet or yellow pages to find out who the local players are, then make sure there aren’t any official complaints filed against them with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Talk to photographers and get their opinions. Find out what kind of reputation these agencies have, and what they specialize in. Once you’ve got your list, contact each agency to find out how to make submissions or when open calls are held. For instance, fashion powerhouse agencies Elite, Wilhelmina, and Ford all accept “cold call” submissions, and Elite and Wilhelmina hold weekly open calls.

Next, you’ll need professional headshots, comp cards and a dozen outfits to show off all your different looks, right? Wrong. All you need are a few snapshots. “You can even get your mom to take them,” says Gonsalves. “Good agencies will be able to tell from those [if you have potential].”

If you don’t get a response the first time around, then retake your snapshots from different angles and with different looks and poses, then resubmit, recommends Cynthia Saldana-Aktipis, founder of Ikon Model Management in Manhattan, which serves clients such as L’Oreal, Tommy Hilfiger and Cosmopolitan magazine. At this stage, never pay expensive fees for professional photos.

Once you’ve signed with an agency, you’ll need a comp card. A model’s equivalent to a business card, this staple includes your photos, personal stats such as your name, age, measurements, hair and eye color, weight, height and size, and you and your agency’s contact info. Also list any special talents, especially your dance background.

If an agency believes in your ability to get work, it might advance you the cost of test shots and comp cards until you can pay the money back. Smaller agencies may not be in a position to do that with everyone, though, so in some cases, you might have to come up with your own materials. Be very cautious about agencies that charge upfront fees of any kind or require you to use specific photographers; they are likely scamming you with no intention of helping you find work.

On the Job

According to solo artist, choreographer and Limón dancer Bradley Shelver (see his six sequential installments of “On Tour” beginning in DS September 2005), who has modeled for Elle, Vogue and Surface magazines and for Saks Fifth Avenue, when you’re starting out, keep in mind that your task is to make the products you model come alive. “An understanding of posture and shape, and the ability to live in the clothes is what is important,” says Shelver. “You’re now part of the product, and marketing yourself is just as important as selling the clothes.”

Be prepared to experiment with form and physicality. “Find the balance between moving like a dancer and adjust[ing] to the photographer’s vision for the shoot,” he says. “[Don’t] be afraid to feel awkward and ugly, because positions of that nature often produce interesting designs for clothing.”

Photographer David Byun (, whose client base includes W, Vogue, Elle and Interview magazines, says that when the lens is pointed at you, exude confidence. “Don’t be shy in front of the camera,” he says. “It’s about getting what the client needs…delivering the mood and the feeling [that the client wants.]”