Summer Intensives

No Big Deal: Don't Let Nerves Sabotage Your Summer Intensive Audition

Dancers Audition for Houston Ballet's summer program. Photo by Bruce Bennett, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

At 15 years old, Elizabeth Murphy gave herself an assignment: Get accepted for summer study at Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Then a student at The Rock School for Dance Education in Pennsylvania, she traveled to New York to audition.

It did not go well. “I did a développé side, the simplest thing, and just toppled over," she remembers. “I fell again in a pirouette combination—consecutive turns from fifth. And again, during a traveling combination. At first, they were concerned, but I really knew it was bad when they weren't even worried about me anymore. 'Oh, that girl fell again.' I look back now and just laugh at myself. It was probably the worst class I've ever taken."

She was devastated, and skipped PNB's audition the following year. But as time passed, Murphy came to realize the mistake she'd made: “I was thinking, 'I need to be perfect.' And if you have 'perfect' as your goal, that's a lot harder to achieve than just doing your best. Going for more than you're capable of can hurt you."

Now 23, Murphy can say with confidence that she's learned how to beat her nerves. Oh, and she's now a corps member at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

All dancers agree: Auditions are tough. They're also unavoidable. “No matter how good you are, this is a skill you need if you want a career in ballet," says Allison Walsh, 27, of BalletX in Philadelphia. “There are a lot of beautiful dancers who just don't make it because they don't audition well." For most dancers, chances are good that their first major audition experience will be for summer study. For many students, these programs mark the point in their training where a pastime becomes a passion. And the outcomes of the auditions are often students' first measure of how their talent stacks up nationwide.


Which Strategies Work?
So, how do you handle the anxiety that comes with that pressure? First, recognize that any audition will be stressful, and the more you want the opportunity, the more nervous you'll probably be. And that's okay: Feeling slightly hyper might actually help you. Adrenaline can translate into productive energy as long as you know how to harness it so it powers you toward your goal, not away from it. Think of the challenge as something to be excited about, rather than something to fear.

To get into that mental zone, you'll need to avoid any outside distractions. Murphy packs her bag the night before with extra supplies and shoes. “You've got to prevent little situations from throwing you off," she says. Get plenty of rest, eat a good breakfast, know exactly where you're going and arrive early. Walsh admits that, when she needs an extra boost of self-confidence, “I'll call my mom and have her say something nice to me." She laughs. “That's always helpful."

There's no rhyme or reason to which stomachs get butterflies, when or why. Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet, notes that “some people are never nervous, no matter what age." At auditions, she tries to calm the room by offering a little inside information. “I start off by telling them that I did the same thing—I auditioned at their age," she says. “Think of this as just a class you're taking that might be a little different from what you're used to. But the teacher isn't expecting you to grasp everything she's telling you." Mazzo remembers clearly the audition she took for SAB as a Chicago ballet student at age 11. “Madame Antonina Tumkovsky gave a brisé. And I raised my hand and said, 'I'm sorry, but I don't know what that is!' She said, 'That's alright. You don't have to do it.' That's still true for young dancers. Something like that will never be a reason why we wouldn't take a dancer."

Frances Chiaverini, 31, and an inaugural member of Benjamin Millepied's new company, Los Angeles Dance Project, says that auditioning is 90 percent psychological. “It's hard to be objective about something you hold so close to your heart," she says. “But we're all different and we all offer different things. That can help with the feeling that you're up against everyone else in the room. For me, it's better to think of auditions as workshops or master classes, a chance to expose yourself to something new."

This approach also helps the process feel more like a two-way street, with both parties searching for a good fit. Mazzo says students who audition for SAB's summer program “should look at the kind of class we're teaching and consider whether or not it's right for you. Ask yourself, 'Do I like this? Is this for me?' " Chiaverini points out that it's important to remain rational and realistic when asking yourself these questions, and to ask them for the right reasons. “Don't reject first as a defense mechanism."

Who Succeeds at Auditions?
Dr. Steve Julius (who's affectionately referred to by his clients as “Dr. J") is a former team psychologist for the Chicago Bulls. For more than 25 years, he's helped professional athletes, figure skaters and Cirque du Soleil artists overcome performance anxiety. “Athletes and performers who do the best are the ones who can keep their egos under control," he explains. “They don't focus on the outcome. They remind themselves that this game, or this audition, is the same thing they've done a thousand times before."

Yet the extra pressure of an audition can make the familiar seem foreign: You might find yourself second-guessing your abilities during combinations that are smack dab in the middle of your comfort zone. In these moments, hold on to what you love about dancing and approach each step one at a time—calmly. And remember to breathe. “When we're looking at athletes for the Bulls during the college draft, we're looking not just for their drive, but for their love of the game itself," says Julius. “We want the kinds of players who just relax when they hear squeaky sneakers and the pounding echo of the basketball on the floor. In dancers, those are the people who can literally lose themselves in the music, in dancing with others. And that's the difference between performers who consistently succeed and those who are great behind closed doors but seem to melt in front of an audience."

