Student Annie Smith taking CPYB's summer program from home. Photo courtesy CPYB

7 Ways to Ace Your Online Summer Program Audition

These days, virtual auditions are our new reality. While summer intensive veterans may have polished their in-person audition strategy over the years, Zoom is an entirely different animal. How should you prep your space? What if your technology glitches? What type of energy works on suboptimal webcams? It's enough to make anyone sweat.

Prep Your Space

For the first time, you get to decide what your audition space looks like. Whether you have the luxury of booking a studio or you're making due with your kitchen floor, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Make sure your "stage" is clear of obstructions that might impede your movement, then declutter the area behind you so it's free of distractions that could draw the judges' eyes away from your lines. "Do a test run before the audition with a friend or family member to make sure your feet or hands aren't cut off," says Melanie Person, co-director of The Ailey School. Have them help you find where your spatial limits are in the frame, then take tape and mark those spots on the floor.

Light Yourself Strategically

Next, identify your light source. When reigning Dance Awards "Female Senior Best Dancer" Kelis Robinson auditioned for her title via Zoom, she used a room at her studio with natural light. "You want to be seen as clearly as possible," she says. "Extra space doesn't matter if they can't make out your movement." For spaces without natural light, Person suggests getting a ring light to lessen shadows and distribute light more evenly.

"You want your light to hit in front of your face, not behind it," adds Darla Hoover, artistic director of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East. "You don't want to be a silhouette." Practice on camera ahead of your audition to be sure the light doesn't change as you travel around the room.

Manage the Technology

Auditioning online can produce some unique challenges. Devices are generally very small, forcing you to approach the camera to get a better view of the instructor. To avoid cutting off your body, or distracting the class with a close-up of your eye, The Dance Awards "Male Senior Best Dancer" Joziah German recommends connecting your device to a larger TV or computer screen whenever possible. (This could also connect to a larger speaker system, making music dynamics easier to hear.)

Video's greatest challenge for dancers is the unavoidable lag in audio. Using the best Wi-Fi connection possible can help. "Make sure you're close to a router," Robinson says. Still, you may lose connection from time to time. During her audition, Robinson's music stopped, forcing her to move in silence until the internet reconnected. Her advice for when things like this happen? "The circumstances have shifted, and most judges will be understanding about mishaps," Robinson says. "Don't stress out too much." Hoover echoes this sentiment. "Because we have never auditioned dancers this way before, we are just as nervous as you are," she says.

When it comes to technology hurdles you can control, Hoover recommends joining your audition well before it officially begins. And use a recording device with a high-quality lens—if the camera quality on your laptop is grainy, borrow a better computer if you can.

Amp Up Your Energy

So what kind of movement stands out on screen? Since the camera sucks out a portion of your energy, German suggests dancing beyond what would normally be appropriate. Within the space you have available, travel and take up as much room as possible. According to Person, that's exactly what you need to stand out on a screen that hosts multiple dancers at a time. "As a panelist, my eyes will be drawn to the dancers who are projecting."

Dress for the Occasion

When it comes to your outfit, think about your setting. "Choose a color that contrasts with your background, otherwise you'll be camouflaged," says Robinson.

Know Your Angles

Virtual auditions have some unexpected perks, like using camera positioning to show the panel your best angles. "As a shorter dancer, the last thing I want to do is angle myself to seem even shorter," German says. "You should keep the camera center, so your whole body is proportional." Hoover discourages setting your device on the floor or too high above you on a shelf. "Set your device at eye level," she says. "Otherwise it's really difficult to observe you. At our year-round program's online audition, I kept looking at pictures of dancers to get a better idea of what I was actually seeing."

Keep in mind that Zoom boxes are fairly small—avoid putting the camera too far away from you, making yourself even harder to see. When you're auditioning at the barre, Hoover recommends turning it to a 45-degree angle rather than facing straight forward or directly side. "This way we get the best of both worlds," she says. Practice your camera angles ahead of time, so that you don't have to adjust mid-audition.

​Stay Present

Whether you're on deck or you've just finished a combination, waiting on-screen can feel awkward. "Stand still, and stay as present as you can unless they tell you to turn off your camera," Robinson says. Person recommends imagining you're in the wings: "Stand poised, while paying attention and focusing on the task at hand."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021