Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to Nail Audition Season: Find Your Inner Dog*

by Katie Mc Cann

It’s that season again!  Nuts have been cracked.  The season of cheer and giving is over. Everyone’s rested and well-fed. Quite.

It’s audition season, and it’s time to nail it.

Most dancers approach auditioning with at least a small amount of dread.  Or hatred.  But, given that auditioning is just as much a part of a dancer’s career as taking class, rehearsing, and performing, let’s make 2014 the Year of Successful Auditions.  

Now let me say I mean no disrespect when I compare dancers to dogs – I love both dearly. 

But the collar fits…so we’ll wear it.

There are thousands of breeds of dogs in the world, and they’re all bred to be good at different things.  Border collies are herders. Dobermans are protectors. Hounds are finders. When asked to do the thing they are made for, they are brilliant at it, proud of themselves, and happy.  Ask a border collie to bring in a herd of sheep – wow! Speed, confidence, focus! However, ask a border collie to be a suburban lap dog, and while you’re at work, he’ll freak out and eat your couch. 

Despite all of the emphasis on training in every possible dance style, each dancer gravitates to a specific movement vocabulary that feels most organic to him or her. A musical theater dancer in a granola modern company (no matter how talented the dancer is and how badly s/he wants a job) will produce a frustrated dancer and a disappointed artistic staff. You need to be the best breed of dancer you can be, and find the job/program that will keep you from eating the metaphorical couch.

If you’re auditioning for EVERYTHING because you just want SOMETHING, the odds are you will NOT end up in a place where you’ll be happy and able to grow.

The hardest part of the audition process: figure out what you want and do your research.

Things to consider as you research jobs/programs:

  •     Pick your style.  Yes, you should take classes in every genre you can find.  These days, there’s   so much fusion of techniques that being well rounded is a must.  But, if you’re a ballerina at heart, go be one.  If you come alive in modern class, go find your favorite style and do it.  When you’re doing what you love, you’ll get better at it faster, and get noticed more often.
  •     Pick your people.  If you’re working with a director/artistic staff/teacher whose expectations are totally different from your goals, every day will be miserable. Remember that collie eating the couch. Make sure you fit the culture you’ll be working in. Talk to people who have been there. Visit ahead of time.
  •     Artistic choices need to make dollar sense, too. 

o      If you’re auditioning for summer intensives and college programs, remember that your tuition payments are important to the institution.  Of course, they want the best dancers, and they want those dancers to leave the program successful and happy with their experience, but they do want your money.  If you’re going to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for an experience, shouldn’t you be getting the most out of it?  Do you really get to take as many classes a day as the brochures say?  Do the class sizes allow for individual attention?  Do you get to work with choreographers and directors who are currently working in the industry? Do you mesh well with the faculty/artistic staff? Find people who have been in the program and ask questions.

o      When auditioning for companies, make sure you actually end up making money. The life of a dancer is always life on a tight budget, but breaking even isn’t worth it. Make sure there’s enough money to justify taking the job. If it’s a short gig or apprenticeship, make sure there are enough hours left in the week to make your nut without exhausting yourself. Hungry, homeless, exhausted people don’t make good artists.

Once you’ve found your prospects, the rest is easy.  Really.  You’ve been dancing every day since time began, right?  It’s just one more day, and you’ve made choices to put yourself in front of the people who are looking for the specific skills you have.

A couple of day-of-audition reminders:
  •  Dogs are pack animals, and so are dancers.  It may feel like that audition is you versus everyone else in that room.  But the artistic staff isn’t always looking for “that one singular sensation.” They’re looking for more puppies who fit in their pack, play well with the other dogs, and are happy doing good work.  Show your team spirit and willingness to get in and play. 
  •  They are rooting for you.  They want to hire fantastic dancers, and they’re hoping you are one of them.  Go ahead and be fantastic.
  •  Mistakes are opportunities to show your ability to think on the fly.  Figure out some brilliant way to cover or recover.  The audition staff were probably performers.  They’ll give you credit if you stay calm and find a graceful way out of it.

Best audition advice I ever got from a teacher: Don’t try to change yourself to fit what you think a company wants unless you are willing to be that dancer every day.  It is very difficult for a hound to be a Doberman every day (again, see couch-eating metaphor). Find the company that wants YOU.

If you’re doing auditions all over the country, it can get exhausting. Sleeping in strange beds and navigating unfamiliar places is a mental energy suck.  But, it’s worth it to find a dance home that makes you happy. When the day arrives, an audition is a class and a rehearsal in front of new eyes.  You do it ALL THE TIME, so just keep doing it (with a silly number pinned to your clothes).

Dogs playing in the square, Piran, Slovenia
Photo: Dianasch via Flickr

Find your pack and go play.


Katie McCann graduated from Butler University's Dance Department with a Bachelor of Science in Arts Administration.  While at Butler, she performed soloist and principal roles with the university performance company including Myrtha in Giselle and Odile in Swan Lake.  She also performed in original contemporary ballet and modern-dance works by choreographers Donald Byrd and former Martha Graham company member Larry White. After graduation, Katie danced with Kentucky Ballet Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky.  She performed soloist roles in Paquita, Dracula, The Nutcracker, and various repertory pieces.  Now in Chicago, she is director of Dance in the Parks, a non-profit dance initiative that brings free, professional, outdoor, dance concerts to neighborhood parks. She teaches student and professional-level ballet classes throughout the Chicago area.

Visit Dance in the Parks on Facebook!

*This piece originally premiered on January 11, 2013.

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