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The Importance of the Senior Solo for College Dance Admissions

How to Develop the Top 3 Elements of a Successful Dance Audition

By Julie Friedrich, Associate Director for College and Career Programs
Francisco Gella Dance Works

The college admissions process is not ‘complete’ once the application is submitted – in fact, the college application is really just the beginning. Although preparing all the requested items for this application does take many steps and takes years to gather (download our college prep checklist to learn more), the next step in the admissions process is also very lengthy and involves weeks or months. This stage can involve interviews with the college dance faculty, class auditions in ballet and modern, and dance solos in front of a panel. In my opinion, the solo piece has always been the deal-breaker for determining a student’s success in a college dance audition – not because it’s ‘finally’ your chance to show your technique and what I call “tricks.” Rather, on the day of your audition, you’ll arrive at the solo portion having already demonstrated your technique in the ballet and modern class. Therefore, you should consider the performance of your solo in front of the faculty, as the only time you really have to show your range of movement capacity and, most of all, to showcase your artistry. This is the time where you must prepare for the opportunity to clearly enunciate your own voice and demonstrate to the college panel whether your unique performance style would be a strong fit for their dance program. Of course, to do this well, you will have spent a lot of time with a great coach fine-tuning the work to wow the faculty panel.

Early Preparation is Key

In preparing for your dance solo, here is a tip of where to start: Always research the repertory of the school, for which you are applying and study the choreographers they bring in throughout the year to work with their students. With this knowledge and understanding, seek to acquire a solo that you feel would best fit their repertory style. 

When looking for a solo piece, it is crucial that you acquire a piece from a solo maker who knows the collegiate world and is familiar with what a college solo piece must include, in order for the faculty to be able to identify and view your potential, talent, and preparation favorably. 

When it comes time to choose a choreographer to create and work with your solo, make sure you really inspect the requirements for each individual school you are applying to, so that your solo fits the stated time, music, and stylistic requirements. There is no need to acquire a handful of solo pieces from various sources. There is a need, however, to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Find someone who can showcase the talents you have to offer in the broadest, but most collegiate dance-appropriate, way possible.  If you are unsure of where to find solo makers, I suggest contacting alumni from the schools you are applying to and having them create your piece or recommend choreographers they worked with while they were a student. This is not always possible of course, and in most cases, students are admitted into programs without a solo from an alumnus, so don’t get hung up on this. Consider it a smart strategy and that as an applicant you are looking for every advantage possible. 

However, your solo preparation begins years in advance of actually selecting your solo piece. We’ve prepared a guide to assist you in developing this timeline which should ideally start as early as 7th grade. This guide includes goals and benchmarks including, visiting schools, and then beginning the labor-intensive application process your senior year. And even before this stage, and throughout your early dance career watch a choreographer’s work throughout the years and see if their style suits you. Even better, work with a mentor figure that knows you well and understands the collegiate dance environment. 

Lastly, I highly recommend beginning to prepare for your dance solo audition piece early in your junior year of high school. Do not wait until the last minute to try to acquire this piece. You may find that the choreographer you have chosen, who can best demonstrate your performance ability, is not available within the time frame you need to be best prepared for your college dance audition.

Selecting Music and Setting Yourself up for a Successful Solo 

Every solo is unique, representing the artistry of the choreographer and the essence of the dancer performing it, yet there are common threads that make every solo appropriate for a college audition. These common threads or elements are the result of keeping a strategic mindset and making intentional choices throughout the solo-making process.

Through years of working with many students who have been successful in their admissions pursuits, what I’ve found to be most important in the creation of every senior solo is to work with music that you “connect” with emotionally and kinesthetically.

