The New Year is not the only thing that’s fast approaching, so is audition season. Summer programs, college programs and companies alike are making ready to tour throughout the United States and will be looking at some of the best dancers in the country. How can a dancer stand out amongst the scores of other dancers vying for the same opportunities and positions? Well, here are some helpful hints as you all venture out on the sometimes scary, sometimes exhilarating, audition trail.
1. Arrive early. This gives you time to relax and stretch and mentally prepare yourself for the work ahead. It also gives you a lower number which can increase the chances of you being seen in an audition that can have hundreds of people in it.
2. Dress appropriately and professionally. Over the years, certain things have changed. Years ago when you went to a ballet summer program or company audition, it was black leotards only, but now dancers are using colored leotards to stand out. (Beware, some auditioners like this trend and some of the more old fashioned ones do not. Your best bet might be a black leotard with an interesting back and maybe something in your hair like a yellow flower.) At Broadway auditions, people recommend ‘dressing the role.’ If it’s a Fosse show you’re going for, you are going to dress a certain way. The biggest thing is to be neatly dressed: clean tights with no holes or runs, a clean leotard that maybe has a special back to it, ribbons and strings on your shoes tucked in, hair neat, slicked and professional looking, no gaudy jewelry and no finger nail or toe nail polish.
3. Everything counts. From the moment the auditioners walk into the classroom, they start judging. If they see you standing with your stomach hanging out, not stretching or concentrating and talking loudly to your friends, you just blew your first impression. If we’re talking about your home studio or company, I can tell you that I start casting Nutcracker for the following year at the Nutcracker performance this year. I look at everything from stage presence to attendance throughout the year. I look to see who is ‘dancing’ in class, who’s phoning it in, who is improving, who complains about minor injuries and asks to sit down a lot, who is consistent, who takes correction the best, and who is working all day every day. I also take a mental note of who is polite, follows rules, is helpful and friendly to their peers and their inferiors. These latter things don’t usually matter, but if it comes down to all things being equal, I’ll give the role to the nicer more pleasant dancer every time.
4. Start dancing right away. This seems like a no brainer, but the truth is that most dancers spend the first few minutes of an audition sizing each other up. If you start dancing full out during your first preparatory port de bras and throughout pliés, you will catch the auditioners attention. As soon as you do that, they will continue to look for you throughout the audition. Continue to dance, not just do the steps, throughout the entire audition process. Remember, tickets to the ballet are usually $100 and so are tickets to a Broadway show. Your performance needs to be worth at least that much. Stretch your lines, use your back, arms and head. Many people have great technique, now is the time to show what you can do with it.
5. Watch your body language and facial expressions. Auditioners are trying to make decisions about who you are, not just as a dancer, but as a person and they have to move quickly. Most auditions last an hour and a half, but even if they last six hours, that’s not a lot of time to make a good impression. These people are trying to decide if they want to work with you for the summer, for a season or for the run of a show. Do not cross your arms, put your hands on your hips or lean on the bar. Also, watch your concentration and resting face. Sometimes people have a sullen or stressed out face even when they are neither of those things. If you are one of those people, you need to own it and fix it. If you’re worried about this, ask your teachers to help you.
6. Finish everything well. With each combination at the barre, finish it with your arms in fifth low and your head away from the barre. Don’t move until the teacher says okay or the music fully stops. This includes when you fall out of balances or pirouettes. When you are moving across the floor, dance all the way off. Continue doing the combination until there’s no more room and whatever your last step is, do it well. In a Broadway dance call, if the combination ends in center, make sure to hit an ending pose even if one wasn’t given. If they are not stopping in between groups and the combination ends in center, run off like a dancer. If you forget the steps, keep dancing until you can pick it back up again and smile while doing it.
7. Be polite. Smile at the person or persons giving you an audition and make eye contact. Yes a dance call is different in this way versus acting or singing auditions when they ask you not to do these things. Don’t stand right in front of another dancer. Don’t stand in front of the piano if you have an accompanist for your audition. If you are in the front, move forward so the people behind you have some room. If you forget the steps moving across the floor, don’t stop and cause a pile up behind you, just keep going.
8. Be smart. If the combination moves forward or to a certain side, start opposite of that. Again, you have very little time to make an impression and everyone is looking for the smart dancer. If they ask you to go in groups of seven, make sure you go with the proper group. One thing that I saw a lot when I auditioned for ballet programs and companies and I hear from my students that they still like to do is make you reverse petite allegro. I was amazing at this, but I didn’t start out that way. This really just takes practice, so start now. Even if a teacher doesn’t ask you to reverse your petite allegro, go to the back and figure it out anyway. For some reason, there’s nothing more impressive for auditioners than calling out ‘reverse it’ and dancers being able to do it on the fly.
9. Say thank you. Make sure you thank the auditioners personally as well as the accompanist after your audition. It shows that you have been raised in a good school and it also gives them one last time to look you in the eye.
10. Have fun. I know this is difficult to do when people are judging you, but there is nothing more captivating than watching a dancer do what they love to do. Try feeling exhilarated rather than scared during this process. If you make a mistake, laugh it off and move on. Having a good attitude, being able to laugh and learn from your mistakes and being devoted to what you do makes the best impression of all.
Some ballet things. There are certain things that I did in my auditions that drew people’s eye and made me a very successful candidate. When you perform rond de jambe a terre, accent the side. I usually didn’t do this in my every day classes, but putting the accent there during an audition made me different and helped me to stand out. I also accented my rond de jambe en l’air going quickly in and slowly out as the music allowed. Executing fondues like you’re moving through water catches a person’s eye while everyone else is just going through the motions. During frappés, I’d play a game on how long I could hold my leg out before the music made me come in. It gave sharpness to my dancing and again, keeping the leg out longer than anyone else, catches people’s attention. If you can catch the auditioner’s attention at the barre, you are way ahead of the game.
Happy New Year! Merde and best wishes for success to all dancers going out on the audition trail this season. Let’s make 2015 a year to remember!