What to expect from auditions

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No audition is the same, but all auditions have some things in common, writes Karen van Ulzen.

Auditions are a dancers' equivalent of a job interview. They are that, and so much more. They are the doorway through which dancers step through to many different stages of their career, from that first life-changing acceptance into a prestigious school, through to their first job, and on to new chapters their careers. Auditions vary with the job or position being auditioned for, but some principles are applicable to all.

Be prepared

It's all in the preparation, says the internationally sought-after choreographer and director William A Forsythe. Among his many professional roles, Forsythe is a director of ED5 International in Sydney, where he teaches audition technique. He knows auditions inside out – from holding them himself, to guiding countless students through the process.

“Research, research, research,” he advises. “With everything now on-line, you can see the style of the show, hear the music, research what the choreographer is like. For example, ask yourself, ‘is their background really technical? hiphoppy?’ etc. No one should go in blind.”

While Forsythe’s main expertise is in commercial dance, his advice applies equally to auditioning for contemporary and ballet companies – know their repertoire and the choreographers they like to engage. No artistic director will be impressed if they discover you don't know what you are auditioning for.

“From that preparation,” Forsythe continues, “show them everything that you've got and then the choice is out of your hands. You can control up to the moment you step into the room, then just be you and do the best you can do.”

Your preparation should include a check of the organisation's website for guidelines as to what to prepare and what to bring. University dance courses have instructions down to the last detail.


Dancers auditioning for Sydney Dance Company's Pre-Professional Year. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Dancers in Sydney Dance Company's Pre-Professional Year. Photo by Daniel Boud.

 Asking questions

During the audition, ask questions if they're honest questions, Forsythe advises, don't ask questions just to draw attention to yourself. Your motive will be transparent. “Only ask a question if it's going to help you be better in the room. Wait until there's a question time and, if there isn't a question time, don't interrupt while the person's on a roll. Pick your timing.”

What do I wear?

It might be stating the obvious, but wear something comfortable and flattering. Don't cover yourself up to try to disguise “flaws” and don't wear something over-the-top to intentionally stand out. Don't wear a costume from the show, though something in the spirit of the show would be acceptable.

Bring all your shoes, advises Forsythe. “Have them all in your bag – ballet, chorus, tap, boots. Then you won't have a panic on the day. I always say, one bag, four shoes.”


Particularly in commercial dance settings, Instagram has become a dancer’s resume – many casting directors go straight to a dancer's Instagram account to find out the dancer's credentials. “In the first six images, I want to see a clear photo of your face, a body shot and a dance video or reel that shows me your style and versatility,” says Bree Kent, founder of Breeze Entertainment. “I don't want to see a video of you drunk at a gig, so have a separate profile for personal posts." (See article on p.44.)

On your traditional paper resume, don't write too much or include too much detail. Try to fit the main points on one page. Keep it easy to read at a glance. Remember that the people doing the auditioning have to read hundreds of them, very quickly. More details can be presented on a separate page.

'Bring ALL your shoes!
'Bring ALL your shoes!"

Since Covid

Videos and showreels have long been established practice in the performing arts world and now, since Covid, they have become even more commonplace. Some of the biggest shows now running – such as Hamilton, Phantom and Moulin Rouge – were auditioned via such on-line platforms as Zoom, with casting directors watching the audition in a studio in one country from their loungeroom in another! For many dance events, such as international competitions, some of the digital alternatives taken up during the pandemic may now become standard, saving contestants and assessors time and money.

The same goes for full-time dance courses. The Victorian College of the Arts Dance faculty held its auditions for the past two years on Zoom. Usually, the first stage of its two-part process is via video applications, with those making the shortlist attending a class and one-on-one interviews in person at the Melbourne campus. VCA staff would also travel and audition for prospective students in different states. With Covid, however, neither staff nor students could travel, so the second stage was held on-line. “There was a group warm-up,” explains Head of Dance, Carol Brown, “with about 10 to 15 people in a grid, with [lecturer] Brent Sturgenor and myself watching, and Damian Meredith teaching a section of material. We then had break-out ‘rooms’ where the students worked with each of us, coming up with some choreographic manipulations. Then they came back into the group to show what they did.”

