How to Ace Your College Dance Audition
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It was, without a doubt, the most important audition of my life. The outcome of that day would essentially determine whether or not I got to spend the rest of my life dancing.
It was a standard college dance audition, but my circumstances were different than most of the girls in the room. You see, I had already gone through the college audition process in my senior year of high school, and failed. No one I auditioned for had wanted me in their dance program. I had been accepted to this university for my academics, but as an undeclared major.
So here I was, already a freshman at this university, graciously granted the opportunity to take class with the freshman dance majors, and re-audition for the program in November. You can imagine my nerves were quite intense leading up to that day. I spent the whole semester comparing myself to my fellow freshmen, trying to figure out why they had gotten in, but not me.
The day that my modern teacher (also the program head) came up to me one class after the audition and handed me a “Declaration of Major” form was the happiest day of my life. I almost didn’t get to be a dance major, which is why I want to share with you what I’ve learned about the college dance audition process.
Read on for 10 tips on how to ace your college dance audition!
Throughout High School
College may seem far away when you’re a freshman or sophomore in high school, but that’s actually a critical time. What you do to build your résumé leading up to senior year can make you stand out from other applicants, regardless of how you perform on audition day.
1. Go to Intensives
I distinctly remember my professor saying this was one of the things he looked for in applicants. And your studio’s summer intensive doesn’t count. Attendance at a prestigious summer intensive such as the American Dance Festival 3-Week School looks amazing on a college application. I’m personally recommending ADF because I’ve been to their 6-Week School and it’s life-changing, but there are many other great intensives out there. (Potentially a topic for a future post!)
2. Go to Programs and Shows at Universities
At some point before senior year, you’ll need to decide what schools to audition for. One great way to do that is to go see one of their dance shows. You’ll get a sense of their style, what kind of dancers they take, and what kinds of experiences you’d get as a student there.
Seeing shows is also a great way to prepare for an audition, for the same reasons. Pay close attention to the dancers and try to notice things like, “Hmm, they don’t seem to care much about flexibility, but everyone here has incredibly smooth transitions.” Also, read the program cover to cover. Those boring director’s notes will give you insight into what kind of people will be sitting behind the table at your audition.
3. Meet Everyone You Can
This usually happens more by chance than anything else, but personally knowing faculty or students in the program you’re auditioning for makes all the difference. If a dance professor is watching an audition and they think, “Oh hey, number 25 was at our summer intensive last year. I remember she was a really hard worker,” number 25 just severely increased her chances of getting picked.
See if the school(s) you’re interested in have summer intensives or any other opportunities for high schoolers to interact with current students and faculty. My school had a thing where you could come and take class for a day and get a personal tour of the performing arts building if you were considering auditioning there. Look for opportunities like that!
Leading Up to the Date
4. Practice Improv
If you’re auditioning for a school where modern/contemporary dance is their focus, they will almost certainly want to see some improv. Why? Because they’re looking for unique individuals who will enrich their program, not the people who best fit their mold, like a school focusing on ballet might. Improv is your chance to present yourself as an individual, and it is a skill that absolutely must be practiced.
The dance program I ended up attending caught me off guard in my first audition when they asked us to use our voice. “Say your name 3 times during your phrase,” was the prompt. I was a shy person to begin with, and had no idea how to make my voice work with my movement in an artistic way. (Potentially one of the reasons they didn’t pick me?) My advice is to practice all varieties of improv prompts, even ridiculous stuff, because you never know what they’ll ask you to do.
5. Practice Picking Up Combos Quickly
Learning how to pick up combos quickly will help you SO MUCH in your dance career. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been in an audition, masterclass, or choreography situation where being able to pick up movement quickly benefited me. Knowing the combo frees you up to think about your performance quality, and to dance with confidence. Big plus!
How do you gain this valuable skill? It takes time and lots of practice. Having a fast-moving teacher helps, but if your teachers are prone to over-explaining things, you can still try to learn on your own as much as you can. Listen to them explain it once, then try to be one step ahead of them as they explain it again. Try to anticipate what they’re going to say, because then you’re using your own memory, not relying on the teacher to remind you.
6. Prepare for an Interview
Sometimes a college dance audition will include an interview. I have three tips for you in this area:
- Do your research and know the ins and outs of that particular school. The more familiar you are with the program, the more you’ll seem at home there, and thus a good fit.
- This school is always your top choice. No matter what your real top choice is, when they ask, you have to say, “My top choice is definitely here!” (And be able to say why!)
- Give them a reason to remember you. Be the girl who made that clever joke, the one who had the unique story, the one with the neon orange headband, anything that will be a quick recall in their minds when they’re reviewing the applications. (I got remembered at an audition once for being the girl in the blue tights, so I know this works!)
The Day Of
8. Take Care of Your Body
This should go without saying, but it’s so important to take care of your body on the day of an audition. Warm up properly, eat good energizing food, and meditate or whatever you need to do to get your mind in a good place.
Pro Tip: If you go on a walking tour of campus before the audition, stretch out your hip flexors really well. Walking tightens those muscles up and can negatively affect the alignment of your pelvis if you don’t stretch it out.
9. Take Corrections
Often the person leading the audition will teach a combo, have you do it once, then give some pointers about what she’s looking for. Pay really close attention and try to apply those to your dancing. Those corrections are the scale they’re using to weigh one dancer against another, so you want to be trying your hardest to apply them.
Even if you don’t apply a correction perfectly, they’ll still see that you changed something. That shows that you’re willing to work with them, which is even more appealing than talent most of the time.
10. Don’t Think About Technique
Wait, what? Don’t think about your technique at an audition? Are you crazy? Maybe, but as weird as it sounds, this was the big difference between my successful auditions and the ones that failed. I’m not saying don’t point your toes and turn out and all those good things. But if all you’re thinking during the combination is, “Oh no, my hips aren’t square, okay deep plié here, shoot, was my knee straight?” you’re going to look like one of two things. 1) You’ll have the “concentration face,” which usually involves looking down and not emitting confidence. 2) Even if you’re good at hiding the concentration face, you’ll still look like you’re holding back, being cautious. You don’t want that!
You’ve been training for years. Technique is second nature to you, so you’re probably going to point your toes without consciously thinking about it. Let your muscle memory take care of the technique and focus on showing your soul. Communicate something with your body. Be extra.
When I walked out of the most important audition of my life, my first thought was, “That was fun.” It’s so cheesy, but they really can tell who loves to dance and who doesn’t. It was almost too late by the time I realized that I loved to dance, but I wasn’t dancing like it. That, in my opinion, is the most important thing you can do in an audition. Dance like you love it.