Once, the novelty of receiving a resume package that included a video was enough to help any dancer stand out above the rest. These days, dance companies routinely use audition videos to pre-screen talent, so it pays to create a video that has impact. “I tend to make up my mind pretty fast,” says Anthony Randazzo, a ballet master at Boston Ballet who screens videos. “Sometimes I have a stack of them to watch, so it really helps when a dancer gets to the point. I will use the fast forward button.” DM talked to dance professionals who see mountains of videos every year, and they shared their tips on making a winning tape.
How long should it be? Everyone agrees that audition videos should run between five and 15 minutes. “The first impression happens in a fraction of a second,” says Randazzo. “Sometimes I just give a glance at the screen.” Make sure only your best images make the video editing cut.
What should you wear? Wear tidy, body-hugging outfits that don’t blend into the background. If the floor is black, don’t wear black tights because your legs won’t show up. If the wall is white, don’t wear a white shirt. As for leg warmers, sweats, or a skirt, “Leave them in the dance bag,” says William Whitener, artistic director of Kansas City Ballet. “A practice tutu for a classical variation is fine but not necessary.”
How about your hair? Hair should be well-groomed. It should be pulled back for ballet women, and for modern, jazz or hip hop, at least partially pulled back. Your hair should never hide your face or be distracting to the viewer. Use good judgment.
Should you say something at the start?
There is nothing wrong with saying your name, location, why you want to dance with the company, and what you’re about to perform. Speaking can help make a positive impression. However, be brief. This portion of the video can be filmed in close-up. “It might help register the dancer in the viewer’s memory more than a wide shot,” says Amy Reusch, dance videographer. Look directly at the camera as if you are talking to a friend, and speak clearly.
What kinds of exercises should you include?
Most directors want to see you demonstrate some basic dynamics. Ballet dancers should show adagio, turns, petit allegro, and a grand allegro. Contemporary dancers should present three short pieces (sections of a dance or exercises) that show a similar range—slow movement, spins, fast jumps, and big jumps. Students should also demonstrate some barre work. “We like to see both sides of the barre,” says Arlene Minkhorst, director of Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s Professional Division, “so we see both legs working.” And barre work needn’t be long. Students might show four or five quick exercises: plié, tendu, rond de jambe, adagio, and grande battement.
What kinds of pieces should you perform?
Professional dancers should also dance a variation, perhaps from a well-known ballet like The Sleeping Beauty, or include an excerpt from a stage performance (only if the video quality is good). Carefully select pieces that are well-suited to the company. “We’re looking for a level of intelligence,” says Brenda Way, artistic director of ODC/San Francisco. “So make sure you research the company and send an appropriate video.” Don’t send jazzy examples of your personal choreography to American Ballet Theatre, for instance, because you’ll only be showing them you don’t know what they do. “If you send us something that is outside the boundaries of what we present,” says Randazzo, “it might brighten our day, but it won’t help you get a job here.”
To pas de deux or not to pas de deux?
Ballet men absolutely should perform a duet. “We’ve started asking men to show some basic partnering in auditions. Seeing it on video is definitely helpful,” says Randazzo. Showing partnering moves is also advisable for contemporary dancers. “Regardless of gender—man partnering man, woman with woman, woman with man—I like to see how a dancer relates to other people in a duet,” says Way.
What shoes should I wear?
Professional level ballet women should definitely dance on pointe. Directors of ballet companies want to know you are proficient and strong. Modern dancers may want to show some combinations in bare feet, and others in jazz shoes or dance sneakers.
How to film? Recruit a friend or fellow dancer to film the video. Use a tripod. Adjust the camera at chest level to the dancer or slightly lower. Make sure the dancer’s entire body stays in the frame at all times. Make sure there is enough light in the location—daylight from a big window or skylight is best. Beware of windows in the background, you don’t want to shoot your dancer against too much backlight. If you have a studio with windows all around, consider shooting at night. At night time, use clamp-on lights from the hardware store to fully illuminate the studio if the regular overhead lights are not sufficient. Remove all clutter from the background—stuff like dance bags, rosin boxes, chairs, posters, towels, pianos, water bottles. Make sure the music source is near the camera’s microphone. If you are lucky enough to get a pianist, place the camera’s microphone (if it can be removed) under the piano.
What else to send? Send the video with a cover letter, resume, full-body photo, good reviews, and referrals or letters of recommendation. Make sure the presentation is tasteful. Use a computer to type and print, but don’t rely on the spell checker—get someone else to proofread everything carefully. Print the resume on a high quality paper like 25-pound bond in buff, cream, or white.
How to label? Label all audition materials with your name in large letters followed by phone number and address or e-mail address. Write the length of the video and a brief description of each section on the video’s label.
What format? Some people have DVD players and others still have VHS. Don’t make any assumptions. Look on company websites or call to find out which format the company prefers. You can always send both VHS and DVD to be safe. If you’re sending a video to Europe, make sure you get it professionally encoded to PAL so that their machines can read it. If you’re in Europe sending to America, make sure the format is NTSC, the U.S.’s standard format.
Finally, remember this: Your ability to present yourself well on video will help the director know you can present yourself professionally on stage. Good luck!
Eric Wolfram shoots, edits, and produces videos in New York City. Formerly a dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, he is also the author of Your Dance Resumé, available at www.wolfram.org/writing/ydr.