Ask Amy

January 18, 2011

At 5’ 10”, I’m afraid I’m too tall for the corps. I never fit the height requirements on audition listings. Is there no hope for a career? —Sally

There is hope—you just need to find the right company. I’ve danced with plenty of girls who are taller than me, and I’m 5’ 8”! Giselle Doepker, who has danced with Dresden Semperoper Ballet, Ballet Arizona and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, also clocks in at 5’ 10” and knows how you feel. She always had more success auditioning in company classes than at cattle calls. “I’d find somebody tall to stand next to in order to show that I could blend in,” she says. She also suggests investigating companies without ranking systems and looking for places with tall men to get around the partnering problem.

Not fitting into the corps has its advantages, too. The Trey McIntyre Project’s Ilana Goldman, who is just shy of 5’ 11”, was at first discouraged from pursuing ballet. But her height got her cast in many soloist and principal roles early in her career. “There are so many wonderful roles for tall women,” she says, “like Lilac Fairy, Choleric from The Four Temperaments, or the Dark Angel from Serenade.”

Be up front about your height before auditioning to avoid wasting money on travel expenses. “I had places invite me out to audition only to reject me immediately,” says Doepker. But never assume that height requirements are set in stone—if a director likes you enough, he might make an exception.

I always hear that dancers need to hydrate, but my teacher doesn’t let us drink water in class. She says we need to train our bodies for performance. What should I do? —Lara

First, you should know it’s not possible to train your body to use less water, according to Karyn Baiorunos, nutritionist for the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. Water is almost always provided backstage for professional dancers. “Dehydration is the number one reason for fatigue,” Baiorunos says. “It decreases your strength, stamina and the ability to dance as you’d like to.”

However, you need to respect your teacher’s rule. If you can’t drink during class, the next best option is to make sure you’re well hydrated beforehand. Baiorunos recommends drinking two to three glasses of water a few hours before class, plus an additional glass five to ten minutes before. “Your body will use that water in your sweat rather than taking water out of your cells,” she says. After class, spend the rest of the day rehydrating to replenish what you’ve lost.

How do you know if you’re drinking enough? Unfortunately, thirst is not the best indicator. “You become thirsty after you’ve already lost one percent of your body weight in water, and by then you’re compromised,” says Baiorunos. To figure out the minimum number of ounces of water or clear liquids you need a day, divide your body weight in pounds by two. And check the color of your urine: A clear or pale yellow color is a good sign that you’re sufficiently hydrated.

How do you get the best dance photos for auditions? Do I need to hire a professional photographer? —Matt

The benefit of a professional photographer is both their expertise and their equipment, such as lighting, backdrops and a high-quality camera. While directors will be judging your technique, not the photographer’s, a more aesthetically pleasing shot can only help. Directors use dance photos to help determine likely candidates when sifting through resumés, or to remember dancers after cattle calls. A good picture won’t guarantee a job, but it can help get your foot in the door.

Ideally, it’s best to have your photos taken by someone who understands ballet lines and has excellent timing with action shots. If you can’t find a photographer familiar with dance, sports photographers can serve as a good alternative. Bring a teacher or an experienced dancer with you to the shoot to make sure your positions look flattering, as well as pictures of poses you want to take so that the photographer knows what you’re looking for.

Professional photographers can be expensive, so compare prices and ask to see samples of their work before hiring one. You’ll have to pay for the shoot as well as for individual prints, which are copyrighted. Some photographers will release the rights to copy your photos for a higher sitting fee, so make sure to ask when you’re shopping around.

A less expensive option is to hire a photography student from a local college or art school or someone with a serious photography hobby—I’ve gone this route before with excellent results. Whomever you use, ask to see the images during the shoot to ensure that you’re getting what you want.