Jordan Grubb

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I hope you will find this entry well worth the wait!  It will give you valuable insight about dance auditions, swinging, and as promised, it will give you a tiny glimpse of life “behind the table” with the incredible Jordan Grubb.

I don’t think anyone would begrudge Jordan the title of the hardest working man in the Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production of “My Fair Lady.”  We have been very lucky to have had him as our dance captain and off-stage swing for the past three months.  The “off-stage” part of the “off-stage swing” title, however, is a bit misleading.  He was constantly stepping in almost every single week for a different performer, even me for one performance!  On some extra frantic days when we had two performers out, he was also responsible to adjusting the choreography and blocking accordingly and making sure the rest of the cast up to date and rehearsed on the changes.   In addition to being the dance captain and off-stage swing, he also had a heavy hand in casting the production.

I haven’t even mentioned yet what a fantastic dancer he is!  Every single audience member who saw him perform should count themselves very lucky.  A true triple threat, Jordan also effortlessly switched vocal parts, singing solos ranging from the bass to tenor line and put his own individual acting stamp on each character he played. Not to mention, he is just a really great guy with a heart of gold.  He is a true inspiration!

So without further ado, I give you Jordan Grubb’s “Muscles for Musicians” interview!

Can you give us a little bit about your dance background?

Well, about 20 years ago, I started taking classes at my local studio in Easton, PA. That really gave me my technical foundation. Because I lived so close to New York, my mother used to take me into the city on weekends/summers to take class as well. Those trips were really important in shaping me as a dancer.

What is your advice for someone who is a singer but has never danced? How should they get started, and how often should they practice?

I think like anything, you need to start at the very basics. Take a basic ballet/jazz/tap class, and don’t be afraid to go in and push yourself. I think how often you take should be related to what you want out of it. If you fancy yourself a singer and you just want to feel more comfortable in movement calls, I think a reasonable commitment is 3 times a week. If you’re looking to be a full-on dancer, you need to be in class 6 days a week.

Do you have any favorite classes in New York City that you would recommend for a singer who moves?

I think Kat Wildish’s ballet class at Alvin Ailey is amazing. Finding a ballet class that can keep my attention can be daunting, but she creates this great low-stress environment. You can be an absolute beginner or a “trina” who needs to brush up on some things, and they both can get something out of it. Kat has a great sense of humor, and really puts forth a great class.

Jim Cooney’s Musical Theatre class at Broadway Dance Center is also a great place to start. He really makes you push yourself to be a better artist.

For tap, there’s no one out there better for a beginner than Ray Hesselink. He’s my main tap teacher out here, and he provides such an attentive and easy-going class.  He teaches at both BDC and Steps.

Do you have any advice for how to quickly pick up combinations during an audition?

I think the hardest thing for people to pick up is transitions. If you can remember the beginning to any transitional step, I think that at least gives you a road map of the combination. Also, many times everyone is so concerned about picking up the steps that they just tune out what the choreographer is saying. Pay attention to how he breaks everything down. More often than not, he’ll help you.  If you can’t retain everything, then really hammer down the most important steps. When a choreographer is watching a group of 3 or 4 dance, he can miss lot. Even if you do mess up, he may not have seen it, so you need to fake it ’til you make it.

Where do you like to stand during auditions?

I like to go toward the front. Oftentimes, you’ll have choreographers change lines, but if they don’t and you’re stuck in the back, it’s so much harder to pick up a combination.

When everyone is broken down into smaller groups to practice, it’s important that if you don’t know the combination, stand in the back. The audition starts the moment you walk in the room. Just because you’re not broken down into groups of 4 doesn’t mean you’re not being watched. It’s better to learn it and work out the kinks and THEN blow everyone away in small groups than to look slightly lost in the front. So to recap: LEARN in the FRONT. PRACTICE it FRONT or BACK according to your confidence that day.

What do you typically wear to a dance audition?

