What I Learned About Auditioning From The Rockettes

Start by imagining a marley-covered rehearsal hall, one of the biggest my LaDuca-clad feet had ever entered, at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City.

Fill the space with eighty women decked out in French twists and a rainbow of leotards.

Add a side of musicians who could probably play the day’s soundtrack in their sleep.

Top it off with a small table of casting directors who decide your dream’s fate in the matter of a 20-second combination, and you have the recipe for Radio City Rockette Auditions 2015.

 

Rockettes audition

Photo courtesy MSG Entertainment

To say it was nerve-wracking is an understatement. Anyone who has had a life-long dream, as I and many dancers do, knows the strength of desire that comes with it. It’s a whole other thing to actually pursue that dream. “They’re probably all better than me anyhow.” “What if my doctor messed up while measuring me, and I’m actually too short?” “There are over 500 girls at this audition every year…I’m not going to make it.” All these thoughts crossed my mind more than a few times leading up to that momentous day. But auditions are one of those cases where you have to tell that inner voice to get lost. You lose by default anyway if you don’t turn that dream into a plan.

So did I make it? No.
Do I regret it? Absolutely not.
Did I learn anything? You bet I did.

For all you go-getters, dream-pursuers and Rockette wannabe’s out there, here’s what I wish I’d known leading up to this audition that I know now.

 

 

Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

The Rockettes have very strict height requirements (5’6” – 5’10 ½”) to create that illusion of uniform height. I’m 5’6”. I was terrified of flying all the way to New York and being turned away at the door because someone accidentally measured me too short. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. All that happened were several needlessly sleepless nights. You can’t control what people are thinking about you, how quickly the audition combo is taught, if you’re having a good hair day when trying to create the perfect French twist or how someone measures you – so don’t bother using up your valuable energy worrying about it. What you can control is yourself: how you prepare for the audition, how you present yourself, how you treat those around you (be polite to everyone; you never know who has influence at an audition). Focus on what you’re there for – to dance – and roll with what is out of your control.

 

 

Work on learning choreography quickly. And I mean quickly.

I will openly admit that learning choreography quickly is something I struggle with in dance. Although I worked on it, I would tell myself from earlier this year to prioritize it 10 times more than I did while training for this audition (hint: a dance teacher recommended learning choreography on YouTube to practice this). You want to spend minimal time comprehending which step comes next, because what the casting directors really want to concentrate on is…

 

 

Details, details and more details.

The Rockettes are not called a precision dance troupe for nothing. Of course, after a lifetime of obsessing over them, I knew this – but it’s difficult to comprehend just how precise they are until you’re actually in that audition. The director/choreographer said right away that they were looking for who could execute all the details right then and there. Everything from the angle of your wrist to the placement of your tendu is being scrutinized, and there is no time for rehearsal. I’m not saying this to make anyone nervous, but to advise you to prepare for this – no matter which company’s audition you’re attending.

 

 

Many people won’t truly “get” what a big deal it is to go to these auditions. And that’s okay.

post rockette audition

People have literally laughed in my face when I’ve told them I want to be a Rockette. Let these people go. Honestly, very few people will fully comprehend the serious amount of blood, sweat and tears, in addition to time, stress, money and desire, that quite literally go into aspiring to this goal. It bothered me when people didn’t understand why I was doing this, made me feel like I wasn’t good enough or didn’t really think the audition was that big of a deal – but they weren’t the ones who would have to live with the regret if I decided not to try.

 

 

You are awesome for auditioning, no matter the results. Seriously.

So many people have dreams they never even attempt to pursue. This happens for various reasons, but it is often because they simply think their dreams are too far-fetched and unrealistic. It takes some serious guts to go after big goals in a world that preaches cynical practicality, especially when you risk those dreams not turning out the way you hoped. So if you don’t get the big break you were hoping for? Applaud yourself for being one of the small percentage that was brave enough to go for it in the first place. And try again.

More audition advice:

Hair, makeup, and clothing tips for your Rockette audition

What to do before, during, and after the audition

16 Auditioning Basics and Pointers

Ace Your Video Audition

 

 

What have you learned from past auditions? Share with us in the comments!

