Natricia Bernard Transition Dancer to Choreographer
Transition from Dancer to Choreographer.
Natricia Bernard books. It is her nature and her way. She booked her first professional job at the age of five. The year before she’d been watching her busy working mum let off steam in an adult dance class. Natricia naturally joined in.
From there she attended kids dance classes and joined the agency attached to it. Natricia was regularly booking jobs for French Connection, the opening of the Birmingham NEC, fashion shows and panto, some of which took her round the world.
By age 12, Natricia was more the geeky kid. Dance and modelling work did slow down and she was able to catch up with her GCSEs. She took 6 months off dance, trying out football instead. But dance called again.
Natricia recalls, ‘I was laughed at when my tap shoes would fall out my locker.’ Without reality TV dance shows or X Factor, dance was not considered cool.
At 16 she left school and went to London Studio Centre. She says, ‘It was interesting. A great step forward for technique, but it was a step back for preparing me for the real world.’ She goes on to say it is very different there now, but back then none of her class-mates had a professional CV like Natricia. Her last 2 years there she became a cheerleader and choreographer for an American basketball team, sponsored by Budweiser.
At 19, Natricia decided on the commercial dance route, constantly booking commercials, TV shows, contemporary jobs, stage shows, music videos, fashion shows and live events.
During this period she assisted some British choreographers and most importantly met and worked with Lavelle Smith Junior (Michael Jackson, En Vogue, Beyonce) for 8 years. With Michael Jackson as his core foundation, Lavelle became a mentor to her, and opened her eyes to new and different ways of choreographing, influenced by an American heritage. He also helped her get a handle on the business side of the industry.
Add pic NB from dancer years (MJ/Lavelle ideally)google or ask Lou as she may have portfolio shots?
Natricia says this transition towards choreographing was not that unexpected as, ‘I always helped the other dancers on jobs as to not let the process get slow and painful. I was the really irritating person who passed on choreography in an understandable way: “What they mean is …” ’.
Her other mentor was her stage school tutor and choreographer Susan Hayes (Birmingham NEC & The Clothes Show, O’Neills, The Ski Show). Susan was strict
and ethical, whereas Lavelle more fun. Natricia considers herself a ‘reproduction of both of them’, but she also hastens to add she developed her own identity as ‘I am a strong character’. Of both her mentors Natricia states, ‘Susan was the main and Lavelle was the icing on the cake.’
Natricia gives great insight into her thinking: ‘I could absorb everything and run with the information. Listen with your eyes’.
She explains, ‘if you tell me about a book on the phone, by the time we have finished our conversation you’ll hear the shopping cart pinging as I’ve already ordered it. I run with things! I don’t wait for things to happen. It’s a good thing, but can also be a hindrance when you are pushing too hard.’
By age 27 Natricia was asked to choreograph a video by a production company she knew well. They used her all the time as a dancer, as one of their ‘token black girls’. There was no diversity in the industry like there is now. The producer booked Natricia recognising that she did most of the work anyway when their usual choreographer was unavailable.
Still in her prime, Natricia decided that she was going to commit herself solely to choreography. It was a major career decision as she’d worked with 11 major US artists the year before. Because she only looked about 20 she wanted to be taken seriously and not become just another multi-hyphenate.
‘Actually if I’m going to do this I’m going to do this properly so I just quit dance and modelling and retired at 27. I was still in my prime and booking jobs back to back.’
She reflects, ‘It was interesting because I was missing out on fronting major campaigns, but now I am competing with all these great choreographers.’ Within 7 months she’d garnered a phenomenal CV, working with great artists and diverse styles. She realises that her immense professional dance experience and her ‘old school’ training, in all areas, helped with this.
Natricia comments on this transition that ‘dancing or any performance is quite a vain thing: first thing you look at on the (playback) monitor is yourself first: “make up’s a bit off, hairs wrong etc”. Whereas as a choreographer you quickly look at all of it- change the formations, give notes, see the edits done and roll again.’
Age was never an issue for Natricia. At age 23 she noticed top dancers, who were older, becoming more concerned about their age and what to write on their CV. She recognised and intuited ‘I don’t have long for this. I wanted me to be the person who
turned the phone off, instead of the phone stop [sic] ringing for me and I have to lie about my age.’
Occasionally she misses dancing herself, especially when the style is very particular. She says of dancers today that the ‘new generation of dancers are phenomenal’, but they do not always know how to relay what you want. If you say exactly how you want it, you get dancers who want to include this or that, or their interpretation or version. We are not always on the same page.’
Commenting further Natricia says, ‘on certain occasions so nice [sic] to put on a costume, get out there- step, kick, turn, get down and dirty- do miss some times. But really appreciate being on the other side.’
Natricia considers herself blessed as her schedule is very diverse. One day it’s a photo shoot. The next working with actors, movement director another day. Pumping the day after, tap the next, so it never gets boring. Natricia comments, ‘I could never have done a musical and be in a contract for a year, I’d fall asleep on stage.’
‘I am very good at getting people to excel and even do things they don’t realise they can do. I am phenomenal with people so that is my new buzz. I miss it [dance] every now and again. I did it for a very long time. I am a 100 years old!’
She finds choreography very rewarding because you can express yourself and sometimes influence directors, depending upon the project. Sometimes she’s hired to contribute at the development stage, and other times there are clear references and treatments in place. Each job is different. Commercials and films tend to be more set in stone.
Natricia loves to choreograph music videos, but there is little spending on them nowadays. Because commercials are scripted she really enjoys the challenge of that specific structure. She also likes stage events because you can run it in its entirety.
She also works frequently with actors, footballers, athletes, pop stars and celebrities. ‘I am a people person, as they say.’
She is not, however, about to divulge anyone’s secrets about their feelings about their own dancing ability: ‘It’s not something that they openly share’. She believes that you can teach anyone to dance. However, ‘you have to find a way that suits them, that makes them comfortable. You have to tap into the person and understand what makes them tick- where they can excel and so forth.’ Laughing, she adds, ‘if you look good, then I look good.’
Commenting on the current dance explosion we are seeing on stage and on screen, Natricia sagely remarks that it’s more of a ‘fame explosion’. She thinks the problem is you get a lot of people who look the part, or are stunning, but who don’t have the training. Resulting in the other talent often being overlooked, that package on offer is just not as fashionable. If you are the winner of a big talent show, she recommends you milk it. Take advantage because it probably won’t last long due to the ever-changing trends.
Natricia naturally empowers all those around her. Her advice to performers, first and foremost is ‘believe in yourself!’ And to also be mindful of the conflicting advice given out by agents and casting directors. It is all subjective, ‘For example, a young model may get rejected by 10 agencies, then taken on by the 11th and becomes a super model.’
She emphasises the importance of Self-Marketing: show reels and CVs all have to be constantly up to date.
‘Know what styles you do, have an up-to-date look, but make sure your look suits you. Understand the market you are in, and keep practicing, but have fun with it and enjoy life. The Industry is so quick…If you don’t enjoy it, then it will become an enemy.’
Add current publicity photo of NB (ask LM please)
‘You have to enjoy your job and creative journey, and make sure you are current and if you don’t have any work in, then go create some work; go to class, make a production with some friends… Waiting for the phone to ring is demoralising.’
Natricia ends with this wise encouragement: ‘Don’t question yourself. Believe in yourself because if you don’t, no one else will… If you love your job then your job will love you.’
Natricia Bernard (www.natriciabernard.com) is represented by Mark Summers Management in the UK
Interview by Clea Myers @camtweak