Nitting (in orange tights) in The Wizard of Oz, her first performance with Kansas City Ballet. Bruce Pruitt & East Market Studios, Courtesy KCB.

200 Auditions, 1 Contract: Courtney Nitting's Journey to Scoring Her First Professional Contract

Courtney Nitting started her first season with Kansas City Ballet last fall with the normal rituals of company life: headshots for the website, ordering her customized pointe shoes and claiming a spot at the barre. Each of these simple things was a "pinch me" moment she thought might never come.

"I still can't believe it," says Nitting. "I'm in a company for real."

It took Nitting, 21, more than three years of auditions to get a company contract. Her talent and passion brought her close to her dreams several times: Prestigious companies expressed interest but not job offers, and a year in a second company didn't produce a contract. Still, she never stopped trying, enduring about 200 auditions, with $9,000 in related expenses.


"Courtney is one of the hardest workers I've ever taught," says Nancy Bielski, a teacher at Steps on Broadway whom Nitting trained with. "She's had a lot of bad things happen with auditions. But she's resilient. She never gave up, ever."

A Few Close Calls

Nitting in The Four Temperaments at her School of American Ballet workshop performance

Paul Kolnik, Courtesy SAB

In the spring of 2015, Nitting was in Level D at the School of American Ballet, usually the final year of training for young women. She did several auditions and received interest from Royal Danish Ballet, but international contract technicalities prevented a formal job offer. SAB advised her to repeat a year in Level D. She wasn't thrilled but knew it was the best way to be ready for the next audition season.

Another year of polishing pushed her technique and got her noticed. The directors of Royal Danish Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Dresden Semperoper Ballett saw her in class at SAB. Royal Danish and Miami both invited her to take class with their companies (at her own expense, as is typical) to consider her for a possible corps contract. Meanwhile, Dresden Semperoper's director offered her an apprenticeship, but she had to decide before hearing from the other companies about a corps spot, so she turned him down. In the end, Royal Danish told her she wasn't a fit and Miami said the contract was no longer available.

But Nitting still had hope—she'd been cast in the lead role of Sanguinic in The Four Temperaments in SAB's workshop. Alastair Macaulay, the famously tough critic for The New York Times, raved about her, saying she was "marvelous" and she "always took my breath away." She held out hope that her success would bring an offer, maybe even from New York City Ballet. But in the end, nothing came her way.

On Her Own

Nitting spent the next year in the work-study program at Steps, where dancers take class for $5 in exchange for working at the studio. "I didn't make other plans outside of dance," she says, "so I just had to keep going." She took daily class from Bielski and booked a few freelance gigs, working with Tom Gold Dance, Eglevsky Ballet and Neglia Ballet.

And, for the third year in a row, she did open calls in New York City and sent out videos to companies, but struck out. She went to Miami City Ballet's open call, given their interest the year before, only to be cut after barre.

Nitting decided not to travel for auditions anymore. "It's too expensive for the possibility of ending up with nothing," she says. Bielski says that finding a job is like going on a date—chemistry with the director has to be right. She explains that Nitting's body type is muscular and athletic, which doesn't fit with every company. While Nitting's technique is quite strong, her artistry makes her really shine, and that doesn't always show in an audition setting.

Finally, in June 2017, after months with no traction anywhere, Nitting got a spot with Pennsylvania Ballet II, which gave her the opportunity to perform with the main company in The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. The experience made her want a contract more than ever. But mid-season, the artistic staff informed her she wasn't a fit for Pennsylvania Ballet.

For the fourth year in a row, Nitting was back on the audition circuit.

The Turning Point

A fresh round of rejections followed and it wore her down. "I wondered if maybe this wasn't for me," she says. "I also knew that, age-wise, my time was running out."

Finally, in the spring of 2018, at an open call for Kansas City Ballet, she caught the eye of artistic director Devon Carney, who remembered her from an audition video she'd sent two years earlier. "She was attentive to the steps in a more mature way than most," he says. "You could also tell she enjoyed herself."

He emailed Nitting and asked her to send a video with studio variations and performance footage from her freelance gigs. "That was the deal maker," says Carney. "She definitely showed her abilities." He offered her a spot in KCB II, and while it wasn't the apprentice or company contract Nitting hoped for, she wanted to keep dancing and took it.

Almost two months later, she emailed Carney to ask about finding housing she could afford on a second-company salary.

"He said a spot opened up in the main company, and he thought of me first," she says. He asked her if she wanted it. "I was shocked!"

