Choosing the Right Ballet Auditions

Now that Nutcracker season is over and it’s the New Year, chances are, you are gearing up for your ballet summer intensive auditions. With summer intensive auditions, there can be hundreds of different schools to choose from. How do you know which schools are right for you?

Make sure you start doing the research before the audition to make sure you don’t waste your time, energy, and your parent’s money. If you live in a city such as New York or San Francisco, where pretty much every Summer Intensive holds an audition, I recommend going to as many auditions as possible for experience. If you don’t live in a city where schools typically hold auditions, you will have to travel, which is something you and your family may need to discuss and take into consideration.

What style are you trained in? While it is always fun to attend a school that trains dancers in a different style than you, you want to make sure that style suits you. School of American Ballet, for example, typically looks for dancers who are trained in the Balanchine technique whereas a school like the Kirov looks for a Russian trained dancer.

Remember, your ultimate goal is to be accepted into a professional company, right? So this means you want to choose which summer intensive you attend wisely once you are accepted.

Also consider your family’s budget should you get accepted into the school. Does the summer intensive offer scholarships?

For your first summer intensive program, I recommend going to a school that isn’t too far away from home. When I went to my first summer school, Chautauqua, at age 11, I was very homesick. Luckily my family was only a few hours drive away and came up to visit me on the weekends.

As you get older, you want to look for summer intensives that have schools which feed into a professional company. The last summer program that I attended, for example, was Ballet Austin where I was offered a professional contract prior to the programs end.

Be a smart auditioner and you have the potential to get in to the summer intensive of your dreams…and possibly the professional ballet company in the future!

For more audition tips be sure to check out Nikol’s book, The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide at www.balletaudition.com.

Dozens of Nutcrackers

As I was going through some old photos today, I thought about just how unique each company or school’s production of the Nutcracker is. The thing that stuck out most to me was just how different the costumes are. In some productions Marzipan is Mirliton, the Russian dance can also be Candy Cane, and some Sugar Plum fairies don’t even wear purple. Here are a few photos I found interesting just to show the fun variety of Nutcrackers!

Waltz of the Flowers costumes between shows.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Arabian is a Peacock.

The Sugar "Peach" Fairy, her Cavalier and Clara.

The snow scene...my favorite.

Found this in a Newspaper article. What a jump!

A great idea for the perfect snow flake!

Hope your Nutcracker performances are going well!

Arabesque Audition Photo Advice

My last ballet audition preparation blog was all about headshot photos. In addition to needing a headshot to audition for most schools and companies, you will also need a photo in arabesque. In this article I am going to guide you through tips to getting the perfect arabesque audition photo.

My Company audition arabesque shot. It helped get me lots of offers!

Tip #1: Presentation is Everything – Choose the leotard that is simple and flatters your body shape the most. Keep in mind that this may not be the latest new leotard from Discount Dance…It could be a simple camisole Mirella or Natalie. Steer clear of custom leotards with anything mesh, criss-cross, or high neck (the auditioner wants to see your body). Also do your best version of a high bun as this will also elongate your neck. Try your bun right at the crown of your head.

Tip #2: Practice – Practice your posing in first arabesque after class or rehearsal in front of the mirror. Practice balancing in this position. You will need lots of balance come photo snap shot time!

Tip# 3: Hire a Professional Photographer – Although Mom & Dad can also capture some fabulous arabesque snap shots on a budget, your best bet for a professional looking audition photo is to hire a photographer. In fact, auditioners tend to overlook candid audition photos, especially those done without a backdrop.

If only we were all fortunate enough to have this arabesque!

Tip #4 – Use the Barre – A great way to train your lower back to hold a high arabesque is to practice with the barre. Place your leg in arabesque on the barre, go onto pointe, lift your leg off of the barre, then let go and put your arms in first arabesque! See how long you can hold this position. You’ve got to train that muscle memory if you want to capture a perfectly balanced arabesque photo!

Tip # 5 – Smile – A mistake that a lot of dancers do is have a serious or stern look in their photos. Smile, don’t look tense. I know that holding that perfectly placed arabesque is a lot of work, but make it look effortless. Remember ballet is all about illusions and the auditioner will be able to tell if you are tensing or if arabesque is an unnatural position for you.

Tip # 6 – Relax your Shoulders – Nothing says uncomfortable like tense shoulders, neck and fingers. Try to breathe and relax your upper body to release any tension that may convert into your photo.

