Category Archives: Auditions

Gang Mentality

For a team compilation, everything starts with the audition. We gather in a room, test out everyone to see where their level lies – or so it seems. There is so much more at play. I am monitoring the whole list at once – personality & ego, talent, and interpersonal relations. I am looking for those who will play well with others balanced with talent. If someone is seemingly off in one of the factors, it can be a deal breaker to allowing them on the team.

Personality and ego are one of the hardest things to judge. If an auditionee is someone that I have never met before, I can have one pulled over on me during that short audition. Luckily, many who audition are familiar so I can make a decision based on history. I want to know how corrections are taken, whether a person takes responsibility for their errors, whether they are good with learning new information in front of other people. These three things can be vetted quickly in an audition and are one of the greatest deciding factors.

Obviously talent is a deciding factor. Sometimes people come in with oodles of talent and they know it. They are well trained in what they have previously done. Then you throw something unexpected at them and they look like they are ready to run out the door. This isn’t always a nail in the coffin. Sometimes challenging someone’s confidence can be a great factor if they can come around to the idea by the end of the audition. Feedback after the audition is always a good place to look to see if they did recover. Sometimes there is raw talent in a group that has not been honed. Watching them learn and improve in a short audition can tell a lot about where they can end up.

Interpersonal relations is my most important determining factor. Why? If someone isn’t going to be a team player, they don’t belong on my team. There is a difference between the soloist and the group performer. Being able to put yourself out there as a soloist or in a single partnership is a great talent. It takes guts and courage to do this. Being part of a team is equally courageous – sometimes more courageous. As a team member, we have to hand over our control to the group. We have to dance within the parameters of the choreography, be synchronized with our team mates, and blend within the group. There is not a place to try to be the star. Everyone has to share that status.

Trying to pick the best mix of these things is tricky. Any director can attest to this. Sometimes we pick wrong as well if we become enamoured with an auditionee that seems to have it all while later finding out that they are not a great fit with the team atmosphere. Give your director credit for putting themselves out there to try to bring people together in a team atmosphere. It is a complicated maneuver.

 

Inspiration Seeking

When it is time to start working on a new piece, there is time set aside to work on its design. I have to think about many things including what I am going to get out of it. I have to know that this piece is going to change me even if it is just a small change. That change can be due to many things. It could be that it pushes my physical boundaries of technique and physicality. It could be that is pushes my emotional boundaries and helps me explore disturbing situations from my past. It could be that it pushes my intellectual boundaries and helps me explore a concept that I have not yet wrapped my head around.

When it comes to physical boundaries, this is often the easiest boundary to push. It is one that I already know exists. Going after than boundary is easy because I can identify it and find someone who can help me break it. This is one of my favorite boundaries and not just because of its ease of identification. I love to push myself and be pushed beyond what I thought I was capable. I like questioning my technique and finding a new way to do something that I hadn’t thought I would be able to accomplish. This only helps me grow in the physical part of my dancing.

When it comes to emotional boundaries, this makes for pieces that define my life and career. Being able to lay my heart open on the stage for people to understand, judge, and discuss is vulnerable. More vulnerable than me talking about it. Expressing it physically exposes more than words can express because it touches the audiences at such a level that is hugely unconscious. There is a visceral response just as I had when I was going through it in my past. Sometimes in discussions after a performance, I feel like a little kid with a secret because I know what my show was about and I do not want to give away the true story. I prefer that my audience had an experience that they cannot quite explain. This is how I like to experience art as an audience member.

When it comes to intellectual boundaries, this is the hardest for me to define. I am not a know-it-all type. I know I have a large capacity for understanding. Defining what I do not understand takes  inner work. Sometimes starting with what I don’t like about it is easiest as my dislike might be a defense against a lack of understanding. Once that is identified, the research starts. The research explores expression of that disliked part. It involves reading. It involves discussing with my partner or partners about their insight into it. Bringing a cluster of artistic minds together on a topic and having all of us explore it can make for interesting and varied work.

The journey through a new piece of work enriches my life like nothing else.  At the beginning, I am very excited. When I hit roadblocks, I feel discouraged and have to dig deep to find a way to carry on. Those are the pieces that make me the most proud because they are a complicated journey. They usually evoke the greatest change in my thinking, my physical body, and my intelligence. I am always sad when difficult projects are completed because they touch me so deeply and it feels like I am breaking up with them when done. The lovely thing about pieces is that I can revisit them, so they are never really gone. Revisiting often brings new insight as well, so it is something I practice on this journey.

