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How to Get Into the Virtual-Audition Headspace, Plus 6 Audition-Day Filming Tips

Audition season is always nerve-racking, but tack on the added pressure of navigating a virtual audition and it's enough to make your head spin. As more companies and universities have turned to video submissions and virtual classes to assess incoming talent, knowing how to put your best foot forward is essential. That includes knowing how to be mentally fortified for a digital experience. Here are some recommendations for getting into the right headspace for virtual auditions.


Eliminate Obstacles

To give yourself the best possible chance of having a stress-free audition, you need to remove any technical obstacles and environmental distractions. Theresa Farrell, co-founder emeritus of American Contemporary Ballet and creator of Turning Pointe audition workshops, recommends setting up your space ahead of time to test out different lighting, camera angles and spacing. "Have all the technical elements set up," she says. "Eliminate every additional stress outside of the dancing." Mark with masking tape where your device goes, where your true corners are and where center is. Also mark a focal point on the wall behind your device so that you're not looking down at the camera as you dance.

A young ballerina in a black leotard and pink skirt kneels on the wood studio floor and holds up a pair of pointe shoes. In front of her, a smart phone camera on a tripod is propped on a wooden stool.

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Build Confidence With Practice

The saying goes that if you have a bad dress rehearsal, you'll have a good show. The same can apply to a virtual audition. Practice the process until you feel comfortable in your space, and then practice again for even more confidence. Farrell recommends finding a class on YouTube, ideally from the school or company you're interested in, and film yourself taking it to see how you present on camera.

Observe and Reflect

Understanding what adjudicators see when you audition can give you some peace of mind when it comes times to audition. In her program, Farrell gives students a mock live audition, which she films and then analyzes with them. She recalls one dancer, upon seeing herself, remark, "It looks like I don't care." "It is so key for dancers to see themselves," says Farrell. "When they finally see, there is a really big transformation."

Be aware of how the space you're dancing in or how being on camera changes your presentation. "One thing I see a lot is that when you're feeling nervous, you turn inward," says Farrell. "Sometimes when you're alone in a space you feel that as well." Don't let that fishbowl feeling make you doubt your capabilities. Also, don't let the camera itself rattle you. "I've seen dancers get nervous in front of the camera," says Devon Carney, artistic director of Kansas City Ballet. "Be aware of it. Don't let the camera scare you. It's your friend, not your enemy." If you're submitting a video audition, remember you can do as many takes as you need to get it right.

A young Black woman in a coral-colored T-shirt lays back on a pillow with her eyes closed. She looks peaceful and wears ear buds as sun filters into the room through filmy curtains.

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Calm Your Nerves With Visualization

In the days leading up to your virtual audition, notice your nerves and try some visualization exercises. Farrell asks dancers what their worst-case scenario is, has them picture it and then picture themselves getting through it. "Sometimes that stressful feeling can catch you off-guard," she says. "Picture you lost your spot. How are you going to get back on?" Having some imagery in place during those moments can really come in handy. In her own experiences, Farrell remembers picturing that the other dancers were bunny rabbits whenever she felt like she was being judged by them. "It worked for me!" she laughs.

Embrace the Positive Aspects

Auditioning digitally is a huge shift across the board, but it doesn't have to be a negative. Homing in on the positives of this format can give you the boost you need to approach audition day with peace of mind. If you're submitting a recorded video, remember that you can do multiple takes and include combinations that highlight your strengths, and that you have the benefit of having the undivided attention of the adjudicator. "It's an opportunity to really show yourself at your best," says Carney. "You're not told what the combinations are, so you get to choose what you think are your strong points." If you're auditioning on Zoom, you have the advantage of not having to see the other dancers when you switch from gallery view to speaker view.

Devon Carney, an middle-aged ballet master with gray hair and a black T-shirt and jeans, demonstrates fifth position with his arms en bas. In front of him are a few teenage ballet students in black camisole leotards, mimicking his position.

Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney teaching ballet class

Courtesy Kansas City Ballet

Remember That Adjudicators Will Be Forgiving

Considering the immense upheaval caused by the pandemic, adjudicators are aware of where you might be coming from and take that into account as they assess you. "There is a certain amount of energy that you just can't get across in the screen," says Carney. "Dancers need to understand that there is forgiveness on that." He adds that adjudicators are aware that not all dancers have access to a studio space and high-tech equipment, or have been able to take class as consistently as they would have pre-COVID. "Be yourself. Be relaxed. Don't try to be someone other than yourself," he says. "Do the technique you know how to do. The rest will fall into place."

Bonus: 6 Tips for Filming Your Audition

  1. Have your full body in the frame. If you have to cut something off, make it the top of your head, never the feet.
  2. Film head-on, with the camera placed at hip or waist level.
  3. Use a wide-angle lens.
  4. Have full lighting in your space, but don't have a light source behind you.
  5. Check your internet connection and camera and computer batteries.
  6. Don't wear black or a color that matches your background. Keep your attire clean and simple.

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