When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."
Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.
DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally
An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."
Growing up in Michigan, Jessy Dick was used to her daily hour-long drives to the Grand Rapids Ballet School, where she trained. But when she started to think about summer intensives, a new problem emerged: Auditions for the schools she was interested in were even farther away, in Chicago or Detroit. "I learned early on that if I wanted to do any summer programs, I'd have to travel at least three hours in order to audition," says Dick, now a member of The Washington Ballet's Studio Company.
Making plans for your summer training is complicated enough, especially with the sheer number of programs to choose between. But students who live far from popular audition hubs face the additional hurdle of organizing, scheduling and budgeting for audition trips. Luckily, with strategic planning, what can feel overwhelming at first can become a rewarding experience.
Students at the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville look for weekends when auditions overlap in one city. Photo by Blair Chamberlain, Courtesy Ballet Conservatory of Asheville.
For dancers without the luxury of an audition city nearby, prioritizing which schools to aim for is crucial. How to decide? Research, research, research. (Pointe's "2018 Summer Intensive Guide" is a good place to start.) Emily McDougall, a 14-year-old student at The School of Oklahoma City Ballet who's made several six-hour drives to auditions in Dallas and Kansas City, does some serious investigating in order to narrow down her choices.
There are a ton of different kinds of toe pads out there, and even more opinions about them. It's all about finding the perfect balance between control and comfort. Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop reviews five different types of pointe shoe toe pads.
In her third year as a full company member of Alberta Ballet, Alexandra Gibson was amazed to learn she would be understudying Myrtha in Giselle. "Prior to that I had mostly played to my strengths in innocent, young roles," remembers Gibson, who didn't expect to actually perform the icy Queen of the Wilis. Yet when the first-cast Myrtha sprained her ankle a few weeks before opening night, Gibson was suddenly cast for six out of the nine shows. "Learning how to be cold, authoritative and mature in a short amount of time was as challenging as the choreography."
Every once in a while, you'll encounter roles that just don't click. Sometimes you will be cast against type, or thrown into a part that you don't feel ready for. Other times, unfamiliar choreography or movement styles may throw you off your game. In those instances, how do you remain unflappable and open to feedback in order to mold your body and mind to the role at hand? Three professionals get real about how they have struggled to do just that, and how they have grown as artists through the process.
Alexandra Gibson and artists of Alberta Ballet in "Giselle." Photo by Maximillian Tortoriello, Courtesy Alberta Ballet.
When in Doubt, Ask
"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."
For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.
Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. Here's Kiahna Saneshige, a student at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati getting her BFA in dance with a minor in communications.
Saneshige posing with friends in CCM's dance studios. Photo Courtesy Saneshige.
When Kiahna Saneshige attended Cincinnati Ballet's summer intensive after her junior year of high school, she knew she wanted a professional career but wasn't sure joining a company after graduation would completely satisfy her. "The RAs were all University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music students, and they gave me the rundown of what the school was like," she recalls. "It's known for the excellent quality of its dancers, plus I could have the social life of college and the chance to pursue another degree besides dance." Saneshige, who graduated from CCM in May, says the last four years were challenging but couldn't have prepared her better for her next step: a position with Columbus Dance Theatre.