I've never been much of a crier, but there was one part of my life that pretty consistently involved tears: summer intensive audition season.
Rejection is never pleasant. But rejections from summer programs can feel particularly gut-wrenching. In a classic case of catastrophizing, I remember always thinking, If I can't even get into this summer intensive, how could I ever get into this school? And if I can't get into this school, how could I get into a company?
I'll never forget my first rejection. I'd had two auditions that day: Boston Ballet School in the morning, and The Rock School for Dance Education shortly afterwards. And later that night was my high school's winter formal with my first-ever "date."
Needless to say, I was an emotional dumpster fire of nerves.
More experienced friends from my studio had chosen to only do one audition or the other, but since it was my first time on the summer audition circuit, I wanted as many tries as I could get. I saw The Rock as a backup option, so I figured it'd be easy enough to coast through. Plus, I knew The Rock directors told you whether or not you got in before you even left the studio, and I was dying for that immediate feedback.
I clearly remember the moment it all went south in a doomed petit allégro combination. The steps weren't particularly complicated, but I kept mangling the directions and the order. I'd be doing an assemblé while the group did a glissade; I'd start traveling to the left, while they went right, like a bad imitation of the drunk wili from The Turning Pointe.
I made eye contact with one of the directors, Bo Spassoff, as I was trying to get back on the right count. I remember trying to telepathically tell him, "But I'm actually really good at picking up choreography! This isn't the way I usually dance, I swear."
The car ride home must have been miserable for my parents.
Holding the slip of paper that told me I hadn't made it, I kept thinking that if I couldn't even get into my backup school, I wouldn't be accepted anywhere. I was terrified and embarrassed to tell my teacher and my friends.
The truth was that I didn't yet know how to handle rejection, or have the perspective to look beyond my current disappointment. It took me years to figure out that successful people aren't simply the ones who never get rejected; they're the ones who've learned to deal with that rejection, and grow from it.
I wish I could go back in time and tell my 14-year-old self that rejection is simply part of the process of becoming a dancer. Professionals have to figure out how to bounce back from "nos" from directors, choreographers, agents and even critics. It's a lesson that's just as important as learning how to coast through a tour en l'air, or do your stage makeup or recover from an injury.
I wish I could have made myself realize how much I'd learned from that audition: that my body and brain could only handle so much stress in one day. To dance my best in any given moment, I had to prioritize it to make sure my legs felt fresh and my mind was free of distractions.
I wish I could tell myself that just because I danced badly in one audition did not mean I was a bad dancer. And that bad and good are subjective terms anyway, so while one director might write me off, another might see potential.
I wish I could let myself know that I'd get into The Rock's summer intensive the following year, in one of its top levels. I was thinking about this today, reading Gia Kourlas's New York Times profile of New York City Ballet principal Joseph Gordon, who got rejected from SAB's summer intensive the first time he tried out.
Yes, even star principal dancers who have New York Times stories written about them have been rejected from summer intensives.
Even knowing all these things, summer rejections still wouldn't have been easy. But they would have felt much more manageable—and spared me a good deal tears.