 

Family Drama and Ballet Dreams at the Heart of YA Novel, Wish

Perhaps there is a psychic link between dancers and writers, a common thread in their DNA that makes them more similar than other groups of individuals.

Wish by Grier Cooper

Available for Kindle

So many dancers have become writers, whether it’s a memoirist like Misty Copeland or Jenifer Ringer or a novelist like Grier Cooper, that it shouldn’t surprise us when we read the biography of an author and discover a dance connection.

Cooper is a former professional dancer and Wish is her first young adult novel. While it is not set in the professional dance world, Wish revolves around a main character who wants to pursue a career in ballet. She brings much of her own personal experience – her studies as a young ballet dancer and her desire to train in New York City – to this story.

What’s refreshing about Cooper’s book is that much of the drama of the story is focused on family. We don’t see petty hair-pulling rivalries among ballerina wannabes or eating disorders that destroy bodies and souls. Neither do we have the common tropes of children’s and young adult fiction: parents are absentee guardians or dead; children are orphaned or sent to boarding school; the settings are otherwise so fanciful as not to resemble real life.

The protagonist in Wish, Indigo Stevens, is a high school student whose greatest dream is to study dance in New York and become a ballerina. She has a great group of supportive friends, some of whom dance but are not as serious or talented as she, and a sort-of boyfriend who would like to be a bit more. Like most good dancers, Indy is also a good actress and she can perform the role of a normal girl with an average home life – and no one is the wiser.

“I crash to the floor…No one stops or looks at me. Class goes on…Even when dancers fall, the show must go on.”

But Indy’s mom has a problem. She drinks. A lot. And the more she drinks, the more abusive she becomes. Much of her vitriol and physical punishment is centered on Charlie, the younger of Indy’s two brothers. Charlie is a handful and Indy’s mom takes a lot of her frustrations out on the poor kid. Sadly, Dad is in denial. He has his own wish: he’d like his family to be perfect and pretends like it is.  When Indy’s mom goes too far, it’s up to Indy to get help for her mother and herself.

While dramatic, the story also has some nice light touches. Indigo’s observations about dance and dancers are spot on and often amusing:

“As everyone knows, ballet dancers always go commando.” (Never thought about that but it’s true!)

On working with a handsome partner:

“I am doing the breath of panic. I will never survive this.”

Grier Cooper

Grier Cooper

Indigo has all the insecurities and self-doubt of an average teen, one who wants to be loved and accepted but to also soar beyond her average life. This quality makes her very relatable, whether you are a young adult reader or one who is merely young at heart.  When Indigo asks her mentor and teacher, Miss Roberta, if she misses dancing in New York, the older woman replies with a sigh, “All the time.” Miss Roberta advises her young student to pursue dance with a passion and to never look back. The teen reader hears her own wish fulfilled in this directive while the adult relives the wish she once had.

The ending is heartfelt and sweet and we wish Indigo all the best life has to offer.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Then and Now

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs "LIFT," a piece choreographed by Aszure Barton. It premiered at New York City Center in December 2013.  Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs “LIFT,” a piece choreographed by Aszure Barton. It premiered at New York City Center in December 2013. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Dance fads come and go as quickly as you can change costumes backstage or as often as your daughter needs new dance shoes. From the Charleston to Gangnam style and every dance floor craze in between, the spotlighted choreography or dancer of the moment can change as fast as you can say, “a-5, 6, 7, 8!”

It takes true strength, technique and boundless creativity for a dance form to withstand the test of time – in other words, all the qualities that have driven Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) from the 1950’s into the 21st century without missing so much as a beat.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing this world-renowned modern dance company in person. My jaw dropped when one dancer did the highest, most beautiful developpé – then proceeded to hold her leg there as she continued into a promenade. After every section, the crowd erupted with whistling and cheering that was louder than any applause I’d ever heard at that theater.

It is difficult to fathom this company doing anything besides gracing stages around the world and moving audiences of thousands on a regular basis.

Believe it or not, that was not always the case.

The company’s first performance in 1958 took place at the 92nd street Y, which was an established dance venue in New York City. Ailey referred to their early tours as “station wagon tours.” Mickey Bord, a friend of the company, transported the dancers.

AAADT’s success truly took off in 1960 with the debut of Ailey’s timeless piece, “Revelations.” Its mix of spiritual and gospel music was one of the first majorly successful tries a dance company had ever made to perform to sacred African American music.

