Career

Don't Make These 5 Mistakes Before Your Next Audition

Atlanta Ballet audition photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe

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."


Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

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