And if it still ends up being the worst class you've ever taken? Remember that you can't control the outcome, says Julius. “What you can control is your focus. Be in the moment. Love the experience, because that's why you've sacrificed so much for it."

Once You Pin on a Number, Remember:
1. Don't be afraid of your nerves. Let the adrenaline boost your energy and sharpen your focus.
2. The teacher isn't expecting perfection; she's looking to see how you handle challenges.
3. Good auditioners are the ones who can forget about what's at stake, and lose themselves in the movement.

Show Comments ()
popular
via Instagram, Thaler Photography

Having danced with New York City Ballet, Béjart Ballet and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Aesha Ash undoubtedly inspired more than a few future ballerinas during her 13-year professional career. But now that she's retired, she's found a way to reach even more young girls, particularly those who live in inner-city neighborhoods, after founding The Swan Dreams Project.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo via @isabellaboylston on Instagram.

From baking to leotard design, we love seeing dancers' passions outside of the studio. This week, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston revealed herself to be an avid reader. She posted a photo on Instagram from her dressing room on the company's tour stop in Lincoln, NE, posing in her black swan tutu with a book in hand and the following caption:

"Hey guys!🚨🚨 Who wants to join my book club? The first book will be THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K Le Guin. I've always been a huge bookworm, and would love to connect with you guys over some great books! I was thinking we can do an Instagram live in a couple weeks and people can comment in to discuss.😃 📚 🐛 any suggestions on what the next book should be?"

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Debra Austin in "Giselle."

Whenever Debra Austin jumped, she soared—and not only onstage. Invited by George Balanchine to join New York City Ballet at age 16, she was the first African-American woman to enter the company (where she eventually rose to soloist). She later joined Zurich Ballet, returning to the U.S. to accept a principal contract with Pennsylvania Ballet in 1982—a groundbreaking milestone for a black dancer outside of Dance Theatre of Harlem at the time. In this clip from a 1987 production of Giselle, her beautifully pliant feet and effortless ballon shine through the fuzzy video quality. In her Act I variation, the classical, understated purity of her port de bras belie the sheer technical strength of her attitude pirouettes and hops on pointe. Then watch, at 4:00, how she appears to fly through the air as a spectral wili, only to rise ever so delicately for a series of fluttering ronds de jambe en l'air.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
All photos by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Kailei Sin of The School at Steps.

During class, you're tuned in to every aspect of your dancing. But when the day is over, you may be tempted to head home and skip out on a proper cooldown. Don't: Going from grand allégro to a full stop is hard on your muscles. Bené Barrera, an athletic trainer who works with Houston Ballet, says, "If you're doing an end-of-day cooldown, you're going to need at least 20 minutes. That allows the muscles to calm down." And your body should notice the difference: "You'll have less trigger-point pain later, and your soreness might reduce a bit." A proper cooldown may even help you sleep better.

But post-class stretching isn't about sitting in a straddle. "As a dancer, you're never truly isolating one area," says Barrera. Your cooldown should mimic that. "You want to cover the whole body altogether. You don't want to just stretch one muscle group."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Garrett Anderson. Photo Courtesy Ballet Idaho.

Big news in Boise: Ballet Idaho has announced that Garrett Anderson will succeed Peter Anastos as the company's next artistic director, starting in July. Anderson, who had an extensive dance career as a soloist with San Francisco Ballet and Royal Ballet of Flanders, and later danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, has a special connection with Ballet Idaho's home city. He performed with the Trey McIntyre Project in 2011 and later as a guest artist with Boise-based LED, a music, film and dance collaborative. Anderson has also served as the chair of the Dance Department at New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe.


Members of Ballet Idaho in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo by Mike Reid, Courtesy ballet Idaho.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Kyle Froman

"I'm all about comfort and easy clothing because I'm always on the go," Jasmine Perry says. But that doesn't keep the Los Angeles Ballet company dancer from looking stylish. Favoring dresses and athleisure wear, Perry also prefers classic lines and neutral colors like white, black, navy and gray, which are easy to mix and match. The finishing touch: a pair of sneakers from her extensive collection. "I had ankle surgery four or five years ago, so I need a good walking shoe," she explains. "I have a ton of Nikes and running sneakers from Brooks for when I've had a long day at work and need something that feels like clouds on my feet."

But in the studio, you won't find any of the yoga pants or loose-fitting T-shirts she loves so much. "I don't actually have that much attire for layering," Perry says of her strictly leotards-and-tights class style. "It doesn't get that cold here," she explains. "I have a few legwarmers and things for when I'm rehabbing an injury, but they're not part of my daily attire."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!