In the days and hours before an audition, your to-do list might include researching the company, conditioning your muscles, updating your resumé or taking a long walk to clear your head. But what you don't do before pinning on your number can be just as critical to your success.
1. Don’t stray from your feel-good food routine.
Stick to what already works for you. Don't start a new diet less than a month or two before an audition, says registered dietitian nutritionist Sarah Krieger, who has counseled dancers and athletes at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in Florida. "Anyone can develop an allergy or aversion at any time, even the day of a big audition opportunity," she says. "Drastically changing your diet, going on a juice cleanse or adding a new supplement is a bad idea." Steer clear of foods you've never tried for two to three days before the audition, and avoid anything that you know upsets your stomach on the day of. If you want to be sure you—and your belly—will be comfortable during the audition, rehearse your meal plan about a week ahead of time and adjust as needed.
2. Stop thinking in terms of all or nothing.
How you think affects tension in your body, says Dr. Kate Hays of The Performing Edge, a sports and performance psychology practice in Toronto. "So allowing messages like 'This is my only shot,' or 'Only perfect will do,' to race through your mind can actually impact your physical performance," she says. Reframe these thoughts by reminding yourself of why you dance and what really matters to you—this is what should get you in the door of the audition, not a high-stakes ultimatum.
3. Auditions aren't the time to unveil a brand-new look.
The trick is simply to be comfortable, says Tiit Helimets. Now a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, he has auditioned for companies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean throughout his career. "Wear your favorite clothes—not a new outfit that could rip, ride up or otherwise be distracting," he says. Don't choose now to test or break in new pointe shoes or character heels, or debut a drastic new haircut or dye job. Fresh bangs or layers might obscure your face or distract you, and it can definitely be a confidence killer if you don't like your new 'do.
4. Don't obsess about messing up.
Picturing a flub or reflecting on a past mistake can predict trouble in your upcoming audition. "It doesn't give you any constructive information, only mental instruction on what to do wrong," says Hays. Helimets agrees: "You have to stop those thoughts in the moment and see yourself doing everything to the best of your ability—not someone else's."
If you feel stuck in an endless loop of negative thoughts or anxiety in the days before an audition, Hays recommends scheduling time to reflect on your concerns so you can shut them down for the moment and move on. The morning of, remind yourself that you took time to file those thoughts away and that they aren't serving you. Then, change your mind-set by listening to music you like or meeting a friend for breakfast. But if you're really wound up that day, drinking more coffee than normal won't do you any favors, says Krieger. "Too much caffeine can make you feel more anxiety than nerves alone."
5. Don't stand out for the wrong reason.
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe
If you're taking a company class as part of your audition, someone from the staff will most likely meet you upon your arrival and show you the facilities, the studio and where you should get changed. But you may need to respectfully ask about where to stand for the beginning of class. "It's kind of rude to park yourself in a spot at the barre before class starts," says Helimets. "Remember that you are entering the daily life of the dancers who work there."
Elizabeth Earley's path to the Great White Way was fueled by perseverance. Currently a swing and co-dance captain for Hello, Dolly!, she shared her journey with Dance Magazine.
When I was a freshman at New York University's musical theater studio, I cut class to attend a singers' Equity Chorus Call for The Phantom of the Opera. I had no idea how casting worked. I hoped they might realize I was a ballet dancer and put me into consideration for a ballerina. After waiting in line for hours, I sang "Falling in Love with Love." The team asked, "Is this your first New York audition?" They said, "You are so cute," but there was no callback. Later, I saw the show was holding an open dance call. I went. The line wrapped around the block. We did two pointe combinations. But again, I was cut.
I decided to keep my focus on school instead of auditions with the exception of summer stock, which I worked every season. After graduating, I developed this idea that I wasn't ready to be seen by Broadway casting teams. I only auditioned for stock, theme parks, cruise ships, regional theater and national tours. I eventually booked them all. As I started to gain more experience, auditioning went from being overwhelming to exciting.
After returning from the national tour of Whistle Down the Wind, I started to actively pursue roles. In 2009, I was up for my first principal role in a regional union show, Cassie in A Chorus Line. Having worked nine shows at this particular theater as ensemble, dance captain, minor roles and understudy, I was thrilled to be in the running for a lead. I felt strong as I danced, sang and read. Then someone on the casting team said, "She's not hot enough."