AAADT has faced its own share of difficulties throughout the years, including financial hardships in 1970 that threatened to fold the company, as well as the untimely death of its creator in 1989. However, with the creation of The Dance Theater Foundation, Inc. to assist with financial needs and the appointment of Judith Jamison as Artistic Director following Ailey’s death, the company continued to push on to modern day.

Loretta Abbott and Alvin Ailey perform in "Revelations." The timeless piece is included in the Ailey repertoire to this day. Photo by Nicola Cernovitch.

Loretta Abbott and Alvin Ailey perform in “Revelations.” The timeless piece is included in the Ailey repertoire to this day. Photo by Nicola Cernovitch.

Today, the company resides at its very own theater, The Ailey Citigroup Theater, which broke ground in Manhattan in 2001. The Ailey Foundation now includes Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, The Ailey School, and The Ailey Extension, which offers dance and fitness classes to the general public. Judith Jamison appointed current Artistic Director Robert Battle in 2011.

“Revelations” and other original Ailey works continue to be danced at their performances, as well as pieces by established choreographers of the past and present. In 2008, AAADT was even declared as “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world” in a US Congressional resolution.

Do you think of yourself as an Ailey aficionado?

Scan this list of unique facts and test your Ailey knowledge from past to present.

• Born in rural Texas, Alvin Ailey’s desire to dance didn’t truly come to life until after his relocation to Los Angeles, California, where he saw Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company for the first time. He was 12 years old when he moved.

• The company began with seven dancers. That number has since quadrupled. My program from this year’s show listed 31 dancers, without counting rehearsal director Matthew Rushing, who was serving as a guest artist.

• The only time “Revelations” has been performed by anyone other than AAADT or Ailey II was in Mexico City, when Ballet Folklorico performed the piece in the opening ceremonies at the 1968 summer Olympics.

• AAADT became New York City Center’s first resident modern dance company in 1972. It continues to be the Center’s principal dance company.

• In addition to the company’s countless stage performances around the world, AAADT has performed in a wide variety of television programs, including Sesame Street, the Ellen Degeneres Show, the Oprah Winfrey show, Dancing with the Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance.

• A variety of products have been inspired by Alvin Ailey and his dance company, including stamps, greeting cards, and an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Barbie doll.

This information and much more can be found on Alvinailey.org and PBS.org.

You. Me. The Big Apple?

In one month, I’ll be in New York City.

A glittering big apple charm with NYC as a backdrop

Photo by Kathryn Connell

I’m headed to the Dance Teacher Summit to get ready for fall teaching, to see some of my online buddies in the flesh, and to make some new friends, too.

Do you plan to be at the Summit?

Or perhaps in NYC between August 5 and 7?

If so…

I’m staging a ‘Friends of Dance Advantage’ meetup.

Nothing formal.

Say hello, introduce yourself, exchange info, stay and chat, or all of the above. I’d just like to connect (however briefly) in person with you for a change.

If you’re going and you’re game, please leave a comment below. Or, you can email me at this address:

Nichelle's email

I’ll iron out the when, where, and how and let you know the details via email.

Hope to see you there!

Helping Your Young Students Through Tragedy

As many of you know, I teach young children in New York City. Throughout the last month things have not been easy. And even though many of my students homes and apartments were not directly affected, their family businesses or extended family homes were affected. Their teachers families and their babysitters were affected by Sandy as well. I don’t think anyone that lives in the immediate area wasn’t affected in some way.

A tattered flag at Rockaway Beach after Superstorm Sandy

Photo courtesy Roman Iakoubtchik

When disaster strikes, things get thrown all off, understandably so. Many of my students were sad, lacking energy and smiles, and some didn’t even feel like dancing. On top of the hurricane, a horrible tragedy happened to one of my students families that affected the same community. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like dancing either.

BUT, as dance teachers we know that most of the time dancing always makes us feel better. Right? Right! For me, even teaching, what I love to do most in the whole wide world, was a challenge.

Here are some helpful tips and ideas I used to get through my feelings and to help my students get through it too.

Disclaimer: I am not a child psychologist. I am writing from my experiences and sharing with you what worked for me.  [Read more…]