The dos and don’ts of Dance Auditions with Tom Hodgson

A note from Rachi…

There are 3 truly anxiety provoking things in this world: the cold sore virus, an interest rate rise above 2 basis points and 8 bars of free dance at dance auditions. Two of these things are avoidable with sound economic management and sensible kissing behaviours, the 3rd is not and must be addressed less you end up step clicking for 7 bars and finishing in a drop split.

Tom Hodgson - Image Supplied
Tom Hodgson – Image Supplied

When I first started auditioning in 2009, people often assumed I was a dancer because of my contortion like flexibility; long neck and left clubfoot which makes it look like I’m constantly standing in first position. But when they asked me for a double pirouette, I looked like one of those goats that faint when you startle them. The truth was, I had never taken a dance class before the age of 23, and assumed that one tap and one musical theatre class a week at full time singing school would be enough to get me through auditions… And on the odd occasion, it did- I dominated in that Les Miserables dance call.

After two years of auditioning it became clear it wasn’t working (read, I wasn’t working). Something had to change. Should I put aside a whole year to study dance full time, or keep going with the current plan? One year seemed like a REALLY long time to put my body through something I wasn’t sure it could handle. Then someone said to me; look, one years time will come around whether you like it or not, and you will either be chipping away unsuccessfully same as now, or you’ll be Baryshnikov. So I went to Ed5 at the age of 25 with a whole bunch of 19 year olds, and learnt to dance.

So much so, that now when I see an empty aisle at Coles, I have an overwhelming desire to piqué. Single, and double, single and double….

Tom Hodgson began his career in Cats UK, before moving into ballet and contemporary dance. He has worked across Europe in various companies including; Kiel Ballet, Ballet Braunschweig, Lucerne Ballet, Scapino Ballet Rotterdam, Conny Janssen Danst, Dansity Amsterdam, Ricochet and DV8 Physical Theatre. Since moving to Australia, Tom was the Resident Choreographer on Once (MTC/GFO), Billy Elliot (Aus, Broadway and more recently, International Associate on Billy Elliot in Japan), Associate Choreographer on Matilda the Musical and is currently choreographing an entirely new production of Mamma Mia which will tour Australia late 2017. He has auditioned thousands of dancers and has plenty of wisdom to offer on how to put your best LaDuca forward in the dance call.

Focus on the style and story

“Style is the most important thing. What I’m looking for are people who listen to what I’m asking for and trying to deliver, and that doesn’t necessarily mean picking up the choreography perfectly first time. Especially with the type of chore we see these days, which is a much richer mix of contemporary movement and physical theatre. It’s intricate, tricky movement and people need time to get that right. Don’t be stressed about not getting it fast if everyone else seems to. Keep going!! Because, if you get a call back, you may have 2-3 hours or 3-4 days to go and think about it and practice. If you pick it up quickly, but do a version that is comfortable to you, you’re missing out on what we’re asking for most of the time.

Depending on what you’re auditioning for, style can be more important than technique. There are some shows, which have triple pirouettes and a leg up round the ear, so it’s clear that those skills must be prerequisites. Those can’t be taught over a rehearsal period. However, most musicals have a varying level of dance content for different parts, even within the ensemble. I’m looking for people who can commit and tell the story, and continue to work on the accuracy of the movement.”

Work hard the second you walk in the room

“Don’t wait for the final small group to show me your 100%. You are building towards that, where you can really be seen on your own, but that’s not the only time I’m looking at you. Every time you get a chance to do it, go for it, then go the sides and rethink about it, then go for it again. If you wait for the last round, there might simply be someone next to you who is more interesting. Whereas if you’ve worked hard all the time, I’ll be thinking, yeah- give them another go, they never stop working, they’re always thinking about what they’re doing – and that’s appealing”

Fitness is huge

“Keep up that aerobic fitness. You can’t do your best audition if your legs are jelly. You will always be shocked by new chore, but be prepared. If you are about to audition for something, and you’re currently in a show, which doesn’t require you to do much, or not in a show, you need to go to classes and the gym. Even in 2 weeks, you will feel so different and so much more confident in that call because you don’t know what you’re going to get, and it can be hard. Fitness work has to be part of your preparation.”

Go to a wide variety of dance classes

It’s important to do class and vary the class style. Try to get into a ballet class each week; it’s a great grounding for everything. If not ballet, Pilates or similar strengthening work, to help with maintaining your core and general strength. On top of that, find a mix of dance styles to keep challenging yourself, it allows you to move your body in different ways, which will help you pickup different styles in the audition room.”