I realized I couldn't control what other people felt, but I could control my mind-set. Keeping positive and being my daily best became vital in moments like that. I actually did end up booking Cassie in that production. I even went on to play her elsewhere and returned to the same theater to play Mary Poppins years down the road.
Earley as Cassie in a regional production of A Chorus Line. Photo by Alicia Donelan, Courtesy Earley
While I auditioned for Broadway regularly starting in 2008, I landed national tours for years. In 2015, I decided to dig my heels into the ground in New York City. That year, I attended an invited call to hire one female swing to cover the miscellaneous dance and singing tracks in a brand-new show. I almost didn't go. I was so tired of pounding the pavement without making headway. On the day of the audition, I saw Eric Giancola, to whom I had taught Mary Poppins on the national tour when I was dance captain. He was leading the audition! He knew my work and work ethic. After passing the test with Phil Reno, the show's musical director, and after approval of the director, I booked a job as swing in the original cast of Something Rotten! I finally cracked the glass ceiling of Broadway. All of the training and relentless work helped make it happen.
After a year in Something Rotten!, I auditioned for Hello, Dolly! by attending the dancers' Equity Chorus Call. I danced and sang the first day after the team made a cut. I was called back to audition with the girls from the agent invited audition. More cuts were made as we danced, two by two. I had to dance with Jessica Lee Goldyn, who played Val in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. She is a terrific dancer! Years of auditioning taught me not to get nervous, but to get excited, saying "I get to dance with Jessica!" More days of auditions happened where we danced, sang, read for roles and partnered. I sang a song from Kismet. I was asked to sing and read for the character of Irene. I ended up booking swing/co-dance captain, and am very excited for my next Broadway experience. Though the road has been winding, I've learned not to compare my journey to others'. One of the most wonderful things about theater is that everyone takes their own unique path there. But in the end, we all share the same stage.
Even if you make it through to the final round of an audition, that doesn't mean that you're guaranteed a spot on the roster. Before handing out contracts, many companies also require prospective dancers to complete an interview with staff. How can you impress your potential employer with your words as much as your dancing? Three artistic directors weigh in on what matters most.
Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis
Ballet Memphis in Gabrielle Lamb's Manifold. Photo by Andrea Zucker, Courtesy Ballet Memphis
What do you cover in a typical interview?
"In the studio, I'm already watching closely for how well you pay attention, how you handle your nerves, and are you polite to the rest of the dancers. So, by the time you're sitting down with me in my office, I just want us to get to know each other. I want to see you look me in the eye, be curious and listen. (I might have questions about someone who just can't stop talking.) But I also want to know what you like about your hometown, what drew you to our company, and who you are when you're at ease. Remember that you're interesting to me!"
Colin Connor, Limón Dance Company
Photo by Juan José Escalante, Courtesy Limón Dance Company
What kinds of responses are red flags that a dancer wouldn't be a good fit for your company?
"I think a lot of dancers assume it's bad if they're not extroverted, but I'm happy to hire someone quiet. Do show me you can articulate what you love, because that's what you end up drawing from as an artist. I see a red flag when it sounds like someone has a lot of scheduling conflicts and previous commitments but still insists she can commit to us. I understand that working with other choreographers might be the only way you can survive, but being overextended is not a healthy way to function. You really have to be transparent in the interview about the obligations you do have, so I can be up front about whether it's possible to work with you."
Patricia Barker, Grand Rapids Ballet
Photo by Michael Auer, Courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet
How can a prospective dancer prepare?
"I don't want to be asked how many performances we do or which choreographers we work with. A great way to prove you've done your research is to say, 'I see Robyn Mineko Williams is choreographing this season. I was able to work with her in one of my summer programs.' That draws my attention to something I may have missed on your resumé, and now I know that I can touch base with her about that experience."
To The Dancer Who Hates Herself:
I see you. I know who you are. If you think you are hiding your self-loathing, you are deceiving only yourself. It is time to stop. Whatever baggage you are carrying around, whoever told you that you weren't worthy once upon a time or is still telling you that now—let those voices go.
You're not alone in this. On bad days when you look in the mirror and feel insecure and invisible and not enough, remember that other dancers have those days, too.
It's so easy to criticize one's self. Be braver than that. Be brave enough to love yourself. Tiny acts of forgiveness will add up to something beautiful and redemptive. If you don't know how to start, start the way you would start falling in love with anyone: slowly and patiently, with curiosity and infinite tenderness.
