Tension and Dancing

by Maggie Segale, 4th- year dancer

As a fourth-year dancer, I am constantly auditioning. Whether flying to Europe to be seen by company directors, or simply taking ballet class here at school, some potential employer is generally watching. With so much focus on getting a job, one might expect that I would be a nervous wreck during this time. Thankfully, the opposite is true. I have found a refreshing sense of groundedness.

While nervously doing pliés at one audition in January, I finally realized what teachers have been telling me all along. I would be happier and dance better if I just relaxed! I took a breath and decided just to dance as myself, and not try to dance like anyone else. As a result, I was able to pick-up combinations faster and to be more expressive.  This has come to be one of the most important discoveries I’ve had while at Juilliard.

Below is an illustrated narrative based on this beautiful realization. 

Maggie 1

Raymonda is a high school senior auditioning for a college dance program.

Application: sent!

Essay: completed!

Solo: prepared!

“Okay, cool! I got this! Now all I have to do is dance!”

Maggie 2


I forgot to burn a CD of my solo music!

I spilled hot chocolate all over my favorite leotard!

I’m going to have to introduce myself to the faculty????? Suddenly, I cannot remember my own name. Rebecca? Rachel? Ronald? RAYMONDA! That’s it! Raymonda is my name.”

Maggie 3

“PHEW! Alright, got it sorted out.

I burned 25 CDs of my solo music.

I poured hot chocolate all over my leotard, so you can’t even see the stain! Genius.

I wrote my first, middle and last names on my arm in case I forget. “

Maggie 4

“Here I am at the ballet barre! I can’t believe I made it to this point!

Okay, ‘plie, stretch, releve,’ got it!

Eek! I can’t move my legs! I mean it! I can’t even bend my knees! This is it for me, this is the end. They’ll have to send in a rescue team to remove me from the ballet studio!

I can see it now: ‘Girl freezes in dance audition, never moves again.’”

Maggie 5

Auditions can be DAUNTING. It’s no secret.

There are so many details to remember,

Bobby pins to consider,

Warm-up techniques…

It’s easy to get TENSE

Maggie 6


Maggie 7

Remember that dance is art. Sure, it requires technique, but the truth is that dancing is joyful, emotional, and beautiful. Tension gets in the way of artistic expression, and makes you feel like you’ll have to be wheeled out of the studio on a stretcher.


Sure, prepare your necessary materials, plan your outfit, and practice your introduction…


DON’T lose sight of your unique voice!

DON’T compare yourself to others or worry that you’re not worthy!

DO take a moment to exhale, listen to the music, and remember why you love dancing.


BREATHE and try to enjoy this special time of your life. You will become a better artist because of it, regardless of whether you make the callback.

Maggie 8

These are a few of the countless things I have discovered during my tenure at The Juilliard School.

My Juilliard Dialogue

by Victoria Grempel, 2nd-year dancer


“Hello, President’s Office, this is Victoria.”

“Is the leg croisé or écarté on count 5?”

“What’s the status of the new Juilliard in Tianjin?” 

“Is that in the sagittal or horizontal plane?”


The above sentences have one thing in common; they’re all spoken by me throughout the course of a single day! Here at the Juilliard School, you’ll rarely find a student who engages only in her field of study. As a second year dancer, I try to make the the most of my Juilliard experience. With great perseverance and a knack for scheduling, I have been able to expand my education beyond the boundaries of the dance studio.

Not only am I currently studying ballet, multiple modern techniques, taking a liberal arts class, a music class, and learning repertory, but this year I hold several work-study positions throughout the school. I am a Special Assistant in the Office of the President, a Senior Assistant in the Evening Division Office, and I was recently elected as a Student Ambassador. Seeing the school from an administrative standpoint not only allows me to understand how the school functions, but has opened my eyes to the business and management sides of the performing arts; it’s like I’m double majoring in dance and business! In order to be a well-rounded artist, I believe that training in the arts, along side entrepreneurial skills and the understanding of how the arts are managed, are all of equal importance.

At Juilliard, I have made the most of my opportunities. Within the intense dance schedule, I have made time to maintain these positions. I think that the Juilliard experience is what you make of it. The possibilities are endless; it’s up to you!

