Solo Departures

August 31, 2014

For many dancers, the experience of competing a solo is equal parts thrilling and intimidating. You want to be the best possible version of yourself onstage—and usually that means performing in your favorite style.

But is choosing what’s familiar always the best

decision? What happens when you challenge yourself, “So You Think You Can Dance”–style, to take on a new genre? DS asked teachers from top competition studios to weigh in on why branching out for your next solo might be the best move you can make. They’ve got some great advice for how to do so successfully, too.

The Benefits

“Working on a solo is a great opportunity for growth,” says Julie Webb of Michelle Latimer Dance Academy in Greenwood Village, CO. “You get invaluable one-on-one time with a choreographer specializing in that style, which means you’ll make significant improvements in a shorter amount of time than in a group class setting.”

Alison Thornton works one-on-one with Grace Anderson to polish her solo (photo courtesy Michelle Latimer Dance Academy)

Teachers and choreographers will appreciate your extra effort. “I notice that dancers who open themselves up to different genres for their solo work tend to have a lot more versatility in their movement,” says Emily Shoemaker, tap director at CC & Co. Dance Complex in Raleigh, NC. “And usually, when they’re versatile, they also come with an open mind—an awesome quality in a young dancer.” (Variety impresses competition judges, too.)

You’ll prepare yourself for professional life. “If you want to go pro, know that not every single situation is going to be perfect and comfortable,” Shoemaker says. “You’re going to have to have the confidence to walk into an audition with the attitude of, ‘I’m going to try it!’ ”


Jacey Carroll of Michelle Latimer Dance Academy performing a musical theater solo (photo by Milan Cook)

Steps to Success

Be strategic about branching out. If tap is your strength, consider pushing yourself to learn and compete a hip-hop solo. “Tap creates through your feet what hip hop creates through isolations in your body,” Webb says. Jazz and musical theater also go well together. “Fiery jazz performers feel more comfortable doing musical theater because it’s performance-based.” And if you have a ballet background, contemporary can be a natural next step.

Put in the time to build your technique. Take classes in the new styles, and seek out mentors at conventions and at your studio. “The more people you learn from, the greater the artist you’ll become,” Webb says.

Be smart about music and costumes. “In a style you’re not used to, they become twice as important,” says Allison Thornton from The Dance Club in Orem, UT. The right costume can help you psych yourself up: In a musical theater solo, for instance, a particularly theatrical costume can help buoy a dancer who is nervous about her acting ability.

Try to get in a “practice” performance, such as an exhibition or recital, before competing. And when you select competitions, Webb suggests considering smaller regional competitions where you’ll feel less pressure.

Feeling Accomplished

Set realistic goals for yourself. They might not be related to score sheets or awards. “Having the courage to step out there and do something that is very difficult for you—and getting through your routine with confidence—is a major accomplishment in and of itself,” Webb says.

Don’t worry too much. “Dancers are hard on themselves. We stand in front of a mirror every day and critique ourselves. It’s OK to try something new and not be perfect at it,” Thornton says. “That’s how you improve. Let yourself be open to new things.”