When I first moved here, I was told by a Broadway choreographer that I needed to invest in a good pair of slacks. It makes you look more masculine and professional. I found a black pair that was made of stretchy material, and I also invested in a pair of Lulu Lemon pants. I always wear a belt to make it look clean, and I usually wear a tank or tight t-shirt. Unless the audition calls for it, I would NEVER dress/style myself effeminately. I’m all for having your own individuality, but often times, men type themselves out of things because the choreographer can’t see past what they’re wearing.

More importantly, KNOW what you’re auditioning for. If it’s for “42nd Street,” I’m wearing a nice pair polo shirt with my hair slicked back. If it’s “Chicago,” I’m probably wearing something different. You have to be careful about this though. You want to have an allusion to the style, but not audition like you’re wearing a costume.

What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?

I put the steps I’m having trouble with on a mental shelf, and learn the combination. Once we have any downtime, I’ll practice my trouble spots. Even when we’re broken down into larger groups, I’ll mark everything on the side. If I can’t 100% get a certain step, I just adapt it to look as much of the original step as I can. I’d rather see a clean single turn than someone falling out a sloppy double.

As far as style goes, look at the people who stand out. What are they doing that’s different than everyone else? Why are they standing out? Figure out what that is, and steal it and make it your own. Either way, you must have a semblance of style. Dancers who are just technique and no style don’t catch my eye. You need to have both.

Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

It’s fine to ask a question, but be sure to limit yourself to 1. You don’t want to come across as someone who can’t pick up a combination quickly. And make sure it’s something you can’t figure out later. Oftentimes, if you wait, your question will be answered.

How has dance captaining/swinging changed how you approach auditions?

It has helped me pick up choreography better. Right now, I’m covering 12 tracks. It’s been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. I’ve learned so much through this process, and even more than auditioning, I’ve learned how to approach performance. I now know as an actor how I should take a note and how to approach my dance captain about things. I’ve also gained so much respect for what a swing does on a daily basis. It can be one of the most random and on-your-toes position in this business.  It requires a TON of work and focus.

When running a dance audition, are there any specific habits dancers do when they are learning the combination that turn you off?

I can’t stand when dancers continue to practice on the sides after I’ve broken people down into audition groups. A) It’s distracting to me.  B) It’s disrespectful to the people who are auditioning.

I’d also be very conscious of the attitude you give off. Nothing is more unattractive to me than someone who comes in looking cocky and “over it”.

What qualities do you look for in someone you want to hire (besides technical dance ability)?

I ask myself: “Would this person be fun to work with?” At some point, there’s an even plane of talent. There could be 6 people in the room who could all do the track I’m looking for, but what separates one from the other is how easy they look to work with. Cast chemistry is important. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, so it’s important to approach every audition with a positive attitude and to give 100%. Those qualities show.

What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

I think it was when a casting director once told me that I shouldn’t be so nervous because they WANT us to do well. It makes the people behind the table’s jobs easier if the actors they’re auditioning are good. They’re rooting for us to be the best we can be. I think people get so caught up in fear and worrying about what everyone else things. It was kind of a liberating when I just let it all go and let myself be the best I could be.




You can learn more about Jordan and his current adventures by visiting his website!

Megan Mekjian

I’m am so excited to present Megan Mekjian’s audition advice!  Why am I so excited you may ask?  Megan is an extremely strong singer, actor, dancer, AND teacher!  As such, I thought she could provide some particularly insightful audition information.

I met Megan at an open theatre dance class at CAP 21.  She was the teaching assistant and I was immediately wowed by her dancing – especially her precision!  The teacher introduced the two of us and we became fast friends.  It has been such a blessing to have her huge heart and upbeat personality in my life.  She is one of those girls who will eagerly do whatever is possible to help her friends reach their goals and is TRULY happy when they succeed.  As such, one can only be overjoyed with Megan’s own successes!  She is currently thrilling audiences as Fruma Sarah in the national tour of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  She was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to share her audition advice with the Muscles for Musicians blog!

So – I am thrilled to present to you – MEGAN MEKJIAN!

Can you share a little bit of your dance background?

