How to thrive in the USA: Catching up with Amanda Collins

Amanda Collins.
Amanda Collins.

Dance Informa got to catch up again with Amanda Collins, who has now spent a few years working in New York, on maintaining a dance career in this wonderful, iconic city of dance. She is living the dream with a permanent gig with artist Paytra, as well as adding to her repertoire, and figuring out long-term life in the Big Apple. 

Tell us what you have been up to since we last chatted with you in 2017? 

Amanda Collins.
Amanda Collins.

“Since 2017, since we last spoke, I have been incredibly busy with different projects. I am still mostly dancing for singer/songwriter Paytra. We’ve done a few music videos, most notable would be her ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Superman’ clips. I have also done a lot of work for choreographer Sarah Eika Burke, whom I met as Paytra’s choreographer, and she has continued to hire me for her other projects. I have done a music video for the artist, Sister Sparrow, for her single ‘Ghost’, which debuted on Billboard’s website, which was an awesome experience. I’ve also continued to teach ballet, which I love, so that has been great for maintaining and continuously improving my own technique.”

Have you been touring? Tell us a bit about your recent experiences.

“I have, yes! I am Paytra’s permanent back-up dancer, and we just finished up a very busy summer of shows. We travelled to Detroit, Michigan, for their Motor City Pride Parade, which was wonderful. We performed on a festival stage to our biggest crowd yet, with quite a bit of fan action with pictures and meet-and-greets after the show. We were also asked to perform at the We Welcome Pride event for World Pride 2019 in New York City, to kick off Pride weekend. We finished up our summer tour of shows in many varied performance venues around Manhattan.”

What has the process been like for rehearsing/creating/performing with Paytra, as you have been over the long term now?

“In the beginning, when creating the live set, we used to start with one rehearsal when we’d come in and learn the whole thing. Sarah choreographs all the pieces on us to Paytra’s songs, we learn it in one big chunk, usually within a four-hour rehearsal. We come back for one or two more short rehearsals before the first gig. The challenge is this process contains the most choreography I have learnt in one go, compared to previous gigs, and keeping it in my body and muscle memory until the next rehearsal. As time has gone on, we have added more songs to the set and added formation changes. Both Ianthe [Mellers] and I remember the choreography easily, but when we perform, we never know completely what type of stage we are going to be on, so there is a lot of last minute adjustments that happen in the moment to accommodate the space. 

As a backup dancer, you’re there to amplify the artist, so you have to make sure no one notices if there’s an issue, and that the set still looks clean and flawless. I think in terms of development, I’m enjoying the challenge of dancing for that long (each set is between 45 minutes to one hour), and trying to keep the energy up has been something to learn and perfect. I think this is important for any performance field. If we go on tour, the set would extend to closer to two hours eventually, so moving forward I think this is great preparation for the next stages. I like to think that whatever job comes next, because of all the work I’m doing now, I am mentally and physically prepared for it.”

What does the day-to-day look like, in your preparations for gigs, and to keep yourself ready for performances?

Amanda Collins (left). Photo courtesy of Collins.
Amanda Collins (left). Photo courtesy of Collins.

“As far as the day-to-day process goes, both Ianthe and I usually meet up throughout the week and the day of a gig to workout together, discuss anything we’re stuck on, and warm up. The whole group — Paytra, Sarah, Ianthe and I — always get a studio in the hours before the set to rehearse, get ready together and have our hair and makeup done. I enjoy that part of the process; being away from everything before going on stage allows us to focus and connect as a group beforehand. It helps with any nerves and always builds a level of excitement for each show.

Time management plays a huge role in my life, as outside of this gig I will have multiple other jobs like teaching to earn money, because New York is expensive, as well as making sure I’m catching up with friends and connecting with family over FaceTime where possible, and then as mentioned previously, I need to make sure I’m working on my visa application. I would then have rehearsals and working out to stay in shape, also making sure I eat properly and enough throughout the day to fuel this busy lifestyle. I sleep enough, and I workout a lot because I enjoy exercising for both my physical and mental health, but I also couldn’t dance for an hour on stage if I’m not in shape. I don’t like to encourage or believe in the idea that you have to look a certain way to be a performer; I think that idea is tired now, but I really keep note of how I feel. So, I maintain a certain level of fitness and eat well so I don’t get sick, and I feel I am performing at my best.

It is important to manage your time so everything feels under control, and it is really important to stay well, both physically and mentally, so that the lifestyle is sustainable.”

Have you started any of your own projects?

“I have been planning some projects. I really enjoy choreographing and am continuously exploring my contemporary and ballet roots. I have planned a few individual performance videos of my choreography to film and share online. As someone who studied in NYC at an arts school, I also have a lot of friends from different fields in the arts, and I have been wanting to put together a showcase to present the different forms of art and the talent that I see in all of these people. A fresh celebration of the arts that is bred in this wonderful city.”

How have you found adjusting to longer term life in the States?

“I am absolutely loving it. I think because I moved here at such a young age, I feel like I established my adult life here, and so I feel really comfortable. I miss my family and friends from Sydney a lot, but I just love the life I live here. It does get hard if you have to deal with being sick by yourself, or any of the big holidays without family, but those special days become ones you share with your friends who don’t have family around as well.”

I am sure many of our readers are curious as to how you have managed the visa situation, over a longer term period?

Amanda Collins (third from left). Photo courtesy of Collins.
Amanda Collins (third from left). Photo courtesy of Collins.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it; the visa situation is really hard. It takes a lot of time and energy to put together, and a lot of motivation. It involves dedicating much of your spare time to collecting information and evidence from every job you’ve ever done, and then presenting it in binders that are very descriptive… a lot of paper-compiling to put it simply! You need to make a lot of connections with industry professionals who can vouch for your efforts and talent. But I want to stay, and keep performing and working with Paytra, as well as all the other contacts I have landed here, so the time and effort is worth it. I would recommend starting earlier than you think so you can stay on top of it, and ask for help where you can.”

How are things different as far as dance work goes — the lessons that you may not have learnt if you had stayed short-term, like a year? 

“I think the biggest thing I’ve come to find is that no matter where you are, whether it’s Sydney or New York City, more than 90 percent of the time it is about who you know and the connections you make, and making sure you are someone who people will like working with! If people like you, they are going to want to keep working with you. Originally, I didn’t think NYC was similar to Sydney when I first moved here, but after a couple of years of working, I have found it to be very similar. I don’t think I would have met or worked with any of the people I have, if I had chosen not to stay after my studies here. 

One interesting thing I have learnt in my time here, is that New York is a really hard city to live in. You have to have to be really thick skinned, and prepared for the fast-paced lifestyle. Not a lot of people like the level of busyness, and it can get really tiring, really quickly. It is also very expensive, so you are always going to be working, therefore always tired. It is a sacrifice that is so worth it, though, and if you have the personality to withstand New York, then you will thrive. I love it, and I love my life here.”

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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