Dancing to a Different Beat

These individuals have bucked convention and found fulfilling jobs off the beaten path

out my résumé and photos,” Weeden says. The 30-something Weeden also has maturity on her side and attributes her outlook to a devout spirituality and a solid college education.

“If I hadn’t gone to college, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Having studied public relations in school helps me to market myself the way I do. And my dancing background helps me do stunts. A well-rounded background is rare in this business.”

If well-rounded, college-educated stunt women are rare, tack on African American, and you have a real novelty. There is no official group specifically for black stunt people, and Weeden is aware of only 26 black stuntwomen. Although there’s plenty of work out there, the jobs available to African American women are limited-and not merely because there are fewer roles specifically written for them.

“I am very seldom hired to do “ND,” or nondescript, work,” she explains. “That’s work where there’s a person just driving a car down the street [in a movie]. There’s a lot of that work, and a lot of money to be made in that. [African Americans] don’t get much of it.”

She insists, though, that doing stunts is great work, if you can get it. Stunt people on big-budget films are paid through the Screen Actors Guild (for TV roles it’s the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists) at a per-diem rate of $576, $2,000 per week, plus overtime, meals and residuals. The low-budget film rate is $446 per day.

The days tend to be long (12-plus hours) and a job can last hours, or months. Doubling for singer-actress Brandy on the film I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Weeden worked six days a week for six weeks, three of which were spent shooting in Mexico. Having made about $30,000 her first year out, Weeden earned nearly $100,000 last year.

When she’s not working, she’s training. She takes karate lessons, rides and practices stunts on horses (her specialty) and driving stunts in deserted areas. Long falls, she says, aren’t something you can practice on a regular basis, but Weeden has to keep her body limber and lean to perform them. She’s also one of the few professionals who can truly claim daily soaks in the Jacuzzi and regular massages as a job requirement.

Aware that, on the surface, her career seems daring and glorious, Weeden, who seizes every opportunity to talk to young people about it, chooses to make a less glamorous impression on today’s youth.

“I always encourage kids to go to college, or at least to a trade school,” she says. Putting her own twist on an old adage, Weeden continues, “I never say it gives you something to fall back on. I tell them, it gives you something to stand on.” Spoken like a woman who understands that what really matters in life is not how far you fall, but knowing how to land.

When Michaela Angela Davis first met an up-and-coming young recording artist named Maxwell, she was a fashion editor

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