Auditions are like vegetables: Are they the most delicious food? Probably not. Are they essential for your growth as a dancer? Definitely.
We love asking the pros for their advice, because we know the important role auditions play in every dancer's career. Whether we're breaking down the basics for first-time auditionees, giving you real talk on mistakes you don't know you're making or keeping it light with stories of pros' worst audition mistakes, we're always looking for tips to help you make it to the final round.
A Rockette audition (photo via New York Daily News)
With audition season almost upon us, who better to share advice than our favorite leggy ladies, the Radio City Rockettes? We love that they hold auditions every year and are always on the lookout for new performers. Here are some of their top tips for a solid audition experience:
- Review all of the audition requirements and guidelines...more than once. (You do NOT want to be that girl who brought black shoes when tan ones were required.)
- Use a folder or envelope to hold all your paperwork, like application forms, audition fees, headshots and resumes (and extra headshots and resumes).
- If you're asked a question or interviewed, listen carefully, take a breath and then speak. (It's not a great feeling to blurt out an answer, accidentally interrupt someone and then have literally no idea what you just said.)
In Mikko Nissinen's Swan Lake (photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet)
Commanding, versatile, fearless, sinewy, grounded—it’s impossible to describe multifaceted Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio in just one word. That’s partly because she’s had a perfectly pointed foot in two distinct corners of the dance world. She joined Boston Ballet II in 2004 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a soloist in the main company three years later. Then, Cirio took a yearlong hiatus to tour with the more contemporary Trey McIntyre Project. She returned to Boston Ballet in 2009, was promoted to principal in 2010 and currently performs both contemporary and classical roles. She also dances with the Cirio Collective, created by her brother, American Ballet Theatre soloist Jeffrey Cirio. Catch Lia with BB this fall in John Neumeier’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler at the Boston Opera House. —Jenny Ouellette
There are so many things I want to share with you! You’ll go through a lot in your career—physically, mentally, emotionally and personally. But know that through it all, you’ll maintain your passion for ballet and a joy for life.
I know you worry about having friends. You may feel like something of an outcast now, but friends will come—and they’ll be the ones who count. True friends are those who value you as much as you value them. And watch out for that little brother of yours, Jeffrey! He’ll not only become one of your best friends, but also a big inspiration in your career.
There will be days when you’ll wonder if sacrificing a normal teenage life is worth it—or if it’s just a big waste. But take my word: It’s worth it! You’ll discover so much joy onstage, and you’ll treasure those incredible, indescribable moments forever.
At age 16, performing with Ian Hussey (now a principal at Pennsylvania Ballet) at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (photo courtesy Lia Cirio)
Know that there will be times you’re not cast because of the way you look or because someone doesn’t like your dancing. Don’t waste any energy thinking about how you could change. Be yourself. God made you special. Continue working on your technique, and never compare yourself to others. Hold on to your confidence—it’s so easy to let it slip away. Trust your technique and passion, but remember to watch, learn and never be satisfied. We can’t be perfect, but we can always strive for perfection.
Lia, live your life to the fullest. Ballet is your dream, and it’s such a privilege to be able to dance. Embrace every moment!
P.S.: Listen to Mom! Take it to heart when she says you can do whatever you set your mind to. You’re stronger and smarter than you think!
(Photo by Nathan Sayers)
My teacher always casts me in flashy pieces with lots of turning and jumping, but I’d really like to try something more lyrical. How can I keep from getting typecast? —Danielle
If you keep getting cast in flashy pieces, you probably have really strong technique—congratulations! But I understand your dilemma. Nobody wants to be typecast. To break out of your box, start by focusing on the more lyrical parts of class. Casting begins in the studio, so if your teacher sees improvement there, she’ll be more likely to cast you in lyrical pieces. During adagio, for example, pay close attention to the
music; let it flow through you. Or, if there’s a waltz combination, try to use up all the space in the studio and really dance.
The other thing I’d recommend is simply talking to your teacher. Don’t accuse her of not casting you in those roles—negativity will only hurt you. Instead, tell her you’re interested in broadening your horizons. Say that you’d appreciate the challenge of a lyrical role, and assure her you’ll work as hard as you can on it. Even if she says no, ask if you can understudy a lyrical part. That way, you’ll be able to show her what you can do without the pressures and risks that come with performance.
