DVD Auditions for the Distance Dancer – Part 1

Uh-oh! One of your top summer intensive choices isn’t auditioning anywhere near you this year, and you can’t travel to them. No worries – DVD auditions are accepted by many national and regional ballet schools. (Though some, like SAB, only accept videos from foreign students.) And with a few tips, you’ll be well on your way to an audition-worthy disk.

This post is in two parts because there are so many tips on this that I’d like to give you. Today, I’ll focus on the content – what you are going to perform for your video audition. In Part 2, we’ll talk logistics, filming style, how-to and putting together the audition packet.

Just as with live auditions, most schools devote at least one page on their website to video auditions: what to wear, what steps to include, what papers to include and how long it should be. Find this for each of your video audition schools and print out the pages for easy reference and comparison. In order to prevent yourself from having to make more than one audition video, read through the requirements of all your schools of interest to see if you can make one DVD to satisfy all of them. Usually, the only time this won’t work is when one school requires a you to send a variation – many schools will not want variations on your video, so you will need to make a separate disks for the two types.

Most schools will simply want a short barre and center class, but with special modifications. If you read all requirements carefully, you will find that most modifications can be combined and do not conflict with each other, so that you can make one class DVD to use for all your auditions. If you can’t however, don’t try to buck the rules. If you need to make different tapes, just go ahead and make different tapes. Run a single taping session and use editing to pick and choose what portions should be included for each school. Then, make darn sure not to mix up those different DVDs.

While some of us (ahem, moi) might make perfectly successful SI DVD auditions without rehearsing, that is not the recommended protocol! I only made my tapes with no rehearsal as a young dancer because I didn’t know any better, and that’s the very reason I created this blog – So other dancers won’t be as clueless as I once was!

You want to decide ahead of time exactly what exercises you will perform, which side you will perform for each, what music you will use for each, etc, and then practice, practice, clean, clean. Make yourself a list so you don’t accidentally forget to perform one during your taping. If you forget to perform a step, it will be impossible to tape a new session and splice it into your DVD without the details of your hair, makeup and background giving away your cheat.

One of your teachers can help you put together exercises that conform with the audition requirements. Make sure to provide them with the requirements well in advance. If all it says is to include barre and center, here are some sample (Vaganova) exercises you might include for the barre:

Pliés – Just do something straightforward like demi, demi, grand, and a port de bras or port de corp in first, second, fourth and fifth.

Tendu – Three battement tendus (from fifth, first, and then fifth again) ending the third one in demi plié. Instead of en croix, perhaps go front, side, back, and then balance in fifth or rétiré before your reversal. I would also recommend using a full port de bras in each direction to show your understanding of the lines involved there.

Jeté – Two quick battement jetés and one pas de cheval, perhaps with the arm in second and ending with a relevé rétiré balance with arms in first or, if you are advanced enough, with a single pirouette from fifth. Perform this devant, a lá seconde, and devant with your inside leg to jazz it up before reversing, but realize how that will change the pirouette directions.

Rond de Jambe – To a waltz: two slow ronds par terre, two quick ronds, degagé to 90 degrees, demi rond at 90 to a lá seconde, one rond de jambe en l’air, demi rond to derrière 90, close fifth. Reverse. Since this is an audition, I would save time and not include a port de corp if you have already included one with your plié exercise.

Frappé – Two (Cecchetti) frappés devant, one relevé, repeat a lá seconde, repeat derrière, then frappé a lá seconde into relevé and petit battements. Reverse and balance in relevé sur le coup de pied before closing fifth.

Adagio/Fondu – Developpé devant, battement fondu simple to 90 degrees en relevé, hold or balance for a moment and close fifth. Repeat a lá seconde. Repeat derrière/arabesque. Instead of repeating to the side, hold the balance in arabesque for the final counts. Do not reverse.

Grand Battement – Keep it simple with two grand battements en croix with arm in third for devant and derrière.

You’ll note that this is a very short barre with few balances and port de corps. Remember that your adjudicators need only a snapshot of a class.

