Your Guide To Getting In: Dos and Don'ts From Summer Study Pros

December 31, 2009

So you’ve narrowed down your list of places to dance this summer, and you’re looking forward to exploring the dance world and meeting new people at your dream intensive. But first you have to get through the audition process—and it can be a little scary. It’s true that summer intensive auditions are important because they “build your relationship and contacts within the dance world and let people know what your beautiful qualities are,” says Lorraine Spiegler, Director of Studio Education and the Conservatory at Washington D.C.’s CityDance. Yet many summer programs are highly competitive, and there’s nothing more nerve-racking than knowing you’re auditioning for one of a limited number of spots.

But DS is here to help! Take a look at these dos and don’ts from three pros who sit on the other side of the table.

Do: Dress for success

Make a good first impression at auditions by being sure you look the part. If there are specific dress requirements, come prepared with the appropriate clothes and shoes, whether it’s a solid-color leotard for an audition at the School of American Ballet, jazz shoes for a multi-genre program like CityDance, or character shoes for a Broadway-focused program. Take time to find an outfit that not only fits the audition’s requirements, but that you’re also comfortable and confident moving in. Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of faculty at SAB, says, “When you come into our audition, we want to see someone who is interested, alert and neatly dressed. You should look like you’re ready to show us what you can do.”

Do: Be realistic

More than 1,700 students audition for SAB’s summer course each year, and just 10–13 percent are accepted into the program. While knowing the numbers might freak you out, it can also help to keep you humble. “Don’t come in thinking you’re the best dancer in the world,” Mazzo says. “You should think, ‘I’m going to come here and try hard.’ Listen and pay attention, and if you’re given a correction, take it.”

Don’t: Psych yourself out

We’ve all done it. Not only are you watching yourself in the mirror, but you’re also looking at the dancer on your left and thinking your high kick isn’t as high as hers, and looking to your right and thinking her lines are longer and cleaner than yours. Try not to get caught up in comparisons. “Don’t compare yourself to others in the room,” says Tim Santos, artistic director of the National Dance Institute of new Mexico’s Broadway Theater Dance Workshop. Keep your vision forward and focus on yourself. “Your particular strengths might be the ones that panel is looking for,” Santos says.

Do: Leave a lasting impression

When you’re watching the dancers learning choreography during the audition rounds of “So You Think You Can Dance,” you see plenty of hopefuls who know the routine but don’t grab your attention. Then there are others who seem to leap off the TV screen: They truly own the choreography, bringing more than just great technique to the steps. No matter your dance style, strong technique is an absolute necessity. But as Santos says, “It’s people with charisma and great stage presence who truly stand out at auditions.” For Santos, a successful auditioner is someone who is “a great performer with passion, drive and joy for what they are doing. Combine that with great technique, clean lines and versatility.” Spiegler adds, “Take the movement and make it your own. We want dancers who can perform a piece five minutes after learning the choreography.” But while putting your own signature on an audition combination is essential, be careful not to significantly modify the choreography, especially at ballet or musical theater auditions, where uniformity is prized. While directors do want to see you, they also want to see the correct steps.

Do: Think of it as just another class

Does the word “audition” send shivers up your spine? Stay calm and pretend it’s just another class with a new teacher, Mazzo suggests. Spiegler agrees that forgetting about the “A” word is key. “Enjoy yourself and think of every audition as just another chance to not only be seen but to learn,” he says.

Don’t: Think that one misstep means it’s all over

Panelists are looking for students with drive and a strong work ethic, not people who are perfect all the time. If you make a mistake, don’t assume the whole audition is a wash. “One thing that is important is if you’re doing a step, even if you don’t get it, don’t stop and walk away,” Mazzo says. “Don’t worry if you fall over; next time it’ll be a little better. Don’t be too hard on yourself or beat yourself up. Just get up and do it again. That’s what life is. You have to keep trying.” If you make a mistake, simply compose yourself and pick up where you left off. Obsessing over a misstep will make you stand out negatively to the panel—a quick recovery shows professionalism.

Debunking Summer Study Audition Myths

Does getting into a summer study program help your odds of being accepted to the school’s year-round program? YES!

Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet, says it absolutely helps because that’s where they get many of their students. “The dancers get a chance to try out the Balanchine aesthetic, and we can see if we think it fits them.” Most New York City Ballet dancers, including Wendy Whelan, Jenifer Ringer, Maria Kowroski and Tiler Peck, went to SAB’s summer study program and from there to SAB’s year-round program. CityDance’s Lorraine Spiegler says attending the summer program gives you an idea of what the organization is all about: “It helps to bring you into the fold. It gives you a window into what the program is like.”

Are summer study programs harder to get into than year-long programs? It depends.

“In some ways they are, because we’re encapsulating something in the summer,” Spiegler says. “In the intensive, we have a few weeks in which we hope to help the students dig in deeper than they do during the year and pull something out that’s going to have a meaning for the whole year.”