Audition Insights - From both sides of the table by Kimberley Berkin
Over the past few years I have had many parents and students asking me about what is involved in the process of auditioning for a vocational Ballet School, Conservatoire or Dance College. It really can be a daunting prospect but it doesn’t need to be. I want to try and demystify the process and perhaps help those of you who are thinking about auditioning for vocational training.
I have been there myself, both in the shoes of the student who is auditioning and also on the other side of the table as part of the audition panel for a Higher Education dance college at Conservatoire level at auditions in the U.K and overseas. In my role as Principal of the Ballet Associates Programme I have helped in guiding a number of students to successfully audition for vocational training, so I wanted to share these experiences and give you some useful insights.
5 Important Points To Consider Before Your Next Dance School Audition...
It is important to do your research. The vast majority of Schools have very informative websites where you can read about what they offer and even download the full prospectus. Take the time to do lots of research into the different Schools across the country so you can familiarise yourself with what is out there.
What to look for: It is important to know what the School has to offer you. For example if you are interested in pursuing a career as a ballet dancer, then you wouldn’t want to go somewhere that only offers two ballet classes per week. Equally if you are more interested in contemporary dance, then you should be finding out what the School’s contemporary provision is like. It is understandable that you want to be a versatile dancer, but the aims and objectives of the School should match your own, otherwise you will not be happy in your training there.
You should be looking at the destinations of the students who have recently graduated from the School. Does this match with what you want from your career after you have graduated? Ask yourself “Does this school provide the best opportunity for me to reach my goal?”
How many of their graduating students are gaining employment in dance or progressing onto further dance education? This information should be readily accessible on the School website and if it isn’t then make a phone call to ask. Consider what qualification(s) will you achieve upon graduating from the School as these can vary dramatically. Is the qualification recognised outside the world of dance and who is it accredited by?
It is important that you enquire into the School’s provision for academic qualifications too. For example, do they offer GCSE’s / A levels or equivalent studies alongside the dance qualification as these can be very useful to you should you wish to move into teaching or other avenues post dancing.
2: Your List Of Schools
It is difficult to say how many schools should be on your list to audition for, but I would certainly recommend trying a few. This gives you a chance to compare and doesn’t put all your eggs in one basket.
You are always going to have a ‘first choice’ but it is important that you have a high level of interest for any School that you are auditioning for, as this will show in your dancing and in your general demeanour on the day. Enter the audition process with an open mind and don't give yourself a preferred list before you have even visited the schools.
3: Applying For Your Chosen Schools
Once you have narrowed down your search and have decided on the Schools that you would like to audition for then you need to look into the following:
When do their applications open and when is the closing deadline? Schools open applications very early on in the academic year so do not assume that you have plenty of time. Many of them will already be accepting applications for next September’s intake as early as a year in advance.
Do not miss the deadline! If you do miss the deadline, it is always worth a phone call to see if you can still apply but you would have to be extremely lucky for them to say yes.
When do the auditions take place? Check that you will be available for the full duration of the date of the audition. You have to assume that you will be there all day so I would avoid booking any specific trains to get you home. If they break down the audition process into preliminary and final auditions you have to be positive and think that you will be invited back to the final stage! Make sure that you keep this day or even weekend completely free in your calendar as it is extremely unlikely that they will offer alternative dates.
What do they need from you as part of your application? For example it is extremely likely that you will need photographs and references from your dance teacher and possibly your current academic school. Don’t leave this to the last minute and allow plenty of time for your teacher to be able to write a reference for you as they also have a busy schedule. The more notice you give to your teachers, the more thought and consideration they can give into writing your reference.
It is worth investing in some good audition photographs. If there is a group of you then you could club together to hire a studio and pay a dance photographer to reduce costs. It may be worth asking your teacher to look over the photographs to help you to determine which of them show off the best line and facility - if you are asking for advice or feedback from your teacher remember to allow plenty of time for them to do this. It is perfectly acceptable to take the photographs yourself but make sure you submit exactly what you have been asked for by the School and remember that each School may ask for something different.
It is worth checking if the School you are interested in runs Open Days as these can be an excellent opportunity for you to get an insight into what the School is like. It also gives you the chance to be seen by their teachers and staff and shows that you are keen and proactive prior to even getting to the audition day. Make the most of the opportunity to ask plenty of questions at the Open Day and take a notebook to help you remember the differences between the Schools that you visit. If there is the option to board, remember to consider the boarding facilities and also the provision for pastoral care - is there an opportunity to speak with house parents and boarding staff at an Open Day or audition day?
Where is the audition? Some preliminary auditions take place in venues across the UK so do check if there is one closer to your home. It is likely that any final auditions will take place at the premises of the School. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to see and get a feel for the place but you should factor in that you may need to travel quite a distance to get there.
4: Attending Your Audition
You have now been invited to your audition - what should you consider next?
Check the timings of the day and give yourself plenty of time to get there. Most auditions start early morning so if you have a long journey it is well worth travelling the night before if possible so that you can arrive more rested! It is okay to be early - you won’t be the only one!
What to wear? Wear what they tell you to wear! In the information about the audition it is likely that they will tell you what you are expected to wear. Even if you don’t like it you must follow their instructions. If they do not specify then make sure that you wear something in a plain colour that fits you well and is comfortable to dance in. Avoid the leotard that looks beautiful but you have to constantly pull the straps up (we all have one!) If you are asked to wear tights make sure that they are clean and ladder free. Having the hole in the sole so you can have bare feet easily is useful for things like physiotherapy checks.
