Dancers tend to feel under a lot of pressure when they enter the audition room. For a graduate, performing to panellists who have the power to decide how they will spend the first few years of their performing lives can be a very daunting experience. Like competitions in sport, dance auditions are anxiety provoking situations and as a result can negatively affect dance performance. Possible factors that can contribute to audition anxiety include, uncertainty about how your performance matches up to others around you, your own evaluation of technique, creativity and potential career employment opportunities. Thoughts involving these factors can relate to a number of physical responses, interfering with attention, memory of sequences, creativity, expression and mechanics. At Trinity Laban Health, we have put together some top tips that may help to control anxiety and optimise performance at auditions.
1. Appropriate warm up
Often at the start of an audition class, the teacher will provide a generic warm-up for all candidates. It is important to remember this will be a general warm-up that aims to adequately prepare a large group of dancers for the class. A generic warm-up such as this will not target your own specific needs, you know your own body, it is vital that you carry out your own personal warm-up to avoid injury and to ensure you are prepared to perform at your best.
2. Focus on your own performance
- In an audition, dancers often ‘eye up the competition’, judging others strengths and weaknesses against their own. Although observing others in the audition class can drive your performance it can also have a negative effect. Trying to compete with others can increase the risk of injury and cause additional psychological stress and anxiety. Attempting to block out what others are doing can be quite a challenge, but remember you are auditioning for yourself, not for anyone else.
- Don’t worry about the things you can’t change such as the panelists’ preconceptions and attitudes in relation to the piece of choreography or style of the company. Focus on the factors you can control such as your own technique, performance quality.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the audition class. It is better to ask for clarification, than feel unsure about an exercise or sequence.
3. Hydration & Nutrition
Make sure you start the class properly hydrated. Keep your fluid intake up by carrying a water bottle with you at all times. Take water in to the audition class, you will need to drink little and often throughout the audition to stay hydrated. Have a meal rich in slow energy releasing ‘complex carbohydrates’ a few hours before the audition. For a quick release snack (15 to 20 minutes before the class starts), try a banana or cereal bar.
4. Relaxation and controlled breathing
Excess anxiety when in an audition may affect performance through increased muscle tension. There are a number of techniques which aim to reduce physiological arousal associated with increased somatic anxiety. Progressive relaxation involves tensing and relaxing specific muscles and progresses from one major muscle group to the next until all muscles are relaxed. Practicing this technique in the weeks leading up to the audition may help reduce tension and anxiety during the class.
Learning good breath control can help dancers maintain control during high anxiety situations such as auditions. Research suggests that breathing in and holding your breath increases muscle tension, whereas breathing out decreases muscle tension. To practice breath control take a deep breath and imagine that the lungs are divided into three levels. Focus on filling the lower level of the lungs with air, first by pushing the diaphragm down and the abdomen out. Then fill the middle level by expanding the chest cavity. Finally, fill the upper level by raising the chest and shoulders slightly. Hold this breath for a few seconds and then exhale.
Research encourages dancers to focus on mastery images for increasing confidence and decreasing anxiety. In a study that examined the role of imagery in the anxiety-performance relationship among auditioning ballet dancers, successful dancers with prior audition success were said to experience less cognitive anxiety and be more confident. Confident dancers had higher kinaesthetic imagery ability and used more mastery imagery than less confident dancers.
Finally, it is important to remember that at auditions, directors or faculty members’ value potential over perfection Julliard School dance division director Lawrence Rhodes commented “Mistakes are welcome…They can be interesting and informative”. There isn’t a magic formula for a successful audition, no dancer can know exactly what the panellists are thinking or what they are looking for. Don’t forget to show your enjoyment for what you are doing. Aside from technical competence, panelists are always looking to see your passion and love for your craft. Think of an audition as an opportunity to learn and a chance to perform, there are always other auditions even if it doesn’t feel that way when your name is not called.
Amelia Wilkinson, Administrative Intern for Health and Graduate Intern Dance Science
Katy Chambers, Physiotherapist at Trinity Laban Health
Monsma, E. V., & Overby, L. Y. (2004). The relationship between imagery and competitive anxiety in ballet auditions. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science,8(1), 11-18.
Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D (2011). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 5th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 272-289.