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By Lauren Kay
Four dancers’ surprising audition stories
On a Thursday night last spring, I sat in my weekly meditation class, listening as my teacher spoke about “infinite potential for change.” I’d heard the phrase before, but this time, my heart tingled with new understanding. I thought about how each person has the opportunity—at every moment—to redefine who she or he wants to be, and to act upon that instead of being boxed in by stale labels. I left that evening feeling more dynamic.
Soon after, I stumbled upon an audition notice for the Paul Taylor Dance Company: They were looking for one female dancer. As a musical theater dame, I’d never tried Taylor’s movement, though I’d always loved his choreography. Minutes later I was sending in my resumé, my teacher’s words echoing in my mind. I was shocked to quickly receive a response with an audition time.
In the week before the audition, I took two classes at the PTDC studio. They whizzed by with sways that gobbled up space, elaborate turns, and jubilant jumps. By the time we began learning repertoire, I was grinning unabashedly.
I had found a new love, but I knew I was a novice. On audition day, waiting among more than 300 hopefuls, I reminded myself of my own “infinite potential for change.” Soon, I was ushered into the studio with 49 other girls; Paul Taylor himself sat majestically opposite us. Our first task: Walk the length of the huge floor. I was last in line. I quickly studied the Taylor aficionados who strutted with proud chest and a slight slink in the hips. When my turn arrived, I narrowed my gaze and walked across the stage without hesitation or rush. I could feel Taylor’s eyes on me as he took a drag of his dwindling cigarette. I made the first cut.
Next, we learned a playful phrase, and I performed with all the gusto I could muster. When the assistant called my name again, I was elated. Only 60 girls remained.
For the next round, we tackled an intensely angry piece. Again, I threw myself into the movement. But this time, when the assistant announced who would stay, my name wasn’t included. I felt sad—but only for a moment. As I changed into my jeans, joy surged through my body: I had gotten much farther than I’d ever dreamed, simply by trusting my skills as a performer—and the value of new situations. Success.
I wouldn’t encourage a beginning classical dancer to strap on pointe shoes for an audition. But auditioning outside of your comfort zone—throwing off the labels you’ve assigned yourself (“ballerina,” “modern dancer,” “tapper,” “breaker”)—can propel you in unexpected and fulfilling directions. Auditioning for Taylor led me to study modern dance, attend more modern auditions, and discuss new styles with other dancers. It has deepened my artistry.
Read on to hear other performers’ tales (as told to me) of diving into uncertain, sometimes awkward territory—and coming out ahead.
David Martinez: Going for Baroque
I’m from Fort Myers, Florida, and went to an arts high school, where I switched from visual artist to dancer. So being gutsy and doing new things—whether scary and out of my comfort zone or not—is in my blood.
Getting my BFA at New World School of the Arts in Miami, I studied a variety of modern and jazz techniques. I moved to New York City in 2004, hoping to get a job in concert modern dance. I soon worked for Zvi Gotheiner, Parsons Dance, and finally the Martha Graham Dance Company for five years.
At Graham, we could audition for other choreographers or take a break with no problem. I was always trying out for new types of work. I had experience in a lot of techniques, but at the time I was only dancing in the Graham style. So, when I auditioned for the baroque-burlesque Company XIV, I definitely felt out of place. It was unnerving to explore the baroque steps, which include intricate work of the legs and feet. I don’t have a heavy ballet background, so that wasn’t my strength. But the movement was also full-bodied and musical, which felt wonderful. In some ways, it was more demanding than Graham: I was very out of breath.
I ended up booking the gig, and I was so relieved to be able to do this new, interesting kind of work. There are many ways in which we can be dancers and performers. On top of which, all dancers struggle with insecurity: Am I good enough? Am I going to get this job? Every moment is an audition. So, it’s validating to try out for something you’re uncertain of and then feel rewarded. I’m curious to stretch, to not get stuck in one thing, to be a marketable, versatile dancer for today.
David Martinez in Martha Graham’s Clytemnestra. Photo by Costas, Courtesy Martha Graham Dance Company.
Elizabeth Martin: Stumbling into Hip Hop
I grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, studying tap, jazz, and ballet until I was 18. But since seeing the movie Breakin’ when I was 11 years old, I had loved the look of popping and hip hop.
I graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts, but as a voice major. When I moved to Nashville to sing when I was 20, the hip hop choreographer Christopher Tyler saw me dancing at a club and invited me to his class. After two weeks, I went to my first hip hop audition, for the pop-star Ciara in Atlanta. It was incredibly hard: so fast with so much detail, flavor, and style. In ballet, you’re fitting into a mold. But in hip hop, people have their own swagger. I felt really out of place, but also motivated and dedicated because I loved it so much.
I made it all the way into the top 10 after five cuts. Though I didn’t get the job, I made the connection that would soon help me get into Swagger Crew for Season 5 of America’s Best Dance Crew. From that experience, I moved to Atlanta and started my hip hop career. I soon got a gig with Kirk Franklin and have since danced with Cee-Lo and R. Kelly.
My advice: You have to be willing to feel a bit embarrassed and just go for it—really let go—to get what you want.
Elizabeth Martin (back left) with Swagger Crew, of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. Photo courtesy MTV.
Michael Clement: Balanchine to Broadway
I trained in tap, jazz, ballet, and modern in Austin, Texas, starting at age 5, and attended the University of Arizona for dance. I went in as a jazz dancer, but came out as a full-on Balanchine ballet boy. I wanted to do concert dance. I moved to New York City last fall, with the intention of being in a dance company.
At the same time, I also embraced the mindset that I would go to any audition—for a company, commercial work, or musical theater. My third musical theater audition was for the Broadway production and tour of Billy Elliot. Once I made it past the first dance cut, I put on my tap shoes for the first time in two years and started to pray! While learning the intricate combination, I couldn’t even hear my own feet. I had no idea if I was doing it right. We had to do it in groups of three, then the beginning section alone. When it was my turn, I felt like the tap gods were smiling down on me: I hit all the sounds and actually managed to get through it.
Afterward, they asked me about my ballet training. That evening I got a call to come in to another audition: I was being looked at for the ensemble track that covers the older ballet boy, the older Billy. I made it through a ballet portion, to more tapping, to singing my song, even though I’d had only had a few classical voice lessons. The next day I was asked to read sides from the show and sing again. It was challenging, but it went well. I knew I was working to the best of my ability.
Ultimately, I didn’t get the part, but I learned that I have a lot of interesting skills that will help me in musical theater; I wasn’t wasting my time. I also realized that I had a lot to work on.
Now, I have five new songs in my book and performed in my first musical, Cats, at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, in December. I’ve stopped going to company auditions for now because it doesn’t resonate with me anymore. I want to pursue other types of performing. Putting it all together—singing while dancing and acting, as I learned with Cats—is hard.
All of this taught me to submit to the process. When you put yourself out there, you have to have faith in your ability as a dancer and mover—and then your ability can surprise you.
Michael Clement. Photo by Ed Flores, Courtesy Flores.
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in NYC.