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This Triple-Threat Broadway Swing Keeps "Mean Girls" in Check

When it comes to Broadway, Becca Petersen does it all. Not only is she a swing learning multiple roles for Mean Girls on Broadway as well as understudy for the principal roles of Cady Heron and Regina George, but she also plays an administrative role as the assistant dance captain. When she's not onstage dancing one of the 10 different tracks she covers, or acting out two of Broadway's most notorious mean ladies, she's in the audience, taking notes in order to clean choreography in the next rehearsal. "Once the show opens and the creative team leaves, the dance captains, stage managers and associates keep things running," Petersen says. "I help teach choreography to newcomers when there is turnover and make sure the dancing looks good from day to day."


Petersen has been preparing for this job since high school, when she was dance captain of The Carmel Ambassadors in Indiana. She further honed her triple-threat skills at Brigham Young University, where she earned a BFA in the music dance theater program and performed as a Young Ambassador (the school's touring performance group).

After college in 2014, she moved to New York City to pursue her dreams on The Great White Way. After six months, she booked the developmental lab for The Prom (choreographed and directed by Casey Nicholaw), and five months later she went on tour with Newsies: The Musical. Her official Broadway debut was the dance-tastic Bandstand, just two years after moving to the city, and in September 2017 she booked her current position on Mean Girls.

"I feel lucky and grateful I have accomplished so many of my dreams," Petersen says. "I would love to possibly be a principal one day, or maybe even become an associate. There is so much ahead in the future, and I'm just open to whatever comes my way."

On being a triple threat...

"At a Broadway audition, no matter which call you show up for, you end up having to do all the other aspects of theater as well. What's nice about being equally trained in all areas is I feel like I'm showing my best self in each room I go into. That makes me versatile, which is why I think I have been able to land so many swing jobs. My dance training has truly impacted my success on Broadway in every way. It informs all the other aspects of the theater. Dancing is telling a story—it's acting. In my voice lessons they will have me incorporate movement, because they know that it's all connected. Each skill strengthens the others."

A swing–not a star...

"Being a swing and understudy is challenging in many ways: mentally, physically and emotionally. It's your job to go unnoticed. It's your responsibility to have the show carry on seamlessly. You rarely get the validation or recognition that onstage cast members receive. I've had to learn different ways to validate myself. I always pat myself on the back (and my swing family's backs) for making the show happen. Without us the show quite literally would not go on. Swinging has helped me learn to appreciate everyone in a production. It's taught me how to treat people. It's taught me how to be proactive and work hard myself. It's taught me to acknowledge my self-worth. It's taught me that performing is my true passion. Swinging is hard, but it's brought me so much gratitude. I know that my future is brighter because of the lessons I've learned from swinging. My next goal is to be onstage full-time. I also hope to one day be a principal on Broadway. My plan is to work hard to continually be open to new experiences."

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

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