Tip #7 – 90 Degrees, Please – Auditioners are going to be looking for at least a ninety degree arabesque so be sure to be thinking about your arabesque height in class to maximize your audition potential. Try the leg on the barre stretch or the exercise that I describe in Tip # 2 if you feel like your arabesque needs to improve. Back flexibility will help the height of your leg.

I hope that these tips will help you be on your way to a gorgeous arabesque audition photo. Also, if you’re nervous about auditions or simply looking for some advice you can read my Ballet Audition Preparation Guide. This will help you not only prepare for auditions, but also let you know what to expect inside the audition room. Merde!

Nutcracker Rehearsal Tips

If you are like most ballet dancers right now, you are preparing for December Nutcracker shows. Nutcracker is my favorite time of year because it helps you to gauge where you have made improvements from the previous year. Whether you are performing new or the same roles in your school’s or company’s Nutcracker the following tips will help prevent you from getting burned out and allow for successful Nutcracker shows.

Tip #1: Perform Every Day: To keep a role from getting stale whether you are new to it or are repeating it from previous years, you must become the best actor/actress possible. I know you have heard this time and time again but you must pretend like you are on stage every time that you rehearse your role. If you approach each role as just going through the motions this may show come stage time. If you approach the role with the energy and enthusiasm that you would use in a performance it will be easier to do so on stage (and even help with nervousness!!).

Tip #2: Set Goals: Approach each rehearsal with a goal. Think something like “I will really focus on pointing my feet at the point where I usually get tired” or “I will hold my arabesque balance longer today” or “I will work on musicality.” In one of the ballet companies that I danced with, I performed the role of Sugar Plum Fairy three years in a row. If I hadn’t set goals for myself each year, I would have been so bored with the role. Each year I approached the role differently so that it would still feel new and fresh.

Tip #3: Visualize: Sometimes the most productive rehearsal for dancers can be one that involves no physical movement at all! Try this exercise- Play the music from your Nutcracker dance on your ipod. Lay down with your eyes closed and listen to the music, envisioning each step. Now envision yourself performing each step perfectly and seamlessly, the way that you want. This will help tremendously in rehearsals when it comes time to perform tricky dance sequences. I used to practice this before bed each night.

Tip #4: Don’t Stress: Nutcracker is all about having fun, right? So don’t sweat the small stuff. If you make a mistake on stage don’t let it show on your face. The audience will never know.

I wish you all a successful Nutcracker time whether you are performing with your school or company. Stay focused but keep it fun and you will be on your way to your best Nutcracker ballet performance yet!

Ankle Strengthening Exercises for Ballet

Hello Dancers! I have been getting a ton of questions from my Facebook Fan Page from those of you who are just starting pointe work and are looking for ways to improve quickly. Today I want to post a ballet video that I filmed about ballet ankle strengthening exercises for pointe. Enjoy!

Audition Headshot Tips

As ballet audition season quickly approaches it is time to get new audition photos and headshots. Audition photos can make or break your audition success, especially if you are unable to attend a national audition tour. So how do you ensure that your audition photos are up to par? Here are a few tips from the pros.

Tip #1 Hair up or hair down? This is a common question that comes up for dancers. While a common bun is always a good choice, sometimes it is nice for school or company directors to see what you look like with your hair down. Neither hair up or hair down is right or wrong. You should choose to have your headshot photo taken the way that you think looks best and presents YOU in the best way! Just no crazy hairstyles, okay?

You don’t want to look too different in your audition photo from how you will look in the audition. You want the director to remember you. Below are two examples of hairstyles for headshots.

The classic bun is always a great choice.

Tip #2 To smile or not to smile? Again, you want your headshot to present you in the best way possible. I am a huge fan of smiling in photos because it shows your personality in a positive light. Lots of professional dancer that I know  took serious headshots. Make sure to bring a parent or friend with you when you are getting your photos taken. They can give you feedback on the spot and constructive criticism during your photo shoot.

Hair down is a nice contrast.

Tip #3 To get pro photos or not? With professional photography equipment being affordable these days, some dancers and their parents choose to take their headshots themselves. This cuts down on photographer costs big time and allows for unlimited time and shots. Be careful when doing at home headshots or audition shots. Prepare a background and make sure the lighting is adequate to prevent shadows.

Tip #4 Don’t look messy. This definitely isn’t time for a sweaty studio shot. Present yourself for your auditions photos just like you would for your audition. Keep hair sleek and makeup minimal. Put your best face forward. Remember in a Kodak moment you want to shine!

Follow these 4 tips when preparing for your audition headshots and you will be sure to get noticed! Remember, for more audition tips and tricks you can check out my website balletaudition.com where I cover everything you need to know for a successful audition.

