How to Walk Like a Model in Four Easy Steps: Q+A With Casting Director Natalie Joos

What amateur fashionistas can do to put a little strut in their step

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Whitney Eve Fall 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on February 15, 2012 in New York City.

Most of us aren’t born as leggy as Gisele Bundchen or with the cheekbones of Naomi Campbell. But there are things that mere mortals can do to look like they belong on a catwalk. TIME sat in on a model casting session with casting director Natalie Joos, a 15-year veteran of the industry, to learn the tricks of the trade.

1. Envision a taut string threaded from your spine through the top of your head.

Posture is everything. Have you ever seen a model who slouches? Gather up every inch of yourself and act tall, even if you aren’t. The key is to imagine that you are on a puppet string, being prodded to stand up straight, with shoulders slightly back. “There’s a certain quality that you immediately feel when you see a girl,” says Joos. “It has to do with her personality and her posture.” You want to make a strong first impression.

Talbot Runhof Show - Charles Voegele Fashion Days Zurich 2011

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2. Take long strides, placing one foot in front of the other.

Short baby steps make you look timid—not the look you want to project. Lengthen your stride and put one foot in front of the other, which is what will give your hips the seductive swing that models are famous for.

The exact amount of hip swinging varies, as it has gone in and out of style, says Joos: “Designers like Marc Jacobs or Alexander Wang don’t really want you to do a catwalk. They want you to walk like you’re on the street. It should just be natural. But then there are other designers like Versace or Dolce & Gabbana that want you to really strut.” Bottom line: don’t overexaggerate, but don’t be afraid to move your hips at least slightly.

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Madrid S/S 2013 - Francis Montesinos

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The other element to your stride is your footwear. Even models don’t wear heels all the time—most travel in flats and change into skyscraping heels and boots once they arrive at the casting. All the same, the simultaneous height and attitude boost provided by a pair of stilettos will vanish if you don’t know how to walk in them. So practice, practice, practice. Joos warns that, while not fatal, seeing a model trip or stumble in her shoes is definitely a turnoff.

3. Let your arms fall next to your body, with hands relaxed.

“They shouldn’t swing too much,” advises Joos. Don’t fidget with your hands or let them ball into fists, which screams self-conscious. And keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Maintaining eye contact with someone in your sight line is a natural tendency, but can border on creepy. Try to look at an imaginary point straight in the distance.

4. Project an attitude of utmost confidence.

Nanette Lepore - Runway - Spring 2012 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

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A model walks the runway at the Nanette Lepore Spring 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Stage at Lincoln Center on September 14, 2011 in New York City.

Walk with a purpose. Wherever you’re going is where everyone should want to follow. If you project a commanding presence, others will be drawn in. Joos says that anyone can learn to walk like a model if they have the right attitude: “It’s about having a little spring in your step. The best thing to do is feel the music. If you walk to the subway and put your headphones on and walk to music—you see the girls walking in your head and just copy. Listen to the rhythm and walk to the beat. Feel like you’re dancing, almost.”

So channel your inner diva and step in tempo, whether it’s to actual music or an internal beat. And don’t forget: if you fall, pick yourself up like these girls did and keep on going.