Big Questions 2

This is a continuation of “Big Questions 1”.  Here is another question that required the greatest and tenderest management skills in my career.

If I want to change things up, do I move to a competitive company and end up destroying my relationship with the director of the company who raised me as a dancer?

Loyalty is a good thing, remember that. The truth is, most people are most loyal to themselves. There is little altruism that remains in our world. In a dog-eat-dog career like dancing, loyalty is a coveted virtue and can give you an edge. You still have to remain loyal to yourself though. Considering how leaving a company could affect a person who invested in you is a choice that will have long-term ramifications. As with coaches, there can be possessiveness by the director for company dancers and rightly so. Like an employer, the director has invested a lot of time, money, and effort into moulding you into what you are. They likely have imparted the best of what they know into you, especially if you are one of their rising stars. Yes, you did contribute by being a willing participant, sharing your talent, and reciprocating with your time. However, without their care and guidance, you likely would not be where you are today.

Making the decision to change companies boils down to this: Do you want to be where you are forever? If you are a core dancer or puppet in the company, you may no longer be growing. If you had an opportunity to take on more challenges within a company, would you? If your answer is yes, it is time to speak to the powers that be and feel out if that is possible. This does take some management of your ego and theirs. You do not want to walk in appearing to have an ultimatum of give me what I want or I am walking. This may be exactly your point of view, but a threatening approach like that could get you turfed out of the company and the news of your ego spread to potential companies you were considering approaching.

Go into the meeting having practiced citing that you are feeling that you need more out of your dancing. You have so much enjoyed being in the position and having the opportunities that you have in this company. At this point, you want more and you want to give the director first right of refusal to help you with this, but you are not sure if that opportunity exists in the company as of this moment. If the director wants you to stay and wants you to keep developing, he or she will find a way. This could be moving your into a more leadership role for the company. It could be giving you more spotlight roles on the stage. You never know what the opportunity could be that they have in mind, but it is always smart to feel out what they have. Before approaching them, they may not have even known you were discontented.

There may also be no further room for your development within the company. Maybe the company is as complex as the director wants it to be. Maybe the director does not see any further growth potential in you and is not interested to further you in the company. If by approaching the director, this becomes obvious, it is time to move on. The director will understand as he or she was in your shoes at some point in their career as well. They would not have achieved what they did by not seeking growth opportunities. Always leave the door open for future connection. You never know if they might need you and you might need them. There will be some hurt feelings, but hurt is less damaging than resentment.

Again, it boils down to survival of the fittest. If you allow yourself to plateau, it will not be long before you are a “has been”. It is easy to become this especially if you have been in a company for a long time. By taking the opportunity to get yourself into a new company or new role, your dancing will be perceived differently, allowing you to be elevated to a new level. 

Power Dance

Within a group of dancers, there will be a variety of personalities. There will be powerful personalities, there will be shy personalities. Some will take a lot of space, some will collapse on themselves. The variety is a beautiful thing to experience because this disparity in personalities is not often reflected on stage.

Within a rehearsal, you will see posturing happen between dancers. It can be more evident during an audition. Some dancers will use power dancing to get the attention of those for whom they are auditioning. They will take the choreography for the audition and tweak it to their strengths. If there is a chance to improvise, they will make themselves bigger, maybe keep dancing for longer than those they are auditioning with so the eye of the judges will be drawn to them. This can be disconcerting to the shyer dancers who dance because they love it. It can be threatening to the shyer dancers who cannot put themselves out there that way. It can help or hinder the power dancer’s chance of getting the part depending on the judge.

Powerful dancers can be amazing to work with because they may have astounding presence on stage. Within most performances, there will be someone to whom my eye is drawn. It is not always the same person to whom my companion’s eye is drawn. I tend to be drawn toward the dancers that have presence. Many people are drawn to dancers that have amazing technique. Presence wins over technique for my attention every time. I am not discounting technique and appreciate the beauty of it. It just does not draw me in like someone projecting their presence on stage.

I used to be a shy person myself. I would make myself small in social situations and I still catch myself doing it. It would surprise people that I was a professional dancer as I didn’t carry myself with the confidence they would expect. That is until they would see me on stage. Then it would make sense. Those who saw me on stage first, then met me after would have the same disparity of understanding about me. They were shocked at how “small” I was off stage compared to on stage. Often, I was told that I appeared four or five inches taller on stage than off. That’s the power of presence as a dancer.

