In auditions, the choreographer and casting director want to see the choreography delivered back with performance energy and technique out the wazoo about twenty minutes after performers first stepping into the room. If you’re a theater dance/jazz performer going in for a role that requires experienced, a-level ballet technique, you’ll quickly feel out of your comfort zone. Not to mention, your lack of a technical foundation will quickly be spotted.
Part of what gives ballet dancers their unique “look” isn’t just the physical attributes they’re born with, but also how they hold their bodies and align themselves. While a foundation in ballet can certainly help you in auditions, you can also employ the following 10 tips to immediately improve your technique and confidence for classes and rehearsals.
Some are quick fixes while others will work to improve your skill set over time. Follow along as I ask you to move your body around and memorize the feelings.
When I train celebrities (“Black Swan,” “Red Sparrow”), the first thing I ask them to do is shrug their shoulders up to their ears, roll them back, then pull them down. Your shoulder blades should be held in place by your lats and want to stay there 99 percent of the time and repeating that action will get them used to that position, which will immediately make your neck look longer, shoulder line wider, and make your arms an extension of your back.
This is extremely important for not only the “look” we want but also when it comes to engaging the proper muscles to generate movement. Most people are internally rotated with their shoulders so this rolling back and pulling down is defining your new look. Be careful this doesn’t cause you to flare your ribs open below your sternum—your lower ribs that meet at your diaphragm should be pinched together. Try touching this part of your ribcage and avoid flaring it open by breathing into your back.
Pelvis alignment is another major component. As a dancer, you don’t want to relax into a swayback position with your butt out and stomach extended, with a tailbone that is tucked under in a gripped position. Instead, your front hips should be as flat as possible, minimizing the crease where your legs start and your tailbone should be up in front, down in back. This is a much healthier position for your body.
Directly out of the first two adjustments, pretend you’re corkscrewing your legs open into a turned out first position. The movement should come from the butt and back of your legs and feel like you’re pushing the ground under your feet while spiraling open. The action should feel as if it’s done from your butt and upper thighs, moving down to your feet—not the other way around. I often tell people to pretend they have gum on their shoes and want to wipe it off by pressing downward. You never want to force turnout by putting your feet into an extreme position your knees and hips aren’t prepared for.
Try doing a few plies in first position while thinking of your new shoulder and pelvic alignment. It should make your body feel engaged, strong, flat, and wide. While doing barre, imagine you’ve been flattened between two panes of glass: allow freedom in your neck and feel your arms stretched into a second position at the side as an extension from your back.
An important point for ballet auditions, as well as work in the classroom, is building strength and beauty by dancing at our maximum ability at that moment in time. Suzanne Farrell, a ballerina with NYCB, once told me we should dance like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man: with limbs stretched to capacity into the outside circle that surrounds us. This is the human body at its “maximum” and strongest.
True strength and freedom as a dancer is through absolute extension of our limbs, always reaching further while traveling, reaching, or simply standing, so go for more. Make your plies deeper and active. Don’t think of hitting a position but approach it as a movement, an action. This continuousness will improve your pirouettes as well as your jumps.
As you approach choreography, make the highs higher, the lows lower and deeper. Step past your comfort zone to eat up space. This gives your dancing dynamism and will instantly separate you from the people you’re dancing with. It’s also fun to explore the space around you by increasing your range of motion in this way.
Turnout is a defining aspect of ballet and it takes constant reminding to approach each step with our heels forward. The way you place your feet onto the ground can’t be stressed enough. The second your feet leave the floor, they should snap to a fully pointed position.
Don’t forget about your eyes and your gaze. Both are tools you can use to communicate and announce to the viewer where you want them to look.
Have a clear point of view while dancing. You should show us what you want us to pay attention to by focusing on the pictures as well as the transitions. Good dancing should have both, especially in ballet. We don’t want our dancing to look choppy or disconnected by just hitting “pictures.” Twyla Tharp once told me that dancing is a series of transitions and in the most basic sense, of falling and recovering. Try to feel the throughline of your movement and give it the same expressiveness you would give speaking a sentence.
While you want to be fully invested in your dancing, don’t feel the need to make everything big or it all looks the same. Find the nuance of certain steps; there is power in showing a small gesture or standing still, holding yourself beautifully. It makes you interesting, appear confident, and draws the audience into you. The unique mystery you bring to your dancing is more important than being perfect.
There are dead giveaways that show stress: our necks stiffening up, our shoulders raising, our hands getting rigid, dancing ahead of the music. Be calm. Anchor yourself in the music by actively listening and using your plie deliberately. It will keep you in time and strengthen your endurance.
You will be amazed how much these guidelines will help your technique and empower you in auditions. Sometimes just thinking the thought has instant results. Also, one last tip, remember that the quality of your warmup and barre work will have a direct effect on your dancing. Give yourself time to get your mind and body in the right mode.
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