Ask Amy: Audition Concentration

January 17, 2012

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Click here to send it to Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt.

What is most important to concentrate on in an audition? I get so nervous and end up thinking about a million things at once. Help! —Jalnessa

Auditions are nerve-racking. They require a keen internal focus—but that’s hard to come by when you’re worrying about what the director is looking for, whether you wore the right leotard, if your turnout is good enough. Keep it simple: Concentrate on learning the combinations. Pay close attention to any details that the director mentions, such as a certain musicality or port de bras. Then, add your own extra oomph (épaulement, presence, a warm smile) to get noticed. You want to exude confidence no matter how nervous you feel.

Try not to get distracted by the other dancers—comparing yourself to Number 54 and her 185-degree penchée will only rattle your self-assurance. In fact, I make it a point to review the combination while other groups are dancing for this very reason. And while directors may seem intimidating, don’t take it personally. They’re looking for something very specific and only have a few hours to evaluate hundreds of dancers. Don’t torture yourself by trying to figure out who they’re interested in—just concentrate on your own performance.

Lately I’ve been almost too tired to dance. I feel like I need a break every other week. How can I get over this slump? —Sarah

Several factors could be contributing to your fatigue. First, look at your lifestyle. Our bodies are our instruments, so taking care of them needs to be a priority. This means getting a full night’s sleep and making sure you have at least one day off each week to rest. Evaluate your eating habits as well. Because we exercise so much, we need to refuel our bodies every two to three hours—otherwise they go into starvation mode and start breaking down muscle tissue. Dehydration also causes fatigue. Some experts, such as Emily C. Harrison, MS, RD, LD, a dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition in Atlanta, recommend drinking 100 oz. (13 cups) of water a day. Try not to perk yourself up by guzzling caffeinated beverages or energy shots. “Those dehydrate you over time and only make you more tired down the road,” Harrison says.

Take an honest look at your schedule, too. Are you overtraining, or taking on too many responsibilities (dance, school, a part-time job)? Consider cutting back. I recently took a break from college because I was too overwhelmed. It made a huge difference, and now I’m recharged and ready to go back. Sometimes we want to do it all—but we’re human, not superhuman.

Fatigue can also be a symptom of deeper health problems such as anemia, thyroid conditions, even depression. If you make healthy lifestyle changes and still feel exhausted, talk to your doctor.

I have a tendency to tuck my pelvis during développé and grand battement to the front. Can you help me break this habit? —Lauren

I’m sometimes guilty of this, too. If you’re like me, you’re tucking under to gain a few more inches of leg height—but squashing your torso as a result. Although high legs are great, it’s more important to be properly placed.

For starters, you need a rock-solid supporting leg. Make sure that leg is boring into the ground and your external rotator muscles (where the hamstrings meet the buttocks) are engaged so that you don’t sit back in the working hip. That way you’ll have less wiggle room to distort your pelvis.

As for your working leg, when you reach the height where you normally want to tuck, think of lengthening your back—even leaning back a smidge—instead. If you start tucking, lower your leg to a level where you can maintain a long back. This is your starting point. Your extension will improve over time as you gain strength while holding the proper position.

I find it’s easier to feel the correct placement in attitude devant—after all, we go through attitude before extending our leg to développé. Take passé and try to maintain a lengthened back as you open to attitude. With that feeling still fresh in your memory, try a full développé at 90 degrees. Then, go for higher—but only to the point where you can do so without tucking.

You can also try practicing développé and grand battement while lying on the floor. Maintain a neutral pelvis—you should feel space under your lower back while keeping your rib cage connected to the ground. You’ll know if you’re tucking if you feel your lower back flatten into the floor as you lift your leg.

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