There are many prestigious dance companies in the Philadelphia region, and the selection process is highly competitive. Knowing what a company is looking for in its dancers is half the battle, so we asked Lori A. Lahnemann, Director of The Philadelphia Dance Academy and The Philadelphia Youth Ballet to weigh in on the five items dance companies look out for when auditioning dancers. Here is Lahnemann’s expert advice for budding talent.
These days, dance companies are less likely to stick to one specific technique or rigid style. Ballet companies will do classics like “Swan Lake” in pointe shoes as well as barefoot modern or contemporary pieces within a season. Dancers are often required to move with the elegance of a classical ballet dancer and the athleticism of a modern dancer all in the course of one performance.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that every company is looking for one specific waif-like body. Each company has a distinctive “look” and will be looking for dancers who appear cohesive and complimentary when on stage together.
The myth of the “dumb dancer” is exactly that. Dancers are required to learn complex combinations of movements, musicality, and the artistic demands of each choreographer and director quickly and efficiently. Depending on the budget of a company, dancers can have minimal time to prepare and rehearse for a performance. At auditions, directors will often show a combination once and ask dancers to perform it as a test of how quickly and precisely a dancer can retain choreography.
Strong, clean technique is a given. You can’t even think about becoming a dancer if you aren’t committed to working each day to perfect and strengthen your technique. However, as a professional, you must go beyond perfect pirouettes and high extension. It is the transition between steps, the subtleties in the breath, eye focus, fingertips, that make the dancer. It isn’t what you do, it is how you do it.
Part of what is taught in dance training is a sense of self-responsibility. At a young age, students start to be held accountable for themselves. They must come to class and rehearsals punctually and prepared in dress code, warmed up, and having reviewed choreography or corrections from prior classes or rehearsals. Companies are looking for the same qualities. They want a dancer that is self-motivated, hard working and reliable. It is a lot of work to put a performance together, and it involves many people, pieces, and parts. The company counts on each dancer to be responsible and do his/her part.
If you are interested in doing some research about what Philadelphia dance companies might best fit your talents, here are some local dance companies that excel in the attributes above.
The Philadelphia Dance Academy offers a multitude of programs for dancers of all ages. The early childhood program is a pre-ballet class designed for dancing tots ages 2 and half to 6 years of age. The Academy also offers pre-professional, theater dance, summer, adult and young adult programs. There is also a boys ballet scholarship program for boys ages 8 and older.
The Philadelphia Youth Ballet caters to performers age 7 and up who are already enrolled in the Philadelphia Dance Academy. The youth ballet strives to inspire young talent and help hone their skills through its professional training.
This nonprofit dance company was founded in 1970 and works with both budding new talent and professional dancers. Choreography centers mainly around African-American traditions in dance, and the organization prides itself in the promotion of cultural awareness and boundary-breaking performances. This company is all about the youth and young adults and commits itself to empowering development and instilling leadership in its dancers.
For over 40 years, Group Motion Dance Company has brought contemporary dance to captivated audiences around the world. Founded in the early 60s by B. Herrmann, the company’s roots lie in Berlin, Germany, but the company found its permanent home six years later when it was relocated to Philadelphia. Group Motion provides workshop retreats, home season performances at the Community Education Theater and a visiting artists festival which brings dancers from around the world to Philadelphia to perform for local audiences.
Michelle Conron is a freelance writer and a style and fashion enthusiast residing in Philadelphia, Pa. Her work can be found on on Examiner.com.