What Do Summer Audition Panelists Want? Here Are Answers to Your 7 Biggest Dilemmas

January 18, 2022

Summer intensive auditions can turn dancers into a bundle of nerves. With so many decisions to make each step of the way, you might end up second-guessing every choice. Will breaking out four pirouettes, when the audition proctor only asked for a double, be well received, or will it be seen as disrespectful? 

To provide a bit more clarity and some expert audition advice, Dance Magazine spoke with Lena Lauer, director of education programs at the José Limón Dance Foundation; Vivian Nixon, associate artistic director of Debbie Allen Dance Academy; and Kristina Windom, upper-division head at The Washington School of Ballet.

Prompted by a series of “Would you rather…” audition-day dilemmas, they discuss what they prefer to see from students. Their audition advice shows how, sometimes, there’s no one “right” answer. Everything from the culture of the school to the personal preferences of whoever’s in the front of the room can play a part. 

Would you rather see a student struggle to do a more challenging version of a step or cleanly perform a more basic version?

 Vivian Nixon  “In an audition setting, it’s not the time to show us the struggle, but rather what you have fine-tuned—that’s what I’m looking for.”

 Kristina Windom  “It’s telling to watch students struggle and see how they get through that.” 

Would you rather hear a student ask a question or watch them figure it out on their own?

 Lena Lauer  “It’s always valuable to see a dancer try to figure something out. Ultimately, they need to be able to work independently.”

 Nixon  “I’m always happy to give students whatever information­ they need, because I want them to get the spot. We’re on your side, so ask the question and get the answer.”

 Windom  “I teach my students to advocate for themselves. And part of establishing that sense of inclusivity in the classroom is encouraging them to speak up.” 

Would you rather students stand exactly where you tell them or adjust so they can be seen?

 Nixon  “I’m going to make sure that I can see the student, so I’d rather you stand where I asked you to stand.”

 Windom  “Where students choose to stand says a lot about them. I would rather adjust myself at an audition and walk around the room.”

Would you rather a student wear dance attire that vibrantly expresses who they are or make more subdued sartorial choices? 

 Nixon  “I would rather a student know exactly what they’re auditioning for. If you’re coming in for The Ailey School or the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, wear all black.” 

 Lauer  “I always prefer to see someone for who they are.” 

 Windom  “Students shouldn’t necessarily show up to an audition wearing a big tutu, but I’m all about them expressing themselves.” 

Would you rather a student dance full-out during the entire audition or mark the phrase until groups?  

 Lauer  “If you want the spot, why wait until groups to show me who you are?”

 Windom When they’re at the sides of the room, waiting for their turns, and I see those certain kids close their eyes and go through the épaulement, that’s pure love for me.” 

Would you rather a dancer make the choreography their own or stick exactly to the material as it was taught?

 Nixon  “Stick to the source material, but add your own dynamics­ and personality.”

Would you rather see technique and polish or potential and passion?

 Lauer  “Technique is the baseline. How a dancer makes the material into art is what any choreographer is hoping to see.” 

 Windom  “When you factor in what we’ve gone through in the last year and what kids are juggling these days, I prefer to see the passion, because you can’t teach that; you can’t teach unfiltered love of movement.”