Jessica Dupont, (formerly, Jessica Michaels – “J.A.M.”) moved to NYC in 1989 and worked successfully as a professional dancer for 10 years. While dancing from NY to Tokyo to London, on and off Broadway, she supplemented her income by becoming a professional makeup artist. As a member of the AvedaNY Bridal and PR teams, she worked for such notables as Vera Wang and Giorgio Armani. Her freelance work includes experience in all mediums: theater, fashion shows, TV, as well as headshot, catalog and fashion photography. In June of 2000, upon retiring from her performing career, Jessica became owner and director of Atlantic Arts Academy in Jupiter, FL. With this experience, she realized that dancers have never been taught how to apply proper and appropriate stage makeup. In 2006, Jessica created JAM Cosmetics.
Q. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to be a makeup artist.
I’ve always been interested in makeup and dance. I started dancing in Connecticut. The professional dancer that owned my studio was from New York and had attended LaGuardia Arts, the High School of the Performing Arts. She used to bring all of her New York dancer friends to Connecticut to teach us and would take us into the city for classes at Broadway Dance Center. I was primarily a jazz dancer. That was my direction. One day she said I was ready to start auditioning. And I was very, very lucky to be a working dancer for 10 years. I’ve done everything from cruise ships to movies, videos and industrials to stage. One of the things that happened to me early in my professional career was that I got injured. It was after a show I was dancing in had just closed, so I wasn’t covered by any insurance. I quickly realized I needed to have insurance in order to get therapy. I learned that Aveda would give me insurance within a couple of weeks of employment. So I went to apply, got the job and they trained me as a makeup artist. I was trained by one of the best makeup artists in the industry right now, Brian Duprey. He does a lot of high fashion—Paris, Milan, Miami, New York City—and he’s now coming out with his own line. I was very lucky and grateful to work with him. Shortly after starting, I became the Cosmetics Director and then Assistant Manager. I worked at the Aveda Soho Institute for a year while I was going through physical therapy and Pilates. But after awhile, I decided I didn’t want to just work with natural colors. I’m a dancer and I wanted to learn about brighter colors which are more appropriate for the stage. So, I found out about Toby Britton, who was also one of the top makeup artists in the country. She‘s just amazing. She owned “The Makeup Shop” on 21st Street in New York City where she trained makeup artists. In exchange for classes, I managed her store and the other makeup artists. We often got calls for jobs so I got a variety of professional experience. Toby loved the Aveda concept, but she said for stage and video and film, you need other products. You can’t use healthy products because the colors just aren’t pigmented enough. In the world of makeup, there was either healthy or efficient.
Q. Did you add natural, healthier elements to JAM makeup?
Yes, I wanted to give dancers a healthier option – something that didn’t contain mineral oils, would be hypo-allergenic and non-comedogenic (non-clogging to the pores). When I talked to the chemists they said, “You want it to be water resistant but you don’t want us to use mineral oils. What do you want us to use?” I said, “I don’t know. You’ll have to figure that out. That’s not my job. My job is to tell you what I want.” So, they worked with different formulas for four and half months. I have drawers of foundations that I rejected. Waterproof and water resistant are very different. My makeup is water resistant. The chemicals that are required to make something waterproof are just too harsh. I would have to say my foundation is pretty close to waterproof. I haven’t found any one who sweats enough to make it run. It stays on the face really well. One of the things that is really cool about the mineral makeup formulas we use in the eye shadows and blushes is that when you use them with a damp-wet makeup brush, they turn into smudge-resistant paints (or eyeliners) and it makes the colors more intense. So, even a dark skinned dancer can use the exact same color palette that a lighter skinned dancer uses.
Q. What are some of the basic things that a dancer needs to know about using makeup on stage?
Right now, I’m on a competition tour and the most common problem is a lack of education and skill with makeup. The dancers either don’t use enough makeup or they use way too much. Basically, you want to apply your makeup for the first ten rows of the audience ONLY. Your smile has to reach to the back of the room, but your makeup doesn’t. If you try to have your makeup reach the back of the room, it’s too garish, especially for young people. When it’s too intense and dramatic, it can come across as being very harsh and you lose the very graceful and beautiful feeling that makeup is supposed to help create. Makeup is supposed to give us the most heightened and most beautiful version of ourselves. Every theater is different, every stage is different and you have to understand your setting and how your makeup is going to look under the lighting where you’re performing and how it will register to the first ten rows of audience members.