Presence is something that can be learned. It is always nice if you naturally have it. However, we are not always blessed with all the tools to be a great performer. Learning to not look down is a starting point. Learning to be absolutely present when you are on stage is the biggest key. The most magical performances for me are when time slows down when I am on stage. That is when nothing else in my life matters but the music in my body.  That is the ultimate power.

Breaking Out

Education is expensive. It can be so financially expensive for the pure dollar output and sacrificed earnings to learn while I could be earning. It can be so emotionally expensive while discovering things about myself I may not have wanted to – limits to the imagination, physical facility, and the ego burn of how much I really do not know.

One of the beauties of learning is finding my current lack. When I get egocentric, my ability to absorb information shuts down as I think that my past learnings cannot be incorrect – they really are not. The fact is techniques of movement evolve over time. Ask any dance teacher or dancer that has been in the game for a while. They will tell you that everything changes. It happens because of innovation of movement due to someone’s creativity, body structure, and breaking movement. Innovation does not mean that previous theory is wrong, it just means that there are potentially newer and better ways to do it. They are not re-inventing the wheel, just advancing it.

Once a certain level of achievement is reached in a specific field of dancing, a dancer can easily plateau. Breaking that plateau means seeking creative ways to break my body’s learned patterns. The easiest way to do so is studying new genres especially at the other end of the spectrum. Everything in dance involves using the same medium which is the body. Studying different genres allows me to obtain a more three dimensional view of how to use my body. Mixing street genres which are usually more earthy and down with long-standing styles which are usually more perfect and up increases the body intelligence and will propel the ability to learn out of the plateau stage.

Mixing your studies of dance also helps to get you into that chameleon category. Having a body that can be broken into different styles makes it easier to break your most studied style into whatever you need to for an audition. Open the doors for your employability and start transcending beyond your current technique. It can be a fun experiment as well as a career building move, no pun intended.

Career Management

In any field, if you move to a different community, it can take a while to discern who you can trust and who will jerk you around. There are many reasons people will take you for a ride. It could be their own ego getting in the way of inability to expose their weaknesses.  It could be just a game – lure you, then cut the line. There is always politics within small communities. Communities can be like returning to highschool and trying to break into a clique. It can be harder than you would think, especially if you are far removed from highschool.

Seeking out a partner from a different community can present its own challenges. How do you find someone? How do you know if they are trustworthy? Anyone can tell you anything and it can sound enticing especially if you are chasing your dreams. How do you know if they will benefit or harm your career by association? It’s a risk putting yourself out there to work with someone in a community you don’t know. You’re own community may know someone’s name, but they may not be able to really give you the scoop.  Sometimes people present a different side to different people as well.  Even male-male, female-female, and male-female interactions can have their own patterns that vary differently.

In the partner dance world, there are definitely advantages to being a male. For men, there is opportunity for pro-am work which is professional dancers dancing with amateur dancers for competition purposes. This is a result of the imbalance that will likely always exist between the number of women and men who dance. It can be quite lucrative for the male professionals. They also have the opportunity to have the pick of the female dancers in the partner community.

So how does a female dancer make herself more attractive in such a situation? Esthetic beauty definitely helps. Women like a handsome face and body to look at as much as a male likes a beautiful face and body to look at. Whether we like to admit it, esthetics do count.

Having amazing facility in the body also helps. Have you invested in your training? Can you dance what you teach? Do you have beautiful legs, feet, and arms in terms of movement? Fluidity of movement can be captivating as can speed and sharpness. All this is part of being a desirable partner.

Attitude can be one of the most important deciding factors with everything else being equal. Humility, professionalism, and work ethic all come into play in the package of attitude. If you are amazing and you don’t let anyone forget it, you might get kicked to the curb. If you can’t keep your appearance, language, and interactions professional, that can get you tossed out. If you are talented, but not willing to invest the time to hone your skills and partnership, talent will only take you so far. There has to be the trio of attitude components to even be in the running. There will be many hours invested on the floor together, after hours planning, and travelling together. If you two dancers aren’t well matched, the two most talented dancers in the world won’t be able to make a go of it for long.

The concepts apply to both male and female dancers inside and outside of the partner dancing realm. If you want to make it in a community, it takes more than talent. It takes work. It takes an investment of time feeling things out. It takes putting yourself out and there and accepting that rejection is a leaping point to new opportunities. A partnership is a community all on its own that can reflect on the surrounding community. Take care of how you come across. Don’t burn bridges as you never know when you will need one of them to get to the other side to more work in and out of your community.