The interviews were held in small groups of about four with one member of staff. Students were invited to talk about a certain topic, answering “quite open questions, such as ‘what do you feel the purpose of dance is in the contemporary moment?’, ‘how can dance have an impact on the world, or what is the most interesting dance you've seen recently?’ It is a chance to hear their voice. We then came back to the grid and they discussed what they talked about with the whole group.”

Rather than find this on-line process unsatisfactory, Brown and her staff enjoyed the team work it encouraged among the students, as it had the benefit of demonstrating how they could cooperate and communicate with each other – “their attunement to other dancers”, as Brown says.

“We are training contemporary dancers to work largely in group situations, so we need to see their capacity to work with each other, to articulate their views, to have a voice. This generation has been through two years of isolation – I think they were hungry to share with other dancers.”

Brown thinks she may keep with this group interview format, at least this year, with the caveat that the college is always adapting to “best international practice”.

Shady business?

Having heard rumours circulating the traps about shady auditioning practices, for this article we went in search of evidence – and found none in Australia. We did however find cause for annoyance, disgruntlement and frustration, evidence of expectations raised and not met, and anecdotes of underpayment and exploitation. And of course there were tales of rejection, which naturally can cause despair and disappointment.

Forsythe says that the arts industry in Australia is mostly extremely reputable and seldom treats people unprofessionally. “From what I hear, most people audition really nicely. Even if they’re busy, they’ve really got it down pat. Universal, Disney, cruise ships: it’s very organised, they are super professional.”

Tia Jordan, founder of Auditions Listing Australia, is not so sure. She says auditioning dancers are often being exposed to careless treatment or unreasonable expectations. One of those is related to the increased demand – since the pandemic – for audition videos which often, she says, have unreasonable requirements.

“Self taping is hard. Some people were asked to present lots of pieces – too many. Artists are fed up with putting all this time and energy in and then sending their auditions off and not hearing anything.”

You can, however, guard yourself against a poor experience, she advises. For example, never go for an audition that uses such phrases as “great exposure”. This often is code for “dance for free”. Find out the fee and conditions of the job before deciding whether to go to the audition.

“Do you want to work for free?” she asks. “If it's a professional, large company it should pay MEAA [union] rates. You are more likely to strike problems with small, amateur organisations. If it’s a little organisation, just consider how much of your heart and soul you want to invest in this thing, and remember that you might come out the other side and not hear a word, not even a thank you. Anticipate how you’ll feel at the end if you get no feedback.” 

Just be you.

Remember that the choice directors make is based on many factors and is not necessarily a judgement of your own talent. Directors are looking for dancers who are the right fit for the ensemble or role.

Treat each audition as a valuable experience. Auditions are a chance to put yourself in front of different teachers, choreographers and producers. They are also an opportunity to network with other dancers. With every “no thank you”, you learn to take rejection and build up your resilience. In time it will be your turn to step through the door to a new chapter in your career.

Should you pay?

When auditioning for a professional job, you would not be asked to pay. Our research for this article found no evidence of companies, professional or amateur, charging a fee.

There are some situations, however, where there might be a fee, such as for private or commercially-run school auditions. Annette Roselli, who runs a full-time program and a junior extension program at her Dance Academy in Brisbane, explains why she charges. “We are only a very small studio and we don’t have the funds or the means to cover the cost to run auditions,” she explains. “I have teachers sitting on the panel or taking the class who have to be paid, so I need to charge a small amount, because I'm not big enough to cover the costs that companies and big musicals or commercial-type organisations can absorb.”

“Big” auditions, like the Grand Audition in Spain, charge a fee. Such events draw together employers and job seekers in one spot. Fees are charged to cover the cost of holding the event and hosting the international directors.

Fees may also be charged by overseas schools conducting audition tours of Australia.

Competitions usually charge fees to enter.

 Next week: contemporary groups and independents.

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