In an audition or onstage, knowing how to use eye contact appropriately is a total game changer. Dancers who aren't afraid to meet the eyes of judges or audience members exude a special confidence that allows them to be seen as capable, talented performers. When dancers look at the floor or around the room, though, they telegraph insecurity. Don't send your critics looking for flaws! Avoid these three no-no's and become a true master of eye contact.
We know, we know: so many dance challenges, so little time. But taking the #SwishSwishChallenge, which the ever-fabulous Katy Perry announced yesterday, could earn you a prize bigger than run-of-the-mill internet fame: a chance to star in Perry's "Swish Swish" music video.
It’s only natural to be nervous before an audition, as you size up the competition and try to ignore that persistent ache in your left ankle. But there are ways to alleviate both mental and physical jitters. What are the keys to feeling as comfortable as possible? Start your preparations early, stick to a timeline and think about all aspects of your dancer body. We asked a dietitian, a psychologist, a physical therapist and a company director for their audition prep advice.
One to Two Months Before
Technically: Research the company you’re auditioning for. “Find out if they’ll be performing near you, and see any shows you can,” recommends Olivier Wevers, director of contemporary ballet company Whim W’him. Once you learn about the type of work a company does, you can target your training. See a lot of hard-hitting movement? Consider adding a few hip-hop classes to your schedule. Are the dancers known for collaborating with the choreographer? Add an improv class to the mix.
Mentally: The big day may seem far off, but this is when you should start getting in the audition mindset. “Start approaching your regular classes like auditions,” says Dr. Millie Figueredo, a psychologist with Miami City Ballet School. “Think about showing confidence and projecting your passion through your movement.”
Nutritionally: “Focus on eating whole foods—a variety of lean proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats,” says Alexis Appel, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, SC. “Limit your intake of highly processed foods, candies and sodas.” Eating cleanly will help you perform at your peak, and it can also help prevent illness—because the last thing you need before an audition is a nasty cold or flu that can set you back weeks.
Physically: Get in the habit of sleeping at least eight hours each night, so you don’t have a cumulative sleep deficit as you approach audition day. This is also the time to start a physical-therapy program, since muscles need about six to eight weeks to show lasting changes in strength and endurance. “Ask a physical therapist to help you address any areas that have been injured in the past,” says Heather Southwick, Boston Ballet’s director of physical therapy. Southwick also recommends working with a dance teacher to develop a personalized 30-minute warm-up to use before the audition. Build it around core stabilizing elements, dynamic stretching and any individualized exercises your body needs.
One to Two Weeks Before
Technically: “This is when you should focus on any unique quirks or technical details a company is known for,” says Wevers. “For instance, at Whim W’him, we have a very precise way of moving our feet, so think about how you’re using yours. Or, if the company’s dancers have beautiful upper bodies, you’ll want to refine your own arm movements so that motion is in your muscle memory.”
Mentally: Build your confidence by writing out the reasons you’re a good fit for the troupe or project you’re auditioning for. “Make a list of your strengths and things you will bring to the company,” Figueredo says.
Physically: At this point, consistency is key. “Don’t do anything new or intense this close to an audition,” Southwick warns. Use your customized warm-up routine before classes, and make tweaks if necessary. And if you’re nursing an injury, Southwick says, “make informed choices on how to manage it. Does it need extra warm-up time? Or does it need a decreased load? Maybe you only do one jump combo, for instance, or only the first round of each combination.”
Nutritionally: “Use this week to find out which foods give you the most energy without upsetting your stomach,” Appel says. “Nuts or raw veggies can be a great snack, but if they cause gas and bloating, they probably aren’t what you should have before the audition.”
One Day Before
Technically: Take a nice, relaxed class. Don’t be tempted to skip it. “You want to be rested, but think about how a first class back is on a Monday after a weekend or after taking a short vacation—you’re not always together,” Wevers says.
Mentally: “Don’t put any extra pressure on yourself,” Figueredo says. “Instead, think about all the preparation you’ve done. You’re ready. Now relax. You want your mind to be clear and in a positive place.”
Nutritionally: Don’t make any sudden change to your eating habits. Stick to your plan. “You’ve created a schedule for your stomach, and you don’t want to shock your system,” Appel says. Make sure to drink plenty of water so you’re well hydrated for the big day.
Physically: “Back off a little,” Southwick says, so you’re fresh for tomorrow. “Do your warm-up routine, take class, but don’t try anything new.”
One Hour Before
Technically: Remember that you’re being evaluated on more than just your dancing. Be courteous to your fellow auditionees. “I observe the dancers from the moment they’re in the building,” says Wevers. “I can see how they deal with stress, and how they act under pressure.”
Mentally: “Try a simple breathing exercise to center your mind,” Figueredo says. “Close your eyes or focus on a fixed point. Inhale for five or six slow counts, hold it for a second, and then count backwards from five or six as you exhale.” Focusing on your breathing will help clear last-minute worries from your head.
