Photo by Nathan Sayers

How do you “perform" at auditions without being obnoxious? —Mikayla

Auditions are no place to hide or act self-consciously—but there's a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. Focus on keeping your movements lush without getting in the other dancers' way. Keep your face pleasant and relaxed (emphatic nodding and sky-high eyebrows signal that you're eager to please, but can come across as student-y). A bright leotard or hair accessory can help the panel notice and remember you. But more importantly, pay attention to what the director is asking for in class. They're more apt to notice a fast learner or precise musicality.

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I felt shattered. Cut from the audition at barre. I was 24 years old and had been dancing professionally for eight years already. I’d been very fortunate in my career so far, and although I was no stranger to rejections, this was a first. I thought: I must not be a good dancer anymore. I’m a has-been. Maybe it’s time to rethink my career path.

As I waited for my friend, who came to the audition with me and was asked to stay, I realized which sort of dancers were let go early and which ones were kept. Everyone around me packing up their things was a seasoned dancer. A couple I knew from other companies, all beautiful and capable. The ones that were kept were young and aspiring; they had lots of potential, but no professional experience.

It wasn’t that I was a bad dancer. I just wasn’t what they were looking for.

Audition season is a time of year, for dancers aspiring and seasoned alike, that is full of possibilities: realized dreams or crushed ones, exciting new beginnings and bittersweet ends. A time of year that can be exhausting emotionally and financially. What can we do to be successful in getting our dream job, the one that fulfills our passion? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but, needless to say, I’ve auditioned a lot and picked up a few pointers along the way.

Grace-Anne Powers (photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy BalletMet)

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

That unfortunate day I was cut from the audition at barre was because I didn’t fit. They were most likely looking for dancers who could fill a second-company position, who could grow into the artistic vision of the company. It’s easy to take rejection personally, but we have to remember that there are so many factors that are beyond our control. All ballet companies have an artistic side and a business side, something we dancers tend to forget since we are so deeply immersed in the former. Artistic directors have the hard job of making their vision come to life while also making a profit. Each audition season, they must choose dancers who not only fit their vision, but who also can fill the positions they have available.

Although it is very discouraging to be told “no,” it could just mean it is not the right time. One thing I’ve learned is that a rejection from a particular company one year does not necessarily mean you’ll get one the next. I sent my audition materials (resumé, video and pictures) to BalletMet for the 2014–15 season. Although artistic director Edwaard Liang was interested in working with me, he did not have a contract available to offer me then. The next audition season I reached out to BalletMet again and was hired. Put yourself out there confidently and without limitations, and you will eventually find your “yes.”

Make a Personal Connection

Although there are many factors we cannot control, there are things I do before auditions to be more prepared and hopefully successful. I’ve found that whether I’m going to a cattle call or asking for an audition in company class, it’s helpful to send my audition materials in advance. This helps make a personal connection so that you can be seen as you and not “Number 67.” The cover letter or introductory email should also be treated as part of your audition materials; it’s where you can explain who you are and why you want to be a part of that particular company. Maybe you took a class from one of their ballet mistresses, or your teacher has a former student in the company. Or perhaps you saw one of their performances and it really inspired you. Whatever has made you want to work there, let them know.

Project Confidence

The last story I’ll share is one that sheds light on what I believe is the most important part of auditioning: confidence. Confidence is very powerful. It was the reason I was hired to dance for La La La Human Steps. Even though I was coming from a very classical company, I went into the audition for the artistic director, Édouard Lock, with a fearless attitude. I had no experience dancing contemporary work and thought, Well, I have nothing to lose. It paid off. I didn’t doubt myself because I had no context of what I could and couldn’t do.

After I had been working with Édouard for a year or so, he told me he had been drawn to my strength during my audition. At the time, I thought he meant a physical and technical strength, but now I believe he meant an emotional one. Every company I’ve danced for has broken me down to my most basic self and molded me into their vision. In this process, I’ve needed to be malleable while also remaining true to myself. I’ve needed inner strength to be more capable and versatile than I thought I could be, instead of stubbornly refusing to dance outside my conception of myself.

