Dance Informa got the chance to catch up with the lovely, talented Amanda Collins, who, in 2014, bravely made her way from Sydney to the big apple, New York City, to complete her full-time dance study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). After successful completion, Collins is now working in NYC, having had an amazing variety of opportunities thus far in the time since graduating. Here, Collins tells us about the experience of moving to the dance capital of the world for study, and how she has found the transition from study to working in NYC.
Apart from the opportunity to study overseas, what made you choose the AMDA course in particular?
“I chose AMDA for a few reasons. I knew I wanted to study overseas, preferably in America, and I also wanted to incorporate other performing arts mediums. The course I chose allowed me to study in New York, which was a huge dream of mine, and to be able to study dance, plus acting and musical theatre. I loved that the course was completely practical, with very little ‘theory’ work. I also loved that the teaching staff were all current or previous working professionals in the industry.”
What was the AMDA audition process like?
“The audition for AMDA required me to perform a one- to two-minute solo, which I choreographed myself, and then two travelling combinations, which they taught in the audition. This included a classical ballet combination and a contemporary combination. Following this, they asked us questions about our pieces and our dance training, as well as what attracted us to AMDA and the particular course we chose (there are four available). Some of us were then asked to do a short interview with someone from the administration team, which I remember involved answering questions about our current life in Australia. It was a very welcoming environment, which helped to settle the nerves! I approached the day having taken the audition for experience, and left wanting desperately to get accepted.”
What did a typical day look like at AMDA?
“Each program had a different day-to-day schedule. The dance program often involved 8am starts, which were either ballet or contemporary for two-and-a-half hours. We then would have three to four more classes spaced throughout the day, and our days would often finish at 5.30pm. These classes included jazz, tap, tumbling, theatre dance, musical theatre, individual voice lessons, acting and dance history. This was a Monday through Friday schedule. We technically had the weekends off, but most of our time off was spent rehearsing scenes for acting, practising songs for musical theatre or routines for our many dance classes.”
How easy was it to sort out your visa for overseas study, and how long did your visa allow you to stay in the country after you graduated?
“The student visa was somewhat easy. The school provided all the paperwork to fill out and the instructions for the embassy. This student visa allowed the 18 months to two years of study, with an extra year called Optional Practical Training (OPT). I applied for the OPT with the help of administration who allowed me to stay an extra year and work in the performing arts to build up my resume to apply for the next visa.”
At the completion of your course, did you feel well-connected and knowledgeable about the U.S. dance industry and how you might reach your goals there?
“I definitely felt prepared for the New York industry with audition preparations, how to get a headshot and what is appropriate attire. However, you also figure a lot of it out yourself the more auditions you attend. In my final semester, our classes were moved to a night schedule, which allowed time for us to audition during the day for productions that would start after graduation. I attended every audition I possibly could to gain the experience and prepare myself for what was to come upon graduation. The staff were very supportive, and that continued after graduation, providing teaching opportunities to make extra money, putting in a good word at auditions with industry professionals they were friends with, and also reaching out long after graduation to see how we were doing and whether they can assist in any way. Older alumni were also really great in assisting in any way. I had students who graduated earlier than I did and alongside me help with visa applications, offer job opportunities, apartments for rent and teach classes for free to keep the training going.”
Did you have a favourite class or teacher, and why?
“There were many, for different reasons, but in my second semester contemporary improvisation class, we had a group of people who were so inspiring and creative, and along with our teacher we created some beautiful moments that only could be understood if you were there. We did a lot of individual as well as partner work, and we would dance in pairs with one of us blindfolded, putting all trust in the other person. It was incredible. Every week, we would come in and just dance about anything and everything and to anything and everything. It is always hard to explain why it was so magical, but it was one of the best classroom experiences I have ever had.”
You have had the opportunity to work as a dancer in NYC after graduating. Tell us a bit about these jobs and what this has been like?
“It has been very exciting. I’ve done a few cabarets that fellow alumni and friends have created, which were amazing to watch come together. For people so young, it is incredible to see the innovation and creativity. I’ve also danced friends’ choreography for various projects around New York. Any chance to perform is amazing for me.”
You have been selected to work as a dancer with singer Paytra. How did this come about, and what kind of work have you done with her so far?
“During the summer in New York, I was living in an apartment with a fellow AMDA alum who was already a dancer for her. They were in need of another dancer, so she brought me in to dance for Paytra, and after one rehearsal I got the job. It has been an incredible experience. We’ve done a lot of performances at fashion shows in New York, including New York Fashion Week and Rainbow Fashion Week for Pride Week. I have performed in her music videos and flown to Orlando, Florida, to perform at one of the Disney resorts for the Top Model of the Year Awards (a competition for child and teen fashion models). It is amazing to be a part of a team that works so hard together and goes through all the stages of growth as performers. She is releasing her EP soon, so there is only going to be many more and bigger scale opportunities to come.”
By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.