Your Training: Under Pressure

January 18, 2012

Before ever trying out for a company, most advanced ballet students already feel like audition pros. Through the summer intensive experience, they learn how to manage nerves, which leotard they look best in and they may even have a lucky number they vie for in line. But professional open calls demand far more than student auditions.

For starters, they’re less predictable, since they’re designed to quickly identify and weed out dancers who aren’t the type the company is looking for. Directors might ask you to learn repertoire on the spot, perform a contemporary variation or improvise. You might be given partnering work with a stranger. Combinations are rarely demonstrated twice so the staff can evaluate your ability to pick up choreography quickly. Most importantly, while a summer program might accept 150 people, a company may only have one available contract. “Company auditions are far more competitive,” says Katherine Minor, a dancer in her first year at The Joffrey Ballet. “The caliber of dance is much higher.”   

Don’t Get Lost

Open auditions aren’t referred to as “cattle calls” for nothing. Many newcomers are startled by how many dancers turn up. Companies might split the crowd into groups and hold multiple auditions consecutively, or give a series of 30-minute barres to one group at a time, then invite the dancers they’re interested in to a callback at the end of the day. Some companies, such as Tulsa Ballet, hold invitation-only auditions, which require dancers to submit a video and resumé before being allowed to audition. Often, dancers are simply piled into the studio with little space to move until a series of cuts creates more room.

Arrive prepared. “After you fill out an application, you have to stand in line for a while to hand it in with your photos and resumé,” says Arielle Espie, a dancer with Kansas City Ballet. “So there’s not a lot of time to warm up, either before you turn it in or after.” For her KCB audition, Espie showed up two hours early to find the registration area already packed. She recommends warming up as much as possible before you get there. 

During crowded summer intensive auditions, schools will ensure they see each dancer by assigning lines for center and having them rotate. You’re unlikely to have such a luxury in a company audition. If you want to be seen, you need to be proactive: Put yourself in a prime space and group, and dance with a strong, confident stage presence.


Don’t Let a Cut Dig Too Deep

The process of cutting dancers is one of the most profound differences. Cuts usually occur in center, but can happen as early as the first few combinations at barre. Try not to take cuts personally. Espie has seen every girl over 5’7″ immediately cut, or all of the SAB students cut because the company wanted a Vaganova-trained dancer. Being asked to leave doesn’t mean you lack talent; it just means you don’t fit the parameters that the company is looking for right now.

Dress for Success

“Present yourself to show the longest, leanest, loveliest look possible,” says Judy Jacob, who runs auditions for Richmond Ballet. The worst styling mistake she sees is when dancers visually chop up their body: “They have their tights on the outside of their leotard, they have a skirt, and their tights are rolled up or cut off, so when we look at them from a distance they’re in five sections.” The effect is a wider, shorter line.

Find a leotard in a style that flatters your shape, and wear pink tights (under your leotard and over your feet). While your hair doesn’t necessarily have to be in a classical bun, it should be tight and neat without any flyaways. “Whatever you do, don’t wear your junk!” insists Jacob.  

Be a Dancer, Not a Student

As a dedicated student, you’ve been drilled repeatedly on proper technique. But companies aren’t looking for students to train; they’re looking for artists who can captivate an audience. They want more than technical perfection. “Don’t just take a class in your auditions,” advises Espie. “Perform.” —Kathleen McGuire

Vying For Varna

The list of past prizewinners from the Varna International Ballet Competition reads like a who’s who of ballet today: Ivan Vasiliev, Lauren Cuthbertson and Daniil Simkin, just for starters. But those big names shouldn’t scare you off–the 100 candidates who compete in the first round are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis.

July 15–30, 2012

Application Deadline:
March 31

Every other year

125 euros

First Round:
One classical pas de deux or two variations from a pre-determined list

Second Round:
A different classical pas de deux or two variations choreographed before the year 1900, plus a contemporary piece choreographed after 2006

Third Round:
Another classical pas de deux or two variations choreographed before the year 2000, plus a contemporary piece choreographed after 2001

A first, second and third place are named in the senior (ages 20–26) and junior (ages 15–19) categories for men and women. There is a Varna Grand Prix for seniors, a Special Distinction for juniors and an IBC Laureate for each age group. Prizes come with up to 6,000 euros.

Varna’s International Summer Ballet Academy offers daily classes in ballet, character, jazz and Afro-Cuban.


Mid-Winter Warm-Up

Can’t wait for summer intensive season? You don’t have to. Check out Orlando Ballet School’s two-day winter intensive on February 11 and 12. The weekend includes more than five hours of master classes, an Orlando Ballet performance, plus special summer intensive and Orlando Ballet II audition classes with OBS director Dierdre Miles Burger. The entire program costs $200. There’s no audition required—simply register at

Launch Your Career   

Ready your career for takeoff with Northwest Dance Project’s LAUNCH program. The two-week workshop gives 30 dancers ages 18 and up prime exposure to artistic directors and choreographers, such as Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s Benoit-Swan Pouffer, Washington Ballet’s Septime Webre and Nashville Ballet’s Paul Vasterling. Each director teaches repertoire, improvisation and/or partnering—whatever they’d like to see out of potential recruits. The dancers also learn new work by the two winners of NWDP’s annual Pretty Creatives choreographic competition.

“If you’re looking for a job, LAUNCH is a great way to open your eyes to an array of choreographers and directors,” says Ching Ching Wong, who landed a contract with NWDP after attending LAUNCH in 2010. She wasn’t the only one to walk away with a job that year: A few of her classmates were invited to join Nevada Ballet and others were offered contracts with Nashville Ballet. The 2012 program will take place July 9–21 at NWDP’s studio in Portland, Oregon. See for audition information.

DRA’s Student Competition

Over the past 20 years, Dancers Responding to AIDS has helped thousands of performers living with HIV/AIDS. Now the organization is also supporting aspiring young dancers through Dancin’ Downtown, a performance and choreography competition that doubles as a fundraiser.

April 2, 2012

Application Deadline:
February 2

New York City’s Joyce Theater

Selection Process:
A panel of dance professionals chooses 20 group pieces from DVD submissions.

Best Performance and Best Choreography, plus scholarships to Steps on Broadway, Complexions and Ballet Hispanico summer intensives. In addition, two pieces are selected for Central Park SummerStage performances in August.