How can I advise my students as they prepare for college dance programs?

Q: How can I help and advise my students as they prepare for college dance auditions? ––via Twitter


A: Students are often out of their comfort zone in college auditions, especially those who are ballet- and jazz-trained. To them, contemporary or modern dance can look like a foreign language. Help them prepare by giving them unfamiliar material in class. Students who have a diverse training experience often fare quite well in auditions.


I think dancers get worried that they’re making mistakes, so their bodies get tight and they don’t show their musicality. Let them know we realize they aren’t going to get every beat of the combination. We’re looking for how a dancer inhabits her body, and we’re trying to get at something deeper through the combination.


The improvisation section can be the scariest for students, but we don’t ask them to just get up and dance around. It’s very structured, and there are tasks. A task might be as simple as to make your way across the floor with no more than three parts of your body ever touching the floor. Students often do too much. They want to show every move that they’ve ever learned, which is exactly what we’re trying to get away from. We’re looking at a student’s imagination and at how comfortable she is in her body.


Similarly, the function of solos is to see a student’s natural movement language, not to see a bunch of steps that she’s learned in a studio strung together. Sets of codified vocabulary can hide who she is. Instead of pas de bourrée, kick ball change, prepare, pirouette, encourage
students to use original movement in a solo. But, most importantly, they should dance their hearts out.


Susan Hadley is chair of undergraduate studies and professor in the department of dance at The Ohio State University.


Photo of dance majors in class at The Ohio State University by Melissa Bontempo, courtesy of The Ohio State University.

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