Whenever I experience self-doubt, I’m no longer free to be in the moment, nor to be the artist I am. And auditions are your time to let your artistry shine through. Directors want to see that, because live performance is what they are selling. While technique is a tool to help us send a message and tell a story, only an artist can deliver that message. Show who you are as an artist in an audition, because that’s something that’s unique to you, and no one else can fill that spot. 

Grace-Anne Powers is a dancer with BalletMet.

Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe

When Lilliana Hagerman auditioned for Orlando Ballet School's summer intensive, she felt overwhelmingly intimidated. “The other dancers were all so beautiful," remembers Hagerman, now a dancer with Kansas City Ballet. “I thought that if I made one mistake it would be over." Hagerman did make a mistake: She slipped and fell during grand allégro. “I got back up and I smiled," she says. To her relief, the teacher smiled back.

Summer intensive auditions give you only a few moments to make a good impression—often while crammed into a crowded room, after traveling distances in the car and with little time or space to warm up. It's hard not to obsess over a small mistake or feel discouraged if you're put on the intensive's waitlist afterwards. But according to school directors, many of your fears are overreactions. Here are a few of the most common audition misconceptions, along with what's really going on inside the teachers' heads.

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Should I bother auditioning for companies where I might not “fit in”? I don’t want to miss out on a potential opportunity, but I’m also trying to be realistic. —Abby

There’s never any harm in auditioning, especially if there’s an open call happening nearby. You have nothing to lose! But if you’re planning an audition tour or don’t live within driving distance of a frequent open audition hub, you’ll want to prioritize and choose companies wisely. Otherwise you risk wasting a lot of money on travel expenses if you don’t turn out to be what the director is looking for.

Dancers at a Pennsylvania Ballet audition (photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe)

If you have doubts about fitting in, it’s more cost-effective to send the company an audition package in advance (include a video and dance photos so that they can see your movement quality and technical ability) and then follow up. Be honest about your height, training background and experience. That way, the director has all the relevant information up front, and you can make sure he or she is interested (or even looking for dancers) before investing in plane tickets. If, after following up a few times, you get no response, move on. But if they do encourage you to audition—and you’re interested in checking out the company—go for it.

Have a question? Click here to send it to Amy and she might answer it in an upcoming issue!

Should I bother auditioning for companies where I might not “fit in”? I don’t want to miss out on a potential opportunity, but I’m also trying to be realistic. —Abby

There’s never any harm in auditioning, especially if there’s an open call happening nearby. You have nothing to lose! But if you’re planning an audition tour or don’t live within driving distance of a frequent open audition hub, you’ll want to prioritize and choose companies wisely. Otherwise you risk wasting a lot of money on travel expenses if you don’t turn out to be what the director is looking for.

If you have doubts about fitting in, it’s more cost-effective to send the company an audition package in advance (include a video and dance photos so that they can see your movement quality and technical ability) and then follow up. Be honest about your height, training background and experience. That way, the director has all the relevant information up front, and you can make sure he or she is interested (or even looking for dancers) before investing in plane tickets. If, after following up a few times, you get no response, move on. But if they do encourage you to audition—and you’re interested in checking out the company—go for it.

My friend has an eating disorder. I want to tell someone, but I’m afraid it will result in her having to take time off, or even quit. I don’t want to ruin her life. What should I do? —Sarah

First, try not to think that you’ll be ruining your friend’s life. Quite the opposite—having an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia could ruin, or even end, her life if it’s not treated. And the earlier she seeks treatment, the better her chances of recovery.

That said, before you tell anyone, you should approach her yourself—you probably don’t know the full situation. Choose a private time to talk to her alone so that she feels more comfortable opening up. Let her know that you’re worried about her, but be careful about how you phrase your language. According to Dawn Smith-Theodore, a certified eating disorder specialist and author of TuTu Thin: A Guide to Dancing Without an Eating Disorder (available at tututhin.com and Amazon), talk about your concerns from your own perspective. Use “I” statements (“I’ve noticed you’re not yourself lately,” “I’m concerned about you,” “I want you to get help”). Avoid starting sentences with “you” (“You didn’t eat lunch,” “You were throwing up”), which sound accusatory. “That’s immediately going to put her on the defensive,” Smith-Theodore says, and make your friend less inclined to confide in you.

