Top Directors on Auditioning Smart

This is the season of auditioning for summer ballet programs. To help you prepare, DS took questions to the heads of five schools connected with major ballet companies: Shelly Power, associate director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy; Linda Villella and Crista Villella, School Director and Assistant Ballet Mistress, respectively, of Miami City Ballet School; Denise Bolstad, administrative director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet; and Lola de Avila, interim director of the San Francisco Ballet School. Here’s what they said.

DS:Is it better to go for the triple pirouette, or just do a clean double?


MCBS: When in doubt, opt for the clean double.

SAB: A clean double turn or an impeccable single is better than a sloppy triple, just as the height of an extension is less important than the développé into that extension. It’s not about tricks.

SFBS: Students should do what they feel comfortable doing. The audition isn’t about one pirouette.

DS: What are the main technical points you look for?

HBS: Good foundation, placement and strength to ensure that a student can keep up with the pace at a particular level. For example, we’ll give a series of relevés on pointe: two feet, one foot, two to one and changes in directions. This tells us at what pointe level we can expect a student to perform.

MCBS: We’re looking for placement, technique and musicality.

PNBS: We look for flexibility, long legs, pretty feet, high extensions, spirit, personality and a love of dance—the thing we call “the dancer within.” For the younger ages, we look at potential that might get a jump-start in a summer intensive. For the older students, we look for strength and technique.
 
SAB: We look for turnout, flexibility of feet, ability to move, musicality and coordination in the center, not just at the barre. In the younger ages, we look for an understanding of the body, good basic technique and potential. Also, while the aesthetic for the ballet body is slender, dancers have to be healthy. We won’t take students who are too thin. We’ve had students who were fine when they auditioned, but too thin when they arrived for the program and we’ve had to send them home.

SFBS: A student, especially a younger student, need not know everything, but we’re looking for clear, clean technique. At 13 and 14, we look for coordination, musicality, flexibility and placement. At 15 and up, we look for the same things, only with more strength and greater physical mastery of ballet technique.

DS: Is it better to wear a black leotard, or a color to stand out?

PNBS: We don’t have a dress code for our auditions. Personally, I think color in a leotard is good, but proper fit is more important.

SFBS: The leotard color is of little importance. Students stand out in an audition by what they do, not what color leotards they’re in.

DS: Why are pink tights preferred?

SFBS: Pink tights allow us to see the shape of the leg.

DS: How should a student present him or herself?

HBS: The hair should be in a bun. No heavy sweatpants or other bulky cover-ups.

MCBS: We’re a classical ballet company. Black tights, flashy jewelry and too much makeup don’t make the best impression. Be yourself; show us who you are and what you can do. These are highly experienced teachers who know ballet and see right through facades.

PNBS: Most important is a tidy, elegant appearance. Clean ballet slippers and pointe shoes, immaculate hair and small earrings are all good.

SAB: Approach this as a ballet class with a new teacher and present yourself accordingly—a neat appearance with hair up and not too much makeup or jewelry.

SFBS: Simple hair, light makeup and no distracting jewelry. This is a class, not a performance. We want to see movement and bodies, not a lot of window dressing.

DS: How much of the audition is on pointe and for which age groups?

HBS: Soft shoes at the barre make it easier to see how they use their feet. The 14-and-younger group has pointe at the end of center. The 15-and-older group has center on pointe.

MCBS: The younger group has pointe at the end of class; the 15-and-older group does most of the center on pointe, but if a student wants to take barre on pointe, that’s up to the teacher conducting the audition. For example, in the NYC audition, we have SAB students who are used to taking barre on pointe.
 
PNBS: For ages 16 and younger, the last 20 minutes is usually on pointe. For 16 and older, the center is on pointe and the barre on pointe is optional, although our summer classes are on pointe for these ages. If someone isn’t used to pointe shoes for barre, the audition is not the time to start. Do what you’re comfortable with. Also, avoid shoes that are too new or too old.

SAB: Under age 15, we give pointe the last 15 minutes of class. Over 15, we expect them to take the entire class on pointe, because that’s what they will do during the summer.

SFBS: For the younger students, we give pointe in the center, but it’s optional at the barre. Ages 16 to 18, we prefer pointe shoes at the barre as well as in the center.

