Prepare Your Students for Their Best Audition Ever With These 6 Strategies

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.

Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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