Don't be seduced by the feeling that berating yourself makes you a better artist. I know you are trying to protect yourself by saying self-judgmental things so that it won't sting if others do. But putting yourself down will not endear you to the people in the front of the studio. Habitual self-criticism is limiting and distracting and unproductive. It keeps you mired in small thinking.
Habitual self-criticism is unproductive. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe
Be mindful of the feelings you choose to cling to. A well-rounded artist who experiences the full spectrum of emotions and transforms them into dance is going to give deeper performances than the one who chooses only to suffer. Yes, feel all your valid varied and true feelings. But don't give greater weight to the bad ones. Happiness is a choice and a practice. The struggling artist trope may seem alluring but it is ultimately a mask that gets in the way of the work. You can make art with joy, too.
Don't define yourself by what you can't do. Yes, work on your weaknesses, but work on your strengths more. Whatever is special about you, grab hold of that thing and own it.
Shine your shine.
Try adopting the aura of confidence that certain special dancers have. Imagine how you think they feel at their best, form a soul memory of that feeling. What people see is what you project, so project who you want to be.
Adopt an aura of confidence: The Bolshoi's Maria Vinogradova, photographed by Quinn Wharton.
And if people want to love you, let them love you! Take that compliment and run and don't look back. Accept that love into your entire being and let that crack in you heal a little bit.
How you should be, want to be, could be—these are illusions and it is not fulfilling to dwell on them. Get out of your head and into your body. Work so hard you don't have time to judge yourself. Do your best then let it go, and don't attach labels to the outcome.
Dance is only ever a process. A big opening night, an injury, a failed audition—these are but moments. You will never fully understand the trajectory of your career until you view it from afar, years down the road, and realize everything was falling into place, maybe not how you expected, but exactly as it beautifully, imperfectly should.
Work so hard you don't have time to judge yourself. Photo by Quinn Wharton
Progress can be achingly slow. But trust me, one day you'll look back on the years of struggle that felt hopeless. The months that you never saw improvement. Improvement is a shadowy friend: You can never see it right in front of your face, it's only looking back that you realize it was there all along.
There won't be a day when we won't let ourselves down in some tiny or profound way. But you have to love and forgive yourself anyway, even when you are all scraped knees and stumbles, messy hair and missed rehearsals. There is nothing shameful about showing up and being vulnerable and falling on your face. Shame is in closing yourself up and trying to be perfect when all you can ever be is you.
You'll never have a different body, or different training, or get to take back the choices you've already made. Your work is to love this fleeting, glorious career fiercely, to value your place in it and cherish the body that lets you do it. There is no one to prove anything to unless you can be content in your own skin.
Here's what I think. Your self-hatred is just an excuse to not be as bright as you are. But you are better than the fear you have grown used to. Loving yourself takes guts. It is revolutionary. It is worth it.
Let yourself shine.
At one point during my latest show, Unbound, I scamper offstage and disrobe as quickly as possible. Behind me, a friend I have known since we began taking dance class together 20 years ago (we danced to "The Color Song"; she was orange, I was purple) holds out a dress shirt for me to put my arms through. I start buttoning furiously while my dance partner, who was also one of my tap teachers for six years, holds out pants into which I step gingerly. While I fix my belt, she helps snake the microphone wire back up through my shirt so I can clip it into my collar and be back onstage in under a minute.
Among most groups of friends, this would be no ordinary—or comfortable—situation. But for me and the members of my company, Off Beat, it's a ritual that we're used to. We don't even think twice about the closeness, the vulnerability, the physical contact.
Dancers develop bonds unlike any other: Through our passion and commitment for our craft, and all the time we spend together, we develop our own family-like relationships that are almost impossible to explain to non-dancers.
Cynthia Clayton, Courtesy Casey
I've had these ties for as long as I can remember. Like many young dancers who train intensively multiple days per week, my closest friends were my dance friends. They were the only people who could relate to eating dinner at 10 p.m., as though we operated on a European schedule; to spending Friday nights in rehearsal for a production number instead of at a birthday party or a concert; to reviewing tap rhythms under our desks during math class; to the satisfaction of finally nailing a triple pirouette or a syncopated pullback.