When I was 4 years old, I saw a children’s theatre production of Annie and turned to my mom and said, I don’t want to sit here, I want to do that! With persistent enthusiasm I began to perform in the school musical and did shows with the children’s theatre that ignited my passion. When I was about 7, I started taking dance classes. Initially, I just took dance to be a well-rounded performer. However, in the process of taking class, I became more and more enamored with dance itself. I have been studying ballet, jazz, and tap all throughout elementary, middle school, high school, college, and beyond! Because of shows or being on the road there have been some gaps in my training time. However, whenever I have the opportunity, I am always eager to get back into class!

How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

When I first started auditioning in New York, I went to EVERY audition and sang basically the same song every time. As I have discovered myself more as a performer and person, I have been able to target auditions more specifically. I am now willing to sacrifice auditioning for EVERYTHING in order to spend more time preparing for auditions that I know I am right for. This has helped me both in the audition room and for my psyche. It is significantly more fulfilling to look at auditions as an opportunity to explore a role and character. I like to think of it as my chance to play a role that I would love to play.

Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
In dance calls, I like to stand near the front in the beginning, but not directly expose myself to the creative team. This gives me the opportunity to see the choreography clearly without the pressure of being watched while I am trying to pick up the combination.

What do you wear to auditions?

I always wear something that I feel really good in! I like to incorporate the style of the show into my outfit as much as possible, but for me the most important thing is feeling confident and fabulous!

Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly at an audition?

Ahh!!! Always the challenge!! For me it is absolutely a matter of concentration. With so many possible external distractions (the other dancers, the creative team, hating your outfit, etc…) I am just constantly telling myself to focus back in on the steps and the choreographer. Easier said than done, though!!!!

What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?

I really try to just pick up whatever I can. When I start getting down on myself, it is just the hardest hole to climb out of. I try to keep it positive and pick up whatever I can, even if it is just one eight count.

Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

When you ask questions in the audition room, it automatically draws attention to you. I try to only ask questions when I am confident I will be able to incorporate the direction into the combination. I think it is better to just get something wrong, then to get something wrong after the choreographer has specifically told YOU how to do it right. However, I think if you have the combination for the most part and are a little confused about something specific, asking questions is wonderful. Also, on the flip side, if you are given a correction and you take it, that is a fantastic opportunity to make a really great impression!

If you were to recommend one style of dance for a singer who moves to study – which would it be and why?

I recommend they study ballet because it really is the foundation of most dance styles. It will be the most prolific dance form as far as learning universal terms, positions, and steps.

Which classes do you take that you feel are most helpful for auditions?

I like taking any dance class! Picking up different combinations and teaching styles is so helpful for the audition room. For singing auditions, I like working with an audition coach on my material. I love having another pair of eyes to assess my work. It gives me a sense of confidence and also the opportunity to work out any musical kinks before presenting it an audition.

You are equally strong dancer as a singer – what would you say is the main difference between how your prepare for dance call versus a singing call.

In a weird way, I guess I prepare similarly for both dance and singing calls! For both, I do as much research on the role I am right for before I enter the room. For a dance call, if possible, I try to familiarize myself with the choreography. I use youtube to look up the show and/or choreographer and if I know anyone involved in the production I try to hire them to teach me the choreography. In a singing call, I also use youtube to research the music and composer. I then try to find a song with a similar message, style, and range as the character I am going in for.

What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

You are enough. Tell the story the best way you know how and trust yourself. If you try to be someone else or what you think they want, you are constantly chasing your own tail. They might as well just hire the person you are trying to be. However if you go in as the authentic you, you may or may not be right for the role, but at least you are only competing with yourself!

Michelle Joy

Michelle Joy IS a bundle of joy!  Every moment she is around you feel as though life is covered with sunshine.  She is also a spectacular dancer!  What really sets her apart aside from her impeccable technique is the emotion she brings to her dancing.  I saw her in Damnation of Faust at the Met Opera and was astounded by her free and passionate movement.  


It is incredibly exciting to be able to share her audition advice with you!  One thing that has always impressed me about Michelle is her laid back energy at auditions.  It is almost as though she is there just to have fun and go with the flow.  (In her own words: “I just try to perform my best.  I remind myself that everything else is out of my control.  When I was a younger dancer I used to compare myself to other dancers in the room.  Now I just try to stay focused on myself.”)  I think that attitude is part of what allows her to be so successful!  


