Student Annie Smith taking CPYB's summer program from home. Photo courtesy CPYB

7 Ways to Ace Your Online Summer Program Audition

These days, virtual auditions are our new reality. While summer intensive veterans may have polished their in-person audition strategy over the years, Zoom is an entirely different animal. How should you prep your space? What if your technology glitches? What type of energy works on suboptimal webcams? It's enough to make anyone sweat.

Prep Your Space

For the first time, you get to decide what your audition space looks like. Whether you have the luxury of booking a studio or you're making due with your kitchen floor, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Make sure your "stage" is clear of obstructions that might impede your movement, then declutter the area behind you so it's free of distractions that could draw the judges' eyes away from your lines. "Do a test run before the audition with a friend or family member to make sure your feet or hands aren't cut off," says Melanie Person, co-director of The Ailey School. Have them help you find where your spatial limits are in the frame, then take tape and mark those spots on the floor.

Light Yourself Strategically

Next, identify your light source. When reigning Dance Awards "Female Senior Best Dancer" Kelis Robinson auditioned for her title via Zoom, she used a room at her studio with natural light. "You want to be seen as clearly as possible," she says. "Extra space doesn't matter if they can't make out your movement." For spaces without natural light, Person suggests getting a ring light to lessen shadows and distribute light more evenly.

"You want your light to hit in front of your face, not behind it," adds Darla Hoover, artistic director of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East. "You don't want to be a silhouette." Practice on camera ahead of your audition to be sure the light doesn't change as you travel around the room.

Manage the Technology

Auditioning online can produce some unique challenges. Devices are generally very small, forcing you to approach the camera to get a better view of the instructor. To avoid cutting off your body, or distracting the class with a close-up of your eye, The Dance Awards "Male Senior Best Dancer" Joziah German recommends connecting your device to a larger TV or computer screen whenever possible. (This could also connect to a larger speaker system, making music dynamics easier to hear.)

Video's greatest challenge for dancers is the unavoidable lag in audio. Using the best Wi-Fi connection possible can help. "Make sure you're close to a router," Robinson says. Still, you may lose connection from time to time. During her audition, Robinson's music stopped, forcing her to move in silence until the internet reconnected. Her advice for when things like this happen? "The circumstances have shifted, and most judges will be understanding about mishaps," Robinson says. "Don't stress out too much." Hoover echoes this sentiment. "Because we have never auditioned dancers this way before, we are just as nervous as you are," she says.

When it comes to technology hurdles you can control, Hoover recommends joining your audition well before it officially begins. And use a recording device with a high-quality lens—if the camera quality on your laptop is grainy, borrow a better computer if you can.

Amp Up Your Energy

So what kind of movement stands out on screen? Since the camera sucks out a portion of your energy, German suggests dancing beyond what would normally be appropriate. Within the space you have available, travel and take up as much room as possible. According to Person, that's exactly what you need to stand out on a screen that hosts multiple dancers at a time. "As a panelist, my eyes will be drawn to the dancers who are projecting."

Dress for the Occasion

When it comes to your outfit, think about your setting. "Choose a color that contrasts with your background, otherwise you'll be camouflaged," says Robinson.

Know Your Angles

Virtual auditions have some unexpected perks, like using camera positioning to show the panel your best angles. "As a shorter dancer, the last thing I want to do is angle myself to seem even shorter," German says. "You should keep the camera center, so your whole body is proportional." Hoover discourages setting your device on the floor or too high above you on a shelf. "Set your device at eye level," she says. "Otherwise it's really difficult to observe you. At our year-round program's online audition, I kept looking at pictures of dancers to get a better idea of what I was actually seeing."

Keep in mind that Zoom boxes are fairly small—avoid putting the camera too far away from you, making yourself even harder to see. When you're auditioning at the barre, Hoover recommends turning it to a 45-degree angle rather than facing straight forward or directly side. "This way we get the best of both worlds," she says. Practice your camera angles ahead of time, so that you don't have to adjust mid-audition.

​Stay Present

Whether you're on deck or you've just finished a combination, waiting on-screen can feel awkward. "Stand still, and stay as present as you can unless they tell you to turn off your camera," Robinson says. Person recommends imagining you're in the wings: "Stand poised, while paying attention and focusing on the task at hand."

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