DS: Is there an advantage to auditioning in a city that attracts a smaller crowd and perhaps has fewer serious dance students?

HBS: We hold the same standard in all cities. The expense and stress of traveling on top of the stress of auditioning may outweigh any perceived advantage.

MCBS: No. If it’s crowded, we’ll break into more groups or send more people. We try to judge each person on his or her own terms.
 
PNBS: I don’t think there’s any significant advantage, and I’d never encourage anyone to incur the expense and hassle of traveling for an audition. It’s surprising how much experienced eyes can see in a short period of time.

SAB: There’s no advantage in a smaller city, and auditioning closest to home probably has a higher comfort level for most.

SFBS: No, we try to hold every audition the same. It may be more crowded in larger cities, but then we break the audition into smaller groups.

DS: What are auditioners really writing down on those clipboards?

HBS: These are memory prompts, so when we’re making final decisions, we can remember the individual students.

MCBS: We’re keeping track, making notes, possibly assigning a level. We take as many notes on students we don’t accept as those we do.
 
DS: While dancing, is it good to make eye contact with those conducting the audition?

MCBS: Behave as you would with your regular teacher. Be natural. Be yourself.
 
PNBS: This isn’t an audition for “Star Search,” so a huge grin or excessive eye contact won’t impress and may worry me. Treat this as a class with appropriate eye contact.

SFBS: Eye contact with the teacher shouldn’t be avoided, but it also shouldn’t be forced.

DS: If a student has attended your summer program before, will it enhance his or her chances of being accepted the following year?

HBS: Somewhat, because we know how that person works and behaves. However, a student shouldn’t assume a return invitation.

MCBS: Yes, because we know them and how they work.
 
PNBS: There is some advantage, but we still reevaluate them. It isn’t automatic.

SAB: There’s no real advantage. It’s been a year and a lot can change. We do know them and how they work from the year before, but we have to evaluate them according to where they are, at each audition.

SFBS: We do like students who return. We know they want to be here. We get to know them and they know us—it’s building a relationship.

 Choosing a Program

DS: When students are selected for more than one summer program, what should be the main considerations in deciding which to attend?

HBS: Decide what your focus is. Do you want to experience several summer programs or develop a relationship with one or two schools with hopes of getting into a year round program? How long do you want to be away? Are you comfortable with the location and the facilities offered for the summer stay?
 
MCBS: Is the training well rounded? Is this the company you want to dance with? For younger students, is it nurturing? How many classes and what type? Think about your preferences before the audition and notify programs about where you want to go as soon as possible.
 
PNBS: The number of classes each week, class size, program length, housing, safety, transportation, extracurricular activities and performing components.

SAB: Consider the different styles of each company and its school, as well as the housing, security and the experience of living in that city for several weeks.

SFBS: Decide how you feel about the company and the school attached to it. Do you like the style, their way of dancing? Read dance magazines, study the websites, see the company perform and view videos or DVDs of the company. Also, the audition gives a lot of clues about the school. If you enjoyed or felt uncomfortable in the audition class, chances are you’ll feel the same way when enrolled.

DS: What are the pros and cons of multiple summers at the same program versus going to different programs each summer?

HBS: The plus side is developing a long-term relationship and showing interest, which is important if a student wants to remain in the year-round program or join that company. The downside to only attending one program is not knowing what else is out there. Summer can be a chance to become familiar with the aesthetics of different companies.

MCBS: Students under 15 may want to try different schools, but by age 15, students should be figuring out who they are and where they want to be dancing.
 
PNBS: This is a tough question. For younger students, it can be good to experience different programs. For older students, there are advantages to returning and forming a relationship with a school attached to a company where you want to dance.

SAB: For younger students, returning to the same program reinforces the training while changing programs with different styles and teaching approaches may be confusing. Older students should consider where they want to dance in the long run.

SFBS: Here in the U.S., people want to be exposed to as many different experiences as possible. I have a European perspective: If you’re happy and enjoyed a program, why change? Talk to your teachers. They know ballet and they know you. The summer session should be about going to the right place for the dancer, not a political decision or putting something on a resumé.


Ann Haskins is a freelance journalist in L.A., who also writes for L.A. Weekly and Pointe magazine.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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