  • To best discover this music for yourself, you should always investigate your musical selection with a sense of curiosity, exploration, and discovery.
  • Make choices that will liberate you from a literal interpretation of the music.
  • When finalizing the composition of your dance, avoid songs with lyrics and the pop music genre at all costs because often your audience will walk away from your performance focused on the words and the ‘recognizable’ song and your dance performance (however strong it is) will become secondary in their memory. Rather, select music that is sophisticated, timeless, and of a very high artistic level. If you are unsure of what I mean by this, I suggest looking at classical pieces composed for string instruments (violin, cello, etc) as a good place to start. 
  • Starting with a few options, listen to each with the intention of exploring the physical dynamics of what you’re capable of… then go beyond your limitations.
  • Begin with what you know you’re good at and then use where and how you want to become better, as a point of departure into a deeper connection to your performance ability. This approach to your use of physical dynamics will give you a platform to explore new ways of moving.
  • From this place, you will truly begin creating your own movement “language” and this is exactly what a college dance audition panel is searching for!
  • Lastly, remember that no matter how abstract, all dances (that includes yours) must have a beginning, middle, and end.

Never fear taking risks in trying new and unfamiliar concepts, ideas, and movement vocabulary. You have this capability, you just have to tap into it.

The 3 Elements of a Successful Dance Solo 

I mentioned earlier that, regardless of how unique you intend your solo piece to be, there are three essential elements or common threads of every successful senior solo piece and they include:

Quality

The quality of the solo will be defined by how you execute the movement. Every step, extension of the leg, raise of the arm, movement of the foot, and on and on, requires qualitative effort. Every effort you make to have your solo piece stand out, whether its the music, your attire,  the choreographer or any other attempt you make, will fail without demonstrating your ability to execute properly. In fact, 98% of the solo pieces that I see look essentially the same (I may be exaggerating slightly, but not much). What sets solo pieces apart, is the rare 2% that I witness each year where the quality of execution is precise. This quality is what allows a dancer to present a successful piece, and therefore make them stand out as an unforgettable dancer. No one remembers the quantity of movements in a performance, but everyone does remember the quality of those movements. 

Artistry

Nuance is what makes an artist. This nuance is demonstrated by how an individual dancer takes on movement. The definition of nuance is a subtle distinction or variation. It is in the transitional passages and steps where one can invoke distinctiveness. One way to demonstrate this artistry is in the nuance of your connection between the music and your movements. The execution of your steps should embody the notes the audience is hearing in your music selection. The music does not take you on; you take on the music. And the audience interprets your artistry through the nuanced connection you make with your movements.

Physicality

When I am coaching a student on their solo piece, I always make them run it twice, back to back, to gain stamina. You have to learn how to breathe and pace yourself through a solo piece. By running it twice, you are constantly increasing your power and strength of stamina. Without power and stamina, you will never make it through the entirety of the piece. By the last 30 seconds, you will fizzle out and lose all strength. Think of it as running a race; in order to have enough stamina to finish strong, you need to run farther and harder in the training process than you will need to in the actual race. Training for a solo is exactly the same idea. Your physicality should be at an all-time high as performance time approaches. To perform a solo at your peak, you must start strong, stay strong in the middle, and end with a strong finish. 

My Closing Advice for a Successful Dance Solo

All of my advice may seem like a lot for one solo, but it’s because up until you graduate from high school, this piece will likely be the single most important work you’ll have ever undertaken. It’s a big part of laying the path for your future career. So, yes, having a senior solo piece suitable for a college dance audition is a huge commitment. In addition to all of the preparation, once the solo has been created you must take the time to condition and rehearse your piece to ensure the quality, artistry, and physicality is at 100% when it comes time to perform it at your auditions.

Many students I see tend to focus only on the larger more technical movement, but the key to a stellar solo is  

  • Executing flawless transitions, 
  • honing in on and refining the smallest details,
  • articulating every single step, 
  • Moving through every transition seamlessly 
  • And maintaining a constant focus on the vital connection between your movement and your music. 

The more technical steps, and “tricks” as dancers like to say, are only the icing on the cake. What comes in between these steps differentiates the great solos from the average or mediocre ones. 

Please remember this: to accomplish all of what I have outlined, you’ll need to have a great coach knowledgeable in, and respectful of, the technical and artistic choices that your choreographer made in creating the work. Your coach will guide you through the process of working on the piece week after week, and month after month.

The consistent process of working on your solo will teach you much more than the product of performing it. 

I wish you all the best in your journey – good luck and enjoy the process!

~ Julie Rose Friedrich 


Join us for a Facebook LIVE with Julie Rose Friedrich

If you missed our last Facebook live, The Importance of the Senior Solo, where we discussed why the solo piece has always been the deal-breaker for determining a student’s success in a college dance audition and how you can best prepare for your own senior solo click below for the replay.


