When I was 18, I was a trainee at Boston Ballet School. I'd spent several years in the school, a year in their pre-professional program and six summers with them. Towards the end of my trainee year, I was under the impression that I might get to join the main or second company.
At that time, the general mind-set was: You make it into a major company or the company where you trained, and that's the only way. But that wasn't how it played out.
As my time at Boston Ballet was ending, I went to about 20 auditions. I was in rooms with 150 girls, everybody hoping for the same thing. The only thing I could get was another traineeship, with Cincinnati Ballet.
It was a "finding myself" year. On top of taking classes at the school, the trainees worked quite a bit with the company, so we did Nutcracker, Giselle, Peter Pan—all the major ballets they had. At the end of the year, they kept one woman and one man, and the rest of us were told we had to go find jobs. I found myself doing the exact same thing again: 20 or 30 auditions.
My dad would take me to each one. I auditioned in Ohio, and flew to Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama and New York. I even went back to Massachusetts and auditioned for Boston Ballet.
So much of this process is mental. You spend two hours trying to figure out what you're going to wear, and then you walk in and see all these other girls that did the same thing. There are people doing stretches in the hall, trying to show off, and that can really mess with you. I had to figure out a way to block this out, to find my own process and not let anything distract me. All these people that I'd trained with were getting jobs, so I was sad to be at an audition in the first place.
I remember going to one in Atlanta, and it was so crowded that we had to angle ourselves at the barre to all fit in. My whole childhood was, "If you get into a smaller company, that's a failure." But something happened in that audition and I thought, Maybe it's okay if I'm not in a major company. Maybe that's what I need.
Samantha Hope Galler with Max van der Sterre in Alabama Ballet's Romeo and Juliet
Melissa Dooley, Courtesy Alabama Ballet
I took an unpaid apprenticeship with Alabama Ballet in 2009. I had never heard of them, but it ended up being one of the best choices I've ever made. I was a little beat down from auditioning, and there was something about being in Alabama that broke the shell I still had. They believed in me, respected me and acknowledged my hard work. Even as an apprentice, I was doing all the corps work. In 2010 I was offered a company contract, and I moved through the ranks to principal dancer. Along the way, I learned how to be a good corps member, how to stand in line and be in sync with everybody. I danced in Balanchine ballets. And I did iconic roles like Odette/Odile and Juliet—things I never imagined I would dance.
My directors in Alabama were very invested in me, and they always said, "When you're ready to go, you're going to know." My confidence grew. By my last year there, I thought, Okay, I think I'm ready for something bigger. I only auditioned one place: Miami City Ballet. The company had always been on my radar, but I'd never felt quite ready to try out for them before.
I sent my audition package in November of 2013 and was invited to take company class that February. Something clicked, and I just loved it. I'd found the right fit for me—something I hadn't felt from auditions in the past. Because it wasn't a cattle call I got a feel for what it would be like in the company. Two weeks later, I received an email offering me a corps position, and, now, I'm a soloist there.
My path to Miami City Ballet was drawn from a willingness to take risks and to overcome failure along the way. I've met a lot of people who never had to audition—they were in a school and went right into that company. But I learned from auditioning in rooms full of dancers, having to stand there and be judged in a different way. As much as I dealt with rejection, it ultimately helped me become the best dancer I could be.