Center should include an adage, pirouettes, petit allegro, grand allegro and pointework for ladies so advanced. Some sample exercises:

Adagio – Beginning croisé, developpé croisé devant, passé through rétiré to attitude éffacé, stretch to second arabesque, relevé to pas de bourée into demi plié fifth, developpé écarté devant, promenade to écarté derrière, relevé and tombé into balancé to the right, devellopé the left leg through sur le coup de pied to chassé croisé en avant on the left and close the right leg back. Repeat left.

Tours – On the diagonal in fifth croisé with right foot front, chasse croisé en avant to prepare. Tombé pas de bourée to the right, piqué to first arabesque, land in fourth position with left leg front, single pirouette en dehors to fourth, double pirouette en dehors to fourth. (Or balance in retiré and then a single pirouette if that better suits your level.) Perform once right and once left, preferably without a break – Just rond the right leg around at the end of right side.

Petit allegro – From fifth en face, right foot behind: Glissade, jeté right, glissade, jeté left, balloté devant éffacé, balloté derrière éffacé, coupé and brush to assémblé side with the left leg, closing back. Peform right and left, with battu on the jetés and assemblé if you are advanced enough.

Grand allegro – Same preparation as pirouette exercise. Sauté first arabesque, glissade, pas de chat, sauté first arabesque, glissade, grand jeté, pas couru and piqué into third arabesque, chasse into grand jeté en tournant entrelacé landing in fourth arabesque, small devellopé through to devant and chassé into chainés, chassé out and into first arabesque a térre.

If you are over 13, you may be required to perform the whole video en pointe in addition to the next section.

Pointework 1 – En face: two echappés changée to second, one to fourth, and one passé through retire; repeat that phrase to the left; pique with the right leg into pas de bourée suivi traveling right, continue into a small circle around yourself, changée fifth in sous-sous, chassé an avant croisé on the left foot and close right foot behind to fifth. Repeat to the left.

Pointework 2 – En diagonale: pique first arabesque, tombé over, coupe under to renversé, pas de bourée en tournant, coupé over on the left foot into piqué pas de bourée closing in fifth position demi plié, and chassé en arriére to croisé devant in prep for left. Repeat to the left.

Pointework 3 –  Piqué turns en diagonale.

Pointework 4 – If you have enough room on your tape, show off any pointe strengths that you would like in a set of 16 or 32 counts. I always added hops on pointe to my audition videos. Fouetté rond de jambes en tournant (foutté turns) are rarely requested, but do include them if they are a specialty of yours.

Remember to finish each exercise cleanly. And check those requirements – San Fransisco and Miami City have very specific DVD choreography specifications that would not be satisfied by the above sample.

If a variation is requested, make sure you don’t include something so long that you can’t also fit your barre and center while accommodating the time limit. Two of my favorite short variations for pre-pro dancers are Bluebird from Sleeping Beauty and Kitri’s (second) first act variation from Don Quixote. Each one is only about a minute, and both feature jumps, turns and pointework.

See? This won’t be so bad. Videos let you a) audition in the comfort of your home-field-advantage studio, b) create exercises that present you at your very best, c) practice the exercises ahead of time and d) take multiple recordings from which to choose your best execution. In the next post, I’ll help you get this awesome DVD made and help you put together your best video application packet.

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Ballet in College = Smart Ballerina!

Still deciding whether to go to college before trying to have a dance career? You’ve gotta read this article from the recent issue of Pointe Magazine!

I’m a huge proponent of dancing in college before taking on a career – and of doubling your major so you can have a marketable non-dance career track available. The refinement and maturity that a good college experience provides combined with a respected dance program experience can make the difference for your dancing between student-quality and professional artist-quality.

Going to college before you invest time and money in pro auditions is a very smart move for many reasons. Just ask any of the dancers in the feature article or professional dancer Lindsey Fitzmorris, graduate of SUNY Purchase and official graphical image of BalletScoop!

Is a pro school right for you year-round?

I’ve often talked about how crucial training at a professional ballet school can be for students who aspire to a professional career, a high quality college dance career or both. Here is some great advice from the recent issue of Pointe Magazine about deciding whether a year-round program is right for you – and whether you are ready for it.

Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 3

If you are getting ready to take ballet for the first time, you might want a heads up on what to expect, from what the barre is really for to what the teachers expect from you.

When you arrive, find out where to put your dance bag and purse. If you need to change, find out where dressing or restrooms are available. You should be in your dancewear with hair pulled back and completely ready to walk into class five minutes before the start time.

