Seven dancers share their biggest audition mishaps—and how they pulled through.
Lockhart Brownlie onstage with Katie Perry (photo by Rex Features/Brian Rasic)
I went to an audition for “True Blood” right off a plane from India. I was jetlagged and swollen and felt gross. As a guy, it’s not uncommon to be asked to take your shirt off at an audition, but this time they wanted us to dance in our underwear. The L.A. dance world is small, so we all knew each other, and body image is such a competitive thing—it was definitely uncomfortable. Plus the routine was full-on stylized jazz choreographed by Marguerite Derricks, which was also intimidating, because she’s such a big choreographer. I just had to pull it together and dance. In the end, I did book the job!
Tessa Alves in Rock of Ages (photo by Paul Kolnik)
performer in Rock of Ages on Broadway
The first acting audition I ever did was for a play called The Trojan Women at Stratford Festival. I was terrified. As I began my monologue, I started crying because I was so scared. After I finished, the director said, “I really like where you were going with that. There were a lot of ups and downs.” She thought I was crying because I was really good at acting! She said, “Can you do it again?” And this time I started bawling. That’s when she realized there was a problem. She said, “Why don’t you go to the corner and take a moment.” There I was, at my first acting audition, crying and standing in the corner like a 4-year-old. I did it one more time, and she said, “Thank you, that was great.” And I got a call the next day: I booked it. Now I’m on Broadway, understudying three lead roles and only crying onstage when it’s necessary.
Thayne Jasperson (far right) in Matilda: The Musical (photo by Joan Marcus)
performer in Matilda: The Musical on Broadway
When I was auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance,” I made it to the round where you do your solo for the judges. But at the last minute, I found out I couldn’t use the song I had choreographed my solo to, because the show didn’t have the rights to it.
So I scrambled. I found a song I sort of knew, but when I got out there I completely blanked. My throat started swelling up, and my blood was pumping so hard in my head. I just started improvising, and it was a tragic mess. Of course, we’re all our own worst critics. But when I look back at it, I still don’t know how I made it to Vegas.
(Photo by Jae Man Joo)
dancer with Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Three years ago, I auditioned for Dance Theatre of Harlem. I had been going to a ton of contemporary auditions and was in that mindset, so I showed up in a tank top and shorts—but everyone there was in a leotard and tights. I saw a girl in the dressing room with an extra leotard in her bag. I asked if I could borrow it, and I wore it with my shorts. I also went up to the director beforehand and said, “I’m so sorry, would it be OK if I auditioned in shorts?” He said, “Yes.” And it actually went well. They didn’t take anyone from the audition, but they did offer me a scholarship to their summer intensive. I went—and wore tights and a leotard every day!
Sarrah Strimel as the Mermaid in Big Fish (photo by Paul Kolnik)
We had a lengthy round of auditions for the part of the Mermaid in Big Fish. For the final callback, I wanted to wear something soft and mermaid-like, so I bought a light-pink sports bra and skirt. I had never danced in them before the audition, but I thought they couldn’t be too risky. Wrong. I was dancing by myself, and right as I went into a big pas de chat, both straps on the sports bra popped! The boobs came out, and, well, you can’t really catch your chest in the middle of a pas de chat.
Susan Stroman, the director, called out, “Stop, stop!” and the pianist stopped playing. I came up with a beet red face and said, “Hey guys, just trying to book the job.” Then Susan had to personally pop the straps back in for me. I danced it again, boob-free—and ended up getting the part.
(Photo by James Dimmock/FOX)
Soon after I finished the “SYTYCD” Season 8 tour, I was in a terrible car accident. It was a life-changing experience. I decided I was going to quit dancing and go back to school and do things “normal” people do. But then I got a call for an audition for Madonna’s MDNA tour, and I thought, Why not? The audition was a blur. I know they asked us to freestyle, and I tripped at least a few times. I came out of it thinking I was done dancing forever.
Then I got a call from my agent saying they wanted to see me for a callback. They flew me to NYC, and there was a weeklong audition with other dancers. I got to work with choreographers Rich + Tone Talauega, and the experience woke me up. I realized I shouldn’t have thought of giving up at all. My “worst audition” was actually a blessing.
(Photo by Djeneba Aduayom)
About 10 years ago, when I was just starting to establish my career, I had an opportunity to audition for a Michael Jackson show. I flew to NYC, made it to the end of the audition and felt really great about it. But I didn’t hear anything about a callback, so I assumed I was cut and flew back to L.A. Right after my mom and dad picked me up from the airport, my phone rang. It was someone from the audition—they wanted me to be at a callback in four hours! I told them I’d already flown back to L.A., and they said there was no way I could do the job if I missed the callback. I was devastated.
