Cattle-call auditions are often a nightmare. Trying to stand out among hundreds of dancers can be frustrating, not to mention downright depressing. But if you think you have just one shot a year to make it into your dream company, think again. Many troupes, especially in modern and contemporary ballet, are establishing longer-term training programs, or "extended auditions," in search of new company members. From structured work/study situations, like the one offered at Thodos Dance Chicago, to open classes with companies like STREB and Shen Wei Dance Arts, these programs give dancers more time to get to know a company, and vice versa. It's the ultimate "foot in the door" experience and a welcome alternative to the sometimes brutal open call.
THE TRANSITION DANCE
For recent college graduates, transitioning into a dance career means scoping out auditions, classes, and performance opportunities without the structure of school. "It was a big shock to try to stay on top of my training while having another job and researching the Chicago dance scene," says Jackie Stewart, who graduated from University of Iowa in 2007 with a B.F.A. in dance.
That's one reason why Stewart auditioned for the work/study program at Thodos Dance Chicago, where she's now a second-year trainee. Melissa Thodos, TDC's artistic director, created the yearlong program four years ago to increase opportunities for young professional dancers and cultivate future company members. In exchange for working in the TDC offices, participants (five per season) take free company classes five days a week. They also dance at outreach events and choreograph and perform in the spring New Dances concert. In an effort to get to know trainees, Thodos invites them to company meetings and holds twice-a-year reviews. "We went over my progress," says apprentice and former trainee Jeremy Blair, "and Melissa gave me clear goals to work on."
For some, like Stewart and Blair, a year of work/study can evolve into a more serious commitment (attending company rehearsals, understudying repertory) and ultimately a contract. But in the end, whether offered a contract or not, TDC trainees come away with valuable feedback, networking tools, and open doors to future opportunities.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
A year-long work/study program like TDC's--with mandatory classes, office hours, and meetings--requires a big time commitment. For those with the self-motivation to study independently, many companies offer open classes on a regular basis, a chance to be seen in the weeks or months before a formal audition. Dancers can immerse themselves in a choreographer's style--rather than encountering it for the first time at an open call--and directors keep an eye out for those with a solid grasp of the movement. A less structured program might mean less communication about progress, but as a dancer gets to know the director, she may feel comfortable enough to share concerns and ask for advice. …