If she doesn’t respond well to your concerns, then it’s time to reach out to a trusted adult, such as a teacher or your friend’s parents. (Ask your parents to accompany you if you feel overwhelmed.) Start by telling them what you’ve noticed, and ask if they’ve noticed similar behavior. Let them know how worried you are—hopefully that will urge them to take further action. Will your friend be upset with you for telling? Possibly. But having the bravery to intervene shows how much you care about her well-being, which is ultimately more important. You could quite literally help save her life.

My extension to the side and back is fine, but I really struggle to get my leg up to the front. How can I build strength and flexibility? —Abbey

You’re not alone. Controlled extensions to the front are not only physically difficult, but they’re sometimes hard to understand anatomically. (For the record, développé devant is one of my least favorite steps.) Obviously, you want to work on increasing your flexibility with daily hamstring stretches. But often, the culprit is a weak iliopsoas—a group of deep core muscles that attach at the spine and run through the abdomen to the front of the hip. Your iliopsoas is crucial in lifting the leg, but it’s tough to find, and even tougher to activate.

(Courtesy Karen Clippinger)

Try this iliopsoas strengthener recommended by kinesiologist Karen Clippinger, author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology: Tie a medium-weight Thera-Band around your legs just above the knee and lie back on your elbows with your knees bent and feet lifted off the ground. Your pelvis should be tucked under at first to help you find your iliopsoas. Pull one knee in towards your chest, straighten the leg without letting the knee move away from the torso (it’s okay if you can’t fully straighten it) and return to the starting position, repeating six times on each side (eventually increasing to 10 reps). As you gain strength, practice the exercise with a more neutral pelvis, and gradually progress from leaning on your elbows to a more vertical position leaning on your hands.

(Courtesy Karen Clippinger)

Another exercise that always helped me is to simply place the leg on the barre in croisé devant, keeping the hips square and lifting out of the supporting hip. Rotating from the top of the hip, feel a lengthening, spiraling energy through the working leg and lift it off the barre. Hold for five counts and slowly lower. Don’t worry if you can only lift it a few inches—this exercise will strengthen your deep turnout muscles, which will take pressure off the quad and create support from underneath.

 

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My audition photo shoot was less than ideal: The studio was freezing, my photographer friend was a ballet novice and I could hear the clock ticking on our $20-per-hour studio rental. This added to my mounting anxiety that my pictures could help land me a job—or land firmly in a “no” pile. Needless to say, they depicted my stress rather than my best. And when it comes to audition photos, your best is important. Not only will a good audition picture help you stand out, it will also help an interested director recognize you in a stack of resumés.

“Directors need to see your turnout, feet and a nice arabesque,” says former New York City Ballet dancer Kyle Froman, now a professional photographer whose company, StudentAuditionPhotos.com, launched last year. But you also have to let your artistry shine through those photos. Here are Froman’s tips for impressive, eye-catching prints.

Shoot arabesques and jumps from below to boost extension and height. (Photo by Kyle Froman)

Hire a Pro (or the Next Best Thing)

The best way to get a great dance shot is to hire an experienced dance photographer. Shooting ballet, Froman says, is very black and white: “There’s a right moment, but 99 percent of the time it’s the wrong moment.” Jumps, particularly, need perfect timing. Someone experienced in both ballet and photography will know exactly when to snap the shot.

If you can’t afford a professional or can’t find one experienced in dance, enlist a friend. In fact, it’s better to hire an amateur who knows ballet over a professional who doesn’t. It saves money, says Froman, and “chances are, they’re going to get something that’s closer to what an employer wants to see.” As for composition and presentation, use the highest-resolution camera you have; shoot with a clean, uncluttered background; pay attention to lighting and exposure (your body should be well lit, but not washed-out) and print on high-quality paper.

Prep Well and Show Your Assets

Don’t start with piqués and jumps when your back, calves and everything in between are cold. Take time to warm up properly and grow accustomed to the camera before hitting required poses. These, Froman urges, should highlight your assets: “Minimize your weaknesses unless there’s no other way around it.” Don’t forgo an arabesque shot if a director asks for one specifically, but if your side extension is to your ear, you might be better off with a glorious à la seconde.