Nutritionally: “Eat a snack 30 minutes to an hour before go time,” Appel says. A
mix of protein and fruit—Greek yogurt with berries, a banana with peanut butter—will give you good, steady energy. And while you’ll want to keep a water bottle nearby, Appel suggests limiting your intake about 20 to 30 minutes before the audition. You don’t want to have to use the restroom mid-class.
Physically: You’ll need at least a half-hour for your prepared warm-up, so leave enough time for that after you’ve changed and eaten. “Try to carve out about six feet of room around you for your warm-up, because you’ll need the space for your dynamic stretches—things like walking battements, side lunges, or walks with front attitude swings,” Southwick says. Merde!
Juneau Dance Theatre student Anna McDowell filming an audition video with Bridget Lujan (courtesy Juneau Dance Theatre)
Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it’s rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it’s difficult to travel to auditions,” she says. “It gets way too expensive!” Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can’t travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you’re about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.
Before you step in front of a camera, visit each summer intensive’s website and make a list of their video requirements. Most ballet programs will specify certain steps they want to see, both at barre and in center. “Some places want to see the entire class on pointe, or a variation at the end,” McDowell says. That may mean you have to make multiple versions of your audition video. (One year, McDowell made five different videos to accommodate requests from different schools.)
If you’re auditioning for a non-ballet program, the directions might be less specific. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” says Nel Shelby, professional videographer and owner of Nel Shelby Productions, who frequently films audition videos. “Email the school or choreographer and ask what they want to see.”
Prep for your video shoot as you would for a live audition: Sleep well the night before, make sure you’re warm before you dance and choose an appropriate audition look. “I prefer a simple leotard and pink tights,” says Lawrence Rhodes, director of The Juilliard School’s dance program. “We should see the body completely, and be able to tell what your proportions are like and what your capabilities are.”
If you’ll be dancing a variation, make sure you’re well rehearsed and at ease with the choreography. “Choose something you feel good about, that shows you at the top of your game,” Rhodes says. It’s worth practicing the basics, too. “Rehearse everything, even barre exercises, to make sure you’re comfortable before you film,” says Steven Wistrich, director of City Ballet of San Diego.
Ask your coach or teacher to be there on shoot day. He or she can provide technical feedback, and can also help by giving you combinations that will highlight your strengths.
If you can afford a professional videographer, it’s worth it: A pro will help you make sure you look your best. But if that’s not in your budget, a high-quality smartphone video will work fine, provided you’re strategic about the filming process.
Reserve a studio so that you can film yourself solo, rather than trying to tape a regular class. “When there are other people around, I don’t know who I’m supposed to be watching,” Wistrich says. Make your video easy to watch by choosing a simple background, like a white wall, and avoid shooting in front of a mirror, since seeing the front and back of you at the same time can be confusing and distracting. “Fluorescent studio lights are tricky on film,” Shelby says, “so do a test shot to make sure you don’t have shadows on your face.”
Nel Shelby filming Pacific Northwest Ballet's Margaret Mullin (photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Shelby)
Sound levels are also important. Again, do a few tests to ensure your music records at a normal volume. “If it’s really loud or soft, people might turn off the video right away,” Shelby says. And keep in mind that wearing brand-new pointe shoes that tap the floor noisily might make people think you’re not using your feet properly.
There are all kinds of user-friendly editing programs, like iMovie, available to help you compile your footage. But there’s no need to get fancy during the editing stage. In fact, the most successful videos are frequently the simplest ones: They’re as clear and easily viewable as possible, without a lot of busy graphics, special effects or text. “I don’t think it’s important that people have a slick reel and fancy cover page,” Rhodes says. “We’re looking at the dancing. You want to focus on putting something forth that is movement-oriented, musically sound and well coordinated. Those things actually count a lot.”
Surprising Video Dos and Don'ts
Videographer Nel Shelby lays out filming rules that might not be intuitive to nonprofessionals.
Shooting from multiple angles might seem sophisticated, but it’s actually a DON’T. “It’s disorienting to see shots that are high, low, and from the side,” Shelby says. “A simple, one-camera angle is best.”
DO stabilize your camera. “Even if you’re shooting on an iPhone, make sure that it’s steady,” Shelby says. “Buy a little tripod or mount the phone on the wall.”
If you’re using a smartphone, DON’T shoot vertically! “We tend to hold our phones vertically, but if you do that, you’ll end up with black bars on each side of the finished product, and you’ll look smaller in the frame,” Shelby says.
DO think about how you’re framing your body with the camera.
Be sure not to leave too much room on the top or bottom of the screen.
Do you have talent? Yes you do! And it's time to show the nation. "America's Got Talent" is embarking on a 10-city audition tour, starting November 12, 2016. Here's everything you need to know to audition:
- Any kind of performer, of any age, can register to audition.
- Find the audition dates and cities here.
- Submit an audition video here.
In case you need inspiration, here's a supercut of some of "AGT" dance acts from years past:
It definitely seems like hip-hop crews and ballroom dancers fare best on "AGT," but that just means the judges are probably ready to see other amazing styles of dance grace the stage. Good luck!