Even though I was upset, I knew I had to pull myself together. I looked at my parents and said, “Well, the good news is that I probably got the Michael Jackson job. The bad news is I’m not going to be able to do it. Let’s go get some ice cream and celebrate.”
All of us---even the dance world’s biggest stars---have had less-than-awesome performance moments. We asked seven professionals to share their most embarrassing mishaps.
Samuels Smith with the cast of Imagine Tap! in "Samurai Shuffle," the number that landed him in the emergency room. (photo by Michael Brosilow)
Jason Samuels Smith
I once played a tap dancing samurai confronted by ninjas in a production of Imagine Tap! I wanted to take my performance to another level during the last show, so I decided to jump into the orchestra pit at the end. Other dancers used a mattress in the pit to break their falls, so I assumed it would work and didn’t practice the jump. I finished the number with a dramatic leap. But as soon as I landed on the mattress, my momentum bounced me into a three-foot drop in the pit, and I ended up landing on my head. I reassured the band I was fine and finished the show. After flying back to L.A. that night, I went to the emergency room to make sure I was OK. Turns out, I wasn’t. I had to work the whole week with staples in my head and half of my cornrows undone. Next time, I’ll practice a stunt instead of winging it!
(photo by Oliver Correa)
Member of Dance Theatre of Harlem
When I was 16, I had a demi-soloist role in the snow scene of my studio’s Nutcracker. I got into my opening pose in my white costume—and realized I’d forgotten to take off my black legwarmers. I was already nervous about the role, and dancing the piece in my legwarmers made things so much worse. I definitely got scolded for it afterwards!
Walsh as Colas in La fille mal gardée (photo by Amitava Sarkar)
Principal with Houston Ballet
In the pas de deux in Frederick Ashton’s La fille mal gardée, there’s a moment when the lead man, Colas, tosses a ribbon to his partner, Lise, while continuing to hold on to the other end. Then he does chaînés toward her, wrapping the ribbon around his waist. But during my second performance as Colas, I didn’t realize my partner hadn’t been able to catch the ribbon, so it was wrapping itself around my ankles. There’s no graceful way out of a situation where your feet are bound together. While my partner attempted to find the other end of the ribbon, I clumsily stepped out of it.
Froderman with Russell Ferguson on the 2010 "So You Think You Can Dance" tour. (photo by Cory Shwartz)
During some of the performances on the 2010 “So You Think You Can Dance” tour, I had a solo in the group piece that opened the second act. One night, I went to the restroom during intermission, thinking I had enough time. But as I was making my way back to the stage, I heard the music start. The choreography began with me in a chair on a table and the boys fighting over the chair. Since I was missing, the boys had to fight over an invisible person. I eventually was able to run on in character, and the rest of the piece went smoothly, but we burst into laughter after we got offstage. To cap things off, during the final performance of this piece, the chair’s legs broke while I was sitting in it.
(photo by Gene Shiavone)
Corpyphee with the Mariinsky Ballet
During a performance this past spring, I picked up too much speed during a set of fouettés and spun out of control. Eventually I stopped, dropped and rolled…and kept rolling. I got up with my head spinning and heart racing. I finished with one last pirouette and ran offstage. Several dancers sent me videos of their own onstage catastrophes to help me laugh it off. We’re all human, and a ballet will never be perfect. That’s what makes it interesting!
(photo by Brian Mengini)
Brandyn S. Harris
Dancer with Rennie Harris RHAW
While on tour with RHAW about three months ago, I was performing a piece in which I normally wear tightly tied high-top sneakers. For some reason, I decided to wear my low-top Chuck Taylors that night. While dancing, my left foot stepped on the back of my right ankle, and my right shoe came off. I quickly stuffed my foot back into the shoe as much as I could mid-step. The other dancers onstage whispered, “What’s wrong?” Luckily, I was able to make it through—and the audience didn’t seem to notice!
(photo by Mathew Murphy)
Dancer with Keigwin + Company
We do a piece called Bird Watching that’s set to Haydn’s symphony no. 6 in D major. One time, a few minutes into a Bird Watching performance on tour, the orchestral score was accidentally replaced by a track from our pre-show music, Beyoncé’s “Ego.” In the moment, our gut reaction was to freeze. It was probably no more than 10 seconds before the music jumped back into Haydn, but it felt like forever.