Exercises in ballet follow a certain general order. The class is begun at the barre, which you are probably familiar with from movies and TV as a railing that is used by dancers for warm-up. The barre is intended to be a light support. You should always practice at the barre as if you will eventually perform the exercises without it – because you will! Hanging on the barre or gripping it are huge no-nos.

When you walk into class, the first thing to do is introduce yourself to the teacher. Even if you met her during your enrollment, it is helpful for her if you re-introduce yourself.

Next, find a spot at the barre about four to five feet away from anyone else so that you can perform your exercises without kicking or bumping someone else accidentally. There’s definitely an unspoken rule about who gets what spot at the barre. Students who have some seniority usually have favorite spots that are considered theirs. Wait a few seconds before choosing your spot so you can avoid “stealing” one from one of these students.

If it’s the first day of class for a number of students or if it’s the first day of the year, the teacher might go over some class rules. In case she doesn’t though, here’s the basic rundown of what’s expected:

  1. When you are in the studio, speak only when prompted or raise your hand when you have a question, even if class is over or hasn’t yet begun.
  2. Ask for permission to leave the room or leave early, and ask in advance if at all possible. Never arrive late. If you absolutely must, enter the room as quietly as possible. Do not enter or exit the studio during a combination.
  3. Adhere to the dress code. Be neat and clean. Do not wear ill-fitting items or those in disrepair.
  4. At the barre and in the center, do not get so close to others that you kick or bump into them.
  5. Do not compare yourself to others. Work towards your personal best.
  6. Do not leave the room without a thank you, small curtsy or both to the teacher and accompanist. (This is very dependant on culture. Watch the other students.)
  7. No gum chewing.
  8. No jewelry.
  9. Water is the only drink allowed in class.
  10. You are responsible for reading notices, cast lists and keeping track of important dates and events.

The barre exercises will begin with knee-bends and extensions of the leg away from the body. At first, your toes will stay touching the floor, but as the exercises progress, the leg will be extended off the floor in increasing heights. You might also practice balancing on two legs and eventually on one.

After the barre exercises, students work on center practice. As a beginner, these exercises will be similar to the work performed at the barre and may also include small jumps. As you progress, turns will be added and jumps will increase in height and complexity.

Throughout the exercises, the teacher may call out corrections to the class. You are expected to listen and apply them. She may also direct her attention to an individual student and might use her hands to physically move the student’s body into the shape that’s needed. If you are that student, don’t get anxious. Just listen and try to put into practice what she is asking. If its your first day, this might happen quite a bit as the teacher works to get you to understand the steps.

For the last exercise, the teacher might guide the students through a slow bow or curtsy combination called reverance. Once class is over, all students should clap for the teacher as a thank you. They may also then thank the teacher individually with a curtsy. Watch the other students in the class and follow their lead on this. Some teachers do not prefer an individual curtsy and thank you because they need to get to another class and move on with the day.

Don’t be concerned at all if you did not understand a lot of the words used for the steps or if you were limited in what you could do. If you keep going to class, that will change quickly. This is my final post in this three-part series – All that is left is for you to go and take that first class!

Congratulations on trying something new and entering the beautiful world of strength and creativity that is ballet. Enjoy it and good luck!

Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 2

You have selected a dance school and signed up for ballet lessons. Now its time to shop for your ballet clothes!

Your dance school should provide you with a dress code and a list of stores to purchase the items you need. Don’t go online to buy your first ballet clothes – you will need to try things on and get help selecting styles and sizes. You will need at least one basic leotard, a pair of pink tights, and a pair of pink ballet shoes. If you will be taking more than one class weekly, you may need another set or two of tights and a leotard. Depending on the dress code, you may also wish to purchase a basic short wrap skirt and some simple warm-ups or cover-ups for walking in the halls between classes or for warming up before class. So let’s talk about what to shop for.

