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Guest Column, 2-29: Answers for Dancers
Lowdown on Auditions (from the Pros)

By Grover Dale
Copyright 2008 Grover Dale

Previously published on Answers4dancers.com.

Monica Violetti
Music video / pop tour dancer / singer / and actress

1. During the early days, juggling school responsibilities in Cottonwood, California and auditions in Los Angeles required a lot of extra work. But I was up for it. Having my family as a support system helped get me through it.

2. Auditions are learning experiences and an important part of my education. I'm constantly discovering new things I could alter, or improve on.

3. Freestyling is really important. It can make the difference between booking the job or not. Your unique style or vibe can be enough to influence the casting directors.

4. Every dancer is a struggling dancer. The most important thing is to identify what you excel at. Be realistic about your skills. Find your niche.

Staci Flood
Music video / pop tour dancer

I tend to feel comfortable at auditions because I feel comfortable with myself. I'm happy with who I am. I don't spin out on doubting myself. If I don't get the job, it's not because I'm no good. If I don't book the gig, the law of averages tells me if I go to enough auditions, I'll book another.

Nadine Ellis
L.A.-based music video dancer / TV journalist

I work at gaining the strength for doing more than four or five auditions for the same role.

Austin Miller
L.A.-based dancer actively booking acting as well as dancing assignments

1. I learned to use my energy better. Instead of walking into auditions and chatting every one up and try(ing) to put on a show to get attention, I saw that it wasn't serving me well.

2. Today, I walk into auditions focused on what I need to do to perform at my best.

3. If I walk into an audition worried about booking the job, I'm a goner. I remind myelf over and over that there's something to be gained from every audition, whether I feel like I'm going to book it or not. Auditions are opportunities. I can use them to beat myself up or use them to grow.

Stephani Kammer
Janet Jackson dancer

I like the pressure of auditions. The process pulls things out of me that don't normally come out on a day-to-day basis. It's nice to see what I'm made of when I'm put to the test.

Melanie Benz
Janet Jackson dancer

If you want it bad enough, it will happen. Eat, breathe, and sleep whatever it is you love to do. You're going to need that extra love, because L.A. can eat you alive and spit you out.

Ricky Martin / Britney Spears dancer

1. Learn to become a self-initiator. Nobody is going to turn your body for you in a pirouette. Nobody is going to lift you in the air for a grande jeté. You do it yourself. The act of dancing teaches you to take control of your body. That's what dancers do. You are all the equipment and you run the factory. You know when to shut it down and you know how to start it up. Your mistakes are part of the process and so are the improvements you make along the way.

2. As dancers, we seek the opportunities and compete for them. We know the odds won't always work in our favor, but our love for what we do is so strong, we're willing to make the effort.

3. Ultimately, there's someone sitting on the other side of the table who has the power to choose or not to choose you. We learn to cope with "not being chosen." It takes time and maturity.

4. How does a 15-year-old get ready to work in video/pop tours? There's no one way. There's hundreds of ways. Dancer A might be strong in hip-hop but soft in freestyling. Dancer A has work to do. Dancer B can't drop her ballet technique when the dance is supposed to be funky. She has work to do. Dancer C is a good dancer but is slow picking up while Dancer D too shy to show the fire she's got inside her. Both have work to do. Dancer E has all the training she needs, but has weight issues. She, too, has work to do. As Jesse Santos, says, you can't buy preparation off the rack. It must be tailored to the individual's assets and needs. The "package" we deliver is critical and it's important for newcomers to know that it's not limited to just the way one dances. It includes personal presentation, workplace behavior, on the set savvy, business skills, and a healthy dose of common sense.

5. Competing is easier for guys. Women have to deal with ten times the competition.

6. You can be the best dancer in the room and still not get it. You can be beautiful. You can be hip and cool. You can dance the combination flawlessly. So why are you asked to leave? It's hard when you hear someone say, "Wow, you were so right for it. And you didn't get it?" You can't look inside the choreographer's head and see why they didn't choose you. It's out of your hands and no good can come from agonizing over it. I try to feel good about trying my best and letting it go.

7. What skills do I take into an audition? (1) Solid training that shows I'm well-rounded. (2) The ability to duplicate any move a choreographer throws my way. And fast, too. (3) Next is personal presentation. From the way I look to showing my enthusiasm for the way I work. (4) Tuning in to what's in the room is important. The choreographer, assistants, stage managers, and production staff can all give off clues to what will go down. (5) I leave personal dramas outside the door. (6) I've prepared myself emotionally and spiritually. Finally (7) I own who I am and thrive on the opportunity to give some of it away.

Peggy Hickey
L.A.-based choreographer of theater, opera, and video

If you're auditioning for a chorus job, make sure you feel good about being in the chorus. I don't want to see resentment on your face when I say, "Okay, all the dancing cigar boxes can now move upstage into the darkness." How can I avoid situations like that? I bring it up at the audition. I say, "This is a glamour-free job. You'll be backing up performers that may, or may not be as talented as you are. But, they're hired as the stars and you're hired as the chorus. That's the job. Before you accept the gig, be sure you're clean about how you feel." We have to know what we're getting into and why we're doing it. If we're mentally prepared when the sensitive stuff comes up, we'll be able to say to ourselves, "I'm still special, even though I'm being directed back into the darkness."