It is fine to wear underwear but make sure that it cannot be seen at all. It is important to ensure that your shoes are clean and that any elastics and ribbons are sewn on securely. Don’t leave anything to chance but avoid wearing brand new shoes on the day of the audition, as you want your shoes to feel comfortable and familiar.
Take spares of everything including leotard, tights, underwear and shoes, as you never know if you will need them!
Other things to pack in your dance bag:
- Warm up clothes to wear in-between classes (these should be smart)
- Hair and make up accessories
- Small towel
- Pointe shoe accessories like toe pads, lambs wool, tape, plasters etc
- Plenty of water and food as the day could last longer than expected
- Scissors, sewing kit and spare safety pins for your audition number
Give yourself plenty of time to get ready on the morning of your audition. Don’t suddenly try a new hairstyle and if you have chosen to wear some make up then make sure that it accentuates your features and you have practised applying and trying it out beforehand! For men it is important that you also look well groomed with tidy hair and cleanly shaven.
Make sure that you warm up properly. You know your body better than anybody so do the warm up that is right for you. It can be very easy to get distracted by other students warming up so don’t focus or worry about anyone else in the room including any friends or other students you might know.
What will the audition panel be looking for? Every panel is looking for something different and they will all have their own criteria for selecting the students to study at their School. It is therefore very difficult to advise what exactly to expect at an audition as it will be different every time. I will say that you should go with an open mind and do everything that is asked of you to the very best of your ability.
I will say that you should go with an open mind and do everything that is asked of you to the very best of your ability.
Learn from the experience and take some time to reflect on your performance to better prepare yourself for your next audition. It will always feel like there are ‘better’ students than you but this is not necessarily a bad reflection on you, so learn from them and work out what it is that makes them seem ‘better’.
I would also remind you to interact with the teacher like you would in any normal class. If they ask a question, they will expect a response, so do answer them! During the class regardless of the dance style, be intelligent and spatially aware. Don’t stand in the way of other dancers but equally don’t be squashed in at the back if there is more room at the front. Listen to instructions and follow them - for example if you are doing a pirouette exercise and the teacher has asked for the arms in 1st position then that is what they want so make sure you do it!
If you are asked to work in partners then be the one that turns to the next person and says ‘do you want to work with me?’ - not only does this instill confidence in your partner but it shows initiative on your part and suggests to the panel that you are friendly and open and willing to work with others, which are good attributes for any student. When I was on the audition panel, I was not only looking for technically accomplished dancer, but also students who were open, friendly, communicative and confident and who would fit in will with other students at the College.
Will there be a formal interview? As well as dancing, you may be asked to do a formal interview, which at a young age can feel quite daunting...
Prepare yourself for this by practising at home with mum, dad, brother, uncle, gran or anyone you can find to help you out! It is likely that you will need to talk about yourself, maybe tell them what dancing means to you, your experience of dancing so far and you will probably be asked why you would like to join their school. Make sure you have something prepared that is honest and individual to you.
Listen carefully to the questions and answer them to the best of your ability. Remember you can’t really answer any of the questions ‘incorrectly’ so just be yourself and never worry about asking them to repeat a question if you are unsure. Make sure that you have researched the School in depth before the audition day. You should at least know who the Artistic Director is and ideally be familiar with the artistic team and senior figureheads at the School.
If you are given the chance to ask a question, then do ask something as this shows that you are forward thinking and care about your training. At some of the auditions you will find out on the day if you have been successful or not but for most of them you will receive an email or letter. If you are unsuccessful then it is perfectly acceptable to ask why, but definitely don’t expect to receive any feedback especially in the preliminary stages. If you are told that you have been placed on a waiting list then make sure you are clear when you will find out by and how far down the waiting list you are!
5: If You Have Been Successful:
Congratulations! It is important that you read through all the information when you have been offered a place, especially if you are in receipt of a number of offers from different Schools. You should pay particular attention to offer deadlines as some places require you to confirm your acceptance within a few weeks of being offered a place.
Be aware that most Schools require a deposit to be paid at this stage and the deposit amount can vary dramatically. If you have been awarded any funding then make sure that you are clear as to how much you have been given and what this will cover. For example some funding only covers the cost of the tuition whereas other funding may cover living expenses too. In some cases you will be able to apply for a student loan, but this is not always possible, depending on your age and the course level.
Some Schools are able to offer financial support based on parents’ income and some are able to offer full scholarships based on the student’s ability. Funding options can vary dramatically from one School to the next so this should all be considered in your initial research and once again at the stage of accepting an offer from a School.
Costs to consider:
- Tuition Fees and/or Course and Programme costs
- Boarding fees or Rent
- Food and general living expenses
- Daily travel to and from the School
- Travel costs to and from home
Never be put off auditioning for a School because of your own financial circumstances. In my experience, the School will do their very best to help where they can. You should never worry about asking for financial help as this is a very common occurrence at a vocational level of training.
I hope that you have found these insights helpful and I wish you every success in your own audition journey….
This blog post was written by Royal Ballet School trained ex Professional Ballerina, Kimberley Berkin. Kimberley is the Director of Courses and Principal of the Ballet Associates Programme at Professional Dance Experience Ltd. Kimberley also co-founded the PDE Dance Supplies online dance shop along with her husband, Michael Berkin. You can learn more about Kimberley Berkin here.
Kimberley Berkin - PDE Dance Supplies Dance Blog
Main Photograph by Brian Slater
- Kimberley Berkin