Lying awake in her hotel bed in Washington, DC, the night before her audition, Richmond Ballet dancer Valerie Tellmann-Henning was tormented with anxiety. At 31 years old, she was comfortable in her career. So comfortable that she decided to seek new artistic challenges. With the support of her director, she decided to audition for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet with the hope of juggling two contracts. The only thing that stood between her and her goal was a bout of anxiety. “I felt like I was 19 again trying to get my first job," she remembers. “It made me second-guess a lot of things about myself: Is Suzanne going to like my body type? Will my legs be high enough?" The anxious feeling made Tellmann-Henning irritable, and she even found herself holding her breath during the audition class, as a stream of insecurities cycled through her mind.
Anxiety is an irrational sense of fear that pairs perfectly with perfectionism. Most, if not all, ballet dancers will feel anxious from time to time. In fact, the psychologists we spoke to said it is one of the most common reasons dancers come to them for treatment. While a dash of nerves before you go onstage can add electricity to your performance, anxiety can kill your confidence and even limit your ability to live your life normally if it goes unchecked. In a field that's filled with stressful situations—like casting, audition jitters, contract renewals, mounting bills and stage fright—it's important to learn how to identify anxiety, evaluate the seriousness and take steps to cope with it before it holds you back.
Dancers know that practice makes...room for more practice. We spend our entire lives working to refine our technique, and what non-dancers see as perfection we see as a work in progress. But with dedication and discipline, that work-in-progress starts to change and grow, and that's the beauty of our art form: constant opportunity to push ourselves further.
I'm often cut from the final round of auditions. Is there a polite way to follow up with directors and ask them for feedback? —Megan
When it comes to seeking feedback from directors, I think it depends on the situation and the method of communication. If it's a large cattle call and you've been cut before the final round, sticking around to ask why isn't a good idea. “I don't think there is much a dancer can do to 'hang in there' till the end of the audition if the director is not interested," says Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini, who says he receives more than 1,200 audition requests a year. It's one reason why he and many other directors request videos ahead of time. “If a dancer doesn't fit the look, the taste, the movement quality and technical or versatility requirements of the company, I urge them not to audition. I'd rather they spend their hard-earned funds on a place that's interested in them."
Are you hoping to get a contract this year? These top-tier companies are hiring!
Company: Miami City Ballet
MCB is holding open auditions in New York City for the 2017-18 season. Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez is seeking classically trained male and female dancers with at least 10 years of professional experience to join the Company at all ranks. Training in the Balanchine technique is a plus.
Date: March 26, 2017 3-8 pm
Location: School of American Ballet 165 W. 65 Street, New York (W. 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway)
Specific audition class times to be announced via miamicityballet.org
- Current headshot
- 2-3 full-body dance photographs
- Recent video (link) to a classical work, variation
Send to: Michael Sebesto – Msebesto@miamicityballet.org You will receive an email confirming receipt of pre-registration materials. No phone calls please.
Bring: Hard copies of resume, headshot and dance photos with you to the audition.
If you cannot make it to the New York audition, please submit the required materials, and you will be notified by email if you are invited to attend an audition class in Miami.
Tulsa Ballet is seeking dancers with strong classical technique for its 2017/18 Season. All auditions are by invitation only. Please send your resume and a video link of your dancing to email@example.com.
The Sarasota Ballet
Sarasota Ballet is seeking strong classically trained male dancers for the 2017 – 2018 Season. Click here for more information.
American Contemporary Ballet
American Contemporary Ballet is currently hiring dancers for the 2017-18 season. Contracts are available for the full season (May–February) and summer only (May–August). Flexibility on contract start date (into May and June) is sometimes available. Click here for more information.
Date: Sunday, March 12, 2017
Location: School of American Ballet
Bring: A headshot, dance photos and resume/CV.
Pre-registration: Send the following materials to firstname.lastname@example.org
- C.V. (include full name, phone number, email address, citizenship, training and performance experience)
- Photos (one head shot and one full body dance photo)
- Video (high quality stage or studio video that display a range of repertoire, no more than ten minutes; a link to online material will be accepted)
Date: Saturday, March 11, 2017
Location: Joffrey Ballet School 434 6th Ave, New York, NY
Registration: 2:00 pm–3:00pm, $10 registration fee
Audition: 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
The Accademia Teatro alla Scala Ballet School in Milan, Italy, is now accepting applications for 2017.
Duration: The complete path of the ballet school lasts 8 years, each one from September to June. An exam is given at the end of each year. If admitted, all pupils are admitted for one academic year only and must reapply for following years.
Attendance: Mandatory. Lessons are held Monday through Friday for levels 1-5 and Monday through Saturday for higher-level courses. Courses 1-3 meet in the afternoon, courses 4-7 are full-day.
Prerequisites for admission:
- Candidates who are in the 5th year of elementary school during the 2016/2017 school year may apply for the Level 1 course.
- For higher courses (Levels 2-7), the candidates must show that they are prepared to be admitted to the courses corresponding to their middle school or high school level.
- Candidates for Level 7 must be under 18 years of age on Friday, March 24, 2017.
Selection: In order to be admitted to the courses, the candidate must pass a screening test, as described into the official Announcement (Point 7, 8 and 9). Please, download it and read it carefully. The admission tests will take place in late April at the Ballet School in Milan (Italy), according to the calendar specified at the point 9 of the Announcement. No other exam sessions are scheduled for the year.
Venue: Ballet School of the Accademia Teatro alla Scala – Milan | Accademia Teatro alla Scala – Milan.