Q. Speaking of lighting, how does it affect a dancer’s makeup?
A couple of important tips regarding lighting: Any foundation you use on your skin should have warmer tones as opposed to pinks. When you have pink toned foundation, the stage lighting will make your skin-tone look ruddy or a little sickly. You want to do your face a shade darker than your natural skin tone and blend it into the neck. Because your face is the first thing hit by stage light, it tends to get washed out by the bright stage lights. A warm-toned foundation that is a shade darker than your natural skin color gives the skin a healthier appearance on stage. One of the other things I see a lot of is that young people will try to emulate fashion. They’ll think that what they see on TV or in print is appropriate for stage. I know bright blue is very “in” right now. But for stage, it just tends to look very fake and can be very distracting. Warmer tone, neutral eye-shadow colors are a better option because they brighten the eyes and work with every costume and lighting situation. What you want to avoid is bad makeup. Bad makeup is really distracting. Blue eye shadow if it’s VERY skillfully applied and perhaps goes with a gorgeous ballet costume can work. But what I have seen is dancers going on stage in red flamenco costumes with bright blue eye shadow on! It’s just very, very distracting for the audience.
Q. How can a girl tell if she’s sitting in front of a mirror at a dressing table how her makeup is going to look on stage?
When doing your makeup at your dressing table, it needs to be much darker than what you would wear out in the real world. Until you have some practice and experience, you are not going to know how much makeup you really need to wear for your face to be seen. I think dress rehearsals for costumes should include makeup. A few of the dancers should take a couple of minutes to go into the house and check everyone’s makeup out on stage and say, “Hey, you know what, your blush looks much darker than so and so’s blush and you have to tone it down because yours really stands out.” I think just having someone step outside and look across the line and see where everybody’s at with there makeup is very, very important. But, unfortunately, makeup is the last thing that’s thought of. With properly applied makeup, everyone’s individual features stand out and are accented even if all of the dancers are wearing the same colors. Your features, not the makeup should stand out. You don’t want your audience to say, “Oh, she’s got great makeup.” You want them to say, “Oh, she looks SO beautiful.”
Q. Maybe we can talk now a little bit about your website and what you’re trying to accomplish with your makeup videos.
I wanted one place that in a very simple way would show dancers of all ages, skills and genres how to apply their performance makeup. My website includes printable face charts and instructions and detailed how-to videos coordinated with the face charts and the instructions. (www.jamcosmetics.net) I’m really trying to make the site user friendly. By keeping the vocabulary simple and straightforward, it can be helpful to a mom who’s doing her little ballerina for the Nutcracker or a teenager who’s doing her own competition makeup or a professional dancer just wanting some tips. You can also email my JAM makeup artists if you have a question. I’ve also tried to make cost effective kits. So, let’s say you’re a ballet dancer who wants to have the “Prima Diva” look, which is what I’ve named the classic ballet look. I’ve put together three different priced packages. You can get the smallest package and still get all the colors you need to create that look. Or you can get a complete kit that has everything all the way down to your eyelashes. If you need makeup brushes too, the deluxe kit has a complete set. You don’t need anything else. I’ve tried to make packages that are efficient and yet allow for different sized “pocketbooks.”
Q. I understand you also do workshops.
I’ve done workshops all over the country. I’ve traveled for the last year to do workshops for everything from classical ballet companies to competition dancers, to belly dance troupes, to moms who are trying to figure out how to put makeup on their four or five year olds. When I retired from dance, I purchased a studio here in Florida. I started teaching dancers how to do their makeup and it was the first time I realized the lack of knowledge most dancers have about makeup. I also had a very hard time recommending makeup products for the dancers to use. So, before I started this company, I had six years of experience just teaching and figuring out what the main questions are for moms, teens, and professional dancers. Even large, well-known dance companies don’t provide the makeup instruction they should. It’s surprising how many professional dancers have the same questions as young, teenage girls. They’re all in the same boat. The way girls find out how to put on makeup is to look down the line of the dressing tables and see what everyone else is doing and hope it will look good on them. The lack of knowledge goes from the largest ballet companies down to the local dance schools.