We wore our matching team jackets the same way some families might don matching sweaters for their Christmas card photo. We argued over whether the battement was on 8 or 8& not unlike how siblings might fight over who gets the car on Saturday night. We celebrated birthdays, mourned break-ups, even counseled a peer who thought she was pregnant.
For those of us who are still dancing together, now professionally, not much has changed. We spend hours in the studio, in cars and buses and trains, in dressing rooms. All that time together makes us aware of each other's idiosyncrasies (one of my dancers hates the smell of bubble gum), immune to physical boundaries (if your hand ends up on someone else's butt while figuring out a new partnering move, so be it) and reluctantly accustomed to eating everything from handfuls of nuts to munchkins for "lunch" during long rehearsal days (from where do the delicious bins of animal crackers at the studio always seem to materialize?).
Post-performance in Providence, RI, via Instagram
Our relationships have developed as our work has developed: From being vulnerable and uncertain in front of each other while learning new material to sharing rooms and beds while on tour.
Unlike audience members, who only see me when I am onstage—joyous, focused, put-together—my company members see all sides of me: They see me when I am frustrated and defeated, stymied by what to do next in a piece whose vision I haven't yet clearly articulated. They see me when I'm moody and impatient during a long day of tech rehearsal and am trying to address unexpected difficulties while operating with low blood sugar. They see me exhausted, sweating, lugging props and set pieces down city streets and up stairs. They see me half-naked side stage during myriad quick changes, swearing furiously as a sock refuses to cooperate or my hand gropes wildly for the armhole of a shirt while my entrance cue looms ever closer.
Cynthia Clayton, Courtesy Casey
The rhetoric of family especially pervades the tap community. Many female tappers I know refer to each other as "sis." Dianne Walker is known to many of us as "Aunt Dianne" for her role in mentoring generations of hoofers (I even have her listed in my phone as such). When a colleague talks about "the fam," I know exactly what he or she means. Many photos on my Instagram feed bear the hashtag #tapfam.
At one of the studios where I teach, The Dance Inn of Lexington, MA, we celebrated our graduating seniors this year by profiling each of them in a special social media post. They all wrote about what it meant to them to be a part of the studio's pre-professional company. One described it as "my extra family." Another said it was "like having a second family." A third dancer opined, "I genuinely feel a part of a family."
I'm so glad they've made this great discovery about dance. My hope for them, as they move on to whatever is next, is that they cherish these bonds throughout their lives, as I know I have. I hope they are encouraged, supported and emboldened by their dance family.
There's just nothing else like it.
After being stuck in the corps for the last seven years, I long to perform solo roles. My director says to be patient, but my friends tell me I'm wasting my talent and could easily be a soloist in a smaller company. Is it worth leaving a national company to dance better roles in a regional group? I'm afraid I'd feel like a loser. I'm 26 years old.
—Frustrated Corps Dancer, New York, NY
While it's difficult to switch to a smaller troupe after making it into a major company, it's obvious that the lack of opportunities at your current job is taking a toll on you. Rather than jump ahead and label yourself a loser if you leave, why not see what's out there first? It's fine to audition for both large and small companies. Just see if you like the repertoire, feel comfortable in class and can speak to the director about your prospects. Only then do you need to weigh the pros and cons of changing your place of employment. As long as you respect the quality of the work, performing solo roles may help you reach your full artistic potential. If possible, leave the door open, so you can return to your original job if things don't work out.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at email@example.com.
I feel torn about taking time off from dance to have a child. I'm married and my biological clock is ticking. I just don't know what age to take the leap for the health of the child.
—Would-Be Mother, San Francisco, CA
In addition to the baby's health, there's also your health to consider when contemplating motherhood. For example, the risks of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and cesarean sections are higher for women who get pregnant after 35. Your baby's chance of having Down syndrome or another chromosomal disorder begins to rise significantly starting in your mid-30s, so your doctor may recommend prenatal screening. You can reduce chromosomal risks by freezing your eggs in your 20s or early 30s. Doing so could also help you avoid problems with fertility that develop with age. The timing is up to you, but it's easier to get back in shape for dance if you don't wait too long. For example, New York City Ballet principal dancer Ashley Bouder had a baby at 32 and returned to performing in less than five months.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having just returned to New York City after a couple weeks of guesting in Southeast Asia, American Ballet Theatre principal Daniil Simkin is in rehearsal for the lead role in Alexei Ratmansky's latest creation, Whipped Cream. In between this brief rehearsal period and ABT's Metropolitan Opera House season, Simkin will be using any days off to travel for other guest performances. That is, when he's not in production meetings or rehearsing in Chicago or New York for his own project premiering at the Guggenheim in the fall, or preparing his debut as Albrecht in Giselle for an ABT tour.