Fees: registration fee to the selection of € 85 + attendance fees to be paid with a Bank SDD (SEPA Direct Debit) in installments. Please, read carefully the official Announcement for all the details about fees and tuitions, as for scolarships and exemptions available for admitted pupils. Download here the document to apply for scolarships/exemptions .
Application 2017/18: applications must be completed and submitted online, by clicking on the “Apply now” button, NO LATER THAN FRIDAY, MARCH 24, 2017.
The following documents (scanned) must be included with the application, as detailed into the official Announcement, point 6:
- valid identification for both parents or legal guardian (identity card or passport)
- receipt for payment of €85.00 (eighty-five euros)
- candidate’s codice fiscale (Italian national identification number) or statement declaring that the candidate does not have an Italian “codice fiscale”
- a professional quality photograph, passport format of the candidate’s face
- account’s holder codice fiscale (Italian national identification number) or statement declaring that the candidate does not have an Italian “codice fiscale”
Each document must not exceed 1 MB. Documents must be in doc, docx, pdf, jpeg, jpg, png format only.
Be sure to check our Auditions Page regularly!
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.
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.
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.
Don’t expect to catch Simone Messmer wearing a leotard—at least, not for company class. “Ballet class is for me,” she says. “It happens every day, so it turns into a major part of how you set yourself up for the day and how you’re feeling. I think it’s really important to take control of that.” In class, the Miami City Ballet principal prefers comfortable separates with clean lines and long sleeves. When it’s time for rehearsal, she’ll bring out her leotards and tights. “And I tend to bring the skirt or tutu that’s appropriate for the role. I try to start right away, to get a feeling for it,” she says.
Messmer, who joined MCB in 2015 after dancing with American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, has been embracing her new home—and adjusting to Miami’s warmer climate. Lately, she gravitates towards looser, flowy pieces and lighter colors. “It’s a process after my New York garb for 13 years,” she says. “Everyone’s like, ‘You’re still all in black,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s all I own!’ ” Still, even amidst change, Messmer has a strong sense of who she is, and her style reflects that. “I think if the clothes are wearing you, it’s the wrong outfit,” she says.
Trench coat: “I’ve had a best friend in New York since I moved there. There were a couple years I lived with him and his parents, and that’s his father’s army trench.”
Sweater: “I have a favorite store in New York’s East Village, Tokio 7, which is a consignment store. It’s a hit-or-miss place, but you can get great stuff.”
Lanvin shoes: “These can dress up easily, especially post-theater.”
RadetskyWear top: “I don’t do patterns. I think they’re distracting in the mirror. This is kind of as far as I go with them.”
Leggings: “When Twyla Tharp did Rabbit and Rogue for ABT, I was part of the group that created it with her. Norma Kamali did the costumes, and these are Norma Kamali leggings.”
Capezio pointe shoes: “They have been making me these pointe shoes for 10 years now.” Because of the humidity, Messmer goes through shoes more quickly in Miami.
Courtney Henry knew she wanted to dance for Alonzo King LINES Ballet while she was still a student in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program. “I saw LINES perform at The Joyce Theater, and I was blown away, particularly by the women,” she remembers. “They were commanding and strong, even scary in how powerful they were. I was like, ‘I want to dance like that.’ ”
She did a 2009 summer program with LINES in San Francisco, then auditioned in 2011. In Henry, King saw an ideal artist for his contemporary ballet company. A lithe six feet tall, the 27-year-old dancer brings the intense physicality and sky-high extensions that King’s abstract choreography requires, but also the musicality and technical mastery that make his ballets so mesmerizing.
“Courtney’s palette is filled with myriad textures, surprise innovation and rhythmic manipulation,” says King, who choreographs to music ranging from Middle Eastern tabla to free jazz to Tchaikovsky. “She is hard to define outside of the word ‘brilliant.’ ” Yet, he says, in her fifth season “she has not even hit the turning point of her career in dance. She is traveling at mercuric speed, ascending toward what will be an astonishing career.”
For now, Henry is laser-focused on the demanding LINES schedule, with fall and spring home seasons bookending an average of 20 weeks of national and international touring every year. Her daily routine is designed to keep her relaxed, focused and physically ready. “Because I travel so much, it gets really hard on my system,” she says. “I’ve had to be more aware of my body and my health.” Whether she’s journaling or rolling out or sipping custom wellness teas, she tunes in to what she needs to feel healthy and creative.
On a picture-perfect Bay Area day, Pointe followed Henry to the LINES Dance Center, where the company rehearsed for its recent fall season in San Francisco and four months of touring from Moscow to Atlanta to La Rochelle, France.
(All photos by Kathryn Rummel)
While New York City Ballet was off last August, corps member Sasonah Huttenbach was hard at work at the Danish Ballet Masters program, a two-week Bournonville workshop in New York City led by former Royal Danish Ballet dancers Mogens Boesen and Linda Hindberg. While they have always offered a student intensive, last summer Boesen and Hindberg added a program for working dancers. “A lot of professionals just lean toward open classes or giving themselves class during layoffs, but sometimes you need the basics because you're rehearsing and performing so much," says Huttenbach, who attended the student intensive twice before joining NYCB. “It was great to spend time off perfecting my alignment and technique."
Wondering about how to spend your summer layoff weeks this year? While teaching or performance gigs are good ways to stay busy, off-time can also be perfect for brushing up your technique, exploring another style and networking with a broader range of dance professionals. From big cities to the beach, programs geared towards professionals can help reinvigorate your career and remind you that you can always go back to summer camp.