WHAT’S YOUR PLAN FOR COLLEGE?

If you’re in 7th grade (or older), it’s time to begin coming up with your plan. It’s not too early. In fact, the earlier you start, the more you are better equipped to apply and get accepted into the college program that is best aligned with your goals.

The College Prep Workshops provide guidance and support from experts to help you make the right decisions in preparing for your future. The interactive workshops are meant to demystify a process that can feel overwhelming. Intermediate & Advanced Dancers from 7th to 12th grade and their parents are encouraged to enroll.

We will visit three cities this fall and each city will also offer optional individual on-site consultations to meet your student’s specific plans. If you can not join us this year on the road, consider booking a phone consultation.

We look forward to seeing you in Miami, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas!

Mentoring Dancers Into Their Destiny

Learn Why Mentors Are So Important For Your Dance Career

Guest Authors: Sue Sampson-Dalena, Owner/Artistic Director, and Martha Allen, Office Manager, of The Dance Studio of Fresno

I was honored to be asked to share my thoughts on the importance of mentoring dancers with Francisco Gella Dance Works. As a studio owner and teacher for 38 years, I have enjoyed great success, taught more classes and team rehearsals, and mentored many more great dancers, than I could have ever imagined. We now have two and three generations of families dancing at our studio, as we have grandparents who danced here bringing their grandchildren in for classes.  

Photo courtesy of The Dance School of Fresno

As I began my dance journey, I did not enjoy having a mentor per se… although my mother has always been an outstanding role model as both a parent and a business owner. Therefore, my expertise in dance is the result of trial and error, dreams, innovation, continuing education, and the inspiration of others in the dance world.

My Journey to Mentorship

While teaching is phenomenally fulfilling and profitable, there has to be more. This is not just a business – it is my life’s work. I want to “go deeper” to see dance change the lives of those open to the journey. I long for students to find their own fulfillment in this world of ongoing challenges and creativity. To satisfy that longing, I mentor those who are willing to dream with me. Mentoring has become a large part of who I am, and I hope it is part of my future legacy.

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Planning Ahead for A College Dance Major

Beginning Early Makes a Huge Difference

By Julie Friedrich, Associate Director for College and Career Programs
Francisco Gella Dance Works

Parents and students always ask me, “How early is too early to begin preparing for the college admissions process and for life after high school?” The honest answer is that it is never too early. There are elements of early preparation that have benefits throughout your training and will help keep you on a focused path towards a larger goal. It makes a huge difference when a student starts thinking of long term goals and preparing for them early on. 

I have had numerous students come to me as they are entering their senior year of high school for their college prep consultations, and sadly that is too late. Yes, we can still make successes out of students who begin that late, but there is too much haste and pressure that goes into the application process when it is done so last minute. By the end of your junior year, you should have your college list complete, and have already begun thorough work on your college dance portfolio that summer. 

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Creating Dance To Take You From The Studio To The Performance Stage

Be in command of your performance…

By Julie Friedrich, Associate Director for College and Career Programs

“To enter a theatre for a performance is to be inducted into a magical space, to be ushered into the sacred arena of the imagination.”
Simon Callow

As a 7 year old child my mother took me to see Don Quixote in Los Angeles with American Ballet Theatre (ABT). I was completely captivated by the dancing, costumes, lights, and sets. Most of all, I was mesmerized by the allure of the stage and the wonderful performance. Dance stole my heart.

Some experiences change you, or plant a seed that grows over time. I remember this moment as if it was yesterday. This performance was a defining moment in my life that I can point to as the start of my long dance journey. 

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Standing Out As A Dance Performer

Dance can be a powerful, life changing art form… when your audience feels it deeply.

By Francisco Gella, Chief Creative Officer

“To stand out as a dance performer, you must first stand out as a human being we can believe and relate to. You have to be real.”
– Francisco Gella

I never would have been a dancer if it hadn’t been for one spectacular dance performance in 1992.