But enough about my observations of the glorious Michelle Joy – let’s let her speak for herself!:)






Can you give us a little background your dance career?
  I’ve been dancing professionally for ten years nows.  I received my dance training from Houston Ballet Academy on full Scholarship.  After I graduated at age 17 I landed my first paid job with Colorado Ballet as an apprentice.  I later danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, American Repertory Ballet and The The Metropolitan Opera.  I’m currently performing this leading role a workshop of a new show, 49th St and Other Stories.
How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?
   
  I find I’m less stressed about auditions, I just try to perform my best.  I remind myself that everything else is out of my control.  When I was a younger dancer I used to compare myself to other dancers in the room.  Now I just try to stay focused on myself. 
Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
  I like to stand is where I can see the combination the best and practice the steps.  Sometimes the most space is in the very front, (because some people are scared to stand there) and sometimes it’s in the back row.
What do you wear to auditions?

  I seem to do the best when I am wearing just a nice leotard and booty shots or something that shows my body.  Directors and choreographers want to see dancers, not their wardrobe.
Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly at an audition?

  I try not to over analyze any one step and let the entire combination sink it.  Paying close attention to the counts helps memorize the combination faster.
What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?
  If I’m not familiar with the style I try to pay more attention to the counts and make sure that my body is in the right place at the right time.  Hip hop and tap combinations are very difficult for me. 
Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?
  Yes, but I try to be specific, such as: “what is on count seven?” or “can you repeat the opening section?”
What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it?

  The most challenging audition for me was when I auditioned for American Repertory Ballet.  The audition was six hours long including a class, repertory, partnering and improve.  They kept making cuts after every different combination.  I had no idea I was going to be there all day long.  I ended up signing the only female contract at the end of the day, but I couldn’t walk for a week.
If you were to recommend one style of dance for a singer who moves to study – which would it be and why?

  I would suggest a musical theatre class such at Richard Pierlon’s class because the first hour you spend in the center working on technique and flexibility and the second half you work on a combination.


Which classes do you take that you feel are most helpful for auditions?

  Deborah Roshe’s jazz class at Steps on Broadway helped me learn to pick up choreography quickly and to put counts to every move. 

As a dancer who sings – how do you approach a singing callback? Do you have a different mentality than during a dance call?

  Naturally I’m way more nervous about the singing portion of the audition.  I’ve been taking weekly voice lessons for the past 3 years which has given me more confidence.  My voice teacher and I always prepare a song in advance for an audition which I may or may non get called back to sing.
Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills?

  Lisa Lockwood’s class at Steps is a great basic ballet class with lots of begging adults.  I think that taking a ballet one or twice a week will help anyone with the basics for any dance audition no matter what the style is.  
What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

  You’re not going to get any job sitting in your apartment.  Showing up is the most important thing whether you think you are right for the show or not.


Megan Reinking’s Audition Advice

Here it is – the entry you’ve all been waiting for – a feature on MEGAN REINKING!



My freshman year of college, a group of friends and I made plans to see the movie “Billy Elliot.”  There was time to kill, so we ended up in the Border’s across the street from the theatre.  In this group of friends was a girl I didn’t know, but somehow we both ended up in the “Discover Your Past Lives” section of the book store.  (I think we were both aiming for the history section, since we are both history buffs, but got distracted.)  While reading about the “purple mists of time” we ended up not seeing “Billy Elliot” and became best friends instead.

The MARVELOUS woman I met was none other than the incomparable Megan Reinking – a girl with both a voice and a heart of gold!  Since this blog is about “muscles for musicians,” I’ll spare you my dissertation on how incredible she is as a person and jump right on to her talents as a performer.   She is best known for her powerful high belt (which some have called the personification of fierce – see facebook group here ), but has a beautiful soprano voice as well.  What truly sets her apart is her acting ability.  She has the talent to truly “be” the character on stage, whether it’s a vampire (Lestat/Dracula), hippie (Hair), prohibition mistress (Boardwalk Empire), mother figure during World War II Germany (The People in the Picture), or cabaret singer (Les Enfants de Paris).  What perhaps few people know is she is actually an incredible dancer as well.   In her last Broadway show, “The People in the Picture,” in which she played Dobrisch, she totally held her own with some of Broadway’s best dancers!  Because she is a singer/actor who also has incredible dance skills, I thought she would have some valuable insight regarding the “singers who move” dance audition process.  I was right!  So without further ado – I’ll give the mic to the beautiful Megan Reinking!