Summer Program Savvy

As the end of June approaches many of you will head off to your very first summer ballet intensive program. With your suitcases packed have you left anything behind? You have surely packed enough leotards and pointe shoes to get you through the 3-6 weeks that you will be away from home. Have you forgotten the most important thing you will need for your summer intensive?

The most common thing that dancers forget to do before leaving for a ballet summer intensive program is set goals. Why are you doing this summer intensive program? To improve, right? But what exact areas of your dancing are you looking to improve? Let’s face it, without setting goals what exactly will you get out of your summer intensive experience?

Before you leave home (or even if you are in your first few weeks of the intensive) write down these questions in your ballet journal. ( I cover the journal details in a previous blog and in my book The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide)

What do I feel that I most need to improve on this summer? This could be anything from pirouettes to technique.

What have my teachers been encouraging me to improve on? This would be the corrections that you get in class or at the school year-end conference.

What do I need to do to make these corrections over the summer? Listen to the teachers, focus, etc

Why did I choose this summer intensive? List the key reasons that you decided to go to this particular summer program. Anything from teaching staff to city.

What do I most want to accomplish this summer at (fill in your summer intensive name) ? What is your ultimate goal in attending this particular summer program? Do you perhaps want to be asked to stay for this school’s year-round program?

By answering these questions and looking them over every few days, you will stay on track at your summer program. I know it sounds kind of dorky but if you really want to become the best dancer you have to set goals and remind yourself of those goals consistently. Have fun and make friends but remember, you are there to dance!

Patricia McBride and I at Chautauqua Summer Intensive

Complexions Contemporary Dance Review

As a professional dancer in San Diego I do not get many opportunities to see truly great dance companies perform without having to travel to another city. It has been a long time since I have been excited to see a company as I was when I purchased tickets to see Complexions Contemporary Dance perform at the Birch North Park Theatre in San Diego on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm.


The evening started off with a piece called Moon Over Jupiter choreographed by Dwight Rhoden set to classical music by Sergei Rachmaninov. From the moment the curtain opened I knew that this one was going to knock my socks off. The Women wore nothing but leotards, showing off their tight and toned legs that even the best body builders would be envious of. The Men were shirtless sculptures of art that definitely showed off the demands of the intricate leg and foot work displayed in Rhoden’s choreography. I was wowed by this piece like I haven’t been in years. The choreography embodied the technical athleticism and intelligence that the dance world has not seen since George Balanchine. The “slides” which may have looked like mishaps or slips to uneducated audience members very much reminded me of the hip thrusts in the ballet Concerto Barroco (Balanchine). This was my favorite piece of the evening because of the stunning athleticism and stamina required by the dancers who are so lucky to work for such an amazing choreographer. Notable dancer was Sabra Perry who’s fluidity of movement shocked me. At first sight, this gorgeous long limbed dancer is awkwardly tall and very Darcy Bussell like. I have never seen long limbs move so effortlessly and Rhoden’s choreography clearly suits her well.

Moon Over Jupiter

After the first intermission three pieces were presented, none of which I was particularly fond of. Moody Boot Blues started off fabulously but I wished that it was longer. Desmond Richardson’s solo, Moonlight, was amazing and emotional of course but I would have liked to have seen a more dancy solo. This was a great break from the technical pieces though and I feel that the audience received it well. My least favorite piece of the evening was On Holiday which reminded me of being at one of my Dad’s ( a Jazz Musician) Jazz clubs as a kid. Great choreography, great concept but a bit boring and slow to watch.

Moonlight

The highlight of the evening was Rise, a piece choreographed to music by U2. The feel was automatically one of a rock concert with music blaring, smiling faces, and a feeling that dared the audience to get up and start head-banging. This piece was so much fun to watch and looked like even more fun to dance. It reminded me of one of my favorite ballets Brand New Day by Kevin O’Day, which was a ballet done to the music of Sting. Notable dancers were Patricia Hachey who’s flawless training and technique truly shined as the song lyrics radiated from her being and Natalia Alonso who’s gorgeous physique continued to amaze me throughout the evening.

Rise

Overall this was an amazing evening that refreshed my opinion of dance. I feel that Rhoden’s choreography is truly the way that the dance world should be headed with the athleticism, long lines, and organic movements that aren’t tastelessly contemporary nor too safe like much ballet choreography these days. This was the perfect blend of everything that you would want from a truly great dance performance.

Ballet Summer Intensive Checklist

You did it! You were accepted into the summer ballet intensive that you worked so hard to get in to. Now onto what to pack! Here is a list of a few items that you want to be sure not to forget.

