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Audition Advice from the Pros

Joshua Bergasse Joshua Bergasse, Choreographer for SMASH. Photo by Patrick Randak/NBC

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa

Auditions can be nerve wracking: a ton of capable dancers in one room, several sets of watching eyes, lots of tension and that awful pit-in-the-stomach feeling before "the cut". If a dancer wants a job, however, most likely he or she must face the music. But rather than dread every audition, maybe it's possible to enjoy the process and be okay no matter what the outcome? Who better to help dancers feel this way than the professionals who have been there before them.

BE PREPARED

Some things about an audition cannot be foreseen. Auditionees don't know the combinations that will be given or the choreography that will be taught, but there are things dancers can do leading up to an audition to help them be on top of their game.

"You are responsible for preparing your body by giving it the rest and nutrition it needs," says Christina Johnson, rehearsal director for Trey McIntyre Project, who is a vital part of the company's audition process. “Also prepare your mind by eliminating any distractions (like cell phones), running late, or worrying about someone else. Just focus on you and be attentive to every moment."

Sara Mearns gives audition advice

Sara Mearns of NYCB in Jerome Robbins' 'Dances at a Gathering'. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of NYCB.

CLEANLY DRESSED IS BEST

Most directors and choreographers would agree that it's important for dancers to dress cleanly and to wear something that makes them feel comfortable and shows off their line.

Sara Mearns, now a principal ballerina with New York City Ballet, would always wear her best leotard, one that made her feel her most beautiful, when she attended big group auditions for School of American Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet School. “I made sure my legs looked as long as possible, so be sure not to do or wear anything that will pull down the leg lines,” she advises.

In addition, Li Cunxin, artistic director of Australia’s Queensland Ballet and author of the best-selling autobiography, Mao’s Last Dancer, suggests that dancers “wear clean shoes and nice dancewear” to an audition.

"The relaxed, grunge, 'I don't need to impress' look is distracting," Johnson says. "We want to see the full dancer with no clothing or look that will distract from that. If a dancer is wearing a bunch of clothing and you can't really see the body, clearly there is a lack of confidence and that's not a good thing.”

FIRST IMPRESSION IS EVERYTHING

Directors and choreographers tend to look for dancers who are attentive and pay attention to detail. How you communicate before and during the audition is important.

Josh Bergasse, choreographer for Smash on NBC, says that auditions aren't only about the dancing. "Dancers need to know that they're auditioning from the time they walk in the room," he says. "Their attitude, work ethic, how fast they pick up material, how they interact with other dancers - I'm looking for all that right away."

Glenn Edgerton gives audition advice

Hubbard Street Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton rehearses company members at the Hubbard Street Dance Center in Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

POSITIVITY AND FOCUS

Rather than try to impress a director or choreographer at an audition or get frustrated by the experience, it is best to remain focused and positive.

“I often tell dancers to pick something to work on during an audition,” says Glenn Edgerton, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. “Let’s say you choose to work on your port de bras. By doing so, I can see you concentrate on that particular aspect of your dancing, and it’s less likely you’ll be in a mindset of trying to ‘show yourself’ in some general way. On the contrary, I’ll see a dancer focused and using class as an opportunity to learn, rather than seeing someone in a nervous state, trying to impress a director.”

Cunxin says his company does of course look for good technique and placement, but strongly pays attention to other qualities as well.

“We look for dancers with nice quality, personality, musicality, clean technique and natural and free movement,” he says. “It’s also nice for dancers to show their love of dance through their dancing.”

Mearns also adds, “Never try to look like someone else, or dance like someone else.”

BE OPEN

For Bergasse, some of the best jobs he got as a dancer were from auditions for shows that he thought weren’t a great fit for him. "I think dancers should be smart in what auditions they go to, but be open to the fact that they don't always know what they're right for or not right for," he says.

Johnson agrees. "The experience of auditions is always a rich one," she says. "The more you do them the easier they get. So the 'practice' of auditioning can serve you. But you also have to consider your own value and time and not waste it."

Edgerton does warn, however, that if a dancer does not have the technique, strength or experience to safely partake in audition, it is probably best to wait until the next opportunity. “When dancers who can’t keep up are in a crowded class and they’re running into other auditionees, it affects everyone’s ability to do their best,” he says. “It isn’t considerate.”

Li Cunxin gives audition advice

Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin in class with company dancers. Photo by Christian Aas.

DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY

"Certainly don't take being cut personally," Bergasse says. "A dancer almost never knows the real reason they get cut. The only thing you can do is be your best self and be as prepared as you can be for every audition. On the flip side, look around at the people who are not getting cut and see if there's something you can get from that information."

Cunxin agrees. “Don’t lose heart if you were not chosen,” he says. “Keep working hard to improve. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t good enough. It really simply means that you’re not what this company was looking for, but you might be the right fit for another company.”

If you do get cut from an audition, try to have a more positive mindset rather than be upset you didn't get the job. There will be other auditions. There will be other jobs.

“Even if you're disappointed and maybe even angry, I suggest finding a way to shift that attitude and exit with grace,” Johnson says. “The dance world is so small, integrity will always carry you far. Perhaps acknowledging yourself for putting yourself out there in the first place is a good place to start.”

FEEDBACK?

There are differing opinions regarding seeking feedback after being cut from an audition. Each situation may vary, of course, depending on the audition and the relationship the dancer has with the company or director.

“I think it never hurts to ask for honest feedback if that’s what you really want,” Johnson says. “If you feel inspired and the timing feels right, I would say yes, get any information that will be helpful. Something as simple as, ‘What, in your opinion, do you think I need to work on the most?’”

Johnson also warns, however, that some auditions ask those who are cut to leave, and in that case, the dancers should leave.

“I do not recommend that you call to ask why you were cut because I think that is just adding salt to a wound,” Mearns adds. “The priority is finding a teacher or mentor who can help you achieve your goals and be honest with you.”

TECH SAVVY

Nowadays, much of communication is done digitally. That goes for dancers looking for work as well. For this reason, Johnson strongly encourages dancers to have a dance reel, headshot and resume ready to email out.

“This is the best, most efficient way to get out your information and also be seen,” she says. “We try to look at everything that comes our way, but when we get emails with a link to click on a reel, I can then immediately send it to Trey to take a look, no matter where he is, and he does the same.”

Remember - one single audition is not the be all, end all. Instead, Edgerton concludes, “Just be yourself. Approach each one as an opportunity to gather information to better your dancing.”