Going the Distance

How far would I go to find a dance partner? Pretty far – geographically that is. Would I travel across the globe for the chance to find a great partner? At this point in my career, absolutely. What have I got to lose? Nothing – I have a partner to gain. Putting myself out there internationally to find a partner opens a new level of opportunities. These opportunities are not only for partnering, but company & commercial work. I’m excited!

Being known in a community for a while can open doors for work, but it can close doors as well.  There may be preconceived ideas about me. I may be pigeon-holed into a category. I may be threatening to others in the community. I am not as classifiable as people would like which can work to my advantage as it can be intriguing, but it can be threatening as well because of that lack of definition.  People like to be able to categorize because it allows them to relate a person to a concept they already understand.  This has been an issue throughout my life. I crossed the boundaries of academics, arts, and athletics as a kid and haven’t stopped. This is just who I am and I have to be me.  I have to be okay with people not being okay with me.

Being a cross-over makes me a desirable and hirable performer.  I bring depth to works that choreographers can use.  It also allows me to be a chameleon as well and get work that maybe I am less qualified for than others because my performance charisma can win over producers.  As a soloist or partner dancer, this brings a unique dimension that is marketable and relatable.  I can play the everyday person, the vamp, the emotional, or anything I am asked to. This is something life and dance experience brings.  I didn’t know this in my earlier career days.

In auditions with partners, my depth comes in handy.  I can portray lust, sensuality, and betrayal. I can take on what the music says. I can be whatever a partner needs.  This isn’t to say I am about to lay down and be a doormat. I respect myself far to much for that anymore. It seemed like a good idea in my younger days, but I know that if I am going to work with someone, it has to truly be a partnership. I don’t want to be dictated to, nor do I want to be a dictator. Partnerships are harder than company and commercial work because I have to be able to work day in and day out with one person.  I have to be able to learn with one person in various situations and feel comfortable enough to do so – I also have to make it comfortable enough for him to be vulnerable to learn.

Professional partnerships can take more work than romantic relationships. I say this because we have to work, learn, perform, and sometimes teach together while still maintaining professionalism between ourselves.  Also, we have to get to know each other, become friends, but maintain boundaries if we are not romantically interacting so we can find romantic partners who can trust our relationship.  Add traveling for training, performing, or teaching to that mix, and it adds another dimension of complication. Finding the right partner that this professionalism can be maintained is difficult. After intimate performances when both partners are on their game can present temptation for blurring lines because of the connection between us. That’s where setting boundaries before that happens comes imperative. Wish me luck!

Opportunities Everywhere

Every dancer I interact with teaches me something. It could be on the social floor, in the studio, or at an audition.  The dancer could be beginner, intermediate, or established.  It doesn’t matter.  Everyone has something to teach me if I am open to hearing it with my body and mind.

On the social floor, I learn about connecting. Even if the lead is not to my liking, I can learn to better connect into their hand, body, and energy.  A great dance with a stranger is exhilarating and can create a moment that stays with me for days.  A great dance doesn’t teach me anything.  It’s like a beautiful dancing day versus and ugly dancing day – it boosts my ego, but doesn’t help my career.  A bad dance teaches me patience, understanding, and imperfection. It takes two to dance in the partner world. Our energies and skills may not be a match, but I will work to adapt myself to them to try again and make a better connection.  I play with this whenever I get a chance to social dance and I come away inspired to be a better receiver on the social floor.

At the studio, I learn about confidence and humility. If I am studying under a teacher or choreographer, I have to be confident enough to absorb the information and know I am capable. I also learn to learn with an audience. In the past, I wanted to be perfect before anyone saw me. Now, I want to learn and have people see me make mistakes. It teaches me to pick myself up and carry on. It also teaches me to be present.  Mistakes can create brain chatter if you let it. Every teacher brings an angle that I can learn from as well. I want my dancing dismantled by the teacher because I am not pure in any specific dance form. When I get a coach who is pure, I want them to infuse me with information that makes me better. I want to hear what they hate about what I do. This I can grow from.

At an audition, I learn about choreographing, trust, and opening my soul for shaping by the choreographer. I have to let my light shine even though I may be uncomfortable if I don’t pick up a sequence or rhythm as fast as I expect. I have to show the choreographer I have an attitude of willingness to learn whatever they will share with me.  I have to trust that the choreographer is pushing my limits for my own good. I wouldn’t have found myself in this audition if I was not meant to be there. There are no accidents, so I need to glean as much as I can from this experience and use it to improve myself even if I am not a fan of the information. The most uncomfortable auditions are the most useful.

