Students auditioning for Canada's National Ballet School

As we ring in the New Year, many devoted dancers are already thinking about how they’re going to spend the summer. Every year, starting in early January, they head to auditions held across the country, all with the same goal: to be accepted into a coveted summer study program.

Once dancers and their parents agree that summer study is a feasible option, it’s up to students’ teachers to equip them with the tools to realize that goal. By knowing what to expect and preparing students accordingly, dance educators can help every dancer audition with confidence and grace.

Let Go of Stress

Helping students defuse the tension and anxiety associated with auditions is essential to making the experience a positive one. "Dancers need to think of doing their best without worrying too much," says Franco De Vita, director of The Young Dancer Summer Workshop at American Ballet Theatre, which is open to students ages 9 to 11. (For more about De Vita and ABT’s National Training Curriculum, see "The Pioneers" on page 30.) "They need to think of relaxing while being focused, so they can enjoy the audition experience, whatever the outcome."

As students develop strength and technique with age, options for summer study multiply, raising the bar for auditions. Beyond showing off technique, however, dancers should look at auditions as opportunities to get a taste of what summer programs might offer in terms of style and teaching methods. "We understand that an audition can be very nerve-wracking," says Margaret Tracey, associate director of Boston Ballet School’s Center for Dance Education. "So we try to create a welcoming environment in our auditions. Students should try not to worry about being perfect, but try their best and enjoy the experience by looking at the audition as a master class."

For dancers on the brink of a professional career, summer intensives may lead to scholarships, full-time study at a major school or even company apprenticeships. For instance, several students chosen for Boston Ballet’s trainee program came from the company’s Summer Dance Program. Researching programs to suit students’ individual needs can ease audition stress by preparing them for the particular stylistic and technical demands of their desired program.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Directors agree that a put-together appearance and respectful attitude are great selling points. You can help your dancers develop good audition habits by requiring good hygiene and tidy hair (pulled off the face or in a bun) in daily classes. Just before the event, help your young dancers choose appropriate class attire—steer clear of bulky warmups. "Undisciplined behavior, lack of focus and a messy appearance are things that will make me turn a dancer away," says De Vita.

For preprofessional auditions, a dress code is almost always required. Often this means a simple black leotard and clean, pink footed tights without holes. "When a student does not adhere to the dress code, we may be suspicious as to whether the student will adhere to the rules and procedures of our program," says Tracey.

While it’s important to follow dress code requirements, an original touch can help attract a director’s eye. Joanne Whitehill, artistic director of Burklyn Ballet Theatre, a summer intensive in  Vermont, advises students to wear a distinguishing hair ornament or leotard in order to stand out from the crowd. "Sometimes those of us at the front of the audition will say, ‘Did you see the one with the blue bow or the one with the special ribbon?" Whitehill says. "It helps to place a name with a face when there’s a room full of black leotards and pink tights."

Teaching dancers about etiquette and respect, both to directors and fellow dancers, is also key. "We don’t want  anyone to get injured and we don’t want anyone in the way of other dancers," says Whitehill. "Students should have a general idea of how to move across the floor." In a crowded audition studio, maintaining a sense of space should be a priority.

Be Yourself

Because technique cannot be the sole deciding factor for younger dancers, De Vita says he "looks for that spark that shows that a child has the imagination and intelligence that will likely make them develop artistically." In addition, he looks for musicality, natural coordination, potential and enthusiasm—qualities teachers can instill through daily classes and by encouraging students to reach their own potential without feeling competitive. "Teachers should not give students any kind of expectation," De Vita says. "When  students give their best, that is what should make them happy."

Enthusiasm is likewise important for students auditioning for Burklyn Ballet Theatre’s Intermediate Program, open to dancers ages 10 to 12. "We love to see kids who are dancing because they want to and they love it," Whitehill says. "We don’t know whether these dancers are going to be professional or not, but we’re educating people who might turn around and give back to dance companies or work in dance marketing or something like that. You don’t just go to a summer program because you want to be a professional dancer."

Build Technique

For older dancers, such as those aiming to attend Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program for ages 15 to 19, technique becomes a more important part of the audition process. Teachers can help students prepare for this level of audition by instilling confidence and continuing to hone technique. Tracey advises dancers to not take time off beforehand. "Try to add more classes prior to the program in preparation for a demanding schedule and to avoid injuries," she says.

Whitehill believes that providing students with a diverse range of classes and teachers is also beneficial. "It’s important to learn different ways of putting steps together," she says. "You never know who the person giving the audition is going to be." Exposing students to guest teachers and outside technique can help them pick up combinations quickly and apply corrections effectively, two essential qualities sought by directors.

