NYC Auditions for the First Timer – Peeling off the Band-Aid

When I wasn’t interning at the Dance Teacher office this summer, I made an attempt at the New York City dance scene. I went to six different dance calls. As I peeled off the band-aid, I realized the best way to discover what this world is about is just to go to these calls, mess up, go home or possibly, get a call back. When you’re new to the scene, you have many people giving you advice, much of it conflicted. Everyone has their own way of coping with the audition experience, and while some basic hints about etiquette and formalities are useful, jumping into the scene with no expectations is the best advice I could give my previous self.  

Walking into the Chicago musical audition with my 16 bars, black leotard, and LaDuca’s, I wrote my name on the non-equity list (PS, never write your name on a line with a crossed out name… my bad) and found a nook by the mirror. As more and more dancers piled in the waiting room, the outfits became more creative versions of black lingerie, and black eye-liner and mascara was layered on in thick gobs. The experience of the non-equity dancer is mostly sitting, waiting to be “typed-in” (if you have the right look), and then going home. I was one of the “typed-in” girls. We learned a simple routine, mostly about precision and face, and then I went home, while a few were kept to sing. This audition taught me that no matter how much you spent on your black bikini panties and cropped top, or how thickly you applied your mascara, the fierce girl with the blue leotard could still get picked over you.  

Darryl Yeager, director of Odyssey Dance Theatre, a Salt Lake City-based jazz-ballet company, ran the audition himself and gave all of the 30-some dancers the chance to perform every combination, which included ballet, jazz, hip-hop and optional pointe, gymnastics and tap portions. This was an opportunity to have a rare experience in NYC, a free dance class! After two to three hours, about a third of the group was kept to fill company spots and other productions put on by the company. I walked away a little disheartened but with a days work-out under my belt. There is always something to gain from every audition, even if you are cut after an eight-count combo, which brings me too…

Disney auditions are truly one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. You can never really tell what they are looking for. The possibly hundred or so dancers were brought in in groups of 30 and taught a basic eight-count ballet combination. Less then ten girls went to the next round. I was cut, but after talking to some Disney audition veterans, I learned that one time you may be cut and the next time you could stay until they are measuring you for costumes. Never think that you were cut because of your dancing, ESPECIALLY at Disney auditions.  

As I watched one member of the Ailey II company walk through the door, I realized that the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago audition was going to be the most intimidating of the experiences I’d had. Everyone at this audition was what I considered “good,” so I knew that the auditioners must have had a time deciding who to keep. In groups of 40 we learned quite a few ballet combinations. Some were called out throughout the process to move on to the next round. Although they did not collect resumés up front, the auditioners knew what kind of background we had based on registration forms. Despite the shorter stature of the Hubbard Street dancers I saw perform, many tall girls were called back. You never know what kind of image they want to maintain, so tall girls, don’t shy away!  

With still an hour before the audition began, the line for the Rockette open call was nearly stretched around the block with hundreds of Rockette-hopefuls in their colored leos, tan tights and tight hair-dos. We filed into the extra-long rehearsal space, each vying for a spot in the front… or at least close to the center. Although the combination wasn’t the hardest technically, the audition itself was the intense emotionally. Each movement had to be exactly perfect; they are not looking for individuality.  

My most-rewarding experience was definitely the Royal Caribbean dance call. Cuts separated the three different jazz combinations. The first had a basic turn, kick, and leap, but they were also watching for how you picked up the subtleties in the movement. The second was a bluesy, grounded classic jazz number, smothered with Broadway and Fosse mannerisms. The final combination was hyper-fast, robotic and technical. Fortunate to have made it through all three cuts, I stayed to be taped performing all three combinations with perhaps 10 others.  

The best way to face your anxieties about this process is to simply go out and discover what works for you and how you stand out. The audition experience is not something that can be taught except to oneself.

(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Click here to vote for Emma.

There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "

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