As the new school year starts, it’s time to round up your competition team for another exciting season. But with auditions inevitably comes drama and, in some cases, disappointment. Jennifer Rienert of New Hampshire School of Ballet in Hooksett, NH, has found a way to reduce the drama—by removing herself from the process.
How did you create the audition process for your studio?
The first thing on my mind is that I didn’t want to be in charge of selecting the team. I’ve seen so many studios get into trouble as a result of upset dancers and parents when kids don’t get chosen. I wanted to take myself out of the equation and have a formal audition process.
What exactly is the audition process?
I bring in four outside judges—dance teachers and studio owners from surrounding areas. I make sure they’re qualified and know what we’re looking for on our team.
We separate the dancers into age groups (9 and under, 10 to 12, and 13 and older), and from there the dancers choose which subjects to try out for, including ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, lyrical and modern. I teach three different combinations for each style, and the judges score each dancer from 1 to 10. There is a dress code and everyone wears a number on his/her hip.
At the end, we simply add up the judges’ scores to determine who makes which company. The top eight scores make Company 1 and the next 12 highest scores make Company 2. This process is set and outlined for the dancers beforehand, so they understand that if they get the ninth highest score of the day, they are in Company 2. And some people are cut completely.
Why does this process work?
Auditioning like this prepares the dancers for a professional dance life. If they’re embarking on a dance career, they’re going to have to audition for things. The sooner they get ready for that process, the better.
I also like bringing in an outside view because they see things I may overlook in the dancers. Plus, when we go to competitions, it’s all outside opinions!
Do you ever make exceptions or override the judges’ scores?
No. Sometimes you have a bad day—we’ve definitely had auditions end with some people in tears. If you don’t make the team, that’s something you have to live with for the entire year. Often it’s the parents who are most disappointed, but it’s important to stick to what I say I’m going to do. Even if I’m surprised that a certain dancer didn’t make the team, I stand by the judges’ opinion.
How do you deal with disappointed dancers?
I tell them to keep coming to class and doing the best they can. They will learn from the experience, and I encourage them to re-audition the next year. It’s exciting when a student works hard all year, then comes back and makes the team.
Photo: Competition team hopefuls. Photo courtesy of New Hampshire School of Ballet.