Anxious Auditioning. Desperate Dating. Not a cute look.

I’ve spent over ten years in NYC which means two things for a young aspiring female artist.  Countless auditions, and countless dates – for better or worse, equally entertaining and heartbreaking.

And of course, hysteria ensues…

Pushy choreographers.  Pushy men.  Those too nice for their own good.  “Why didn’t I get the memo on what to wear!?”  Perfect on the outside, disaster on the inside.  Studios, and studio apartments alike, screaming for a dust buster.  “Where the hell is this audition?”  “Are we meeting at 8:30 tonight or what?”  Boho chic going to a downtown pub singing karaoke one night,  the next  swinging in heels and a fitted BCBG dining over fine wine.  Fitted lulus, downtown gauchos, and fishnets sporting red lipstick, all in one day.  Those you feel you need to endlessly impress, and it’s never enough.  “Can you shut up already so I can get in a word?”  “I came here to dance right, not just posé like a Roman statue?”  Those with lots of money and lack of integrity.  “You want me to wear what exactly?”  Those with no drive and means of supporting themselves, but honest intentions.  “$5 an hour for rehearsals?” I have my headshot.  I forgot my mints.  I’m lighthearted and laughing at my flubbed triple pirouette.  I’m mortified after pretending to be a champ, tasting sea urchin, and then nearly puking in my napkin while locking eyes over candlelight.  Horrific first impressions that surprise you beautifully.  Beautiful first impressions that disappoint.  People who fall off the face of the earth.  “Weren’t they going to call all of the final ten, and tell us either way?”  “No I didn’t pre-register but you should let me in anyway.”  “This is your uncle’s friend’s nephew, right?”  “How many more of these damn things do I need to endure?”  “Will this be the job that completes my career?”  “Could this be the man I’m meant to marry?”  Friends turned lovers, turned friends again.  Jobs had, left, and revisited.

Hidden in all the madness is me.  Auditioning and dating is a continuous experiment of trial and error to find the best fit, and more significantly, a means of understanding myself and being more honest about what it is I want out of my career and personal life.

Hosting the Parsons Dance audition and leading a mock audition at a Broadway Dance Center intensive gratefully placed me on the other side of the chopping block recently which exposed and surfaced all the emotions that typically come with it (not to mention recently snagging a handsome young gentleman putting an end to the ridiculous dating disasters!).  I watched as eagerness subtly crept in behind eyes, the tellers of so much truth.  Telling eyes and facial expressions either ooze confidence, or become stagnant with the stare of pleading for pleasing whomever is in the front of the room.  Yes, eagerness is beautiful.  It allows dancers to fight for challenging moments, pick up choreography faster, and get jumps up even higher.  However, it is in the eyes of a confident dancer where true performance lies.

Without a doubt, positive attention goes to the dancer who has the combination down pat.  It’s because their brain is quick enough to pick up material and make it their own instantly.  So if your brain is what’s slowing you down, sharpen your tool.  Get to class and force yourself into the first group.  Don’t rely on others to know the steps.  Test yourself.  Work on the combination until you do conquer it.  Attempt different strategies of learning – find counts as landmarks, grasp the over-arching movements or phrasing, utilize sounds and rhythms, name steps even if your inner dialogue sounds maddening.  (“Swirly arm thingy, leg fan big, quirky head roll, boom-kat”  You know, good ‘ole dancer lingo!)  Don’t stop striving to be your best self when looking for any kind of company, professional or personal.  Your best self will attract your best match.

And while working out your best stuff in front of company dancers and directors, staring at them makes it extreme awkward for those watching, not to mention it reads as a disconnect between intention and movement.  Why are you eyeballing the director when you should be concerning yourself with the dance moves?  Those in the front of the room have nothing to do with the cabriole you are doing center stage, and the blatant staring screams of immaturity and feening for the attention and approval of someone else.

While on a date, your expression varies honestly with what is being discussed and you give your attention to the person across from you rather than beading jaggedly from waiter, to the other girl on a date at the table over, to her beau, to the bus boy – at least let’s hope!  You focus on your lovely date with an attentive and generous intention without being obsessive or robotic.  How come our expressions when we dance can become static or horrifically “put on” when we wouldn’t ever consider it in “real life?”  Your eyes, your facial expressions, should be shifting with the way each step makes you feel.  The choreographer is not going to give you those intimate details, moment to moment, that is the job of an honest artist.  Honest art and honest dating please!