I feel like I’m really bad at networking. How can I get my name out in the dance world in a way that will help me earn jobs? —Avery
The first key to networking is to be friendly in general, and especially when you’re at an audition or in class. If you make a connection with a teacher or another dancer, don’t be afraid to talk about yourself. You obviously don’t want to be a braggart, but unless you tell people about your accomplishments, they won’t know! That said, don’t be overly aggressive. It can be obvious when someone’s trying too hard to network. Frequently, it doesn’t take much—a single conversation can sometimes lead to a job. So just be your lovely self.
I’d also recommend keeping your resumé on hand, in case a teacher mentions she’s looking for dancers for a particular project, for example. Class can sometimes turn into an impromptu audition! Make sure your resumé is updated, well-organized and has a clean layout.
And social media can be a powerful tool. To build your following, try posting dance pictures or short video clips of yourself, and make smart use of hashtags. Again, it’s all about getting yourself out there. You can’t expect people to find you on their own—you have to give them a little help.
I’m pretty flexible, but while my extension is good to the front and side, I have trouble getting past 90 degrees in arabesque. Do you have any tips? —Kelsey
Extensions to the front and side are all about the hamstrings, but arabesque primarily has to do with your back. So to get that arabesque higher, start by working out your back muscles. I’d recommend taking Pilates classes, which are excellent for strengthening your back. But these exercises are also helpful:
1. Lie on your stomach with your hands under your forehead. Lift your upper body off the floor, lengthening outward as if trying to reach the opposite wall. Lower slowly. Repeat 12 to 15 times. You should feel the burn in the upper part of your back; if you start to feel it in your lower back, you’re lifting too high.
2. Beginning in the same position, lift and lower each of your legs 12 to 15 times, keeping them turned out. Again, try to think of lengthening them toward the wall behind you.
You can do many combinations of these exercises—lifting up one leg and the opposite arm simultaneously, for example, or, once you’re a little stronger, both legs and both arms.
The other thing that helps is to remember that an arabesque should lift from the inner thigh, not the hip. So as you raise your leg, feel the inner thigh rotating to pull it up. That will make your legs so much lighter and freer.
Tim Federle (by Rex Bonomelli)
In our February issue (in subscribers' hands now and on sale online), we got dancer-turned-author Tim Federle to spill the beans about making the transition from the stage to the page. If you read his debut novel Better Nate Than Ever (DS's April 2013 "Pick of the Month"), you know that Tim's writing is not only laugh-out-loud funny, but is also full of heart and inspiration for anyone who's ever felt like an outcast. To celebrate the release of sequel Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Dance Spirit is giving away 10 copies of the brand-spanking-new book.
But before you enter, check out this oh-so-adorable video trailer for Tim's books (that just happens to feature DS "You Should Know" Jared Parker aka Nigel in Broadway's Matilda).
Wait! That's not all. In addition to his hilarious article in February Dance Spirit, we also asked Tim to share his best advice for young dancers finding their way in the world. Here's what he said:
I had just under a billion mentors in my life, so here’s me giving you some advice: Don’t worry about agents, or head shots or your "career." Worry about being nice, and worry about perfecting your technique. That’s it.
Oh, also, be careful what you Instagram. Seriously. When I was a kid, your reputation only started when you graduated high school. Now, your reputation starts the minute you take a selfie at a funeral. Be smart. Be discreet. And go read a book or something while you’re at it. Better yet: write one!
OK, now you should really read the February issue and enter the giveaway for a copy of Five, Six, Seven, Nate! Trust us, you'll love this book.
Summer intensives come with a roller-coaster ride of emotions: Auditioning, getting in, level placement, new challenges, new friends, leaving home...your intensive will push you in all kinds of exciting new ways.
Gabriel Hyman during The Ailey School’s Summer Intensive Program. (Photo by Kyle Froman, courtesy The Ailey School)
Here are five things to think about as you head in, so you can make the most of your experience.
- Arrive in top form. Intensives are intense. Do what you can to avoid injury by cross-training, eating well and getting enough rest.
- If you do injure yourself, it's not the end of the world. Be honest with your teachers even if it means letting go of a solo or other big role! Your long-term health is the most important thing, and your maturity will make a positive impression.
- Brush up on Kathryn Morgan's tips for your best intensive ever. You can't beat her tried and true advice!
- Try not to over-analyze level placement. The teachers want you to be in the level that's best for you. Even if that doesn't line up with your level at home, or with other people in your age group. Let it go and focus on how much you can learn.
- Stay in touch with your new friends. You'll be following each other on Instagram after the first day, anyway. So be proactive and stay in touch after you all go home. Who knows, you might be in the same program next summer, too!