"If I have an hour break between rehearsals, I try to get my work done for the day," says Simkin. "There are emails, meetings, fundraising, a lot of administration stuff with the Guggenheim project, delegating, checking in—'Will Dior do the costumes?'—and then I might get a guesting invitation and then I have to check my schedule, book flights and hotels."
Daniil Simkin's Intensio project. Photo by Jim Lafferty
Multitasking has become the new normal in the concert dance world. Many dancers, not just international stars like Simkin and Misty Copeland, are adding freelance careers on top of their regular company commitments. It seems like most artistic staffs have come to accept and even embrace this type of branching out, citing artistic growth for the dancers and marketing benefits for the company as their dancers grow more visible.
But the question remains: How much can one dancer juggle while maintaining both health and sanity—and still satisfying their commitments as a company dancer?
Dancers didn't always operate this way. "There was a different culture when George Balanchine was alive," says former New York City Ballet soloist and BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang. "People were extremely focused on their main job and work with Mr. B and Jerome Robbins." Even though big stars were able to guest, there weren't many opportunities for rank-and-file company dancers.
Los Angeles Ballet's Zachary Guthier and Smuin Ballet's Erica Felsch at National Choreographers Initiative. Photo by Dave Friedman.
Today, there are more guestings, galas, pickup troupes and other side jobs available all over the country and abroad. And the thinking inside many companies has evolved to encourage this outreach.
"This career goes so quickly; as much experience as you can get is good," says Liang, who took leave from NYCB to do Fosse on Broadway and dance with Nederlands Dans Theater during his own career. Today, he tries to hook up his dancers with outside projects, like the National Choreographers Initiative, whenever he can. "When they come back they are richer, deeper, more creative, even more engaged in the company."
Anthony Randazzo, ballet master at Boston Ballet, where several dancers like Lia Cirio participate in and manage side projects, agrees. "It is a chance to grow," he says, "and that helps strengthen the company, which is a win for everyone." He admits that there are challenges when a dancer asks for a day off during the season, but is quick to point out that if it can be accommodated, the benefits of the opportunity usually outweigh the extra work required to manage scheduling and rehearsal flow.
For some dancers, performing outside work just makes financial sense. Since few contracts are year-round, summer and side projects can keep up their technique as well as cushion their bank accounts.
But physical therapists warn that taking on too many projects can come at the expense of rest. Dancers have to be careful not to overwhelm their bodies if they already have a demanding rehearsal, performance and touring schedule. However, Simkin feels that the variety of styles his guestings generate has actually kept him healthier and less prone to injury.
Not all dancers go after this extra work. For instance, New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin turns down such offers during the season in order to help preserve her work-life balance. "I can't physically do any more," she says. "I have had seasons where on Mondays I would be doing a photo shoot, or once I flew off to Russia for a weekend gala, but then I wound up without a day off. Some people can operate that way, but it hasn't been good for my body or my mind."
Instead, Hyltin finds ways to further her artistic growth and recharge herself by doing things besides dance—reading, going to museums and walking her dog. While she understands that other dancers in the company find fulfillment in performing on Broadway and elsewhere, she feels completely nourished by the opportunities she already has at NYCB.
Sterling Hyltin, photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Making the most of these career choices comes down to defining what success means to you. "Different dancers have different visions of success, whether it be galas and medals versus being a part of a company, or simply doing fashion photo shoots in their spare time," says Randazzo. "The trick is to find what might have a deeper meaning for you."
"There were absolutely times I felt left out when I was younger, when I felt like it was a form of competition: how many galas, how many modeling gigs you have," says Hyltin. "You can really get down on yourself, but you have to find a certain amount of healthy exposure. Decide what works for you. If you spread too thin, all your work can become less meaningful."
Luckily for Simkin, his workaholic schedule seems to suit his personality. "I get to do what I love, I get to travel and live a good life," he says. "You can always be too tired and feel like you are juggling too much, but our careers are too short, so I enjoy spreading myself out." However, now that he is scheduled for the next two years, Simkin admits that he's added something new to his to-do list: downtime.