Desperation is never a cute look.  Quite frankly, it reeks.  We all know the tragic date where one person direly craves the other and will helplessly and meekly make themselves appear desirable under all circumstances.  Yes, that would be the datée who miraculously loves the same things you love, talks fondly of their well-adjusted parents and their picket fence, and doesn’t dislike a damn thing or hold an adamant opinion of their own.  Why is desperation in dance-form not as blatant?  Moments fly by and thoughts are on being desirable to the authority in the room.  You can draw positive attention to yourself without sacrificing you just to meet someone else’s expectations.  What about your expectations out of the job?  You are auditioning them too.  It is a two-way street.  Why not just be desirable by being entirely you.  What if you get the job, or the boyfriend, and then realize you two are horrible for each other because you weren’t acting like yourself until 4 months into the contract, or relationship?  Screw the authority in the room (yes, I said screw it….shameless shout out!!).  Why don’t you just act as yourself and see if they like you?  Will this job even make you happy?   You are not going to make or break yourself in an instant.  Your training has served you up until this point.  Your hirers, your date, either like what you have going on, or don’t.  So the moment of an audition is really just someone else going on a first date with you.  You’ve been doing your thang all along.  And your thang, either is or isn’t their shtick.

Someone confident with themselves, in their own skin, needs no reassurance.  Anyone can learn a kick-ass pas de bourée but no one is going to instruct how to feel while you do it, or how to have the look of piercing intensity and purpose.  Hands down, I would hire a learner, a good listener, with a zest, over an empty vessel who has down all the steps.

If it is meant to work out, it just will.  And it will be easy, because it will be a wonderful fit.  So don’t sweat how many auditions and dates you’ve been on.  Everyone’s story is different.  Don’t sweat an awkward response to what your family’s like, or one bobble out of a tour.  Not that you are attempting to get tongue-tied or travel on the wrong foot, but when it happens, it is not a deal breaker.  The one major deal breaker, for me, at an audition and on a date for that matter, is someone without confidence, without maturity, without generosity, without the ability to shift a mindset once a new set of ideas are gained, and without the ability to listen and truly hear.

And if within this honesty, you can manage to master the flawless, captivating yet “oh this fabulous person is just me-everyday-oh-so-chill vibe,” you may just have the man…and the dance.  (how’s that for your sappy ending?!)

How she do that? De-mystifying the job landing process.

With college dance programs graduating a cornucopia of talented, eager dancers and only a handful of established dance companies, with of course a limited number of artists on payroll, how the hell do you make sure you are one of the fortunate few?

There seems to be two schools of thought – you either 1) follow a particular company, giving adequate face time.  You go to all their workshops, auditions, shows, classes taught by company members, etc. or 2) spread your energy to various classes, lacking focus on any one particular company or technique.  If you put all your eggs in one basket you can potentially master a style, making you the most likely candidate for hire.  “Yay!” But when the time comes, will they hire someone else leaving you feeling like you just lost your big shot? “Ekk! No!”  Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen both ways.  If you go with route number two, are you training yourself to be versatile in this world of eclectic and ever-changing choreography or are you lacking objective?  All are good questions to ask ourselves periodically in the midst of attempting to obtain dance jobs.

Some companies seem to have a more linear pathway to hire such as Ailey, Graham, and Taylor.  These companies have second companies from which they can recruit into the first company.  Note the word “can” because for sure these companies have hired dancers without this seemingly logical progression.  If I want to join Ailey, you better believe I’d be taking classes there and assimilating myself with those dancers, teachers, and choreographers.  If Graham is your shtick, there are tons of classes at the Graham school and so forth.  However, these are companies with institutions attached to them.  What about Andrea Miller, Sidra Bell, or companies lacking a second company such as Momix and Parsons?  I believe networking and adequate face time is a must, in addition to obviously passion and inquisitive training.  Companies, and not just dance companies, hire based on who you know.  Bottom line, being in the game – in class with the dancers of these companies, incessantly honing your craft – counts for something.

Companies hire more than just talent.  They are hiring you as person to be a part of their creative family.  This kind of deep seeded relationship takes time to cultivate.  Your energy needs to gel with the others in the group, on a physical and personal level.  This works in the best interest of both parties – there is nothing worse than dancing in a company who’s work you do not believe in and who’s creative environment doesn’t allow you to prosper and grow.  Yes, not only do we need to be dancing, but we need to be dancing work we are passionate about.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  We clearly do this because we love it, not for the whopping paycheck at the end of the day.  Damn it.  Let’s make this even more challenging!

I’ll share my path so far, not because it’s all that fascinating or because I want to write about myself (hmmm, who doesn’t? Please note sarcasm).   Purely because when I first graduated, I would have loved to hear a personal story rather than being mystified and preoccupied with the how-the-hecks of the job-landing process.

I started dancing with Jacqueline Buglisi after learning Requiem while at Marymount Manhattan College.  I love that piece.  I remember performing it for the last time in college, saying to myself right before the first low bellowing note of Fauve’s Requiem, while having my torso draped over the edge of my box whispering, “Please don’t let this be the last time I perform this dance.”  And luckily, it wasn’t.  And the reason it wasn’t, was because I loved it that much and wanted to work so deeply on it, and that enthusiasm and passion shined through – at least that’s what I like to believe.  While in college I was lucky enough to do a few performances of Requiem with the company.  So upon graduation I was able to begin dancing with Buglisi Dance Theatre full-time once a fresh rehearsal process commenced.  Trust me, I remember sitting at the Joyce as an office intern with the company my senior year, wanting so badly to be a dancer on the stage with them for the following season.  I still had no idea if my efforts to stay connected with the company would prosper into Jacqueline asking me to join on for the season and the not knowing was arduous and exciting simultaneously.  However, I wish I felt more excitement being on the brink of a job rather than worrying if I would receive the opportunity.  Bottom line my efforts paid off and moreover, the company was a great fit for my movement style.

