Career

Find Your Perfect Audition Outfit in Seven Easy Steps

When it comes to figuring out what to wear to auditions, the struggle is real. How can you show off your body at its best? What will fit the look of the company, but still make you stand out from the cattle call crowd—in a good way?

Royal Ballet soloist (and serious fashionista) Olivia Grace Cowley recently shared this great anecdote about her audition style strategy on her website ballet.style:


Before receiving my contract at The Royal Ballet I wore this outfit for every audition I went to, from Hong Kong to Boston.

It was a cap-sleeved chocolate brown unitard. Unusual and exposing, I knew there wouldn't be many others wearing something similar. I didn't wear anything else, no leg warmers, no skirt and no tracksuit top. Of course I was nervous but I knew it would make me stand out and seem confident, even if I wasn't. My friends still mention the days I traveled around Europe to auditions with the brown unitard and detergent. It worked—I got the job and still have the unitard for nostalgia purposes!

Cowley's unitard is a brilliant choice. It shows off her lines perfectly, while making her look sophisticated and contemporary—and different from other dancers. There's nothing fussy or overdone about it. And the outfit reads "professional," not "student," a common struggle for many recent grads.

But everyone's "perfect" audition outfit is different, and an edgy unitard may not work for you, or the companies you're trying out for. So how can you find your own go-to audition wear?

1. Research the Company's Style: Before every audition, look at photos online to see the types of images the company uses to brand themselves. Are they trendy? Classic? Peek at some of the current dancers' social media accounts to try to find a shot of company class—it can clue you in to how a director likes their dancers to look. Aim for a clean, streamlined version of those dancers' styles.

Martha Graham Dance Company audition, PC Rachel Papo

2. Experiment: Try out a variety of looks in class during the weeks leading up to an audition. See what highlights your lines, and more importantly, makes you feel confident. Have a "dress rehearsal" to make sure you like the way it feels when you dance in it, then set the outfit aside to save for auditions so it doesn't fade or start to look worn.

3. Don't Pigeonhole Yourself: If you dress overly-sexy, a director may only see you in sexy roles. If you're in pigtails, they may only see you in young, cute roles, says Martha Graham Dance Company artistic director Janet Eilber. Go with a professional, neutral look that could be adapted for any piece the company performs.

4. Find a Signature: A standout accessory, hairstyle or pair of shoes can only help casting teams—they may not remember your name, but they'll remember the girl in the brown unitard, for instance. Consider wearing white; so few dancers wear the color, says Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch, that it will make you stick out and highlight your confidence. Just be sure to keep everything in line with the company's aesthetic so you don't stand out for the wrong reasons.

5. Let Yourself Focus: Make sure nothing you're wearing will distract from your movement. If you have to constantly pull down your top, you'll have a harder time concentrating on the steps—and so will anyone watching you.

6. Don't Hide: Wrapping a shirt around your waist only signals to a director that you're trying to hide your hips, which not only raises a red flag that you feel insecure, but also makes it harder for directors to see your body. Stick with tight-fitting essentials.

7. Stop Stressing: Remember, it's not your outfit they're hiring, it's you. Even if you walk into the room and realize you wore the wrong thing, own it. In the end, confident dancing is what will land you a contract.

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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.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.

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Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via tods.com

I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."

It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.

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Anne Arundel Community College students, PC Kenneth Harriford

Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:

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Joan Marcus

Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?

The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."

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From left, Ethel Merman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Debbie Allen. All Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.

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When it comes to BodyVox, it's best to expect the unexpected. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy BodyVox

In the midst of its 20th-anniversary season, BodyVox is taking a moment to look back. The Portland, Oregon–based company presents Urban Meadow, an amalgamation of some of its most popular works, at Philadelphia's Prince Theater, Jan. 18–21. Expect whimsy, and the unexpected. bodyvox.com.

Advice for Dancers
A dance career can send you on a roller coaster of emotions, but evaluating reality can help give you perspective. Thinkstock.

I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.

—Terry, Philadelphia, PA

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