Trade Secrets

“Dancers know what angles are best on them,” Froman says, but he references some camera tricks to help flatter further. For example, a direct profile isn’t the best angle if you’re worried about your turnout. And arabesques and jumps should be shot from below to slightly boost extension and height. A jump six inches in the air will look more impressive than a three-foot jump shot from the wrong angle.

Style Wisely

You want to stand out, but never at the cost of professionalism. “A gaudy photo turns people off,” Froman says. “Don’t wear hot pink just to capture somebody’s attention. Let your dancing speak for itself.” In personal styling, err on the side of dressing conservatively. For women, tights and pointe shoes should be ballet pink and leotards should be basic (a tutu is okay, as long as it doesn’t obscure your line). Men should wear a solid-color top with black tights and either black shoes or white socks and white shoes.

The Headshot

For headshots, focus on presenting a clean, personable picture. If you’ve chosen to wear your hair down, take those photos first to avoid crimping from hairspray and pins, and use moderate street makeup. (Yes, Froman says, fake eyelashes are too much.)

Note how this photo, shot from above, shortens the line. (Photo by Kyle Froman)

Shine Through

Towards the end of a photo shoot Froman asks dancers, “When was your best moment onstage?” He’ll have them do an eight-count sequence from their favorite variation and imagine that they’re performing in front of 2,000 people. This helps find the spark: the personality and love of dancing that will bring your technique, facility and potential to life.

The Directors' Take

Mikko Nissinen

Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen looks out for dancers who he may have previously crossed paths with. But he won’t be able to make this connection if your headshot is unrecognizable. “The worst thing is if it’s a glamour shot that looks nothing like you,” Nissinen says. For dance photos, he says, “I’d like to see a shot that they enjoy and I can see their spirit and even some dance in.” This is easier, he thinks, in a performance photo: “Studio shots are often more sterile. But I also understand that a student might not have done Odette/Odile.” Ultimately, he says, “I’m looking for quality dancers. The more quality the picture can represent, if that’s the case in reality, then great.”

Edwaard Liang

For BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang, photos don’t have to be “hyper-professional,” but they should be clear and clean—and honest. “If a photo doesn’t capture the essence of your ability and your technique, then I think that’s misleading.” On the other hand, he doesn’t oppose the subtle camera tricks like the kind photographer Kyle Froman suggests. “I think that a smart dancer is more important than anything else. Just like models, they need to know what their best angles are.” For Liang, knowing how to play to your strengths is a strength. If you can work a camera lens, chances are you can do it for an audience.

Career

Getting ready to audition for intensives? Click here to find the best summer study options for you!

By the time Washington Ballet dancer Andile Ndlovu was finishing his training in South Africa, he faced a risky decision. After attending a ballet competition in 2008, he received summer-intensive scholarship offers from The Washington School of Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem. But choosing between schools would determine more than his summer plans. The right intensive might lead to acceptance into a professional-level training program at summer’s end, whereas walking away empty-handed would mean going back home, to begin again.

Many dancers on the cusp of graduation can relate. Summer intensives often serve as a lengthy audition process for year-round opportunities, a gateway to traineeships or second-company contracts that bridge the gap between student and professional. But choosing a summer program essentially means committing to a company school—before it’s committed to you. If you’re researching summer programs and know you want to move into a more professional sphere by summer’s end, here’s how to ensure that you’re making a smart, career-minded decision.

Assess Your Options

When prioritizing which intensives to audition for, start with schools affiliated with dream companies. But it’s also important to investigate other options and to be very realistic about where you’d be happy day to day. “You have to take away the name brand and take a really close look at the company, at the people, at the repertoire,” says San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet dancer Isabella DeVivo, who received a traineeship through SFB’s summer program in 2012. “I liked how broad the rep was here.”

You also want to understand what year-round opportunities are available in each location. Trainee and second-company programs vary widely, and it’s important to know exactly what is offered (such as classes, performance opportunities with the company and living stipends) and how many students are accepted.  You can likely find plenty of initial information online. Darleen Callaghan, school director at Miami City Ballet, says it’s also okay to contact the school with additional questions prior to your audition.