Learning From the People Who Surround You

by Austin Smith, 4th-year actor

Anytime someone asks me to capture the breadth of my Juilliard experience in a few words, my brain (daunted by the task) almost comes to a halt. For the rest of my life I will be embroiled in an attempt to understand what has happened to me over the course of these four years.  At this particular moment, however, I do have a few experiences resonating with me, such as the opportunity to meet the incredible Frances McDormand earlier this week and my very first experience acting in a Juilliard play.

One of my teachers was the vocal coach on an HBO Miniseries that Frances (yeah that’s right, first name basis) recently finished shooting, and asked if she would be willing to come speak to the Drama Division.  From her discussions about reconstructive surgery and paganism, to a story about hysterically hiding under a table while shooting her first film, she had us all in stitches.  Yet, she made sure to  leave us with some kernels of wisdom that only someone with her level of experience, passion and zaniness could come by.

As I near the end of my time at Juilliard, I’ve thought a lot about the work that my classmates and I have done together.  The first play we ever did as a group was Romeo & Juliet.  I think about where we were then, and the growth I’ve witnessed in each of the seventeen people I’ve had the pleasure of working with EVERY SINGLE DAY for four years.  I remember how hard we worked to figure out a dance for the party scene, how my partner for the fight at the beginning of the play and I could not get through it without chuckling for some reason, and how relieved all of us were to make it through our first play at Juilliard.

Oh, how things have changed since then.  Though you don’t notice the change in yourself at first, you see it in your colleagues: how they are growing, going to deeper places in their work, making bolder choices; and you pray to God that, gradually, those changes are manifesting in your own work.  In the meantime , you continue to learn from the incredible people who surround you, which I think is at the heart of anyone’s Juilliard experience.  You have so many opportunities to work with exceptional classmates and guest artists. As Jim Houghton, the artistic director of the Drama Division, says, “Juilliard is not a building, it’s the people”.  And as I prepare to leave this building, those words could not ring any more true.

Giving Juilliard a Try

by Ryan Spahn, 4th-year actor

To be frank, the thought of going to school for four years scared the &$@! out of me. I was in my late 20s, had a job, an apartment, a partner, a dog/cat, and a career. All that being said, I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting the kind of acting work I felt I deserved, and I was considering walking away from it all. This broke my heart, cause it’s what I loved most. But I couldn’t put my finger on what was in my way. Someone close to me encouraged me to give Juilliard a try. I figured… “Hey, it’s Juilliard, the greatest drama school on Earth, and if I am privileged enough to be accepted, then I should take that as my path toward figuring out why I’m not happy and grateful.”

In the Drama Division, there is a final callback weekend when 40 or so applicants come to NYC and take classes in front of the faculty. It’s a chance for the teachers to see us in action, and for us to determine if the rigor of the program is what’s best. In one of the classes, Richard Feldman moderates the students through a series of naturalistic improvisations. I was paired with Sam Lilja, who later became my classmate, and I remember the moment when I realized Juilliard was what I needed to be doing for the next four years. The improv: Sam and I had to pretend we were in a small row boat. That was all the information we were given, and we developed a scene that would support this location. Sam and I had an immediate connection as actors and people. Within a few moments of us starting the improv, which was simply Sam (a boy from Iowa) teaching me (a big city boy) how to properly prep a fishing rod, Mr. Feldman ended our improv and moved onto the next couple. It was then that I realized a few valuable lessons: a) I wanted to attend this school; b) I knew naturalistic acting was what I was drawn to; c) I had a long way to go before I was able to do the kind of work I yearned to do with the ease of this simple improv.

Prior to that moment, I had always been pushing and “muscling” my way through acting moments, and I needed to stop…as it was preventing me from getting work. Through my years at school, I was stretched and pushed beyond my comfort zone, and played bold, brassy characters (Herod in “Salome” and Toby Belch in “Twelfth Night”). Yet…lurking in the back of my mind… was a desire to step back into the “naturalistic.” But it wasn’t happening. I was frustrated. This is where the brilliance of the school comes in. Because they didn’t give me what I wanted and challenged me with what I needed, I was able to actually grow. And now, in my fourth year, Sam and I were paired up in a very naturalistic play called “The Great God Pan” by Amy Herzog. While in rehearsals, I couldn’t help but remember my first moments with Sam in the audition weekend and now here we were — sharing the stage, with ease and grace. I was doing the kind of work I always loved and admired — but with the backbone and confidence of a man who had the instrument to handle the most intense of circumstances, as this play required. Juilliard single-handedly gave me this depth of understanding, and for that I am eternally grateful.