Auditions can be like intense riddles. You know you’ve done your best and feel happy with your performance, but sometimes you get cut nonetheless. As you leave, you may wonder, “Am I missing something?”
The answer is a resounding “yes”! Unfortunately, the subtleties of the choreographer’s throw-away comments or the significance of the way she repeats a specific arm movement can mean the difference between getting a call-back or an afternoon latte. By paying careful attention to the focus of the artistic team, you can sniff out what is important to them. A little diligent detective work can solve the mystery of auditioning.
Make Your Mark (Gently!)
“You want to present yourself to the team in a friendly, but non-aggressive way,” says David Marquez, dancer, choreographer and master teacher in NYC. “Try to be first to walk into the room and go straight to the center with a smile…without being pushy.”
Be sensitive to how you wear your confidence; what you feel on the inside may not be what you project to the team. And since the team’s perception is key, make sure to “maintain a warm energy,” says Steven Sofia, NYC dancer and master teacher. “You want to have personality, but too much mugging can be overwhelming. However, a neutral face can come off as bored. People want to hire dancers who want to be in the room and work.”
Marquez suggests creating a visual imprint of yourself for the choreographer or instructor: Each time you change lines, try to stay in view. Then, when you return to the front, go directly to the spot you were in before. That way, if the choreographer looks for “the girl in the blue,” you’ll be right where he or she expects you to be.
Now that you’ve given the team some subliminal clues, perk up your ears—their hints are everywhere. “If you only have a small amount of time to learn the routine, try your best,” says Marquez. “And if nothing else, make sure to do what the choreographer has asked for.” If they’ve taken time to verbalize a specific movement, you can be sure it’s something to highlight. They might go through the combination counting off all of the steps, but listen carefully: You’ll find that certain phrases are described more vividly. Home in on these!
If you or another dancer in the room is given a note, this correction gets priority. Warnings like, “I’ve given this note three times before” should scream like blaring sirens. “Choreographers want to see who is listening and digesting their work and style,” says Sofia. “They want to hire someone who hears what they’re saying and is willing, ready and able to live in their world.”
Also, pay attention to every instruction, even if it seems insignificant. Has the team explained the formation they want for smaller groups? Have they told you exactly how they want your audition card stapled to your resumé? Have they asked you to stay on the floor in formation after you’ve finished the combination? While not necessarily a death knell, slip-ups concerning these tiny details are easy ways for choreographers to rule people out when there are tons of dancers to see, or when considering two equally talented choices. Getting cut based on “she’s a fantastic dancer but she didn’t follow directions when we told her where to stand” is a sad, and all-too-common, occurrence.
If the choreographer has an assistant who is demonstrating, she is the perfect guide to the choreographer’s style and desires—she got hired, so she must be doing it right! “Often if an assistant is present, the choreographer is marking. So, following the choreographer exactly will lead you to distribute your energy incorrectly,” says Michael Scott, cast member of the Broadway productions of Tarzan, Mamma Mia!, The Pirate Queen and All Shook Up. “Instead, listen to the choreographer, but watch the choreographer and the assistant.”
As you watch them, look for phrases that the choreographer seems to be hitting harder or more precisely than other sections. “Every choreographer has signature movements,” notes Scott. “Put special emphasis on what you see him or her enjoying most. But, if you can’t find any information on preferences, pick your own and make sure that in every repetition, you hit those counts!”
You should also note which dancers get kept. This is not only informative, but also a confidence booster. “If you watch who gets kept at Susan Stroman auditions, you see that she likes very long legs,” says Sofia. Being aware of this sort of consistent typing will help you remain self-assured about your skills while accepting physical constraints.
Once you’ve collected similar clues about choreographers, whether from observation or by talking with fellow dancers, use this information to your advantage. Do you have a pair of shoes that make your legs look extra fierce? Wear them. Were all the girls that got cut falling out of their turns? Use the waiting time in the holding room to practice your balance.
Add You, But Keep Them
One last common—and understandable— pitfall: Try not to overreact when you’re asked to “show me you.” Although the choreographer might be encouraging you to improvise, add your own touches and show off your unique personality, many dancers make the mistake of disregarding all of the previous information given. “When a choreographer says ‘give me you,’ he didn’t also say ‘take away me,’” says Marquez. “Instead, he’s asking you to add your personality to the choreography that has already been agreed upon in the rest of the audition.”
Scott suggests that when choreographers make comments like these, they’re in fact asking for your energy and momentum. And unless a specific call for “add your own arms here” or “improvise for eight counts” is issued, stick to the movement they give you and simply ramp up your commitment and emotion.
While auditioning might initially seem like a blindfolded extravaganza, looking for these simple signs can help you tune in to the entire process. Even if you’re cut, you’ll be sure to have uncovered the intricacies that might stand in your way at the next audition. So sleuth on!
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Beloved by ballet fans for her lucid technique and onstage effervescence, by her Instagram followers for the deftly curated photos and videos she shares of her glamorous life, and by fangirl Jennifer Garner for all of the above, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston is one of the rare ballet stars who's achieved mainstream fame. A native of Sun Valley, ID, Boylston trained at the Academy of Colorado Ballet and the Harid Conservatory before joining the ABT Studio Company in 2005. She entered the main company as an apprentice in 2006, and attained principal status in 2014. In addition to her successes with ABT, where she dances nearly every major ballerina role, Boylston has served as artistic director of the annual Ballet Sun Valley Festival, which brings high-level performances and classes to her hometown. And speaking of famous Jennifers: Boylston recently appeared as Jennifer Lawrence's dance double in the film Red Sparrow. Catch her onstage with ABT as Manon, Odette/Odile, and Princess Aurora during the company's Metropolitan Opera House season this summer in NYC. —Margaret Fuhrer