Take past experiences at summer intensives or school visits into consideration, too, paying close attention to the level of interest you received. For instance, an overwhelming amount of corrections could signal that “teachers are interested in working with you and are assessing how much you are willing to change as a dancer,” says Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. The company selects some students for PNB School’s Professional Division during the summer. For DeVivo, these hints came in the form of teachers occasionally asking her to demonstrate at a previous SFB intensive. And while it won’t guarantee a contract, familiarity can work in your favor. “I know the kids spending their fourth summer with us,” says Boal. “That’s a great vote of confidence in us, and it means something.”

Students in Miami City Ballet School's summer repertory performance (Ella Titus, courtesy Miami City Ballet)

Maximize the Audition Experience

In the audition room, you’re not the only one with yearlong opportunities in mind. The directors have their eyes open, too, so it can’t hurt to convey your interest. “Especially if you’re at the age where you want future employment, you should identify yourself,” Boal says. Rolando Yanes, director of Milwaukee Ballet School and its affiliated Milwaukee Ballet II, agrees: “It’s good for them—we start looking at them with a different eye.”

Callaghan recommends mentioning your interest to the audition administrator during registration, who may make a note of it on your forms. In some cases, this may also be an opportunity to speak with the adjudicator firsthand. After the audition, it’s okay to politely ask about your chances of a traineeship or second-company contract. You’ll probably hear some variation of “maybe,” but you can at least gauge the adjudicator’s level of interest. “If there’s one I’m strongly considering, I’ll tell them then and there,” says Boal. If the student doesn’t seem ready, he continues, “I would say: ‘At this point I can see it as a possibility, contingent on you gaining strength,’ or, ‘You were dancing behind the music on this part of the audition.’ It’s helpful to get it out there.” After DeVivo’s audition, the adjudicator brought up the possibility of a trainee position before she asked, which she took as a strong sign.

Choose a Path

With acceptance letters in hand, it’s time to evaluate which summer intensives might lead to a contract. Once you’ve assessed the level of interest of each program through a combination of past experience, audition interactions and the amount of merit scholarships you’ve received, the decision comes down to finding a balance between your own aspirations and your chances of a contract.

First, talk with your teacher and consider whether you can realistically see a future in each location. “Get as much information as possible,” says Callaghan. “Ask: What are the odds of getting into that professional company long-term?  What’s the turnover in the company? How many do they take? What’s the cost of living?” Now is the time to contact the school with any questions. “A student is always welcome to call and say that they are very interested in the trainee program or second company and ask what are the chances and when is the decision made,” Callaghan adds.

If your dream company’s school seems only mildly interested while a smaller, company-affiliated program is offering you a full scholarship, your decision will be a very personal one. “Sometimes there’s the misconception that if you get into Harvard you should go,” says Boal. “But maybe it’s not the best choice for you. Maybe it’s too big or too competitive.” Callaghan concurs: “Even if you dream of dancing with a larger company, sometimes getting into a smaller company is a good first job,” she says.

For Ndlovu, The Washington School of Ballet’s intensive was the answer, with his sights set on receiving a Studio Company contract at summer’s end. “I felt like it offered more stability for me as a young dancer getting into the art form,” he says. This was of particular interest to him, considering the international technicalities and paperwork involved.

But also know that choosing one program doesn’t mean you’ve burnt every other bridge. Be sure to maintain relationships with those you choose not to attend by sending a thank-you note. “It’s a gracious way for young people to acknowledge that they understand what was offered to them,” says Callaghan, who especially loves the handwritten notes she receives in the mail. That way, if you happen to walk away from your chosen intensive empty-handed, you have places to turn. In this instance, Callaghan recommends calling the other schools and expressing interest in their professional training opportunities. “I get those kinds of calls all the time, and it’s okay.”

Yanes agrees: “Most of the schools that I know, including ours, are pretty open. If a dancer cannot come to our summer intensive, we encourage them to send videos to us, or they can always go to the company audition, where we choose some members of the second company.”

While choosing the right summer program can be nerve-racking, especially with so much of your future at stake, Ndlovu says the key is communication. “You don’t have to beg for your opportunity—it will come at the right time,” he says. “But you have to keep talking and asking questions.”

Ashley Rivers is a writer and dancer in Boston.

