Purchase College recommends students audition as early as possible—adjudicators are fresh, and more spots are free.

A dancer’s senior year can be stressful. Not only is she juggling academics and dance, she’s also traveling to college auditions. “I was a little overwhelmed,” says Michaela Harrington, now a University of Arizona freshman double-majoring in dance and neuroscience. To help, her mother, Babette Belter, took on much of the college-trip planning. “My mom was a superwoman,” says Harrington.

With good advice from veteran parents and dancers, the senior year doesn’t have to be a pressure cooker. Here’s how your students can have a productive and (relatively) stress-free college audition tour.

How many schools should a dancer apply to?

Four or five is ideal; six is likely the maximum. “With five schools, I felt I had a good chance of getting into at least one,” says Harrington. One should be a safety school—a program a dancer feels confident she’ll get into.

What’s better, an on-campus audition or a satellite one?

On-site auditions have clear advantages. “You can look at the campus and the facilities, and you meet more faculty members than if you audition off campus,” says Nelly van Bommel of The Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, SUNY. But sometimes it’s just not possible to attend an audition at the university. In fact, of the five schools Kate Gow auditioned for, her one satellite audition was The Boston Conservatory, where she now studies. It wasn’t until she later visited the campus, however, that she knew it was her top choice. “After watching a rehearsal and seeing how family-like it is here, there was no question,” she says.

How can a dancer keep so many different audition requirements straight?

“There’s nothing worse for us than to receive an essay or a photo that is not really meant for our school,” says van Bommel. But it’s a common mistake. Each program has different audition requirements: dress codes, technique classes, essays, photos, resumés, solos, interviews—so organization is key. Harrington and Belter created a spreadsheet outlining program details, audition elements and packing lists. “We tried to be as prepared as we could, because there are always going to be surprises,” says Belter.

Although a black leotard and tights were appropriate for most auditions, Gow brought other options: “I packed a change of clothes, just to ease my fears: black tights, a colored leotard, extra pink tights.”

How much time should be allotted for travel?

For long trips, avoid traveling on the day of the audition. Even for an afternoon audition, arriving the night before ensures that flight delays won’t be a problem and offers extra time to explore the campus or city. If a dancer must travel the day-of, plan to arrive at least two or three hours early to avoid any unnecessary stress.

What’s the best timeline for multiple auditions?

“If a student has the opportunity to audition early in the year, they should,” says van Bommel. Not only are adjudicators still fresh, they also have more spots to fill (though van Bommel notes that they’ll sometimes make room for students who are a perfect fit, even if they’ve filled their quota).

Spreading out auditions over the year can also make it easier on a dancer and her family. Many schools offer fall auditions, which are ideal for top-choice schools, because dancers will learn early on whether they’re in. Harrington set up her calendar with fall dates, though she did postpone one until the spring due to a minor injury—and her early planning allowed her that flexibility. One of Gow’s priorities was to never travel more than two weekends in a row. “It really helped in keeping my sanity,” she says.

To organize a tour itinerary, set up a calendar that includes school exam dates, performances and any other potentially stressful weeks. Then, schedule auditions around those, starting with top-choice schools.

Should dancers apply Early Decision?

Applying Early Decision means that if a student is accepted, she’s required to turn down all other schools, regardless of scholarship offers. If there’s a school that the dancer is dying to attend, regardless of cost, go for it. Many dancers (Harrington and Gow included) keep their options open until they’ve received all scholarship offers.

What’s the best way to help a dancer through the process?

“I think it just comes to super-meticulous advance planning, and trying to be as calm as possible to help keep them calm,” says Belter. “When we’re missing two days of school one week, and she has this exam and that exam, and she’s bringing homework on trips, I felt like my job was to not be stressed out. We’d find something fun to do to make good memories on the trips.” DT

Ashley Rivers is a Boston-based arts writer.

Money-Saving Travel Tips

• If driving, consider staying in a hotel just outside of the city for at least one night. Rates in a small town can be half as much as those in a destination city.   

• Start building up air miles early with an airline-affiliated credit card.

• Pack favorite, nourishing breakfasts and snacks.

• Research a program exhaustively (watch YouTube Videos; try to catch a live-stream performance) to be positive it’s a contender before investing in a trip.

Photo courtesy of Purchase College

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