It may only be the first week of college classes, but already your biggest test of the year is right around the corner: dance team tryouts. Here are some tips to help you land a coveted spot on the team. Do your research: Catch a dance team performance or rehearsal to familiarize yourself with the team’s style. You should also visit the team’s website (look for it under categories like athletics, student clubs or campus life on the college homepage) to get contact info for coaches and team members and find out how the audition will be structured; tryouts can last anywhere from two hours to an entire weekend. Will there be callbacks? Do you perform your own routine, or learn choreography as a group? Are there required moves? The more you find out early on and the more prepared you are, the less nervous you’ll be.
Know the expectations: During your research, pay attention to the team’s movement style, image and priorities, which can differ depending on where it performs. Some teams dance solely at school sporting events, while others compete nationally through organizations such as UDA or NDA. When trying out for a competitive team, you’ll probably need to be able to perform highly technical steps such as toe touches, fouetté turn combinations and switch leaps. Keep in mind that for NDA, teams compete with one routine that must incorporate jazz, hip hop and pom styles, while at UDA competitions, routines focus on one style, in separate categories.
Build your skill set: Some college dance teams offer clinics throughout the year, and attending one can give you a leg up on dancers who haven’t worked with team members before. (In some cases, senior team members may even be on the judges panel.) Liz Blacher-Rifino, a consultant for several college championship teams, suggests taking classes from a variety of teachers to develop your ability to pick up material quickly and adapt to new styles. Try everything from ballet and jazz to ballroom and Pilates. Pack your dance bag: On the day of tryouts, don’t forget these essentials: sneakers and jazz shoes, a bottle of water, a towel, a dance resumé and headshot, an extra leotard and pair of tights, hairspray, hair pins, makeup, a snack, and a pen and paper.
Arrive in advance: Get the audition started off right by showing up early. You’ll want plenty of time to warm up and mingle with other hopefuls. It won’t ruin your chances to make a few friends before you enter the audition; a familiar face can ease your nerves. You should also familiarize yourself with the area you’ll be trying out in, including what type of floor you’ll be dancing on and how big the performance space is.
Look the part: “How you present yourself is a reflection of your commitment and potential,” explains Michelle Chin, coach of the George Mason Masonettes Dance Team. If you’re auditioning for a high-kick team, wear short bike shorts to show off your legs and extension. Pair a tank top with a tennis skirt or tight-fitting jazz pants if you’re trying out for a pom team, so the judges can see your arms and a preview of what you’ll look like in performance. Hair should always be securely pulled back from your face and your appearance should be neat. Avoid flashy jewelry and distracting makeup, but don’t be afraid to show your individual style by wearing fun colors or a cute belt or hairpiece.
Be confident, but not cocky: The dancers you audition with are your potential future teammates, and nobody wants to be remembered as that pushy dancer from tryouts. Still, don’t hesitate to show some ’tude during your routine. “We want someone who loves to dance, isn’t intimidated and can show emotion when she dances rather than looking like she’s counting,” says Tom Cascella, the coach and founder of the nationally ranked Towson University Dance Team. Show the judges your personality not only while you’re performing, but also while you’re learning the routines. “I’m always looking for that spark in someone that will catch the audience’s eye,” says Northwestern University Ladycats coach Tracy Coleman.
Speak up: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Cascella says that an eager dancer is the most noticed dancer. “Most people don’t want to ask questions, because they think that they’re the only person who is confused or they don’t want to appear stupid,” he explains. “It’s a good sign when people ask questions, because they seek clarity. They want to do the move correctly, and they want to understand what we’re showing them.”
Don’t give up: Coaches are often looking for potential—not perfection. Jennifer Hart, the coach of the Aggie Dance Team at Texas A&M University, says that the number one mistake she sees dancers make is “giving up and leaving tryouts early instead of sticking it out until the end.” Also, always perform the routine full out, even if you’ve just learned it, and if you make a mistake, keep going. “We would rather have someone mess up and [show passion] than have someone not make a mistake but dance mechanically,” Cascella says.
Smile!: Even if your technique isn’t perfect or your left leg can’t kick quite as high as your right, keep a smile on your face. A smile can break the ice at a nerve-wracking tryout, and it can make you stand out as someone who loves performing. Other auditioners will notice, and so will the judges.