Before we get started, be forewarned that you may feel a bit strange in a leotard and tights at first. They look and feel very different than street clothes! A question that new female dancers are often too shy to ask is: Should I wear underwear and a bra under a leotard and tights? Most dancers consider the tights to be the underwear and most leotards are made with a lining or shelf bra attached. (Wearing dancewear is very similar to wearing a bathing suit.) If you are not comfortable with this and prefer additional layers, there are many options available specifically for dance that you may choose from. Body Wrappers, Natalie and Capezio offer boyshorts, thongs, bikini cuts, bra tops, leotard-cut underliners and unitard-cut underlines. These are all designed in fabrics and colors that fit discreetly under leotards or costumes and that are moisture-wicking. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to wear streetwear underclothes with your dancewear. Street styles are way too bulky and noticeable, and they can trap moisture and heat that can cause, ahem, issues.

Now for the fun stuff. For your first pink tights, ask for a convertible foot. These tights have a slit on the bottom of the foot so they can be rolled up to the ankle. This is invaluable if you are planning to take other dance classes, like modern or jazz. I would recommend choosing Body Wrappers, Capezio, Gaynor Minden or Bloch tights. These brands offer various fabric choices, so ask the sales person to let you feel the different fabrics and help you choose the proper size.

For your ballet leotard, you should choose something simple in a comfortable fabric and cut. A short sleeve or tank version with a high back is usually best for your first leo to avoid feeling too revealed and to be able to wear a bra if you prefer or need to. Some good leotard brands are Mirella, Body Wrappers, Capezio, Bloch, Grishko, Freed, Sansha and Natalie.

Next your pink ballet shoes. Soft ballet shoes are made in satin, leather and canvas. If your dress code does not specify, try leather or canvas which are what most students wear. Ballet shoes should cover the toes, sides of the foot and heel. The sales person should help you find a size that does not bag around your foot but does not cramp your foot either. For advanced students, I like to see elastic criss-crossed from heel to arch, but on a beginner, I recommend just one elastic across the arch of the foot. Ask the sales person if they sell any shoes with elastic pre-sewn. Look for ballet shoe brands like Fuzi, Angelo Luzio, Capezio, Bloch, Sansha, Freed, Grishko and Principal.

Ballet shoes come in split-sole and full-sole. That refers to the leather pad on the bottom of the shoe. A full-sole shoe has a strip of leather in a footprint shape while a split sole has a pad on the ball of the foot and one on the heel. The idea is that a split-sole highlights and enhances the look of the foot’s arch while increasing ease of motion. It does, but note that a full-sole offers resistance on the arch that can be useful for pointe preparation.

Now to accessorize. Does your dress code allow for a short skirt? If so, make sure you know what colors are acceptable and if there is a minimum or maximum length. If the dress code just says “short”, look for a one-layer skirt no shorter than ten inches and no longer than fifteen. Basically, you want a length that covers the bottom of you leotard when you are standing still, maybe an inch or two longer if you like the look. The most common cut of a ballet skirt is a wrap style that you will cross in the front and tie in the back. If you don’t want that hassle, some pull-on styles are available. Look for delicate chiffon, georgette or tulle fabrics that flow when you move and swirl when you twirl!

Now for your warm-ups. Most teachers do not allow warm-ups during class, but they are great for protecting the muscles after class during cool down and between classes. They also protect against cold A/C. Some warm-ups double as cover-ups. Warm-up options are so numerous, I can’t possibly list them all, but some options include legwarmers, wrap tops, shrug tops, tunics, knit tights, warm-up dresses, knit skirts and shoulder wraps. Try on different styles to find what you like best.

At any age, it is really inappropriate to walk to or from the studio in nothing but a leo and tights. You should bring either a change of clothes or cover-up outfit to wear to and from the studio. A simple cotton dress that you can slip over the head works well for this, as does a sweatsuit.

If you have a gym bag, that should be suitable for your ballet gear. If not, you will definitely want to purchase a medium-sized bag that can fit a change of clothes, a water bottle, your purse and your ballet shoes and warm-ups.

Lastly, your hair. Most ballet schools require that females wear their hair pulled up off the face in a bun or french twist. You should can pick up hairpins, elastics, hairnets and anything else you need at a local drugstore or at the store where you purchase your dancewear.

You have everything you need for your first ballet lesson! Be sure to allow enough time before your class to change into your dancewear and style your hair. And get ready to enter an exciting world of art, emotion, strength and unparalleled beauty. In my next post, I’ll tell you what to expect during your first class!

Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 1

When is too late to start ballet? What should I look for in a ballet school? Can I become a professional dancer if I start training as a teen? What on earth do I wear?

If you’re a teen that is interested in beginning ballet classes for the first time, these are just a few of the exciting questions you probably have. Ballet is a wonderful activity at any age for strengthening the body, increasing flexibility, emotional expression and spending time with friends. Starting as a teen will give you a different experience than if you start young, but it can certainly be as fun and enjoyable. So let’s get to those questions …

I recommend a physical exam with your doctor before beginning any new physical activity, but it is never too late to begin ballet lessons if you are medically able. Your goals in dance are important to consider though. Do you just want to get some activity into your week while spending time with friends? Do you dream of eventually wearing pointe shoes? Do you aspire to a professional career? Do you just want to try something new?

If your goals are recreational, you have chosen a wonderful activity. Ballet is terrific exercise, is very creative and is great for spending time with friends and making new ones. It’s unlike any other sport because it is also a performing artform. You should plan to take classes once or twice a week to progress at a safe pace recreationally.

If you would also like to one day wear the coveted satin pointe shoes, you may be able to reach this goal. However, this will require a bit more dedication than the above. There are many different factors that go into a student’s preparedness for pointe work, including skeletal structure which cannot be altered. Soft tissue malleability is also an issue. Young children have some ability to change soft tissue range of motion, but that decreases dramatically in the teen years. You will need at least two years of twice weekly lessons before you should be considered for pointe training. Whether you are an acceptable candidate for pointe at that time should be determined by a qualified teacher. But rest assured that ballet is incredibly enjoyable and satisfying activity regardless of whether you are on pointe or not!

Now for the toughest question: Can you become a professional ballerina if you start ballet lessons in your teens? If you are very, very lucky and work very, very hard, yes you can. Just ask Darcy Bussell, Melissa Hayden, Carmen Corella or Misty Copeland. But it would be wrong of me not to tell you that those are extremely rare and fortunate circumstances with dancers that were born with a naturally favorable body and facility for ballet and pointe. If you’ve read my article on becoming a professional dancer, you know just how competitive it is, and that is for students who have been training for nearly all their lives! (Of course, it is different for male ballet dancers, who may be able to start in their mid-teens with no problem.)

Training in ballet as a teen can open doors to other styles of dance that are based on ballet technique. Studying ballet can prepare you for success in modern, jazz, contemporary and other disciplines. Because they don’t require pointe training, these styles can be more accessible to teen beginners for potential of professional dance. Also, even recreational ballet training might lead to new college opportunities.

Once you’ve given some thought to your goals, its time to research local dance schools. The easiest way to come up with a complete list of dance schools in your area is to look on www.yp.com. There are a lot of websites that claim to have dance school listings, but most are dependent on the schools initiating that listing, which many schools don’t. If you are interested in pairing your ballet lessons with classes in other dance forms, focus on studios that offer those other forms of dance in addition to ballet.

Because dance can be harmful if taught improperly, it is important to review the training of each teacher you consider. They should have trained with a school that is well-respected in the dance community at large, not just locally, or they should have had a respectable professional career. Thanks to Google, this shouldn’t be difficult to find out once you have the teacher’s bio. Visit the school to get a feel for its suitability. Do the students conform to a clean and professional-looking dress code? Do the classes seem organized and logically-run? Ask if the studio has sprung floors, which minimize injury. Studios should be large and well-lit with high ceilings and with mirror panels covering at least one wall.

If you have dreams of dancing professionally, your ideal option is to enroll in the recreational division of a professional ballet school (one that is affiliated with professional ballet company) and to try audition into the professional training division once you have reached an acceptable level. You may need to audition even to enter the recreational division. Speak to the teacher or the school directors about your options for entry and progression. You will need to take a minimum of one class a day most days of the week to train at this level. Once you have a learned the basics and strengthened your body, this schedule could need to increase significantly.

Hopefully the schools you look at will offer a teen beginner ballet class. If they do not and you are not comfortable in a class with much younger students, look for an adult beginner class. Do not be discouraged if you cannot find either at a good school in your town. Instead, speak to the teacher or director about how far along you would need to be before you can move into a class with students closer to your age. Create a plan with the teacher or director for reaching your goal so you will not feel like you are stuck in a lower age group indefinitely.