Everyone knows it's not only the steps or technique that make a ballerina memorable. It's the emotion—and the ability to tell a story—that truly captivates an audience. And American Ballet Theatre's latest video is here to help. It takes us inside this season's production of The Sleeping Beauty, complete with luscious footage of the ballet itself and a few wise words on really getting inside Aurora's head, straight from some of ballet's leading ladies.
Because let's face it, getting into character is easier said than done. I mean, it's a little tricky to relate to a princess who sleeps for 100 years when you can't even squeeze in a power nap. And who has time for a prince when you've got rehearsals? It takes a lot of focus and imagination to play a convincing character, especially in a fairy tale story like The Sleeping Beauty.
In the video, principal Gillian Murphy talks about all the famous Auroras she looks up to and says: "Be inspired by that huge history of iconic Auroras and ballerinas, but also you have to make it your own." Cassandra Trenary, a soloist, credits Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky with helping the dancers dive deep into their roles. "He (Ratmansky) is able to give you a story behind every single movement. Whether it's a variation or a pas de deux, you're not just taking your partner's hand. It's like, that's the love of your life! Just keep that in the back of your mind."
Note taken. So long story short, don't be afraid to ask your teacher or director for guidance if you're struggling, take inspiration from others who have played the role and always trust your gut to make your portrayal authentically you.
As for the production itself, this Sleeping Beauty is absolutely dreamy (pun intended)—principal Stella Abrera (also featured in the video) says it's "kind of like watching a very old painting from the Louvre slowly come to life." This "new meets old" ABT Ratmansky version of SB premiered last season, but if you missed it check out the video for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look. Or, see it live when it runs at the Met June 27-July 2!
(Photo by Nathan Sayers)
I’m trained in Vaganova ballet technique, but I’m moving to a studio that teaches the Balanchine style. I’m nervous that I’m going to have a hard time transitioning. Do you have any advice?
I totally get it! When I started at the School of American Ballet, which teaches Balanchine technique, I had no Balanchine training whatsoever. But it turned out I was able to catch on very quickly. I was totally immersed in Balanchine from my very first day at SAB—the classes were all Balanchine, all the time—which is the best way to learn any new “language.” My advice is to just dive in! Watch your teachers carefully. Make notes about things like arm and hand positions, how you’re supposed to prepare for turns and where you should spot. The more attention you pay to detail, the quicker you’ll get a grasp on the technique.
It might also be a good idea to buy a book about Balanchine training before you make the switch. That’ll introduce you to the basics of the style, so it won’t seem totally foreign when you start classes. I’d recommend Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique, written by one of the foremost Balanchine experts.
I’m having trouble memorizing combinations. I can never seem to get all the steps into my head! Do you have any tips?
A lot of dancers struggle to memorize combinations and choreography quickly—you’re definitely not alone! The first step is to figure out whether you’re a visual learner, an auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner. In other words: Do you learn things best by seeing them, hearing them or doing them? There are quizzes online you can take to determine how you learn best, and I also have a video on my blog that might help. Once you’ve figured out your learning style, shift your focus to the aspects of the instructor’s teaching that help you most. In my case, because I’m a visual learner, that means concentrating on watching the teacher. I actually tune out the words she uses to describe the steps.
Most instructors and choreographers are good at teaching in a way that addresses all the different learning styles. But if your teacher isn’t accommodating your needs—if she talks through choreography without demonstrating it, but you need to see it to absorb it, for example—don’t be afraid to meet with her after class and ask for more.
I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror when I dance! I want to make sure my technique is correct, but I’m distorting my lines with my “mirror face.” What can I do
to break the habit?
The first step toward solving this particular problem is becoming aware of it. So you’re already ahead of the game!
My advice would be to pretend you’re onstage. Try picking a famous dance role, and taking class as that character. (You don’t have to tell anybody you’re doing it if you’re embarrassed—just do it for you!) Let’s say you’re imagining you’re Juliet from Romeo and Juliet. Thinking about the specific way Juliet would use her head and arms—very light and buoyant, because she’s young and energetic—will make it almost impossible for you to spend class staring at yourself in the mirror.
It might sound like a silly exercise, but it can help you figure out how to use your whole body, including your eyes and face, to dance. And when you’re onstage, there’s no mirror anyway, so it’s a great training tool!
Bonus video! Did you know the way you store your pointe shoes between wears can actually affect how long they last? Click here to watch Katie show you the best way to pack your pointes.
Send your dance questions to email@example.com. Katie might answer them in an upcoming issue!