Can you give us a little bit about your dance background?

I started dance lessons at the age of 3, ballet and tap. Later I added on jazz and lyrical as I got older. I majored in Musical Theatre in college at the University of Michigan, where I also took theatre dance. Overall, I have roughly 20 years of dance experience. However, I stopped training as a dancer when I moved to New York 8 years ago, though I do take the occasional class still. I decided to focus on my strengths, which were singing and acting as the degree of dance that I’ll be required to do as a singer/actor, I will always be able to do.

How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

I’ve come to accept that I will *never* know or understand what a casting director is looking for. So I have stopped trying to BE whatever it is that I *think* they want. As far as dance, you can’t get into your head about it. You can’t suddenly become a better dancer than you were before you walked in the room. Same as with singing, your technique is what you had up until that point. The only thing…the ONLY thing you can worry about in the audition room is telling the story. Remind yourself this is THEATRE, first and foremost. If you can’t tell a story, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your pirouette is. You never know what they are looking for. When I did HAIR, they were specifically looking for people who moved like REAL people, not dancers…yet there was a dance call. My favorite people in dance auditions are the storytellers. Focus on that.


Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?

I like to start in the front. It doesn’t matter what your level is. Don’t let the other dancers get in your head. What matters is being able to see the CHOREOGRAPHER. You can’t learn the combination off of the other dancers because then you are learning -their- interpretation of the choreography. Stand wherever you need to so you can see the choreographer and try to learn it as best you can off of them. Musical Theatre is all about style, and you will only observe the correct style from the choreographer. Don’t trust the girl in the sexy unitard to have it right. Usually they will switch up the lines anyway, but not until they’ve taught a significant portion of the combination, at which point you WANT to be in the back so you have room to do the combination full out. Most people crowd up to the front and there are leagues of room in the back. This gives you an advantage when it counts, because you will have done it full out a bunch of times. I always try to be up front when it’s first taught, and then move to the back where no one else seems to want to be and do things full out.

Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly in auditions?

Usually combinations are taught in groups of 8-counts, or 16 counts. I focus on the transitions so they naturally flow for me. You will have already practiced each 8-count individually, so when you’re given those moments to review (choreographer is finding music, talking, or looking through headshots)…those transitions are what I practice so each section flows in my head and feels natural. I’m also a “counts” person…I learn by what counts each step is on as opposed to the music feel like a lot of choreographers use. But it helps me learn. If I know the counts, I won’t forget what comes on the next beat.


What do you do if you have having trouble picking up a combination or style?

Ask questions. They will always answer questions. Just ask them at the appropriate time.

Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

Absolutely!!!! If you’re having trouble, do NOT be shy about it. The time working with a choreographer is your time. They WANT you to get it right and be brilliant. Don’t stay silent and mess up and beat yourself up about it. Don’t stay silent and assume they will give you notes if you’re doing it wrong. The important thing is to BE SPECIFIC. Don’t ask general questions. If there is just one part that you couldn’t see when it was taught, or you’re confused on a count, or you are unclear where your arms are at a certain point, ask that. I usually wait until the combination has been taught and we’ve reviewed. I try to give myself time to get it myself and watch the choreographer for those specific details, to see if I can answer it myself. If it has varied (sometimes a choreographer will do arms different every time…this drives me NUTS)…I will ask. However, don’t BLAME the choreographer! (ie…”you’ve done it differently every time”). I always phrase it that it is ME that is unsure…and sometimes they won’t realize they were doing it differently and it will force them to set it. 


What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it?