Carney notes that, in addition to Nitting's enthusiasm and professionalism, part of why he hired her stemmed from his memory of the audition video she'd sent two years earlier. She had radically improved since then, he says. "I had a better understanding of who she was than the other dancers I could choose from."

A New Life

Nitting is glad she stuck it out, but she won't miss auditioning, which she says can be dehumanizing. "I know it's a business, but it's like companies forget you're a person. They'll charge $30 for an open audition and then cut you after 10 minutes," she says.

Her love of performing kept her going, as did support from her family. "My mom came with me to most of my auditions," says Nitting, who adds that she's her best friend. "The hardest part was when I'd hear my number called to get cut. I didn't want to leave the studio and see my mom's face after another rejection."

Her mother came to Kansas City for Nitting's first performance with the company in The Wizard of Oz. As she walked up to the theater, she saw a poster of all the company dancers and stopped to take a picture. A stranger asked her if she knew someone in the show.

"My daughter," her mother replied. "She's in the company."

Latest Posts


James Barkley, Courtesy Dance for Change

Take Class From Celebrated Black Dancers and Raise Money for the NAACP Through Dance for Change

Since the nationwide fight against racial inequality took center stage in May, organizations across the dance world have been looking for meaningful ways to show their support, rather than fall back on empty social media signifiers. This weekend, Diamante Ballet Dancewear is taking action with Dance for Change, a two-day event dedicated to fundraising for the NAACP, and amplifying the voices of Black professional dancers.

Organized by Diamante Ballet Dancewear's founder, Nashville Ballet 2 dancer Isichel Perez, and freelance dancer Elise Gillum, Dance for Change makes it easy to participate. Dancers need only to make a donation to the NAACP (in any amount) and email proof to diamante.ballet@gmail.com to be given online access to a full schedule of Zoom master classes taught by Black pros artists. Teachers include Ballet Memphis' George Sanders, Boston Ballet's Daniel Durrett, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Corey Bourbonniere, and more. "It's important that we amplify BIPOC voices during this time, and it's also important that we're conscious of where we're putting our dollars," says Bourbonniere. "Diamante is doing both with Dance for Change, and I'm honored to be in this talented group of melanated dancers."

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Vikki Sloviter

Sydney Dolan Takes Center Stage at Pennsylvania Ballet

This is Pointe's Summer 2020 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.

Dolan's career could be described in one word: charmed. At just 19 years old, she's flown through the ranks at PAB, debuted a long list of roles, won a Princess Grace Award and been named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch." Yet it's her challenges that have shaped not only her training but her outlook, giving her a solid foundation for becoming one of Pennsylvania Ballet's rising stars.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Courtesy de Roos

SAB Student Founds Dancewear Nonprofit to Help Others in Need

When School of American Ballet student Alexandra de Roos was 8 years old, she placed a collection box at her dance studio for others to donate their gently used dancewear. De Roos, now 17, has since turned that single collection box into a nonprofit organization that aims to minimize economic barriers in the performing arts with free dancewear and classes.

De Roos' organization, Peace Love Leotards, has collected about $2,600 of new and gently-used dancewear and $2,000 in grants and donations since formally launching in April. Dancers or studio owners can request items through a form on the organization's website.

"I knew that dancewear was really expensive and that a lot of students might not be able to do the thing that they love because it's cost-prohibitive," de Roos said. "I really wanted to create something to allow people to have the same experience of the love and joy of dance that I've been so grateful to have."

After SAB shifted its winter term online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, de Roos decided to expand Peace Love Leotards. She reached out to dance companies, resulting in partnerships with brands including Jo+Jax, Lone Reed Designs, RubiaWear and Wear Moi.

"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

Jordan Reed, the creator of custom dancewear brand Lone Reed Designs, said she has donated seven items to Peace Love Leotards with plans to donate more consistently every quarter. Custom leotards often retail at higher prices, but Reed, a former Houston Ballet corps member, said the one-of-a-kind clothing offers an "extra bit of confidence, which can go more than a long way in a dancer's journey of training."

Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

De Roos said she and her young classmates often outgrew nearly brand-new dancewear, so she approached her studio's owner about placing a collection box at the studio.

Barbara Mizell, who owns Barbara's Centré for Dance in Florida, said she was unsurprised by de Roos' proposal. De Roos always had "such a way of pushing herself and she never forgot those around her," Mizell said. As the box filled up, she distributed the dancewear to others at the studio, local schools with dance programs, and the local YMCA.

"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

"The whole organization behind Peace Love Leotards is the dancers," de Roos said. "Being able to help the dancers that are in need and being able to think about the dancewear that they're going to be receiving or have received has been truly amazing."

Editors' Picks