Starting ballet classes can be so exciting. Congratulations on choosing such a beautiful and fun activity. In my next post, I’ll help you prepare for your first ballet classes … with a little shopping!

So you want to dance professionally?

Deciding to pursue a professional dance career is a huge decision. If its something you really want, you will have to have to put maximum effort not only into your training, but into setting yourself up in the best situation to support this goal. With so many factors to address, where should you start?

If you are still a young student, the first item to consider iswhether you are getting the training you need to be technically and artistically competitive. One way to assess your current school is to find out how many of its students have gone on to professional careers and exceptional college dance programs. You should also consider how many hours of training you receive each week and what level of proficiency your teachers each reached before becoming instructors. If you want to dance professionally, you should be training about four hours daily, five days a week, by age thirteen or so. Your teachers should have each either danced professionally or pursued study in pedagogy for their field of dance. Be aware that a former professional dancer may not know how to teach well, and a pedagogically trained teacher may not have enough knowledge about professional-level training.

For ballet, contemporary and modern dancers, finding a school that will put you at your best advantage for a professional career can mean transferring to a school that is attached to a professional company. Many such schools will require an audition for acceptance or at least for level placement. Some of the largest and best of these schools also offer academic classes, like Walnut Hill or the tuition-free Harid Conservatory. Some, like School of American Ballet and Joffrey Ballet School, are affiliated with professional children’s academic schools, and some, like The Rock School for Dance Education, have special arrangements with the local school system. Finding the right school, getting in, and finding a way to afford it can each be huge hurdles.

Some dancers simply do not have support from their family or money to attend or even apply to such prestigious schools, in which case transferring to the best school in your town is the next best option. It is a tougher road but not an impossible one. Before deciding this is your path, research all available scholarships, free-tuition programs and ways to raise funds. Remember that when you start auditioning for work, you will be competing against hundreds of graduates of professional schools like the ones above.

Deciding to transfer out of your current school can be a difficult one. Often a young dancer’s school is like her second home, her dance friends and teachers her second family. Remember that transferring schools doesn’t mean having to cut ties with everyone there, and you should always be respectful and appreciative of the many things your “old” school taught you. A dancer’s first school is usually the one that inspired her to begin a path to a professional career, and that passion for dance is the most invaluable part of a dancer’s education.

You will become eligible for many company auditions by sixteen, but that does not mean you need to start auditioning then. Most companies don’t take dancers until they are in their early twenties at least. Going to a very high-quality college dance program is the step I recommend for professional-track dancers graduating from high school. College dance programs are always evolving in quality, so when its time to start looking at colleges, I highly suggested getting yourself a copy of The Dance Magazine College Guide to find out which ones are best. Ideally, you want to find a truly top program that turns out professional dancers and is affiliated with a professional company so you can gain performing experience and set up a connection to a company while in college. Once again, getting into and affording the right school can be huge hurdles. Scholarships and working while in school can ease the financial burden, but the audition is all you.

About two years before you want to start your professional career, you will need to start intensive research on potential employers and decide on your application presentation. You may have to have to put in as many hours researching companies, developing your marketing materials (résumé, photographs, videos, etc) and earning money to fund an audition tour as you do training – and that’s a lot of hours.

Different companies value different qualities. Preferred body types, training techniques and dancer “looks” can vary widely. You don’t want to waste your time auditioning for a company that only likes lithe blondes with Balanchine training if you are a short redhead trained in Cecchetti. You’ll find that some companies welcome a variety of looks for their dancers, and you may prefer that culture.

Finally, it comes down to the audition. When at all possible, avoid the cattle calls of open auditions. It can be extremely difficult to find work this way. Instead, find out how to get into a company class. Some companies will want to see your video before they will agree to let you audition. Those pre-screened auditions are also much better than the cattle calls. If you are offered contracts, you will need to compare your potential pay and benefits, geographic locations, amenities, facilities,  performance opportunities, etc, to decide which offer you want to accept.

There is so much more to this process than I’ve laid out here, and I’ll try to address specific items in more depth in later posts. But hopefully this has given you the basic idea of what it really means to say, “I want to dance professionally!”