[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If ever you need a definition for stage presence, Chester Martinez is it. This born performer has developed a unique, electrifying style within Cape Town’s growing urban dance scene, rocking the spotlight with hip-hop, contemporary, high heels and vogue styles. Apart from inspiring others to live out their passion for dance and performance, Chester can teach anyone a thing or two about daring to be different, and the importance of being true to yourself. EduConnect meets up with the vibrant young artist to learn about a freelancing urban dancer’s daily hustle and bustle.
We understand that no day is the same for you, but what would a full day typically look like?
|Time of Day||Activity||Comments|
|06:00h||Go to S.W.I.T.C.H. class in town or join the Secret Sunrise event which happens every few weeks.||It’s good to get nice and pumped, and get the blood flowing.
S.W.I.T.C.H. has classes that caters more to dancers.
|08:00h||Get back home and start with admin, reply to Emails||I have no set meal times – I eat in between.|
|10:00h||My work day starts – either go to auditions & castings, or if I’m working on a job, I’ll be at rehearsals all day||Castings can go around 2 or 3pm, and rehearsal days are generally full 8-hour working days.
I get a lot of castings and auditions through my agent – Cover Model Management. You can check out my portfolio on their site.
|16:00h||Get home and chill out for a bit – grab something to eat.||If it’s a rehearsal day I get home later.|
|19:00h||Either teach or attend a class||This is usually between 6 and 9pm.|
- Please tell us what you’ve been up to lately.
Up until last year I was teaching dance at The Stage Performing Arts Studio. This year I am not teaching as much, because currently I am focusing on commercial freelance work. For example, I danced in Honey 3 last year, and have done some commercials. I’m now working on the film Cinderella Live, which is being produced by Warner Brothers. But I am still teaching an exotic heels class at The Pole Project and I’ve gotten in contact with Paradiso Academy, because I’m planning to start a heels class there that is centered around professional dancers – so watch this space!
- What do you enjoy most about being a professional dancer?
I’m a born performer. I feel the most myself, and the most like who I need to be, when I’m on a stage performing or dancing. I express myself through movement, singing, and acting. But more than anything, I just love to be dancing. I’ll spend three hours at home in my living room learning a dance piece that I don’t have to do on my off day – just because I love to dance.
- What do you enjoy least about it?
What I don’t like about this career is the fact that clients, and people who want to hire or employ dancers, tend to still not take us seriously. So, in 2016, we still face the issue of people wanting dancers to do jobs for free, for less than what the performance is worth. It’s ridiculous. We have rates. We need to survive, pay rent, buy food – like everyone else.
Working as a performer is seasonal, so during summer, which is peak season, you have to make money or else you will struggle during low season. The seasonal aspect is already tough – now on top of that, people don’t want to pay you your money’s worth. It really gets under my skin.
Many of us professional dancers know our worth and we have our set rates. We’re not willing to do jobs for anything less than our minimum, which is based on our caliber of dance training and performance ability. So what often happens is that clients opt for student dancers who are willing to do the job for less, or even for free. So we can’t always so no, even when it’s below our minimum, otherwise we’ll end up on the streets.
In an ideal world, I want dancers to be educated about what they are worth, and what they shouldn’t allow. It’s the only way that the dance community as a whole will benefit, and the industry can grow and develop as it should. With the talent we have, we should be competing with places like Los Angeles.
- You always loved performing, but how did you get into dancing specifically?
I was a very shy kid, but I made friends easily. And because of this, I was introduced to many different interests. During school I jumped from thing to thing – hockey, piano, violin, karate, etc.
Around the age of 12 I was going through a tough time, and I really wanted to get involved with something I felt passionate about. So when my friends at school started a theatre group, I was in! We ended up performing our own District Six musical at the District Six Museum. That was my first taste of being on stage. I became addicted to it!
Around the same time I spoke to my mom about exploring dancing, since she used to be a championship ballroom dancer. So then I started Ballroom and Latin-American dancing competitively.
It was at a ballroom competition that I saw a dance academy doing all types of dancing. I remember that day thinking – ‘I’m done with ballroom.’ I want to do that! That was the start of my journey as a dancer, and becoming more confident in who I was.
- During this exciting time, did you still continue with school?
Oh yes, and I graduated with 5 distinctions at the end of Matric. I was expected to do the family thing and be a top student – I became headboy of my primary school, like all my cousins had done. If I didn’t do well in school, I wasn’t allowed to dance. So because I wanted to dance so much, I figured I best do what I have to do.
It’s about developing work ethic for something you love to do, and then applying it to whatever else it is you need to do.
One of your trademarks is the heels! Tell us more about how that started.
The heels came much later. I started developing an identity through dance. I started to learn so much about myself and who I am. I explored my sexuality, my perspectives, and my understanding of gender. I feel completely comfortable in both my masculine and feminine element. Androgyny has kind of become my brand. The heels are one of many styles I love to do, but it’s something I feel very passionate about.