Career

When you say “audition reel” to artistic directors, you’ll probably hear a groan. Screen­ing reels is a tedious process. They sit through dozens each year, growing frustrated by the lack of good footage and getting queasy from shaky camera work.

But if you put together an impressive package, a reel can be a quick, easy foot in the stage door. Just make sure to steer clear of a few all-too-common bloopers.

 

Showing the Wrong Footage  

 

Tailor the material to the stage of your career. “I don’t need to see accomplished dancers taking barre. Show excerpts from performance,” says Pennsylvania Ballet Artistic Director Roy Kaiser. “For students, I want to see classroom work—I’m considering them for our second company or an apprenticeship, so I’m looking for solid, clean technique to build from.”

 

If you only have performance footage of corps work, scrap it—directors don’t want to have to follow a buried-treasure map to pick you out. Instead, film a variation, pas de deux, coda and contemporary work in the studio.

 

Gordon Wright, director of The Harid Conservatory, has his graduating students film barre, center, pointe work and a variation. Make sure to include an adagio, turns and grand allegro. Never choose a variation that’s too difficult—well-executed steps are always more impressive than sloppy tricks.

 

Monotonous Material

 

Most artistic directors want to see a range. “If you just do Kitri, we wonder if you can do anything else,” says Nadia Thompson, ballet mistress at Milwaukee Ballet. 

 

But be smart: Don’t include material simply to prove you’re versatile. “Know who you’re auditioning for so you can present something that reflects how you’d look in their rep,” says Russell Kaiser, assistant artistic director at Boston Ballet.

 

That might mean you’ll need to make more than one DVD. Dancer Damien Drake put together one with Nutcracker footage and another with just contemporary work. “I thought showing only contemporary would make a more concise video that would stand out from the crowd,” he says. It worked: After sending the contemporary DVD and then taking company class, he was offered a contract with Nashville Ballet.

 

Long Is All Wrong

 

Your DVD will be met with varying degrees of patience. “If it’s long, I’m just never gonna watch all of it. Choose highlights that really showcase your talents,” says PAB’s Kaiser. Most directors suggest a run-time between 5 and 20 minutes.

 

If you haven’t grabbed their attention within the first 60 seconds, chances are any material you put afterwards won’t be seen. “I get an impression of a dancer almost immediately,” says PAB’s Kaiser. Put your most impressive work first.

 

Some directors like dancers to introduce themselves to get a sense of their personality; others think it wastes time. Either way, BB’s Kaiser says to be sure to write your name and contact information on the actual DVD in case it gets separated from your resumé.

 

Omissions Are Obvious

 

Even if you’re not a great turner, don’t leave out those pirouettes—directors will assume the worst. “We notice omissions much more than something that’s slightly weak,” says Thompson. “If you don’t show any jumps, we wonder what’s wrong.”

 

Take Off the Junk

 

“My biggest pet peeve is how many dancers wear leg warmers or something baggy,” says PAB’s Kaiser. When you cover up, it sends a message that you’re insecure about your body. Women should stick to a leotard, footed pink tights and pointe shoes, and men should wear full-length tights plus a fitted t-shirt. Stay away from black, which can be hard to see on film. “Avoid turtleneck leotards or fancy designs that affect the line of the neck,” says Wright. “It’s better to err on the side of too conservative.”

 

Bad Quality = Bad Mood

 

 “Sometimes the quality is so bad we can’t even tell if their feet are pointed,” says BB’s Kaiser. “When you present something like that, it’s hard for us to judge whether we’re interested.”

 

Make your video easy on the eyes. “Distracting camera work drives me crazy,” says PAB’s Kaiser. Zooming gets confusing. Just show a broad shot of the stage or studio, but not from so far away that they can’t make out your line.

 

Most important, be sure directors can watch your reel! “You’d be shocked at how many DVDs don’t work,” says Thompson. “Sometimes we can only watch it on a Mac or by using a certain computer program. Always check that it works on a regular DVD player.”

 

Drake suggests asking friends to take a look. “Have as many people as possible watch it to make sure it flows well, everything is efficient and there’s no annoying blank spots between clips,” he says. Any feedback you get will help create a stronger presentation. Merde!

 

Jennifer Stahl is senior editor of Pointe.

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