Dress appropriate and bring all your shoes

“What you wear is important. Look like you have made an effort because it shows keenness and preparation. It doesn’t mean you have to be done up to the nines, but you have to be clean, smart and we need to be able to see your body well. Research the show you’re auditioning for. You don’t have to have a costume, but have an awareness of the show you are auditioning for.

Also, bring a change of clothing with you. If you feel like you might not have it quite right in the first call, you can switch. You don’t want to change too much because we need to be able to identify you, but have options. Also, make sure you have all your shoes with you regardless of what you have been told to bring.”

Research the chore online

“With the amount of media out there, you’d be crazy not to check out the choreography online and see what they’re doing, and even try and learn some of it. Especially if you feel like you struggle to pick things up quickly, get an idea of the style and get an idea of what you’ll be in for.”

Focus – never zone out

“Don’t stand on the side, zone out and lean on the barre while you’re not on the floor. It gives the impression of being disinterested, even if you are just relaxing and trying to rest. You’ve got to stay focused on the audition. I’ll pick up on that energy really quickly and I don’t like it.”

Protect your reputation

“Always protect your reputation. Honest, good, hardworking performers are fantastic to work with. If I’m considering engaging someone for a show, and I haven’t previously worked with them, I may do some research within the industry.”

Ask legitimate questions only

“I have no problem with people asking questions, but think about what you’re asking, and don’t do it just to get my attention. I’ll be polite and say, yep we’ll do that again, but it doesn’t go very far if you’re just trying to get noticed. Any legitimate questions are great; I love trying to help people do the movement. I’m always happy to answer them. Don’t be frightened to say, please could you show us that part one more time.”

Don’t embellish choreography

“Embellishment is exactly what I don’t want to see. If I wanted to hip-hop it up, I would have said it. If you’re taking it in a direction which isn’t the main focus of the dance, I might give you a note, which is a test, and then I’ll know what you’re capable of. Give it your all, but don’t add stuff. Most of the time, it weakens your case.”

Listen- for detail, for notes and corrections

I don’t make a snap decision on people but give them chances throughout the audition. If you’re just not right, you’re not picking up detail or doing a version of what I’m asking for, or if I give a correction and it hasn’t gone in, my gaze will go elsewhere. That could be to the person at the back who is sweating buckets just trying to get it right, or someone who is as fast but with the right kind of quality. There’s an essence and a drive, which is universal in those people that get your attention. They always have the same kind of attack and desire.

Don’t listen to waiting room talk

“Don’t listen too much to what’s happening in the waiting room. Don’t listen to people who think they know what we want to see. You never know exactly what we’re looking for, how many components we’re looking for with different skills. It might put you off and you need to be able to focus.”

Don’t be late

“Don’t be late, and if you do, explain exactly why. If you come late to my audition and there’s a good reason for it, we know things can go wrong, but don’t get a reputation for it. Aim to be early because you need to be warmed up 30 min before. Even an hour before, find the venue, go get a coffee.”

Do whatever it takes to make yourself comfortable

“I’m really aware of people doing bad auditions, I mean I’ve worked with them and seen them audition and think, what are you doing? If I feel someone is nervous, I try to create an environment where people can relax more, so you forget it’s an audition and focus on what we’re doing, more like a dance class.”

This relates to things like free dance sections and intro music. In relation to free dance, “From my background, I’m happy to improvise, and the best movement comes for me in the moment, because you’re feeding off what’s required in the room. If improvisation terrifies you, then I would prepare something. For example, if you were auditioning for Hairspray, or a show that has a clearly identifiable style, then there’s nothing wrong with putting 4 x 8’s together, and having that up your sleeve. Feel comfortable.”

Likewise, with intro music before the chore starts, “ There’s nothing wrong with getting yourself into the moment. Judge it from the person taking the audition, if it’s someone who wants to get you going and create an energy, then by all means, get yourself moving. They’ll quickly say to you not to, if they don’t want it.”

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Rachel has a degree in Psychology from The University of Sydney but is currently masquerading as understudy for Miss Honey and Mrs Wormwood in the Australian production of Matilda the Musical. She likes to think about what makes people tick. She also likes: Podcasts, politics, pepperoni pizza, property, puns, puppies and cheap things. If you know of a political podcast full of puns we can listen over a cheap pepperoni pizza while we walk a cheap dog looking at cheap property, we might just be fast friends. Follow Rachel on Instagram at: @rachelacole.

Rachel has written 28 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by

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The dos and don’ts of Dance Auditions with Tom Hodgson
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