Like almost everything happening right now, New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's college scholarship auditions looked a little different this year. Rather than sweating it out in a packed hotel ballroom, the dancers logged onto Zoom from whatever space they had available. After taking a ballet class, they learned a grand allegro combination from Ashley Tuttle, and a contemporary phrase from Desmond Richardson, then performed each in small "groups," with just a few dancers at a time keeping their cameras on to dance for the panel.
Watching Jasmine Cruz, who ended up winning NYCDAF's Dance Magazine College Scholarship worth $20,000, you wouldn't have been able to tell she was having any trouble dancing on a DIY floor in her garage. Her lines were just as clean and controlled, her movements just as powerful as they are in the onstage performances that have earned her accolades from competitions like NYCDA, Youth America Grand Prix, World Ballet Competition and ADC|IBC.
How did she do it? The soon-to-be freshman at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance offers a few insights for other dancers with online auditions coming up.
1. Prep Your Space
For the first couple months of the shutdown, Cruz danced on a six-foot square of marley in her bedroom. Then, during NYCDA's National Dance Discovery Showcase in May, she fell onto her bed in the middle of her solo. "I thought, I can't do this during my scholarship audition," she says with a laugh.
So her dad built her a homemade sprung floor in the garage, and bought some extra vinyl from Home Depot to extend the marley surface. "It's been a different kind of creative process," she jokes.
2. Work Your Angles
The night before the audition, Cruz put her mom on the other end of a Zoom call to scout for the ideal camera setup. She found that by angling the laptop in the corner of the room, she could show a bit of her side profile and capture her lines in the most flattering way.
Dancers also need to make sure their full bodies are shown on camera as they move through the space, without going so far away and getting so small that viewers can't see you. "It was really hard to capture my entire body, and I didn't realize it until my mom came down during barre and was like, 'Your head is cut off!' " she says.
3. Use All the Devices
To learn the combinations, Cruz projected the video feed from NYCDA onto the garage wall so she could see more easily. "My eyesight is bad and I didn't want to be squinting at the computer," she says. (However, she made sure to not only look at the projector, since her camera was in a different spot, and she wanted to be sure to appear engaged.)
Although she used a laptop to connect to Zoom, next time she would choose an iPad to have a bit more flexibility with where to place it, and to take advantage of the iPad's higher quality camera.
4. Modulate Your Energy
Most dancers have grown used to moving in confined spaces over these last few months. But in an audition setting, where you typically want to dance full-out, choosing where to channel your energy becomes key.
"I needed to find when to be subtle and when to be a little more extravagant," says Cruz. In addition to adjusting to the space, she also kept the limits of Wi-Fi in mind. "I was making sure that if there was a lag, I would follow through with my movements so there's still energy there."
5. Keep Working During Downtime
While watching friends' online auditions, Cruz noticed that in a grid of Zoom dancers, those who are moving while learning and refining the combinations are the ones who catch viewers' eyes. "Instead of just standing around staring at the camera to see if the teacher is saying something, keep trying the movement and working on it," she suggests.
6. Build a Positive Mindset
With so many limitations, Cruz admits that dancing at home this year has gotten the best of her physically and mentally at times. In addition to the confined space, the sloped surface of her garage means she's dancing on a slightly raked stage. And her dad's homemade sprung floor moves every time she jumps, to the point where she's sometimes afraid it might crack. "During the audition, I'd have to turn the camera off because the boards were moving too much, and I'd have to put them back."
Yet, in front of the audition panel, she forced herself to get into a confident, professional mindset and just make her movement as expansive as possible. "Finding the freeness in my tiny garage was actually liberating," she says.
7. Know That the Panel Gets It
Obviously, an audition panel is not expecting a normal experience. "They know that everything's changed," says Cruz. If you need to do a pas de chat instead of a saut de chat because that's all you have room for, they'll understand. "Show them your work ethic and realize how important your presence is in front of the camera." Keep up your smile and energy, Cruz says, through the very last moment when you say goodbye and turn off your video.