If at First You Don't Succeed...
Lessons learned as a recent college grad on the audition circuit
When I graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts last May, I felt totally prepared to audition. I had listened to the faculty’s advice, gleaned insight from alum and visiting choreographers and learned everything from how to build my resumé to dressing the part. I felt ready, armed with all the tools to book the concert and commercial work I desired. Or so I thought. I quickly learned that nothing could replicate the experience of auditioning for professional work.
One of the greatest—but most nerve-racking—things about auditioning is that I still see my classmates. Just as badly as I want that job, so do they. Sometimes, I make it to the next round. Other times, I watch my friends make the cut. Self-doubt can creep in quickly, and I wonder, Why not me? But I’ve learned that taking it personally gets me nowhere. As much as I’d like to think I know what choreographers or casting directors are looking for, I don’t. There are so many variables outside of my control, whether it’s height, body type or even where I was standing in the room.
In these moments, I try to define success for myself. Success is personal, not universal. Now, I measure it on how often I work and how much I love the process.
Burnout Is Real
Staying motivated can be hard when sometimes I feel more like a professional auditionee than a professional dancer. At first, I was ashamed that I felt burnt out on auditioning—wasn’t this my life’s purpose, what I paid to go to school for? After graduation, when I went to several large auditions and nothing stuck, I became frustrated and completely exhausted. I took some time off from auditioning to clear my head, and after talking with friends, I realized this feeling isn’t that uncommon.
I started to give myself permission to take a break when I get overwhelmed—there will always be more auditions. I try new fitness classes (anything from running to trampoline cardio), explore a neighborhood or dive into a good book. If I don’t give myself a breather, I become judgmental of myself and my movement—the opposite of what I want to present at an audition. Now I aim to attend two a week so I don’t feel stretched too thin.
Recently, I also pledged that I wouldn’t audition for work that didn’t compensate me well enough—financially or otherwise. There are gigs that might not pay much but will offer me high-quality rehearsal and performance clips, exposure to an artist I’m interested in working with or a flexible rehearsal schedule.
But if I’m feeling stagnant, I’ll mix it up and whip out my character heels for a musical theater audition. Or I’ll find a hip-hop audition to refresh myself with a great challenge and a good laugh.
Learning to Fail Better
Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that if I’m not ready to fail—a lot—then the process will be brutal. A couple of months after I graduated, I had several callbacks for a promising opportunity. When I got cut, I shut down. I thought, If I didn’t book this one, there’s no way I’ll book the next one. For a time after that, I avoided auditions altogether. I feared failure. Slowly, I was able to let go of that fear, which allowed me to do better work and learn from my missteps. When I learned to fail better, my fear lost its power.
Each cut presents an opportunity to reevaluate my path, and each audition is a chance to collaborate with different artists. During recent auditions for immersive dance shows, I discovered a desire to create similar work. So I became rehearsal director for a new immersive project with Billy Bell called The God Complex. I’m grateful for what auditioning has taught me about myself as an artist. When I book my next job, I know I’ll be a better performer because of it.
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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