Not everyone is going to be a fan of my work. Criticism – whether it falls on my ears or other’s – is going to follow me around. That scrutiny allows so much opportunity for betterment. At the end of the day, I am never going to be a finished product whether on the social floor, in the studio, or at an audition. That’s the life of a dancer. With experience, comes wisdom. The more experience and wisdom I have, the more I realize how little experience and wisdom I have and hence more room to expand my horizons. Amazing!

Ugly

As dancers, there is an expectation of beauty and perfection from ourselves, especially when we are first developing as dancers.  This is to be expected when we are new learning skills.  There has to be a level of mastery before we can start making things our own. I still have this expectation of myself when I start learning new moves.  Once my body understands how it should be executed to fit the criteria of perfection, that’s when the fun begins.  That’s when I work on the ugly.

Ugly is not an easy concept for dancers as we are so entrenched in the philosophy of beauty. There are days when I want to be beautiful and dance in a way that is accepted in my realm as such.  These are the days I am staying within my comfort zone. These are the days that I do not grow.  These are the days that are good for my ego.  These are also the days that are bad for my career because I am not stretching my mental limits.  It’s understandable to have to have beautiful days to keep confident. They have to be matched with days of discomfort as well though to have balance.  There is always a dichotomy to be able to have a whole person in balance.

Some of the most interesting choreographers, teachers, and coaches work with ugly. What I mean is they break from the accepted beauty of the dance.  Whether it is using different faces, broken lines, or unusual sequences of steps, it makes for new challenges for the body while discovering new movement.  One choreographer I worked with challenged me years ago with the concept of ugly.  It wasn’t labelled as such, but that’s how I think of it. There were days I wanted to cry because my boundaries were so stretched, I was so uncomfortable and self-conscious.  Even though she knew she was doing this to me, she kept pushing me anyway.

At the time, I was not that thankful.  There were days I dreaded going to rehearsal.  My stomach would be in knots just thinking about going. However, she shaped me more than any other dancer. Whenever I choreograph, I think to how she shattered my concept of beauty and use that to get outside my box of tricks. This allows me to create performances that are more beautiful and touching than if I stuck to pretty dancing.   It allows for a unique experience for the audience and they walk away with a memory that I helped imprint. Does it get any more satisfying than that?

Evolutionary Dance

The dance forms that have survived involve perfection. They do evolve over time, but the baser techniques remain and the dances have deep roots.  Among the long standing dances, there are many new dance forms that emerge from around the world based on people and music.  Many people latch onto the new dance forms and skip over the more rooted ones for many reasons.  To name a few, it can be easy to make a living because the playing field is level when a new dance emerges, there’s little history so little to learn, and often the rules can be made as you go because there are few leaders in the field to who you will be compared.

When it comes to more established dance forms, there is a steeper learning curve. There’s a history that should be learned and respected, typically a syllabus of steps, accepted technique, and studying the people who have made it already in the field. Those who have made it likely studied under tutelage of the master before them and they have studied with the masters before them creating a passing down of knowledge from generation to generation. A common theme in established dances is they demand perfection to be considered a dancer of note. Sometimes, these forms are deemed boring by the general public because the effort to achieve this ease of perfection falls on blind eyes. This is why companies are trying break out of the box to round out their audiences.  Classical ballet companies are providing a variety in their season including contemporary pieces, pieces to music that is more pop culture, and bringing back renowned pieces that are more popular. The dancing still is rooted in classical ballet, but it is evolved to be more accessible.

Taking something classical and breaking it into something different while maintaining the base technique is fascinating.  Contemporary and modern dance have been given much exposure through shows like So You Think You Can Dance and have whetted the appetite of the public to appreciate this form.  The roots tied to ballet and solid training are still there, but the evolution of these two forms have captivated the imagination of the general public.  These public exposures to dance culture have propelled our young dancers beyond where the same age would have been technique-wise a generation ago. It is amazing to watch the upcoming generation. They now have stars that they truly relate to and  can follow more easily because of social and mass media.  The choreographers who are helping grow this collective dance knowledge are getting the credit they are due because of the media exposure.

This is such an exciting time to be part of dance as it is evolving more quickly than ever in history. Be grateful that you get this experience and don’t take it for granted. Get involved with projects with emerging choreographers. Take opportunities to choreograph your own works when music inspires you. If you can think outside the box, you can become a leader in the changing dance landscape and leave you mark on this art. Your solid roots will help you get there – never forget from where your dancing today came and honour that!