1.) You’re probably super excited to take your new leotards, skirts, and warm-ups but don’t forget about your regular “street” clothes too! What will the weather be like in the city where you will be dancing? Places like Pittsburgh, New York or Austin are typically very hot in the Summer so you’ll want to pack lots of shorts and tank tops for example. P.S. Don’t forget your swimsuit!

2.) How many pairs of pointe shoes will you need? One pair of technique shoes will work but you need to be prepared when it comes to pointe shoes. For a six week program I would recommend bringing four to five pairs of pointe shoes. (be sure to save one pair for the workshop performance!)

3.) Are the studios air conditioned? This is something that will also determine how many pairs of pointe shoes you will go through. If you are going to be dancing in a warmer climate where there is no AC, you can anticipate that your pointe shoes will break down or “die” faster. Check into this before you leave just in case you need to pack an extra few pairs of shoes.

4.) Bring things to do. If you are staying in a dorm or with a host family you will more than likely have a curfew. This curfew could be early so you want to make sure to pack lots to do. I recommend bringing lots of books, dvds, games, magazines or a laptop if you have one.

5.) Don’t forget your camera. With all of the fun activities that your chaperones will have planned for you in your new city you don’t want to miss a Kodak moment! The photos you take and the memories that come with them will last you a lifetime.

6.) The last thing you want to be sure to take with you is a positive attitude. Embrace the new styles, techniques and teaching staff that you will be introduced to. Even if you get frustrated, stay open minded and your teachers will recognize how well you can overcome adversity. Remember: summer study is all about getting new perspective and walking away from the experience a new and improved dancer.

I hope that these tips help you with your ballet summer intensive program packing. As always feel free to send your questions in by emailing me at nikol@balletaudition.com. I am looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

Black Swan – Take a Bow

Photo from perezhilton.com

I have waited quite some time to give my take as a professional ballet dancer on the movie Black Swan. Recent press regarding the controversy involving Sarah Lane (a beautiful American Ballet Theatre Dancer) as Natalie Portman’s “stunt double” has prompted me to break my silence. Having both experience on film and as a professional dancer I’m going to offer my perspective on the whole thing and how the dance world is so different from Hollywood.

After reading an Entertainment Weekly article written by Adam Markovitz, (you can read it here) it is clear that Ms. Lane is a bit upset over her role in the movie Black Swan. It seems that the producers didn’t properly define her role as a stunt double in the film. Unfortunately, being a stunt double is a very thankless job when it comes to academy awards.

Just as Lane is quoted as saying that Portman’s portrayal of a dancer is “demeaning to the profession (ballet),” I feel that Lane’s primadonna attitude in these articles doesn’t make the profession look much better. This primadonna attitude is exactly the reason why dancers have such a (excuse my language) bitchy reputation.

Could legal issues follow these accusations? Lane claims that though she was “told not to talk about her work to the press” there was no non-disclosure clause in her contract. So who advised Ms. Lane to speak up? Surely she has an agent. Surely someone went over the contract with her. I understand the work that Lane put into the few dance scenes that were in Black Swan, but I do not think it is right for her to slam Portman and the movie. This is something that should have been advised against, and if this is merely a business issue, why is it being aired out publicly?

On to the Oscar Controversy:
Whomever did the dancing in the movie is not the reason why it won an Oscar. I understand that some in the dance community feel that Natalie Portman won the Oscar for her “upper body” portrayal of a dancer, but if you truly watch the film you will see that it is far more than that. Natalie Portman received a much deserved Oscar for her work as an actress, not as a dancer. In fact, if you watch the movie again you will see that there really isn’t much dancing in the movie at all. Has Lane seen the movie?

So why the controversy? One thing that us dancers have is pride. Our profession feeds off of acknowledgment (think bows at the end of a performance) and acceptance. I think that Lane feels the need for a bit of closure since she didn’t get to take a “bow” after her performance as Ms. Portman’s stunt double. Slamming the movie you worked on and the actress who’s “acting” awarded her an Oscar is hardly applause worthy.

I have yet to read a response to this controversy by the ever poised Natalie Portman’s who’s dancer fiance Benjamin Millepied has spoken up saying that “85 percent of that movie is Natalie.” Will we hear a reply from her? Also, please do not see this as an attack on Ms. Lane or her dancing, rather a look into the business side of things. I am looking forward to seeing how this one unfolds.

This Blog post was inspired by the Entertainment Weekly Article “Black Swan double claims Natalie Portman only did 5 percent of full body dance shots in the movie” Written by Adam Markovitz. http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/03/25/portman-black-swan-double/