William Whitener held countless auditions when he directed The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, and he himself learned from legendary choreographers Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse about what it takes to make it on Broadway. Now he coaches ballet students on these skills when he guest teaches around the country. “Auditions require a certain amount of strategy,” says Whitener. He holds mock auditions and discusses all aspects of the process—registration, class and even how to make a professional exit. “Practicing for this kind of performance works better than telling dancers what they should do,” he says. “They need to actually do it.”
At some point in their training, most dancers will likely audition for a summer intensive, school production, commercial gig or professional company. How they present themselves from beginning to end can play a huge role in determining their level of success. To help dancers prepare for these opportunities, you must offer lessons in more than just technique. Reinforce the importance of positive and professional behavior while sharing tips on parts of the audition process that are often overlooked.
1. Some auditions should be skipped.
As their teacher, you can help dancers by assessing their individual needs and potential, then pointing them to the most appropriate audition opportunities. “Auditioning can be very expensive, so I try to encourage just a few options,” says Olivier Munoz, principal teacher at Orlando Ballet School. “Maybe I know they don’t have the right body type for a certain school, or maybe they just want to do an audition class for the experience. I try to guide them.”
2. Research pays off.
Marty Kudelka, who choreographs for stars like Justin Timberlake, advises dancers to research the job or the production before going into the audition. “With social media, it’s easy to find out what types of dancers they’re hiring and the qualities they share,” he says. “Find out about the choreographer and assistants, and what they’re doing now.”
3. First impressions are more important than you think.
Dancers are first seen when they approach the registration table. “Students should say their name and make eye contact with the assistant or director, then step back a bit so they can be seen,” says Whitener. At the end of the process, they should move away with good posture and efficiency. “Even when dancers are assembled in crowded spaces, stretching and filling out paperwork, they should know that we’re aware of how they’re interacting with each other and taking note of their organizational skills,” he says.
4. Audition order matters.
Encourage your students to sign up one after another, so that they might dance next to each other during the audition class. “If I’m dancing with someone I know I dance well next to, I’m probably going to feel more confident,” says Kudelka. “As a choreographer, it’s a lot easier for me to check off the whole group rather than sifting through who stays and who leaves. I’d say that trick works 90 percent of the time.” The earlier students can register, the better, since they will probably be positioned in the most visible spots. Late registrants might be stuck with a barre spot halfway out the door of a very crowded studio.
5. Proper apparel goes a long way.
Remind dancers to dress appropriately and not hide behind warm-up clothing. “The body should be without any cover,” says Munoz. “I’ve watched dancers take an audition class wearing legwarmers and even sweatpants. The director would say, ‘They obviously don’t want to be seen. Next!'” Munoz recommends neat hair, simple yet elegant leotards and clean, broken-in shoes.
6. Body language tells a story.
How dancers behave at an audition will speak volumes. Whitener advises not to fidget between combinations, for example. “Stillness is very important, so we can focus on the dancer,” he says. “The eye is going to fall on the calm and collected person, not the agitated and disorganized one, no matter how talented they are.” Have students practice how they enter and exit the floor between combinations so that they move with a quick walk or a slight run. For ballet auditions, Whitener suggests looking at Degas paintings for ideas about how they should stand on the side. When dancers are excused, remind them to thank the people in charge and exit the room gracefully.