As a freelance choreographer who spends time in both the competitive studio world as well as the professional arena, I am always working with new dancers. I don't often get to set work on the same people day in and day out and as a result I have developed a pretty good radar on what a dancer is capable and willing to contribute to a piece and down the line to a job. Although the educator in me is always striving to push dancers to expand their boundaries both physically and mentally, there are some limitations that only an individual themselves can liberate.
Two qualities have always been particularly apparent to me in dancer's that I have had meaningful and rewarding meetings with. Versatility and adaptability. There's a grocery list of other outstanding attributes that great dancers posses but these two are distinctly present in the dancers I have worked with over and over again in a professional setting. Why? Because they are the perfect pairing for creation.
First and foremost, versatility in the physical realm is such an essential skill set. Being trained in multiple styles such as ballet, jazz, tap, house, locking, popping, breaking, wacking, acrobatics, samba, paso doble, swing, jive, waltz, ETC - allows a choreographer to pull from a dancers vast understanding of their body. This doesn't mean that if I am choreographing a contemporary piece that I will actually choreograph a latin figure 8 hip or a fresno, but if my dancer has those physical capabilities I can incorporate their essence into my moves.
Versatility also becomes a huge factor in performance, vibe, expressions and emotional range. A dancer comfortable exploring and expressing profound storytelling, abstract concepts and remarkable showmanship, adds unparalleled value to any idea the choreographer examines.
Taking direction, or new direction, and immediately applying it is a key characteristic of any steadily working professional dancer. Using your versatility to allow the choreographer's vision to come to life and adjusting your physical and emotional performance to your surroundings and their conditions is imperative.
Logistically, this could mean learning a piece for the grandeur of the stage and altering it for on camera performance in a film. Another classic example of this is learning a piece of choreography in a spacious studio and arriving to set or to the venue where you will perform and seeing you have 10% of the space you rehearsed in and still need to deliver an authentic performance.
Another form of adaptability that I personally welcome is the skill of 'being a blank canvas' vs contributing as an artist and knowing when each is appropriate. A great piece of work, in my opinion, is never solely the result of the choreographer or the dancer alone but a collaboration between the two. A dancer should be able to identify when the choreographer has a clear image in their mind and body and be able to physicalize it. They should also be willing to experiment when the choreographer has a feeling or a sense but is still discovering what it's form is. To me these adaptable moments are what make the creative process so intriguing and rewarding.