The Rockettes are officially looking for some fresh faces. For the first time in almost a decade, the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is expanding its yearly open call in New York City to add audition locations in Chicago and Atlanta. The creative team wants to widen the pool and reach even more dancers.
So how can you get chosen out of hundreds of hopefuls?
"I'm going to walk through; it's going to be so awkward," says BalletX artistic and executive director Christine Cox, addressing 119 auditionees and acknowledging the ever-intimidating clipboard she holds. The room bursts into laughter, and smiles linger as pliés begin. Cox may have broken the tension, but stakes are high when contracts are up for grabs. At the BalletX company audition in New York City last April, Cox and associate artistic director Tara Keating were looking for one female dancer to fill a summer contract and one or two males to start year-round in the fall. "The core foundation of the company is ballet," Cox says, "but the X is everything. The X is a dancer who can experiment, explore, express themselves." And that's who they're looking for among these hopefuls.
Audition classes may not differ much from any other class—but directors have ways of sussing out who has what they're looking for. We spoke to three artistic directors to get their perspective from the front of the room.
Today, Anne Souder, Xin Ying and Marzia Memoli are all members of the Martha Graham Dance Company, but their journeys there couldn't have been more different. Each of them shared how they landed a contract with their dream company.
If you're looking for your first Broadway contract, getting your foot in the door is tricky. Auditions are structured to prioritize members of the Actors' Equity Association, the union for stage professionals. There are several ways to become a member: Sign a contract for an Equity show; be a member of a sister union, like AGMA or SAG-AFTRA; or accrue "Equity points" by working at specific theaters for at least 25 weeks. But in the meantime, dancers face serious challenges.
When it comes to auditioning, you have to think like a casting director. What is your type? How can you embrace it so that you can get cast in the roles that fit you best?
Getting hired is about more than just talent. Directors are looking at everything: from your height, to your energy, to understudy requirements—if you are a replacement in a Broadway show, for example, you have to be able to slot into it seamlessly. The creative team will size you up immediately when you walk into the studio, so make sure you're projecting the right message from the start.
Whether it's your first time jumping into the audition scene or you have hundreds of crinkled numbers to prove you're a seasoned pro, having a panel of judges eyeing your every move makes everyone's mind race a little.
Here are eight thoughts you're bound to have when you step into the studio for an audition.
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Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
What are the best ways to prepare for an audition?
Photo by Levi Walker, Courtesy CTG
"Research as much as you can about the project or choreographer. When a dancer is prepared, they tend to be more focused, more relaxed and really able to show themselves at their best. If the choreographer happens to be teaching at a local studio beforehand, get in that class!"
—Brandon Sierra, Clear Talent Group
In dance, no two paths look the same, and part of a healthy audition mind-set is accepting that you might not get what you want on the first try. These three dancers who auditioned multiple times for their dream gig share what made the difference in getting to the final cut.
Hopping from city to city during audition season can be both expensive and time-consuming—not to mention disheartening if you end up being cut after barre. Since its inception in 2016, the Grand Audition has aimed to solve that conundrum for young ballet dancers looking for a job: This annual two-day event in Europe provides an unprecedented opportunity to audition for 10 companies at once.
In your wellness workshop at The Ailey School, you suggested that a way to attend a lot of auditions after graduation (without getting depressed) was to see each one as a free class. It worked. I can't remember how many jobs I've tried out for, but I managed to stay hopeful and finally landed a full-time position. Thank you!
—Grateful Dancer, Newark, NJ
Allison Beler has auditioned for the Radio City Rockettes more than a dozen times. In 2014, she made it all the way through the final round. "I was waiting on a phone call for a job," she says. The call didn't come.
Rejection is inevitable in dance. But it still hurts. Beler, 31, says she's toughened as she's gotten older, but she still calls her mom and cries as soon as she steps onto the street after being cut.
Your ability to recover from rejection may strengthen with experience, but according to Joel Minden, a clinical psychologist and former ballroom dancer who works with dancers in Chico, California, it's also a skill that can be cultivated.