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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Executive Files: Casting pole dancers for Anna Nicole

by Alice Bernstein

From the 2011 Royal Opera House production of Anna Nicole
Photo: ROH/Bill Cooper

6 FEMALE DANCERS: All Ethnicities, height range: 5’2 – 5’6, dress size range: 4-6; dance detailed, unison, count-based contemporary dance material that's heavy on gestures and grounded weighty moves, although no floor work involved. Strong acting ability required.  Some, not all of the dancers will need to be strong Pole Dancers.  Please indicate on submission if client has pole dance experience.
That email was the start of another wacky chapter in my work as executive vice president at BAM. We needed to cast six pole dancers for our fabulous new opera, Anna Nicole. Pole dancing in Houston, TX as a means of providing for her son, Daniel, gave the real Anna Nicole Smith her start in show business.

We were two gay men, two straight women, and one straight man in a studio measuring a tiny 10' x 35'. Every 10 minutes a woman wearing nearly nothing would pick a tune and start writhing around and between the three poles, trying to be as provocative as possible while performing amazing gymnastic feats. It was fairly standard for them to be able to grasp the pole at a good height off the floor and position their body parallel to the ground. Uh, and then open their legs wide. I mostly avoided eye contact but our straight guy—oh okay, George Steel, artistic director and general manager of our producing partner, New York City Opera—was the focus of each dancer’s every move. He didn’t squirm. Much.

We were to be casting into existing costumes and also to include as many ethnic groups and physical looks as possible. This was not a problem. Pole dancers come in all varieties including the woman who told us afterwards that she was really a good Christian girl and that she was embarrassed by what her body had done during the audition. 

I could be naïve, but I think nearly all of the women we saw pole danced as an art form as opposed to being in “erotic entertainment” because they almost all had to be encouraged to be less polished and “sluttier, darling.” Pole dancers in a roadhouse in Texas probably were not as well-trained and not so concerned about “line.” A few hopeful women had only had a couple of classes at the gym or had not pole danced at all. I loved learning that the experienced dancers, many of whom were teachers, had spent their warm-up time showing the newbies a few moves. You don’t always see that kind of generosity in a competitive situation. We could tell the difference, of course. It takes some serious strength in the arms and legs to be able to move, and also hold, a body while suspended from a pole by one or two hands. There were also some breathtaking drops.

Our dancers are Ayo Jackson, Brook Notary, Karla Garcia, Marija Abney, Samantha Jo Zack, and Hanna Florence—all gorgeous, strong, talented women. I hope you will come see them, as well as our two body builders, 18 singers, 7 actors, 34 choristers, and 62 musicians in Anna Nicole opening September 17!

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