My Dance Audition – A Day that Changed My Life

by Cleo Person, 1st-year dancer

March 5, 2012 was a day I looked forward to with more anticipation than almost any other day in my life so far. It was the day of my Juilliard audition. So maybe I had things a little out of proportion, but I had spent months obsessively watching videos on the Juilliard Web site, reading blogs about the audition process, and taking the subway to Lincoln Center almost every week so I could just look at the school. (Disclaimer: I don’t recommend doing any of these things, as you surely have much more useful things to be doing with your time.) But if you’re anything like me, your big audition day might just occupy your thoughts a large portion of the time. Hopefully, this blog about my audition experience will ease your mind a little and help you to feel a bit more prepared for what you will encounter.

My whole audition experience got off to a rocky start. Ten days before my audition I was in a dress rehearsal for a dance show at my school, and at a part where I was supposed to be slingshot backward to the ground, I landed hard on one of my sits bones, causing a sharp pain in my butt. I got up slowly, and since I couldn’t really walk, I had to drop out of the show. Self-diagnosis: a mild puncture tear in my gluteus medius. Luckily, muscles heal quickly given the right care and rest, but that still meant that I couldn’t dance for the whole week. Then, I would have only three days to get back in class and rehearse my solo before the audition – not exactly the ideal situation.

Since I couldn’t really prepare physically, the days leading up to my audition were a sort of non-stop mental exercise: how do I contain my nerves, trust that my body will be there for me, and not psych myself out so that I can give the best audition I am capable of? The answer for me lay in the constant, positive pep-talks that I gave to myself.

I should let you know that I applied early, as a junior in high school, because I had already been living on my own for a semester and I had attended the Juilliard summer program twice. I felt I couldn’t wait any longer before applying for real, so I decided just to try, saying to myself, “Hey, I can always apply again next year if it doesn’t work out.” That was the mindset that took a lot of the pressure off. I was eased by many stories I had heard of current students at the school who had been accepted only the second time they applied, so I knew it wouldn’t be just a one-shot deal. Most importantly, I made the decision that I would let excitement, not anxiety take center stage in my often-fluctuating mental state. With my own mental game already won, the audition itself was really just fun.

You are surely already aware of the general process: ballet class, modern class, solo, coaching, interview; so I won’t go into detail about that except to say that there is nothing terribly difficult about the classes- they’re not trying to trick you or test your extensive dance vocabulary, but they’re really just trying to get a sense of who you are as a dancer and as an interesting, unique human being with something to say and the potential to be able to say it articulately though movement. The one thing I did find daunting in the audition was the pure magnitude of the cuts made. There were about 50 dancers in the ballet class, and just two of us were left by the time we got to the interviews. I find the best way to deal with this sort of situation is to come with no expectations of how far you’ll make it, and to remember that getting cut is in no way a reflection of your talent or worth as an individual, it just wasn’t the right time or place.

It is incredibly important to remember that Juilliard is just one school, and it’s not for everyone. You should think of your audition as an opportunity for you to audition the school as much as it is for the school to audition you. Ask yourself, “Do I like the energy and vibe of the teachers and the class they’re giving? Am I interested in working, for four whole years, on the things that they value and appear to be interested in?” And even if your answer is “yes, definitely!”, trust that the people auditioning you know pretty well what type of student will get the most from the education they’re offering (they’ve been doing it for a long time), and that you wouldn’t want to be somewhere that wasn’t a good fit for you. There are lots of great dance schools out there that you might find creatively stimulating and technically challenging, and may open up opportunities for your career that you didn’t even know existed!

So my main advice is to put forward the best and most honest version of yourself you know everywhere and all the time, not just for your auditions because it is ultimately that, and not the best tricks or best feet or anything else superficial, which will allow you to get to the places you’re supposed to be in every aspect of your life. Ultimately, you may want to think of your audition as an exciting opportunity to possibly change the course of your future, just as it was for me.