Solo Solutions

December 20, 2016

University of Iowa student Autumn Eckman. Dancers audition for Iowa are encouraged to perform a solo in whatever genre best demonstrates their personality. (Photo by Mark Zhu, courtesy University of Iowa)

When you already have a stellar competition solo, it can feel like a drag to learn and rehearse a whole separate dance for college auditions. But an amazing college audition solo doesn’t necessarily include the same elements as a winning comp routine—

some schools are more interested in movement quality and performance than technical tricks. It pays to edit something you already know and love into a piece that shows you’re serious about the program you’re applying to. Dance Spirit found the answers to frequently asked questions about how to transform any routine into something college-worthy.

What Style Should I Perform?

If you compete in various styles, your college solo should depend on the school you’re applying to, or you may need variations on the same solo to meet each college’s requirements. Research audition guidelines ahead of time, and if genre isn’t specified, don’t hesitate to ask. Tommy Neblett, associate director of dance at The Boston Conservatory, can tell which students have done their homework. “We offer a contemporary dance performance degree, so if you bring in a hip-hop solo, that’s not going to help your audition,” Neblett says.

However, some schools like to see a genre that demonstrates a student’s unique passion. “Dancers should audition in whatever style they excel in, whether that be jazz, modern or hip hop,” says Charlotte Adams, associate professor of dance at the University of Iowa.

When Should I Start Making Adjustments?

The earlier, the better! Use the summer before your senior year to map out the potential changes to your comp routine. For example, do you need to scale back your acro tricks and tilts in favor of something more connected to the music? Look for ways to stay true to your strengths while focusing on the overall flow and performance quality of the piece.

You can also create a combined rehearsal timeline that includes regional competitions and your college audition schedule, to strategize when you need to rehearse each version. Give yourself plenty of time to grow comfortable with your college routine before you hit the audition circuit.

Does the Music Matter?

While music will depend on the style of your piece, try to steer clear of popular songs, or songs with words. “Lyrics are often overly emotional, and we’re looking for how the movement works with the music, not the words,” Adams says—another example of how college auditions and competitions can differ. Consider trying your comp routine with instrumental music, or even without music at all. “Some students are very courageous and perform in silence, but only do that if the piece warrants it,” Neblett says.

Should I ask for help?

Neblett is very impressed with students who create their own solos. “But if you’ve never choreographed before, this is probably not the time to try,” he says. Instead, choose a teacher who’s experienced with college dance programs and knows your strengths.

If you’re changing a solo set by an outside choreographer, make sure to get their permission. If they say no to potential changes, give yourself and your teacher time to create something new or update an old solo.

“My students will often edit a previous solo, then come to me to make it a finished product,” says Brian Young, owner and director of the Sweatshop in Denver, CO. “I think about their point of view, how they’re transitioning between steps and whether they’ve chosen their best technical and artistic movement.”