Los Angeles, CA

Watch out, New York and LA! Atlanta Is Where All of The Commercial Dancers Are Moving

Kristyn Burtt

'Step Up: High Water' cast.YouTube.

When dancers decide to start their professional careers, New York City and Los Angeles are normally at the top of the list. After the pandemic forced many productions and theaters to shut down, a new city has emerged for commercial artists: Atlanta, Georgia. The city was able to get up and running faster when it came to TV and film production in the middle of the pandemic compared to the other two usual powerhouses. Now, that's where a lot of dancers have chosen to relocate.

This isn't necessarily a new phenomenon, though. Early adopters living in "Hollywood East" noticed a shift in the production landscape when the state of Georgia become a hub because of its tax incentives. Step Up: High Water has filmed all three of its seasons in the city and Eddie Murphy's recent film, Coming 2 America, even held an open call for dancers. Kara Mack, who worked as an assistant to choreographer Fatima Robinson, talked about the importance of having the audition in Atlanta.

"I have to give praise to Fatima because I love how authenticity is a part of her work," Mack explained to News Break. "From that process, she said, 'Open Call.' And I said, 'Are you serious?' She said, 'Yeah. Let's have an open call.' I knew because I work in Africa Diaspora here in America that if she made that decision, people would come out. So many people showed up that we had to audition by female and male in the largest studio in Atlanta. People shouldn't sleep on the talent that this city has."

Dance agencies have also popped up in recent years because they realized that Atlanta was becoming as important as New York City and Los Angeles to have talent on their roster. Clear Talent Group, Xcel Talent Agency and 411 South Talent are all representing dancers and choreographers who are working in TV and film.

“The Southeast is well known to produce championship competition dancers and choreographers,” said manager Toni Thomas to The Daily Beast. And living in the Southeast definitely has some benefits — dancers can work in the industry, but not have to stretch every dollar just to make a living. “That’s what turned everybody on,” Thomas continued. “The cost of living is fair, and their families are here. A lot of my dancers have children.”

The pandemic also proved that you don't need to live in the big cities because most casting directors are asking for self-tape auditions, at least for the first round. As long as the dancers have a decent space to dance at home or easy access to a studio, they can easily fly to the job if they book the role — but they still have major opportunities in Atlanta.

“It’s given a ton of dancers the opportunity to work. These are SAG rate, actor-rate jobs,” said choreographer Sean Bankhead to The Daily Beast. He spent four years creating movement for 48 episodes on the Atlanta-based production, Star. That's similar to the work Jamaica Craft is offering to the dancers on Step Up: High Water as the show's main choreographer over the last three seasons. Even though many of the actors and dancers who play the lead characters are Los Angeles-based, the show is able to hire dancers for smaller roles and major dance scenes from the Atlanta area. It's a great place for younger artists to break into the industry because they can become a bigger fish in a smaller pond quicker than in the other cities, where talent flocks to after high school and college graduations.

“When I first started dancing in Atlanta, at age 16, the dream was to go to L.A.,” Bankhead summed up. “We all thought, ‘We gotta get out of Atlanta.’ The tables have turned.”

Before you go, check out: Kara Mack Reveals Fatima Robinson's Secret to Finding The Right Dancers for 'Coming 2 America'

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Kristyn Burtt is a commercial dance journalist, TV host and producer. She was the West Coast correspondent and host of "To the Pointe" on Dance Network for five years. Her coverage of "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing With the Stars" and "World of Dance" is popular with dance fans across the globe. Kristyn's love of dance began early in her life. She trained at the Boston Ballet School, danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in "The Nutcracker" and won a dance scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She currently serves on the American Dance Movement’s Marketing & PR Committee and is a member of the Television Academy and SAG-AFTRA.

Los Angeles, CA

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