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Guest Column, 2-1: The Road to Stress-free Auditions
Show me the map, baby, I've had enough anxiety!

By Grover Dale
Copyright 2007 Grover Dale

Previously published on Answers4dancers.com.

Auditions have always had the power to raise emotional temperatures in the dance world more than just about anything, except mean-spirited dance critics. I don't know many dancers whose "comfort zones" haven't been rattled (at least once!) after not being chosen at an audition. Why do those moments of doubt, insecurity, or resentment happen? Some say that most of it is an inside job.

Are you saying we do this to ourselves?

In a way, yes. We're capable of contributing to it... just as much as we're capable of freeing ourselves from it.

But it affects our chances of being booked....

That's right. But haven't you wondered why some dancers book more jobs than others? Haven't you seen dancers whose talents and physical assets seemed equal, but their booking results are different?

Well, yes, I have....

Haven't you known hard-working talented dancers who should be booking but can't seem to get past the first cut? Or, dancers who may be short on technique but book jobs anyway? What is it that makes one dancer more employable than others?

I wish I knew....

Never once have I come across a dancer who didn't have the desire to be employed, or the intelligence and the ability to achieve that desire.

What stopped them?

The same thing that probably stops most of us... obstacles. Some are easy to recognize -- lack of training, lack of opportunity, lack of grooming savvy, lack of agent representation, or maybe just laziness. Some of these are legitimate obstacles, but... with effort... can be dealt with and overcome.

That's reassuring....

Harder to recognize and much harder to overcome are the internal obstacles, the emotional obstacles that keep us from having what we want for ourselves. I've come to believe that the way each of us thinks and feels about success is a factor in determining how much success we ultimately will have. In the same vein, the reason that others book jobs repeatedly may be that... with their thoughts and feelings, they have created the means to achieve what they desire.

Now I see where you're going with this.

In other words, our inner thoughts and feelings are factors in determining how much success each of us will be able to attract to ourselves.

Just tell me what I can do to improve my chances....

When you're able to walk away from an audition feeling positive about the experience and how you handled it (regardless of the outcome) you're truly on the road to freeing yourself from the grip of self-doubt.

That may take some doing....

Many dancers are looking at ways to make better choices in their working lives. We are not alone with our desire to improve. We have more brothers and sisters than we realize. The following collection of anecdotes from other professionals confirms that we, as dancers, can "hit any mark" we want to. Choosing the road to stress-free auditions may be easier for some than others, but regardless of when we climb aboard, we must see it as the act of courage that it is.

Liz Imperio, Dancer/Choreographer, choreographer for Gloria Estefan's World Tours and Disney's TV movie "Gotta Kick It Up!":

"The first two choreographers I auditioned for were Kenny Ortega and Michael Peters. One was warm and kind, the other was all business. With one, I felt welcomed. With the other, I felt I sucked. Being shot down in 10 minutes, I felt like I was slapped in the face. Later, I realized that I was in show business. I hadn't learned the difference between personal and business. No teacher prepared me for it. I learned the hard way..."

Robin Antin, Dancer/Choreographer, choreographed videos for Smashmouth, Bare Naked Ladies, Sugar Ray & Everclear:

"At my first audition (a long time ago!), I was a newcomer in a room full of dancers that I was in awe of. I danced the combination as well as I could. Getting cut was such a horrible feeling! I had so much anxiety! I wondered if I looked right, you know, the whole thing. You've got to have the look, I thought, you've got to have the attitude. I thought, 'Oh my God, will I have to go through this much pain for every audition...?'"

Jerry Evans, award-winning film/TV choreographer for Reba McEntire's 2000 Concert Tour:

"Anxiety at auditions? It didn't hit me until they split us up into small groups. Until then, everyone's focused on learning the steps. No one's looking at you. No one even cares about you, so you're fine. Then, they put you in a smaller group and everyone's looking at you. That's when you think, 'Okay, I'm getting a little nervous here.' Frankly, you never get over it...."

Shawnette Heard, Choreographer/director:

"Self-doubt is familiar territory, even among the successful. It's only fear. We can handle it. It wasn't too long ago that I was working on a video and realized, 'Oh my God, I'm working with Janet Jackson!' I started questioning myself. 'Why am I here?' 'Do I deserve this?' Once in awhile, those nasty voices come up in my head... but I can handle it...."

Lee Cherry, Dancer/Actor/Choreographer, dancer/photographer Reba McEntire's 2000 World Tour:

The whole audition thing, you just have to get over it. You have to be able to put your best foot forward under the most awful circumstances. If you don't, no one will do it for you. So, you have to do it, or you're dead. Once you get through the audition, you get the gig. That's another source of anxiety. You've got a camera in your face. You've got a hundred suits sitting around. Judging you...."

T.J. Espinoza, Dancer/Actor, Britney's favorite dancer:

"I'm the only one who's responsible for my success. If I believe in myself, I can achieve...."

Robin Antin, Choreographer:

"My first time being 'cut'? I remember I just sort of stood there, like, 'Am I supposed to leave now?' The feeling was devastating. I remember getting into my car and thinking, 'This is so horrible, it can't be what it's all about....'"

Lee Cherry, Dancer/Photographer:

"Disapproval doesn't come from the people who have made it. It always comes from the people who chickened out, because they want you to join them. They want to feel more legitimized because they didn't follow their dream..., so they'll do anything they can to block yours...."

Shawnette Heard, Choreographer/Director:

"Fear can hold you back. Everybody gets nervous about the unknown. It's okay to be nervous. Sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss. But at least you had the courage to go for it and you always learn something out of every experience... no matter what it was...."

Carmit Bachar, Dancer:

"Stress at competing? Once I was watching female gymnasts at the Olympics. I felt their stress. (I competed as a rhythmic gymnast for nine years.) I remembered the feelings I went through as a competitor. It wasn't like any of those girls weren't capable of fulfilling the requirements. They trained hard for years. It's that one moment they'd been given to show their stuff. That's what's so stressful. If you mess up, you've ruined your career and that's scarring. It's so hard. To me, competition is more of a mind game. If you can control your head, knowing that you are an excellent dancer and you're coming to get that job, not 'I just want this job so bad.' Instead, you come in with 'I'm ready to get this job!' With that attitude, you're bound to catch their attention somehow, whether you're the right person for the job or not...."

Travis Payne, Choreographer/Actor:

"The pressure of being judged at auditions calls for a greater understanding of our humaness. We need to know more about what makes us tick. We need to understand that reacting to outcomes is always a matter of choice: OURS! Those reactions can go two ways. They'll either lift us up or bring us down. Which do you want?"

Carmit Bachar, Dancer:

"Since we work in a profession where 'not being chosen' happens more than 'being chosen,' we might as well give up our self-defeating ways of reacting to it...."

More insights on casting and workplace behavior are available on Answers4dancers.com.

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