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By Jen Peters
An audition DVD can get your foot in the door with a company or agency. But if it’s not well-made, directors and agents won’t hesitate to press the “off” button. Just like your resumé and headshots, a reel should reflect your professionalism and style. So what should you include—and avoid—to keep from getting cut?
Up-close and Center
Dancers often submit performance footage where the figure is too small, blurry, or dark. “I prefer studio reels,” says Glenn Edgerton, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. “Often onstage I can’t see intent or physicality.” The relevant part is the dancing, so keep fancy effects—like fading in and out—to a minimum.
Try not to shoot from a side angle. “From the side, I can’t tell what the dancer really looks like,” says Lucille DiCampli, director/agent of MSA New York dance agency. “Agencies need to see the face and body to know how someone would fit on our roster and look like on camera.”
Don’t send out one generic reel to lots of companies; do your research and customize each one. “HSDC is known for its versatile repertory, so I need to see balletic ability and grounded modern work,” says Edgerton. Plan to spend a day in the studio filming five to eight different excerpts. Then tailor each submission by choosing the top three for that company or agency’s profile.
Versatility is great to demonstrate—within reason. If you’re aiming for Broadway, DiCampli says, she doesn’t need to see hard-core break dancing. She likes dancers to introduce themselves on video (with a “Hi, Lucille”), then describe briefly why they’re interested in the agency and what clips are included: “That extra attention makes a huge difference.”
Some artistic directors prefer a video link embedded in an email cover letter. “DVDs pile up on my desk,” says Edgerton, “so I’m more likely to click a link and spend a few minutes watching online.”
Stick to the Point
Keep your reel concise. “I have seen videos of a full ballet class starting with pliés!” says Nadia Thompson, ballet mistress at Milwaukee Ballet. For a ballet company submission, she suggests 10–15 minutes total. Include a classical variation (or two), a classical pas de deux, and a contemporary selection. Both Edgarton and DiCampli suggest reels run five minutes or less.
A time limit is no excuse for omitting key technical elements like pirouettes and jumps. Thompson says it’s obvious when a dancer leaves one out—or strives to overimpress. “We would much rather see a nice, clean double,” she says, “than seven messy turns.”
Jen Peters dances with Jennifer Muller/The Works.