Five Musical Theater Dance Audition Tips : Beyond the Basics

I have choreographed over 50 musicals. I’ve also run dance shows, galas, reviews—if it’s related to musical theater and needs a choreographer, I’ve done it. So, I have watched thousands of dance auditions in my career and I am constantly surprised by how many people are underprepared. From professionals to students, it happens again and again. 

Let’s assume you are showing up to a musical theater dance audition. I would hope you know to dress so you can move, wear shoes conducive to dance, pull your hair back, be on time, be warmed-up, and never, ever chew gum! These go without saying. But beyond that, there is a lot you can do to prepare to have a successful audition. 

 

1. Go to as many auditions as you can. 

An audition is a free class in auditioning. Nothing beats practice, so even if you think you are “wrong” for a show, go to the audition. In actuality, you never know what the director is looking for, but more importantly, you get to practice having to learn a combo quickly, shake off nerves, and perform with very little practice. 

 

2. Research the choreographer.

Google the choreographer. Read reviews of their past work. Has this choreographer made a career with big, unison-style musicals like 42nd Street or do they usually work on deeply narrative based works like West Side Story? Knowing the choreographer will help you know what they are looking for. Do they want precision, or do they want to see you make the movement your own? Do they do stylized work, like Fosse, so the details will be very important to execute? You can walk into the audition room already armed with this knowledge.

 

3. Know the music.

Unless this is a brand-new work, there is no reason to not listen to the full score of the show ahead of time, especially the dance numbers. Listen for the emotional intention of the songs. Listen for the accents and rhythms, and don’t forget the dance breaks. A good choreographer will create movement that speaks to the score, so if you know where the hits are, musically and emotionally, you will learn the combo faster and execute stronger. 

 

4. Use YouTube.

There are so many resources online. Watch clips of the show and get up and try the steps. A lot of Broadway shows release clips of someone from the cast teaching some choreography. Try to figure out what will probably be the audition piece. If you are auditioning for A Chorus Line, 9 times out of 10, they will teach the original choreography from the opening. Learn it ahead of time. If it’s Chicago, it will probably be All That Jazz. Learn it ahead of time. You might not be right, but you will use these traditional pieces at an audition someday and it helps you get the style of the show into your body.

 

5.Put it in your mind that you will be called in the first group.

I see actors get rattled when they are called first. It throws off their performance. If you are going to dance auditions, eventually, you WILL be called in the first group. Sometimes people are called alphabetically. Sometimes by number. Sometimes the director is going through the headshots while the choreographer is teaching and throws them back in a pile to give to the stage manager to call in the random order in which they are stacked. You just can’t predict it, so assume you might be first.  

Focus when you are learning the combo. Challenge yourself to dance without looking at the other actors around you. You need to be ready to go as soon as the teaching portion is over. As they are getting ready to call for groups, tell yourself, “I might be first. I’m ready to go. I’m just going to do my best.” This way, when your name is called, you step forward with positivity. We see your reactions, and everyone wants to work with people who are positive in tough situations. We are going to have to go through tech week as a group, after all. So, just walk into every audition assuming you will be called first and it won’t come as a surprise.

 

I promise you that you will have a better experience at your musical theater dance auditions, if you do these five things. A better experience for you translates to a better audition for the creative team and that can be the difference between booking the show or not. Get out there, do the prep work and keep dancing!

Kelly Todd

Kelly Todd is a professor in the theater department at Pepperdine University where she runs the musical theater emphasis. She is also a director/choreographer based in Los Angeles for musical theater and has won numerous awards for her work including the 2014 Ovation Award Winner for Best Choreography for Lysistrata Jones and L.A. Drama Critics Circle 2012 Special Award for Fight Choreography for her work on West Side Story. She was named Southern California’s Choreographer of the Year in 2011 and 2012 by Stage Scene L.A.