While dancing for Jacque I continued to do artistic projects with Sue Bernhard and Maxine Steinman (with whom I still work with) who were teachers of mine at college.  Also, through sheerly being close friends with the dancers of Shen Wei Dance Arts, I was able to be a part of their structured improvisation Behind Resonance at the Park Avenue Armory.  Shen Wei asked his dancers if they knew of anyone who would be great to work with for the project and my dear friend Javier included me into their process.  Being in a dance environment fosters dance opportunities – that simple.  Working in the restaurant also generates more bar and waitressing opportunities.  Take note of where you invest a large amount of your time.

The only dance job I landed solely on an audition without any particular connection to the choreographer was Take Urykemo.  I have danced in class and in college with some of the dancers in his company, which whether or not this helped in the audition process is unbeknownst to me, however it did bring a comfortable and familiar energy to the audition.  Importantly, the movement style felt familiar on my body and exciting simultaneously.

Most recently (as of last Friday!!), I received a job dancing with David Parsons.  (I believe the news threw me in a frenzy of screaming “Yes!!” in tandem with jumping up and down doing some semblance of some pathetic “happy dance” you would do when you were five – somehow I believe it was probably much cuter at five and slightly ridiculous at twenty-five, but who the hell cares?!

While I received news of landing this job in a single instant, so many other relationships and classes earlier in my training and career have made this a logical step.  My training prior to college consisted of jazz classes similar in attack to Parsons’ style.  I have performed work by Robert Battle and attend his classes whenever he offered them.  This was the most direct influence of Parsons technique and repertoire.

However the connection was established more concretely when I was taking Zvi’s ballet class at City Center – loving life, having a great class – and Parsons had rehearsal in the space directly afterwards.  From being involved in the small New York dance community and having auditioned for his company before, David casually talked to me after class.  Nothing significant, just small talk – water cooler chatter if you will.  The next day, I thankfully went to class again at City Center which was quite the feat considering I worked at the restaurant until about 3am the night prior.  When my alarm woke me up at 8:30am for class, it took countless times of lifting my head off the pillow in a wearied eyed debate with myself.  Finally, my will won the fight over my puffy eyes and tired head and I supremely decided I really wanted to go to class – there’s always time to sleep later.  (This personal mantra tends to bite me in the butt time to time – I’m not the most sane while sleep deprived!)  A cat nap was plotted on as soon as I got back home.  Little did I know that after ballet class, David would invite me to stay for rehearsal directly afterwards to just pick up some of the movement, mess around in the studio – “no guarantees.”  I was so beside myself excited and exhilarated.  Exhaustion was the furthest thing from my mind for those next hours.  I looked like a loony, jumping around the back of the studio trying to pick up anything I could while they ran through their pieces.  Turns out loony enthusiasm works.  (Should this be method 3 for getting a job?)  The next day, David asked me to study Julie’s track in Remember Me because there may be two performances at the Joyce when he need her role understudied.  What?!?!  Friggin’ awesome day.  (Yes, awesome day was not enough.  Classy I know.)  The next weeks all I did, and all I wanted to do was my best with the opportunity I was given.  I worked hard, but more importantly I enjoyed every second of it.  The company was such a great group of people and I felt I worked positively in their environment.  I felt challenged and appreciated.  I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of and I felt that it made sense for me.  Boring story short, the Joyce performances lead to a performance in Park City, Utah, which lead to a small fundraising improvisation, which lead to a performance opportunity with them in Maryland to perform a new repertoire piece, In the End.  They offered for me to take their summer intensive and learn the material for the Maryland performance during this time.  Fantastically, they also held an audition for a full-time position.  While I recognized I was in a great position for potential hire, I truly didn’t know if I was going to get the job, ultimately because so many things play a factor into hiring.  I had a blast dancing at the audition and worked hard.  The next day, David professed I got the job and…insert Happy Dance!

What has worked for me so far, and by no means have I reach some ultimate success, is taking classes and mastering to the best of my ability, techniques which make me feel the most alive and enjoying the various company of my colleagues along the way.   My take on the two methods of getting a gig?  In this day and age when variety seems to be a valuable asset it is ideal to have different disciplines in your back pocket.  That being said, when you are asked for a true Graham contraction, don’t put a Parsons spin on it and vice versa.  Listen and watch intently for these details because every company has a language being built on the detailed vocabulary of its movers.

Relax and recognize the relationships and training you established will get you somewhere in due time.  Nothing in life is guaranteed, but have faith in your efforts and keep going!  No audition is a wasted opportunity even if you get the boot at first.  Ya’ just never know…

Mystification disclosed?  I hope to at least some degree.