During the spring quarter of my freshman year at the University of Washington, I was struggling. I was bored solving mundane math problems in my differential equations class – the same type of left-brained work I was doing in most of my major-required classes. I was accepted into the university on a full academic scholarship with the intent of majoring in Aerospace Engineering (it pleased my parents). Too many late nights of studying forced me to question whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life building planes and spacecraft. As it turned out, I WAS interested in making things; I hadn’t yet discovered just how different those creations would be from my field of study at the time. “Taking flight” would take on an entirely different meaning for me.

Being done with something frees up space to fill that emptiness with things that matter to you. 

– Francisco Gella

I began to explore other classes at the encouragement of an academic advisor. It turned out that one of the first, an Art 101 class, excited my innate sense of curiosity. Soon after that I took my first formal dance class – ever. I registered for Dance 101. I grew up training in gymnastics, so I loved the idea of doing something physical. My right brain was having an awakening that semester: I knew I couldn’t continue on the path toward becoming an engineer.

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The Importance of Body Care and Awareness for Dancers

Notes from my Dance Bag to Yours: Tips,Tools, and Exercises for Dance Training

By Yusha-Marie Sorzano, Associate Director for Community Engagement

As a young dancer, I’d just hop into class without much preparation and go directly home without cooling down following the day’s work – which was almost always very demanding. Looking back now, I can see that I was lucky; I got away with this routine for many years. When I finally became a professional in a company setting, I was fortunate that there were physical therapists on staff to take care of those aches and pains that came along with the hard work. Admittedly, I took this necessary part of my dancer’s life for granted, and I soon learned that, although necessary, it was a luxury and not a part of every dancer’s experience.

As dancers, our bodies are our instruments. We have to care for them and make sure that they are “well-oiled” and that our muscles are being treated properly. Strength training and stretching are certainly essential for a dancer’s regimine, but maintenance between these exercises and in the “down-time” is just as important. 

A Dance Injury Reminded Me of the Importance of Body Care

“As a dancer, you know your body well. This means you can describe clearly what you’re feeling, and that’s great. But you dancers are also some of the most determined people around. I’ve seen you use sheer willpower to persist in doing something that’s painful and possibly damaging.” – ​Gregory Rakowski

Fast forward a few years to when I began freelancing. I found that I reverted back to my childhood routine of just jumping into class — and that’s when my luck ran out. I fully ruptured my Achilles’ tendon and have spent the last year learning how to better prepare and repair my body for a healthy physical journey in dance. I spent that difficult and trying year learning how to fully appreciate and celebrate my body, which means I listen more carefully to what it is telling me.

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Preprofessional Dancers… Job or College?

It’s time to choose a path

By Julie Friedrich, Associate Director for College and Career Programs

Upon graduation from high school, dancers are often forced to choose between going to college and pursuing a job at the professional level. A career in dance is short and often begins at a young age, some choose to put college on hold and wait until after their career is over to begin a college education. But, in today’s world, there are many viable options for dancers wanting to become professional performers. More and more dancers are choosing to educate themselves first while still dancing, and then make the leap into the professional world after completing their BFA or BA. In the end, each dancer must choose the best path to meet their own goals and satisfy their own welfare. There are so many pros and cons to consider on this subject. Our goal is to equip students and parents with information so that they can choose the path that best suits them as an individual and embrace the opportunities that come their way.

The Pro Argument for Attending College

It is imperative to understand why a dance degree at the BFA or BA level is of great benefit.  An undergraduate degree, or even a graduate degree if one so chooses, is extremely beneficial to have in today’s workforce, whether or not you choose to perform professionally.  To teach in all academic and university settings; to educate, choreograph, direct, the list goes on and on, you will be required to show that you have a degree.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but a very large majority of working artists do have a college education in their art field. In reality, it is very rare for students graduating from high school to go immediately into a company. In the ballet world this happens occasionally, and in the contemporary world this rarely ever occurs at all. I’ve seen it happen, but after over ten years of teaching, I can count those students who have successfully made that transition on one hand.

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Inspired by the Art of Making a Dance?

The Keys to Building Dance Composition for Beginner and Emerging Choreographers

Interview by Jeffrey Hoffman, Francisco Gella Dance Works Chief Executive Officer, with Francisco Gella, Choreographer and Chief Creative Officer

Renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor once noted that ‘‘the job of a choreographer is to find what’s personal to them.” Powerful stories – told literally and non-literally – and the dances created to communicate them are rooted in the personal experiences, beliefs, interpretations and feelings of the choreographer. Without the deeply vulnerable, personal, and introspective  work that it takes for the choreographer to create something memorable and powerful, the work presented moves along without life.  Do You Want to Know What It Takes to be a Professional Choreographer?

I sat down recently with Francisco Gella, Choreographer and Chief Creative Officer for Francisco Gella Dance Works, to delve into his own beliefs about his creative work. A self-described life-long learner, Francisco has been honing his craft for nearly twenty-five years beginning when he first experimented with choreography in his undergraduate composition classes. As a choreographer, Gella also understands his role as an educator, coach, mentor and provocateur – he believes that it’s important that artists not get wrapped up in their own ego or stuck inside their head. When a choreographer enters the studio s/he must respect the humanity and the essence of the dancers performing the work. That energy comes from the heart.

This interview comes on the heels of a new initiative Francisco is undertaking to nurture out-of-the-box creative voices through New Century Dance Project (NCDP). For Francisco, the work itself that he creates is not the only thing that’s personal to him. Nurturing aspiring choreographers and opening up opportunities for established dance makers whose talent hasn’t yet been discovered inspires him deeply – in part because of his own journey. From his perspective, many companies have historically made ‘safe’ choices in well-known commodities, at the expense of true innovation and the embracing of diversity. So in the last part of the interview, you’ll learn more about the exciting things he is up to – and they might just involve you!

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Official Launch of Dance Scholarship Equity Program

Tackling the Lingering Issues of Inclusion and Diversity in Dance Programs  

By Jeffrey Hoffman, CEO, Francisco Gella Dance Works

Francisco Gella Dance Works proudly announces the ‘official launch’ of our Dance Scholarship Equity Program! The need is great. The inequality of opportunity is real. You can find  hungry students wanting to pursue their dreams just about anywhere you go. Unfortunately the chances for a good many of these students to succeed are diminished due to circumstances they were born into – not ones they chose.  But with a dancer’s strong desire and a persistent willingness to sacrifice just about anything to get there – and with the the combined creative efforts of individuals and organizations who care about removing barriers for any student struggling to make it happen – a whole lot of good can happen to change the landscape, to build a more inclusive dance community. Dance Scholarship applications are now being accepted.

As a a professional working in education for more than half of my life and since graduating with my undergraduate degree, my entire working life, I am deeply committed to challenging the systems, decisions, beliefs and attitudes that we still often use as excuses for accepting the status quo. It is our own thinking that often gets in the way of real and lasting change.

Jeffrey Hoffman, CEO

In my nearly 30 years as an educator, I can recall countless  conversations with students, faculty, and colleagues about the rising cost of education, and the impacts on student access to opportunity. I have been part of numerous organizational efforts to reduce the opportunity gap – a gap which exists in good part because of persistent systemic inherent bias and in my opinion, a lack of will and persistence to effect change. I have seen talented, smart and motivated students dropout of college because they ran up against  the wall of unaffordability or because they struggled to find their place and the support to succeed in learning environments that didn’t embrace their differences. Statistics show a clear link between a person’s race and ethnicity, and their access to a quality education. This sheds light on the opportunity gap that exists. To remove barriers for fuller participation from all students regardless of background we must first accept and acknowledge this truth.

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The Art of Properly Using your Turnout

The issue of improperly using your turnout and over-rotating in the feet is a worldwide issue

Written By Julie Friedrich, Associate Director for College and Career Programs, Francisco Gella Dance Works

As a teacher, I see this on a daily basis. As someone who has sustained a major knee injury and had major reconstructive surgery as a result, I am adamant that students use turnout from the proper placement and do not over rotate.  

I am grateful that I had a teacher who demanded using turnout from the proper place. This emphasis on proper alignment in the body is crucial to being an injury-free dancer. I remained injury-free until I was 17 years old – while dancing full time, all day long. In today’s environment, I am seeing too many young dancers with injuries that could easily be prevented by maintaining proper alignment and not over-stressing the body by forcing it into positions that are not suited to their anatomy.

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