Turning out for Twyla: How to Survive a National Audition

Article excerpt

An audition for Tharp! presents an opportunity for dancers to conquer a common dread.

Are you a young, energetic dancer who is blessed with "extraordinary" movement? If so, you might have been tempted to join thousands of hopefuls who auditioned for Tharp!--a show of Twyla Tharp choreography that was auditioning dancers in five major U.S. cities last winter before beginning a two-year international tour. Some dancers after reading the audition notice would have ruled themselves out because of age or training--in many cases, a logical decision. But some would have avoided trying out simply from fear. What about you?

Competition is a fact of life in dance. If the mere idea of auditioning for one more job or summer dance program makes you break out in a cold sweat, you should know that you are not alone. No dancer likes to be rejected publicly, especially if he or she is left in the dark about the reason why. Unfortunately, because feedback is rarely given in most dance auditions, it is easy to blame yourself if you get cut. Talent is only one part of being a professional dancer, however; an opportunity to perform may also come your way because of your looks, ethnicity, luck, or all of the above. How then do you keep your confidence up until the big break occurs?

Dance Magazine went behind the scenes to interview five dancers who put themselves on the line for Tharp! Following are their stories plus some basic information on the pitfalls of auditioning to help you handle the pressure of future tryouts.


The first rule of thumb in an audition is to concentrate strictly on doing your best and gaining something from the experience. Do not expect to win. Dancers who psych themselves up for an audition by feeling "lucky" are usually setting themselves up for a fall. There are close to 20,000 professional dancers nationwide, based on recent census reports, and even more students are coming up through the ranks. Jobs, on the other hand, are a lot less plentiful. For the Tharp! tour, almost 800 dancers showed up to audition for twelve available positions. The odds of winning a spot in this dance ensemble were therefore depressingly low.

One dancer who decided to audition anyway was Claudia Zairos, a twenty-six-year-old professional from Long Island. Her strategy at auditions is to pretend that she is performing onstage rather than trying to convince herself and others that she is right for the position. "Some people say it helps if you think you're great and you're gonna get the part," she says. "But then if you do end up being rejected, it hurts more because it reflects on your dancing." To get up her nerve before a tryout, she listens to friends who "tell me that I really come out when I perform."

The other dancers who were interviewed also used a constructive approach to the audition process by regarding it as a valuable dance experience, a free class, or a chance to work with a famous choreographer. Still, there were times for all of them when self-doubt was only a heartbeat away. According to Zairos, "The whole rejection process can really beat a dancer down. At the end of the day, you wonder what you did wrong." This is one of many problems that can make competing difficult.


Auditioning for a dance position is challenging. For this reason, it helps if you are mentally prepared for the experience. Unfortunately, many dancers are caught off guard at some point, because they have been trained to ignore psychological distress. Yet the fact is that it is normal to feel anxious--not stoic--when performing in front of others. A case of the jitters also adds immensely to the excitement of a live performance and keeps it from being "flat." The trick, of course, is to have the right amount of anxiety.

Ivan Torres, a former student at the School of American Ballet, tries to control his fears when they arise by pushing them away. …