Q. What’s the difference between applying makeup, for instance, in the corps or if your going to play a character part?
Character makeup is very different and more of a specialty. What I’ve spoken of here is the look that will work for the majority of dancers. My website will eventually evolve to include character makeup. I want to keep adding face charts and videos so that it will be a true makeup resource for dancers and cover everything from ballroom to ballet. What a ballet dancer and a hip hop dancer would wear for makeup is completely different. They would never wear their makeup the same way, yet neither has the proper education, regarding what’s the best look for stage or screen.
Q. What is the difference between your company and Revlon and the other major cosmetic companies?
The difference between my makeup and a drugstore or department store brand is that the colors are not pigmented enough to work as stage makeup. Also, generally, it will not last as long on stage. If it does, it is because it is full of chemicals. These products are primarily made for street wear. That’s why you get the difference in the price from a drugstore brand and a professional brand. If you look at a Ben Nye or a Mehron or a Graftobian or MAC —those are the more popular professional lines for the theater. Of those companies, JAM Cosmetics is the only one that is offering a healthier option for stage performance makeup that is water-resistant and will last through a full day of dancing. I have also tried to take the guess work out for color choices and chose colors that will work with the lightest skin to the darkest skin – from Asian dancers to Hispanic dancers to Indian dancers to very pale, red haired dancers. All the colors in the line are going to work across the board. I’ve created specific palettes for a ballet look, a jazz look, a modern dance look. For example, I have a professional dancer with the Alabama ballet and she’s in the corps but she was also understudying Juliet. Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” is not going to wear red lipstick, so I got her the classical ballet kit and then added a rose tone lipstick (“Wild Child”) and Pink Mauve lip liner. It is perfectly toned rose lip color that will show up on stage but not be as dark or dramatic as a red. This will be perfect for her Juliet. This will work for innocent, younger characters. Red you save for characters like Kitri in Don Quixote. Again, I tried to take out as much of the guesswork as I could.
Q. Male dancers must be even more clueless about makeup than the girls.
Definitely. Most of the time I see guys wearing more makeup than I would recommend. I actually contacted Michael Avedon, the makeup artist for NYCB to learn a bit about his perspective on dancers and makeup. He agreed that keeping men looking masculine is very important and the least amount of makeup the better. That does not mean they don’t absolutely need makeup. It is all in the skill of the application. On the website, I have a face chart for boys and men. I’ve shown how they can contour their face in a way that reveals the best male features that disappear under lighting and make sure that they understand the audience needs to see their eyes. The audience needs to see where their cheekbones are. The audience needs to see the contouring around the forehead and underneath the jaw and see the length of their neck but you can do it very simply. I do it primarily with my mineral bronzer.
Q. Where is JAM Cosmetics sold?
Right now, it’s primarily an online store. However, I do have my line in three dance retail shops —one in Orlando and one in Miami and one in Canada. I’m trying to be very selective because I think the educational component is very important. I want JAM Cosmetics to be sold in stores that are willing to show the videos and have the face charts and teach the girls how to use the makeup, especially if they can’t get online. That’s very important to me. I am actually going into these dance shops and training someone on their staff to be THE makeup artist for their store.
Q. Do you have a final word for ballet dancers, regarding makeup?
Well, just like learning how to do a proper plie or a pirouette, makeup is an art that takes practice and patience. It is essential to looking and presenting yourself as a professional. And whether you’re in the corps or a soloist or a principle, you want to present the best version of yourself on stage. A lot of girls wait until they have a performance to just throw on a bunch of makeup. Unfortunately, when they get out on stage, it looks it. Show your desire to present yourself professionally. Take the time and learn how to do your makeup well. Dancers are known to be beautiful. This is part of our history and our tradition and we should always endeavor to live up to it.