I’m still a baby and have so much to learn, especially about styles like Vogue that we don’t really have in South Africa.
Vogue – what is that all about?
Vogueing is a very strict, and underground style. It’s a whole culture centered around fashion. The more I delve into it, the more I love it. When I vogue, I just go into this other space and completely become my alter ego. I hope to become inducted in a Vogue house in the future. It’s incredible.
Do you need to have a qualification to become a professional dancer?
No! I walked straight out of high school into a teaching job at a performing arts college. I had trained and done the necessary preparation in my own time, to get to a professional standard. By the time I matriculated, I was a professional dancer. Of course it can differ with types of dancing, as some have a specific and rigid syllabus and technique.
We aren’t taught to pursue our passions. But the truth is, if you are passionate about something and commit yourself to it, you will make a success of yourself. Dance and art is something creative and expressive and comes from our soul. We already have the knowledge of how to do it, we just have to find the right path to get to a place where we can say,
‘I’ve found the knowledge.’
And that place is not in an institution. In fact, institutions can end up killing your passion, because you are forced to listen to someone who tries to reinforce their own perception of art. Art needs to be a self-development.
What about teaching dance? Does that require a qualification?
It depends. If you have the skillset, you don’t necessarily need an official qualification. But in more classical dances, like Ballet, teachers have to have professional training and get a teaching qualification. However, it doesn’t need to be through university. Some dancers finish their teachers exam at 16 and can start teaching. If you take the right steps, you don’t have to take the route of attending university like the majority of people thinks.
What kind of person will succeed in this industry?
Dancers are human beings. I’ve met the most diverse human beings in this field. It’s not a specific kind of person who becomes a dancer. It’s someone who holds the rights qualities, regardless of their personality. Some people are total introverts and go through a metamorphosis stage!
In my opinion, the three things you need to do in order to be a professional dancer are:
- Learn confidence.
It’s important to learn this and develop a thick skin, because you will experience criticism, judgement, and general objectification in this industry.
- Be resilient.
You might only get success after 5 years… after 10 years… you need to be willing to stick it out. You aren’t guaranteed to make it, so you need to be willing to keep grinding. You need to become content with the fact that you are following your passion. Don’t make fame or any of that stuff your goal. Pursuing your passion – that’s your goal. For me, success is being a better dancer than I was yesterday. And every day, that’s how I go about it.
- Be positive.
When you do 8-hour rehearsals for 10 weeks straight – your body gets tired. The physical aspect eventually takes its toll, and if you don’t have the right mindset, it can break you. I’ve seen it, and it’s not pretty. You can’t bring your personal life into the studio. Choreographers don’t care whether your cat died, or whatever. It’s not a psychology session. You are working. It’s your job to be present, positive, and execute the dancing at top form. It’s harsh, but that’s the reality. The show must go on.
- Where is the ‘place to be’ for dancers?
I’m planning to move to LA later this year. It’s the most commercial place for dancing. But Europe and Asia are also amazing places for dancers. Australia is also well established, but like Cape Town, on a smaller scale.
- What is the earning potential of a dance teacher and professional dancer in SA?
As with most things, the amount of money you earn will increase as your caliber of work evolves.
If you are starting out and teaching once-off classes, the general hourly rate is between R150 and R250. For private classes, you can adapt your rate. If you start out teaching at a studio, your salary could be anything from about R2000 and R5000 – sometimes more. It depends on how many classes you teach, as well as where. Some teachers make a killing.
As a commercial dancer, a client has to pay for your rehearsals in addition to the performance. The costume generally comes out of our own budget. The general minimum rate as an urban dancer is R1200 for a performance, which is roughly two minutes.
As a freelancer, you can make good money just from doing gigs – but you have to have a good network in the industry. If you land jobs like dancing in commercials or films, you can earn R20 000 or more for one job or commercial project. If you get into that scene, it can be very lucrative.
- Any last pearls of wisdom for aspiring dancers?
Follow your dreams, because at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make you happy. Think about it, and figure out what you want to do – don’t just go study anything, or else you’ll be miserable. Make sure that whatever you do, at least partially, lets you do what you’re passionate about.
Audrey Hepburn said something very simple,
“Nothing is impossible. The very word says I’m possible.”
Don’t let the state of the world or society – and people – dictate what it is that you do with your life. You can do anything you set your mind to. Do what you want to do with your life. Just go and do it.
To see for yourself what our excitement is all about, check out this video to see what we mean with stage presence, and watch Chester perform his heart out. Oh, you’re welcome.
The performing arts open doors to endless ways of expression and creativity. If you feel passionate about performance, be it music, dance, theatre, or any other form of art – do whatever it takes to follow your passion. We need people in the world who take our breath away with their performances. Like Chester says,
“Satiate the hunger you feel inside by pursuing that which you are passionate about, or else it will consume you entirely.”