Can you over-prepare for a college audition? Yendi Valdes doesn’t think so. On the day of her audition for New World School of the Arts in Miami, she was awake at 4:00 a.m. checking for holes in her tights, perfecting her hair, and making sure that her solo music played on every CD player in her house. She was the first to arrive at the audition, so she spent some time going over her solo while waiting for the studio to open. Since she’d called the dean’s office in advance to ask all of her questions, she knew what to expect and felt confident. “If you’ve gone over everything two or three times, nothing can go wrong. And if something does go wrong, you’re going to be prepared to take it on,” says Valdes, now a freshman dance major at New World. “If you show up to an audition just before it starts, flustered because you couldn’t find parking, your whole presence is shattered by outside factors and the real you can’t show.”
The first step to being as prepared as possible on audition day is to do some research. Check out the dance program’s website, call the department, visit the campus, or talk to current students. The more you know about the school, the more effectively you can plan ahead. And be sure to get your application, recommendations, and essays in early.
Katie Langan, dance department chair at Marymount Manhattan College, stresses that the audition begins long before you set foot in that studio. “I consider all the paperwork that students have to hand in to be part of the audition process,” she says. “It’s important to follow directions. If they come organized, they’ve already passed the first part.”
Most college auditions begin with a ballet class. Despite the fact that you could probably do the plié combination in your sleep, remember to show your most polished dancing. “The entire day is a performance,” says Langan. “If dancers do the exercises without performing, they’re missing an ingredient.”
Keep in mind that this is an audition for a school, not a company, so your primary goal is to learn. That means listening to corrections and applying them to your work. “Taking correction well will make or break an audition,” says Elizabeth McPherson, assistant professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “If a student is corrected on the same thing five times and seems to make no attempt to respond, that may be someone who we choose not to take, even if their level of technique is high enough.”
After ballet, you may be taught a few modern combinations. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” says Denise Pons, on faculty at the Boston Conservatory. “We look for dancers who try to make sense of the combination and make it their own. If everyone we auditioned knew everything, we wouldn’t have a job.”
When ballet student Kate Hale auditioned for Ohio State University, she hadn’t taken a single modern class in her life. She was nervous, and her first time through the modern combination, she messed up and almost hit the dancer next to her. “I was pretty terrified,” she says. But she watched the other dancers and corrected what she’d done wrong, so when she was asked to show the combination again, it was better. “I felt like I proved that I could learn from my mistakes,” says Hale, who graduated from OSU in 2009. “I showed the faculty that I’m a person who can be taught and who is looking forward to learning.”
That kind of confidence will take you far, especially in the solo section, the part of an audition that takes the most preparation. Some schools will ask for a certain style of dance, and almost all have a time limit, so make sure you know these details in advance. Most schools won’t mind if your solo is choreographed by a friend or teacher, or if you use a piece from variations class. But some departments like to see a piece you’ve choreographed yourself, particularly those with a substantial composition requirement. “We love to see personal choreography,” says Pons, “because at the Boston Conservatory students have a mandatory two years of choreography, and many take it all four years. Tommy Neblett, who teaches modern at auditions, is also our choreography teacher, so he’s like, ‘Wahoo!’ when someone auditions with a solo of their own work.”
No matter who choreographed your solo, the key is to own it on audition day. Don’t get carried away with tricks; instead focus on expression and performance quality. “Enjoy it,” says Pons. “Show us your passion for the work and your love for the art.”
Most schools will also do a brief, informal interview to get to know you even more. Questions are generally along the lines of: Why did you choose this school? Where do you want to go with your dancing? What would you do if you couldn’t dance? Reflect on these questions beforehand—not so you can deliver rehearsed answers, but so that you can present yourself clearly and thoughtfully. They may also ask if you have any questions, so have a few prepared. This is your chance to find out everything about the school that your research didn’t tell you. “Remember, you are auditioning the school too,” says McPherson. “The goal is to find a good mutual fit.”
Rachel Zar is an editor for Dance Teacher magazine, Dance Magazine College Guide, and DanceU101.com.
Dance faculty Lynne Grossman and Elizabeth McPherson at an audition for Montclair State. Photo by Mike Peters, courtesy MSU