Martha Graham once said, "Dancers are the athletes of God!" When a dancer walked into her studio, she knew instinctively if this person could be a Graham dancer. Anyone could try, but her eye was not easily deceived. At the prestigious School of American Ballet, the New York City Ballet training ground, a child of seven or eight is marched into a formidable ballet studio where a variety of teachers will twist and turn the young legs in the hip socket, have a long look at the muscles of the torso, and pay special attention to a small head and long neck. For ballet, a rarified and demanding art form, assessing the pre-pubescent body in this manner is a must.
But what about Broadway or concert dance, where dancers hear about an audition and assemble at a given time and place, along with hundreds of others, to give it a shot? Today, it takes more than multiple pirouettes to guarantee a contract. It may be advantageous for the applicant to know a choreographer's "wish list" ahead of time.
"Long legs and immaculately pointed feet are elements I always look for," said Rob Ashford, choreographer for the City Center Encores! series and the upcoming "Thoroughly Modern Millie." "But that is not the only thing. Type is as important. We don't like to waste a dancer's time by calling them in for a show that is not right for them."
"There is a reason why someone walks into a room and you can't take your eyes off them. And it is not beauty," said Jerry Mitchell, choreographer of "The Rocky Horror Show" and "The Full Monty," both currently running on Broadway.
"I need dancers who think fast and move fast," Julia Adam, ballet choreographer explained, "because there is limited rehearsal time given, especially to someone new like me."
"Even if the dancer is my best friend, if I need a tall partner for a tall girl, that's it," said Cynthia Onrubia, a veteran Broadway dancer who is now an assistant choreographer.
"I don't have to say 'And this is how you do it'--they know how to do it!" John Carrafa, choreographer of the upcoming "Urinetown," as well as the recently departed "Dirty Blonde" and "Suburb," emphasized.
Back Stage spoke to numerous choreographers--a diverse group from the worlds of ballet, modern dance, and Broadway--some old hands at handling auditions, some brand new at the process, all diligently at work in a tough field where the people on which you create are so important to the end result. Given the universal requirement--talent--each one seemed to have specific attributes in mind that always catch their eye. How to find this out?
One way is to continue reading and see just what wisdom Back Stage has been able to glean. But you needn't stop there. Do some research in the library on the choreographer, perhaps reading past reviews; sit in the coffee shops and eavesdrop; watch classes at the studios, especially if the choreographer is teaching; read the "trades," which are full of valuable hints; and seek out other dancers who have worked for these choreographers in the past. Dancers are eager to exchange information. You don't have to be a super sleuth to find out if you fit the bill. Finally, don't give up! If one choreographer doesn't want short blondes for his new show, another surely will!
Get tips on how to get cast in the following musical theatre shows:
And in the following concert dance companies: