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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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