Turning Around a Turndown

January 24, 2010

When you get cut from an audition, it can be hard to see anything but the negative: rejection, criticism, and the definitive “no.” But if you’re auditioning regularly—and, like most of your fellow job-hunters, getting turned down more often than not—treating every rejection as a failure can take its toll on your self-esteem, and make you feel like you’re wasting your time. So how to persevere? For many dancers, it’s a matter of using auditions constructively, regardless of the final outcome. Job prospects aside, auditions are a chance to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. You can also learn from the dancers around you, explore new styles of movement, and make valuable connections. “It’s human nature to feel rejected if you audition and don’t get the job,” says Anne Wennerstrand, MSW, a psychotherapist who counsels dancers. “But an audition can be a laboratory for so much more.”


Watching the Game Tape

When freelance dancer Sara Hoenes finds herself in an auditioning rut, she looks for clues to what’s holding her back. “I was auditioning for regional musical theater shows, and I was making it through all the dance cuts but not getting the gig after singing,” she says. “Since then I’ve invested more time and effort into singing, and I’ve noticed better results.” She also suggests being aware of the opposite: What happens on the days you get kept throughout the rounds? “Try to bring those same qualities to the table on every future audition,” she says.


Hoenes makes it sound easy, but in the emotionally heated aftermath of an audition, calm reflection might not be your go-to state of mind. Wennerstrand offers this advice for looking objectively at the situation: “Think of it as watching the game tape. You don’t need to be falsely positive or negative. Just ask yourself, How did I feel as I walked in the door? Was I berating or encouraging myself? Was I focusing on my breath, body, movement—or trying to read the director’s mind? You’ll realize what’s helping you to be a strong, centered dancer, and what’s not. Then you can take action, which is more empowering than worrying.”


There’s also something to be gained from watching the dancers around you—not comparing yourself judgmentally but simply taking note of qualities you admire. Keltie Colleen, a Rockette who has also performed in Peepshow and music videos, observes the performers who consistently make the cuts. “What are they doing to stand out?” she says. “You can choose what you want to emulate, while maintaining your own personality and quirks.” Marina Lazzaretto, dance captain of the current Broadway revival of West Side Story,  advises just watching—not chatting—to stay in a positive frame of mind. “Try not to expend a lot of energy in the holding room,” she says, “or participate in the banter and mind games that can happen there before the actual tryout.”


Finding Your Niche

When you first enter the dance job market, you might be happy to take any work. But eventually, auditions can help you discover where you belong as a dancer: What feels good artistically? What kind of movement do you want to pursue? “You might go to an audition just looking for work and see that the choreography is not for your body,” Wennerstrand says. “Or it might be wildly gratifying. In the latter case, even if you don’t get the job, you’ve discovered an avenue to follow up on, whether it be finding that person’s workshops or seeing their shows.”


Colleen stresses the importance of noticing where you excel—and being open to changing paths. “When I started out auditioning, I was going on every Broadway call—and getting cut,” she says. “Then I began going to commercial calls, and I was booking every one! If you see yourself getting continually cut from a specific type of audition, reevaluate.”


Class & Connections

Approaching an audition as a master class can often make the most productive use of your time. “I auditioned for the movie Nine with Rob Marshall,” Colleen says, “and I realized immediately that I wouldn’t get the job. But the room had an incredible vibe, and I was learning straight from a star! It was the best class.”


As you continue to put yourself in front of choreographers you like, they’ll get to know you and might remember you for future projects. “I was dying to be in Jerry Mitchell’s Legally Blonde on Broadway,” Colleen recalls, “but I got cut from every open call. Then I booked Jerry’s Peepshow, and he explained that I was just too tall for Legally Blonde. Continually showing my face helped him remember me and proved I had a strong work ethic.”


Lazzaretto sees every audition as a chance to applaud your current achievements: “At the beginning of every tryout, I take a moment to be grateful for the chance to do what I love. Not everyone with this dream has the drive to really go for it. Be proud of yourself for making that first step—being there—and taking a chance on something that’s not easy.”



Lauren Kay, former associate editor of
Dance Spirit, is a writer and dancer in NYC.


Photo of Sara Hoenes by Jaqi Medlock, courtesy Hoenes