Adam Sklute (seated far right) at a Ballet West audition. Photo by Jim Lafferty

What Ballet Directors Look for During an Audition Class

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.


Show You're Adaptable

A ballet rehearsal with a female dancer in pench\u00e9. A male partner is holding her hand, while the artistic director coaches her.

Lopez says that dancers must have a clean, classical foundation.

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Contrary to what you might expect, Lopez doesn't require incoming dancers to have Balanchine training. "But they have to be strong," she says. "The articulation of the feet, the way we hold our arms—those things can be taught, but I can't teach them if the dancer in front of me doesn't have a classical foundation."

Clean, performance-ready technique is Lopez's baseline. "Do they have mannerisms that I feel would be difficult to change? Can they maintain their technique while they're moving? If the minute you let go of the barre you can't do center work, then I'm going to have problems putting you onstage."

Learn Quickly and Apply Corrections

Wheater demonstrates a ballet step during rehearsal.

During class, Wheater gives a 32-bar enchaînement and only demonstrates it once.

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

In every company class, Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater gives a 32-bar enchaînement in the center. "An enchaînement is what we really do when we dance onstage," he says. "How you connect rhythm, steps and transfer of weight, and how you utilize space within the enchaînement, tells me a lot about a dancer's ability to be fluid." He demonstrates that combination only once. "It shows you who's willing to really focus, pick it up and deliver."

Wheater will give corrections to auditioning dancers and makes note of how they're received. "You can see when people feel affronted," he says. "You want to see that they take the time to absorb and apply it."

Relax Into the Company Vibe

Skulte coaches two male dancers during battements at the barre.

Sklute likes to get to know a dancer's artistry over several days.

Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Rather than holding open calls, some ballet companies prefer to invite select dancers to take class for three to four consecutive days at their studios. That length of time reveals both adaptability and consistent trouble areas, and allows dancers to settle into the company vibe. "From pliés to an early tendu, you can tell immediately if the dancer has what we're looking for," says Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute. "But other attributes—a movement quality, a sense of artistry—take a while to get to know."

That said, Sklute is playing with the open-audition format in order to reach a wide array of dancers at once. "I hate the calls where we have to cut people," he says, so this spring, Ballet West will hold 90-minute master classes on March 23 in New York City and March 30 in Salt Lake City. Each class is limited to 70 participants and open to all dancers, whether they want to be considered for the company or not. No one will be cut. "This format will hopefully give people a more relaxed environment," he says, "versus feeling like they have to prove themselves."

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American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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