The Worst Audition of My Life
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.”
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.
Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!