Tips from Behind the Director's Table on Singing at Dance Auditions

Chances are, you’re more comfortable stretching your splits than stretching your vocal cords. But if you’re auditioning for a dance part in a musical theater production, you will probably be required to sing 16 bars (about 4 lines) of a song before the final cut for callbacks. Though directors aren’t necessarily looking for superstar vocalists when casting the chorus, you should be able to carry a tune. Whether you’re a confident triple threat or nervous about your notes, the following tips from NYC-based musical theater directors Bob Rizzo and John MacInnis will help you make the most of this short time in the singing spotlight.

 

Choose Your Tune
“The most important thing is to pay attention to the casting notice,” says Rizzo. “That’s where you’ll see what style of music the directors are looking for.” A casting notice may recommend you sing a particular style of song. However, notices often request you do not sing a song from the show, usually because directors do not want performers to have preconceived ideas about how to sing a particular song, or how to perform a particular role in their show. Ignoring or skimming over these instructions shows directors you don’t pay attention to details or take their requests seriously.

 

If the casting notice gives no guidelines, Rizzo suggests researching the show and selecting a song that corresponds to its style and time period. For instance, the judges will learn more about your potential in Chicago if you sing a 1920s show tune like “My Funny Valentine” rather than, say, “Pieces of Me” by Ashlee Simpson.

 

Even more important than the type of song you pick is your comfort level singing it, says MacInnis, who has performed on Broadway in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Kiss Me Kate and other shows. If you’re an inexperienced singer, rehearse one song and perform it for every audition, unless the style blatantly goes against a casting notice guideline. “You don’t want to try out something new in an audition—you want to be as secure as possible,” MacInnis advises. “Sing a song you know by heart, so if your piano accompanist makes a mistake, you can still go on.” Another tip if you’re a “Dance 10, Voice 3,” type: simple, up-tempo songs can cover a not-so-great voice, Rizzo says, whereas ballads do little to mask pitch problems.

Prepare Like a Pro

You are responsible for bringing sheet music for the pianist. Because the accompanist’s performance will affect yours, make sure the music can be read clearly. Don’t hand the pianist a pile of raggedy, flyaway sheets or a thick songbook. Putting each page of music in a sheet protector in a three-ring binder shows you’ve made an effort to look professional and don’t want to waste anyone’s time. MacInnis also warns that if you plan to sing in a different key than the original score, don’t expect the accompanist to transpose on the spot. It is professional courtesy to have the music transposed and recopied before the audition.

 

Usually, you will only be required to sing 16 bars, but—though the request is rare—the directors could ask you to sing the whole song. Be prepared by memorizing all the lyrics and bringing the sheet music for the entire piece.

Sell Your Song
Don’t be tempted to spice up your 16 bars with choreography—by this point in the audition, the directors already know you can dance. They want to see how you look and sound while singing. It’s most important to show a song’s emotional quality, says Rizzo. Know what the lyrics of your song mean and, if it’s from a particular production, what the character is singing about. This is the time to display your personality and acting skills.

 

If your voice isn’t exactly American Idol-worthy, you’ll find yourself in good company. “More often than not, dancers at musical theater auditions don’t sing well,” MacInnis says. “The breathing for each is totally different. Dancing teaches you to have a closed ribcage; for singing, you need to have an open ribcage.” Even if you know singing is not your strong point, don’t emphasize or make light of the fact by fidgeting or rolling your eyes. By making it to the singing portion of the audition, you’ve already impressed the directors with your talent. “If they’ve kept you for that long, you’ve already won them over,” MacInnis says. “They want to cast the show, and they want you to do well.”

(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.

Cover Model Search
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?

Keep Reading Show less
Cover Story
Corbin Bleu in rehearsal for "Kiss Me, Kate" (Jenny Anderson, courtesy Roundabout Theatre Company)

If you're a hardcore Broadway baby, today is the worst Sunday of the year. Why, you ask? The Tony Awards were last Sunday, so basically there's nothing to look forward to in life anymore—no James Corden being James Corden, no teary acceptance speeches from newly minted stars, no thrilling excerpts from the hottest new shows. Oh yeah, and there are 50 more Sundays to go before our humdrum lives are once again blessed with the next annual iteration of Broadway's biggest night.

Keep Reading Show less
Musical Theater

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Giveaways