In the end, it is important to reinforce the idea that, whether or not a summer intensive audition is successful, it’s still an opportunity to take class, meet other talented dancers and take risks. Melissa Allen Bowman, artistic director of ABT’s summer intensives, offers the following advice: "Soak it up, learn and take it with you to help yourself on to the next step." DT

Taylor Gordon is a dancer and writer in New York City with a master’s degree in publishing.

Dance Teachers Trending
Rising Waters, by Gianna Reisen. Photo by Josh Rose, courtesy of L.A. Dance Project

For Gianna Reisen, a classically trained ballet dancer who now performs with L.A. Dance Project, the process of finding music for her choreography is everything. "If I'm not 100 percent inspired by the music, the movement just doesn't come out," she says. Following this natural creative spirit, though, wasn't always the driving force behind her artistry.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alvin Ailey surrounded by the Company, 1978. Photography by Jack Mitchell, © Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc. and Smithsonian Institution, all rights reserved

From 1961 to 1994, legendary photographer Jack Mitchell captured thousands of moments with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Now, this treasure trove of dance history is available to the public for viewing via the online archives of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The collection includes both color and black-and-white images of Ailey's repertoire, as well as private photo sessions with company members and Ailey himself. Altogether, the archive tracks the career development of many beloved Ailey dancers, including Masazumi Chaya, Judith Jamison, Sylvia Waters, Donna Wood and Dudley Williams—and even a young Desmond Richardson. And there's no shortage of photos of iconic pieces like Blues Suite (Ailey's first piece of choreography), Cry and Revelations.

We couldn't resist sharing a few of our favorites below. Search the collection for more gems here.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by CJ Harris, courtesy of PHILADANCO

Each anniversary celebration of a dance company might also be considered a lesson in dance history and a study of endurance and perseverance. Thus the 50th anniversary of PHILADANCO is an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable legacy of founder and artistic director Joan Myers Brown as a source of inspiration for students, dancers and colleagues nationwide.

PHILADANCO is a resident company at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and kicked off its 50th season on October 5. Brown and the company will participate in the International Association of Blacks in Dance's 32nd annual conference, January 14–19, in Philadelphia. And you can catch the company throughout the U.S. in 2020, including February performances in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: My 13-year-old daughter has always been flexible, but last year she suffered an acute injury to her hip flexor from an overstretch position. Since then I have told her not to participate in over-splits or other extreme positions. Is that the right thing to do?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jacqueline Chang, courtesy of Ailey Extension

Marshall Davis Jr.'s introduction to tap dance began at 10 years old at African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where his father is director, in Miami, Florida. Training began in sneakers and dress shoes that Davis Jr. did his best to get sound out of. "My father was reluctant to invest in tap shoes, because he thought it was likely I would change my mind about dancing," he says. But it didn't take long before Davis Jr.'s passion for tap became undeniable, and his father bought him his first pair of tap shoes. Just one year later, Davis Jr. became the 1989 Florida winner for the Tri-Star Pictures Tap Day contest, a promotion for the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. Through that experience, a new tap-dancing future was opened.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Are there good sources to find replacement dance teachers? When I go through standard employment services, I get people who are not properly trained or lack experience.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Reviewing a simple recording of your voice when you're teaching can help you hear how you sound to your students. Taking the time to play back your instructions, corrections and compliments throughout class will help you find any weak spots as well as recognize some of your strengths. It's a great technique to help you evaluate your instructional ability and make improvements, and pat yourself on the back for things you are doing well. Plus, it's super-easy to do!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Including ballet competition standout Alina Taratorin (photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)

Congratulations to the 39 talented dancers just named 2020 YoungArts award winners! This year's group of awardees includes several familiar faces from the competition scene.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo by Brian Babineau, courtesy Burghardt

When Alicia Burghardt entered Dean College in Massachusetts as a freshman dance major, it hadn't occurred to her that the Boston Celtics had a dance team. A competition kid with aspirations for Broadway, Burghardt never imagined herself as an NBA dancer. But by the time she was finishing her senior year, she'd not only joined the Celtics Dancers, she was choreographing a number for a major playoff game. And after finishing her rookie year, surrounded on that TD Garden parquet floor by uproarious fans, she couldn't help but stay for another. "It's unbelievable performing for Boston fans," she says. "They're so loyal to their team. It could be third quarter, down 20 points, and they're still cheering."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
"The Greatest Show on Earth." Photo by Brenda Rueb, courtesy of Vona Dance

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

"No formal training. No dance studio. No mentor," says Erik Saradpon about his beginnings in hip hop.

"I think that's why I'm especially tough on these guys, because I don't take the relationship for granted," he says, referring to his students. "I'm like a dad to them. I had a shortage of role models in my life. I wanted that so badly. I project that onto my kids."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox