Pointe Magazine’s Company Life: Don’t Get Cut!

Candid audition advice from a dancer who’s been on both sides of the table
By  Theresa Ruth Howard
Published in the February/March 2010 issue Pointe Magazine

Therasa Howard

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

I remember it clearly: I was 8 years old, on the way to audition for Dance Theatre of Harlem’s two-week engagement of Doin’ It. While pulling on my tights in the back seat, to my complete horror, I discovered an inch-wide run on the upper thigh.

For 188 of the 200 children who tried out, the audition ended in heartbreak. Yet despite my holey tights, I made the cut. Oddly, I wasn’t nervous that morning. It may well have been one of the last times that pinning on a number didn’t fill me with anxiety.

As dancers, we train to dance, not to audition. You worry about the height of your leg, your weight and how many turns you do. But you seldom think about your “energy” or authenticity as a person. Yet years later, when I helped run auditions for Karole Armitage, I learned that these elements are what make you stand out in a sea of bodies.

Let me let you in on a dirty secret: So you think you can dance and that is what it’s about; well, it is, but that’s not all it’s about. While I wasn’t stunned by the politics behind the table, what surprised me was how many of the deciding factors had nothing to do with the dancing. You’d be shocked at what gets discussed in those hush-hush huddles. There is the girl who, despite the “general” comment to stop looking in the mirror, keeps peeking at herself. Then there’s the guy who thinks he has an “in” because he knows someone in the company, but forgot that the last time they worked together he got fired for partying too hard.

For me, I’ve always had a strong personality. It’s almost impossible to camouflage my feelings when I’m auditioning—especially if I get frustrated. I’ve had to learn to be neutral so that it doesn’t read in my body. (I’m still not good at it, but I’m aware, which reduces collateral damage.)

I ran into the most audition trouble when I started going out for Broadway, which I only did for the paychecks. It never occurred to me to prepare (picking up sheet music for “Big Spender” doesn’t qualify). I was like Dora the Explorer trying to find the note. I became afraid of making the cut, which started to affect the dance portion of my audition. Needless to say, I never booked a gig.

continue at Pointe Magazine online after the JUMP!

Check the video with Editor Jenny Stahl and T’ruth for more tips!

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