Tim O'Brien
Founder of Clear Talent Agency

When you audition, you're not auditioning for just one job. You're also auditioning for the job the choreographer is doing six months or a year from now.

Robin Antin
Choreo: videos for Smashmouth, Bare Naked Ladies, Sugar Ray & Everclear

1. Surviving the "cut"? Oh, yes, I remember just sort of standing there, like, am I supposed to leave now? The feeling was devastating. I was numb. I turned around and followed the people that were walking away. I remember getting into my car and thinking, "This is so horrible, it can't be what this is about!" I'd just gotten off a two-year scholarship program feeling like I was the best. Then this happened. In a few hours, I realized that this was not my time. I truly wasn't ready. I didn't understand that landing jobs was about so much more than just dance technique.

2. Each audition is a growth experience. You learn many lessons from them. The hardest thing to accept is knowing you were good and not getting it. It's so frustrating. You start trying to figure out why you weren't picked.... "Should I have done this? Should I have done that?" What a trap that is. Everyone goes through it. We all know what it feels like.

Kenny Ortega
Award-winning dir/choreographer in film, television, and live tours. Artistic director of the 2002 Winter Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

1. When it comes to hiring dancers, two amazing ones (Andrea Paige Wilson and Liz Imperio) established the standards for me. They brought incredible enthusiasm through the door consistently. I always knew I could count on them. They were leaders in terms of their attitudes and desire to be there. I continue going back to them over and over again, because I love their spirit and know they can handle anything I can choreograph. They bring an enthusiasm into the room that seems to excite and ignite every one else around them.

2. I try to create an enjoyable environment to work in. And also one of mutual respect. As far as hiring dancers, there are amazing ones to choose from. There are also dancers who are only out there for themselves and aren't interested in the needs of others. I like to create harmony and connection between my dancers no matter how brief the project is. Again, there are dancers that aren't interested in that, that won't stay the extra five minutes or show up early the next morning to work something before rehearsals start. Some are only concerned about their position in a line or how close they are to the camera. There are also those who bring personal baggage into the room. I understand what that's about. It's a tough world, but when you arrive to work, that's what you're supposed to be about at that time. I've seen whole days thrown off because of an unpleasant energy in the room.

Michael Rooney
Award-winning choreographer in film, music video, commercials, and TV

When you arrive in L.A. and start auditioning, don't forget you'll be competing with seasoned professionals who can do this blindfolded.

Rob Marshall
Tony Award-winning choreographer who directed the Oscar-winning motion picture, "Chicago"

1. If you don't have acting skills, don't bother to show up at my auditions. Your five pirouettes are not going to get you the job. I prefer working with dancers who can act. Too many come in doing quadruple turns, flip and fly. It may be thrilling to watch but tricks mean nothing to me.

2. Mistakes are part of the process. If you mess up the combination at an audition, be honest about it and keep going.

3. It's important to be interested in the whole show, not just the dance numbers. The true pros are those who, when the dance number's over, don't exit the studio. They stay to watch the scenes that follow.

4. You should dress appropriate for the show you're auditioning for. If you're auditioning for "Annie," why wear the work boots you wore at Janet Jackson's audition? It's your job to find out the kind of show you're auditioning for. Be smart about it.

Tina Landon
MTV/ACA award-winning music video/pop tour choreographer

I prefer to hire dancers who respect the needs of others. At auditions, I've heard myself say, "If you're not going to trade lines with people when I ask you to, I don't want you on my tour. You're showing me you're just here for yourself. So, if you don't respect the needs of other dancers, you're not going to respect mine, either.

Lynne Taylor Corbett
Director/choreographer of Bway's "Swing!" and "The Tin Pan Alley Rag" plus ballets for major dance companies

1. I'm very sensitive to behavior in the room. There's a protocol and courtesy that most dancers have. When I see it betrayed, I pick up on it right away. Often, I begin to wonder if I want to spend the next couple of weeks of my life with that person.

2. I'm personally not impressed when somebody's behavior is saying, Watch me, I'm going to perform now. It's a real turn-off.

Tony Stevens
New York-based choreographer and teacher

1. The biggest criticism I have of young dancers is, they don't see what I'm doing. They stab at it and get it generally, but the specifics elude them. It seems like they go for the easy way.

2. Too many dancers get stuck in the mirror. It tends to prevent communication of what the step is about because the dancer is focused on looking at themselves. My dances are about emotion. I say turn away from watching yourself and feel it. I wish teachers would get students to do that more often

Otis Sallid
One of Hollywood's A-list choreographers and the recipient of the 1994 American Choreography Awards for Achievement in Motion Pictures

I hire dancers who arrive at performance level before they get in front of the camera. I also respond to dancers that bring me more than the steps. Any decent dancer can do the steps.

Grover Dale has performed, directed, and choreographed for the stage, screen, and television. Thanks to 16 Broadway musicals, eight motion pictures, and 85 TV productions, he is the recipient of the Tony, Drama Desk, Dramalogue, Emmy, and Clio Awards. Today, he and a team of pros continue to jump-start dance careers by combining live workshops with video programming on Answers4dancers.com.

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