How do you “perform” at auditions without being obnoxious? —Mikayla
Auditions are no place to hide or act self-consciously—but there’s a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. Focus on keeping your movements lush without getting in the other dancers’ way. Keep your face pleasant and relaxed (emphatic nodding and sky-high eyebrows signal that you’re eager to please, but can come across as student-y). A bright leotard or hair accessory can help the panel notice and remember you. But more importantly, pay attention to what the director is asking for in class. They’re more apt to notice a fast learner or precise musicality.
A few other things to keep in mind: At cattle calls, the adjudicators place dancers into specific groups so they can see everyone and stay organized. Don’t try to pull a fast one by sneaking your way to the front or going with multiple groups. Instead, consider registering early so that you can be in one of the first groups; that signals you’re not afraid to take risks. In a company-class situation, you want to make sure you’re clearly seen, but be mindful of where principal dancers stand so as not to encroach on their territory. And always, always thank the director afterwards—it’s your last chance to make a good impression.
I have a terrible time with complex music. Are there any tricks for improving musicality? —Claire
Throughout my career, I performed to difficult, dissonant scores. Often, I’d struggle to keep counts straight during the early rehearsal process because it’s much easier for me to associate steps with sounds. But an unclear sense of the counts can come back to haunt you, especially when you’re in a group dance or there’s live music involved.
It helps to talk through the music with your colleagues so you can get on the same page and find cues. For instance, when I learned the “Gaillard” duet in Balanchine’s Agon, my partner and I spent one rehearsal with the ballet mistress just confirming counts. For one particularly tricky passage, I learned to identify a specific step (an arabesque) with its corresponding count (9) and note. It acted as a benchmark if we ever got lost, but the process itself helped me grow more comfortable with the music.
The best place to sharpen your musicality, of course, is in class. Prioritize accuracy; no matter how fast or slow something feels, resist the temptation to finish late or to schlep through positions. Pay attention to rhythmic syncopations or accents, and practice emphasizing them during combinations.
However, your accompanist isn’t exactly going to break into Stravinsky or Schoenberg for tendus. If you’re learning choreography to a complex score, you need to spend some extra time outside of rehearsal familiarizing yourself with it. If the phrases aren’t square—a 9-count followed by a 17, for instance—write them down to remember the order. Then, listen to the score as you read along—over and over again.
Is there a healthy way to lose weight? After rehearsing all day, more exercise pushes me toward exhaustion. Help! —Alyssa
This is tricky—the ballet industry puts enormous pressure on dancers to be thin. That can lead some to go to drastic, unhealthy measures to lose weight, whether they need to or not. Adding low-impact cardio or interval training to your routine can help, but it sounds like extra workouts might put you at risk of injury with your current schedule.
For now, you can focus on eating differently, not less. Skipping meals or eating erratically will only confuse your body. In fact, Peggy Otto Swistak, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for Pacific Northwest Ballet, notes that many dancers don’t eat enough calories to begin with. “When you decrease your food intake, your metabolism slows down,” she says. “The body goes into a ‘conserve and preserve’ mode because it thinks it’s starving.” It’s critical to spread your caloric intake throughout the day, with meals and snacks every few hours.
Increasing the amount of lean protein (beans, low-fat dairy, white meat and more) in your diet and decreasing carbohydrates may help, too, as your body burns more calories to digest protein. But don’t cut out carbs completely—your muscles and brain need them for fuel. However, every body is different, so consult a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with dancers. “An RDN would look at the grams of protein and carbohydrates in your diet and do some fine-tweaking,” says Swistak. She recommends consulting eatright.org, which can help you find a specialist in your area.