At auditions, warm-up space may be limited for non-Equity dancers, says Sarah Cooper, here in Disney Dreams. Courtesy Sarah Cooper.

Without an Equity Card, You May Have Trouble at Broadway Auditions

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.


Getting Seen Isn't Guaranteed

rawpixel/Unsplash

When a show holds an Equity chorus call (known as an ECC), union members are guaranteed to be seen. Non-Equity dancers can attend but are given the chance to try out at the creative team's discretion and only if time allows once all Equity members have been seen.

"I remember times where I would sit for hours," says Tommy McKiernan, who later got his Equity break with the national tour of Seussical. "I'd have to frantically text someone to cover my shift at work." On some days, McKiernen would finish bartending after midnight, wake up at 4 am to audition and stay there all day, only to have the moderator announce that they wouldn't be seeing non-Equity dancers. When multiple auditions he was interested in fell on the same day, it was impossible to predict which calls might have time for non-Equity dancers.

The First to Arrive Isn't Always First to Audition

Ovinuchi Ejiohuo/Unsplash

Before the Equity monitor arrives, there's no set system that decides audition order for non-Equity performers. The first dancer to show up (many hours before the ECC starts) often creates an unofficial sign-up sheet. But because the list is unofficial, there can be issues. That's what former Disney Cruise Line dancer Sarah Cooper learned when she went to an ECC for Wicked. "A friend and I got there early and signed up as numbers seven and eight," she says. "Whoever volunteered to transfer the list threw it out and started their own so they could be first to audition. We ended up as numbers 80 or 90."

You May Wait With No Warm-up Space

African-American woman sitting and resting her hand on her chin. Her hair is in a bun and she is wearing a yellow dress.

Katelyn Montagna/Unsplash

At Equity calls, union members are given priority to holding rooms and warm-up areas. If there isn't enough space, non-Equity dancers must wait elsewhere. If your name is called and you don't hear it, you miss your chance. "There were auditions I didn't even warm up for because I was afraid of missing my name," Sarah Cooper says. "I would just pray there wouldn't be a battement in the combo."

When Timothy Cooper started auditioning, he got yelled at for trying to use a restroom reserved for Equity members. "I had to go all the way downstairs just to use the bathroom," says Cooper, whose credits include the U.S. tour of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.

Are We Asking Too Much of Dancers?

Non-Equity members sacrifice time and money—often missing shifts at their survival jobs—in hopes of being seen at an ECC. "You put all your energy into something that very likely won't work out," says Paige Grimard, who got her Equity card after a friend connected her to an off-Broadway callback. If you do make it into the room, "the Equity dancers clearly know everyone," says Grimard. "When you see a dancer hug the choreographer you think, What am I even doing here?" She now tries to make Broadway hopefuls feel welcome. "I remember how taxing it all is, so the very least I can do is be encouraging."

Alternative Routes

Most Broadway dance calls are Equity chorus calls, but they're not the only way to get cast.

• Non-Equity calls for non-Equity shows. A note of caution: They're usually packed because of the number of nonunion dancers.

• Agency-connected auditions. These are held specifically for dancers whose agents recommend them. If your agent gets you in the room, you've got a shot at being seen even as a non-Equity performer.

• Work your connections. If you have a friend involved or you've worked with a choreographer who's doing the show, you might get to attend the callback of an ECC without an Equity card.

Latest Posts


Rachel Papo

Our 8 Best Pointe Shoe Hacks

It turns out that TikTok is good for more than just viral dance challenges. Case in point: We recently stumbled across this genius pointe shoe hack for dancers with narrow heels.

Dancers are full of all kinds of crafty tricks to make their pointe shoes work for them. But don't fear: You don't need to spend hours scrolling TikTok to find the best pro tips. We rounded up a few of our favorites published in Dance Magazine over the years.

If your vamp isn't long enough, sew an elastic on top of your metatarsals.

Last year, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Elizabeth Murphy admitted to us that her toes used to flop all the way out of her shoes when she rose up onto pointe(!). "I have really long toes and stock shoes never had a vamp long enough," she says.

Her fix? Sewing a piece of elastic (close to the drawstring but without going through it) at the top of the vamp for more support...and also special-ordering higher vamps.

Solve corns with toe socks

Nashville Ballet's Sarah Cordia told us in 2017 that toe socks are her secret weapon: "I get soft corns in between my toes because I have sweaty feet. Wearing toe socks helps keep that area dry. I found a half-toe sock called 'five-toe heelless half-boat socks' that I now wear in my pointe shoes."

(For other padding game-changers, check out these six ideas.)

Save time by recycling ribbons and elastics.

Don't waste time measuring new ribbons and elastics for every pair. Washington Ballet dancer Ashley Murphy-Wilson told us that she keeps and cycles through about 10 sets of ribbons and crisscross elastics. "It makes sewing new pairs easier because the ribbons and elastic are already at the correct length," she says. Bonus: This also makes your pointe shoe habit more environmentally friendly.

Close-up of hands sewing a pointe shoe.

Murphy-Wilson sewing her shoes

xmbphotography, by Mena Brunette, courtesy The Washington Ballet

Tie your drawstring on demi-pointe.

In 2007, New York City Ballet's Megan Fairchild gave us this tip for making sure her drawstring stays tight: "I always tie it in demi-pointe because that is when there's the biggest gap and where there's the most bagginess on the side."

Find a stronger thread.

When it comes to keeping your ribbons on, function trumps form—audiences won't be able to see your stitches from the stage. Many dancers use floss as a stronger, more secure alternative to thread. Fairchild told us she uses thick crochet thread. "Before I go onstage I sew a couple of stitches in the knot of the ribbon to tack the ends," she says. "I do a big 'X.' I have to make sure it's perfect because I'm in it for the show. It's always the very last thing I do."

Don't simply reorder your shoes on autopilot.

Even as adults, our feet keep growing and spreading as we age. Atlanta podiatrist Frank Sinkoe suggests going to a professional pointe shoe fitter at least once a year to make sure you're in the right shoe.

You might even need different sizes at different times of the year, says New York City Ballet podiatric consultant Thomas Novella. During busy periods and in warm weather, your feet might be bigger than during slow periods in the winter. Have different pairs ready for what your feet need now.

Fit *both* feet.

Don't forget that your feet might even be two different sizes. "If you're getting toenail bruises, blood blisters or other signs of compression, but only on one foot, have someone check each foot's size," Novella says. The solution? Buy two pairs at a time—one for the right foot and one for the left.

Wash off the sweat.

Blisters thrive in a sweaty pointe shoe. Whenever you can, take your feet out of your shoes between rehearsals and give them a quick rinse off in the sink. "If feet sweat, they should be washed periodically during the day with soap and water and dried well, especially between the toes," says Sinkoe.