Probably the AMERICAN IDIOT dance call. I felt like I had been hit by a truck afterwards. I actually injured myself, pulled my quad, in the audition and couldn’t walk for a week! There is a lot of violent movement in the audition combination, and specifically throwing yourself in the air to land on the ground. Honestly, I’m not sure I “conquered” it, but I threw myself into it 200%. I told myself…don’t be shy of the movement. Attack it. Figure out how to not bruise yourself when you GET the job. 

What do you do to stay in shape? What are you favorite things to do at the gym?

Recently I’ve taken to doing Bikram Yoga more than gym workouts. It’s greatly increased my strength and flexibility as well as joint health. But it has also had great impacts in my health overall in many other ways than simply staying in shape and losing weight. 

What is the best audition advice you have ever received?

Be yourself. Just do you. You can’t be anyone else. You can’t be whatever this nebulous idea you have about what you think “they” want. All you can do is bring yourself, your creativity, you unique thing to whatever it is you are doing. Only then will you do anything unique, brilliant, and TRUE in that room. And that is what they are looking for ultimately. They want to be moved…and truth is moving. No one else is you. The only way you will stand out is if you can learn to bring that into the room.


Any other words of wisdom?

The best thing I learned is to throw out the negativity. Rejection can kill you in this business. As long as you do everything you can to prepare before you go in that audition. If you can see the show, if you can listen to it, if you can go to the Lincoln Center Library and watch a past production of it, if you can watch the movie it’s based on, anything you can think of to prepare yourself, then you are READY.

You need to get out of your head and throw away your doubts. You need to remind yourself that you are equal to the task of the role you are aspiring to. You need to be WILLING.

You need to remind yourself that you are fully capable of accessing within yourself everything that is required of you in this role. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by it. You are ABLE.

That is my pre-audition…pre-performance mantra. You are Ready. You are Willing. And you are Able. There is nothing standing in your way. This is yours.

Your confidence in yourself is your most invaluable asset.

************

If you want to know MORE about Megan as a performer you can read Broadwayworld.com’s Gypsy of the Month feature of her here!  

You can also see her in “Les Enfants de Paris” currently performing at NYMF!  This is a BEAUTIFUL new musical that is to “Notre Dame de Paris” what “West Side Story” is to “Romeo and Juliet.”  I was lucky enough to see a few readings of the musical before it reached NYMF, and let me tell you, the music is glorious and the book is so intelligent.  If you only see one NYMF show, make it “Les Enfants de Paris.”  If you’ve never seen a NYMF show, this is a great one to start with!  This is a publicity shot of Megan for the show!  If that doesn’t get you to buy a ticket, I don’t know what will!

Megan is also the current standby for the role of Dyanne in “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Annie’s Audition Advice

Ashley Anne Russ, who I know as Annie, is one of those incredibly luminous people who was born to dance.  Any audience would be lucky just to watch her take class, let alone sparkle on a stage.  


I met Annie back in the day when I was actually more of a director than a performer.  She auditioned for a show I was directing (choreographed by the brilliant Jeff Shade), nailed every aspect of the choreography, and was instantly cast.  Her work ethic makes choreographers and love working with her.  Her huge heart and giving spirit make dancers love working alongside of her.  Every time we audition together, I am astounded at how quickly she latches on to the choreographer’s style and executes the combination as though it were a final performance.  It is truly inspiring.  She is a true star inside and out, and Muscles for Musicians feels incredibly lucky that she was willing to share her audition experiences with us.   So without further ado, here is Annie’s audition advice!







Can you give us a little background your dance career?


I grew up in Chicago in more of a “concert dance” world. I was fortunate to get my jazz training at Gus Giordano, and I studied ballet in a studio my mom’s best friend owned. I would also take class at Lou Conte in the city on occasion. To further my training, I was accepted into ABT summer camp as well as three years with Chicago National Association of Dance Masters (CNADM). My first taste of musical theater was with Northstage Theater Company in Chicago where I connected with Rebecca Timms (former Broadway dancer turned choreographer). She got me an audition for West Virginia Public Theater which ended up being my first taste of summerstock (2 years in a row). Upon moving to the eastcoast, I attended SUNY Purchase Conservatory. Being so close to the city, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take the train into Manhattan for auditions. Needless to say, I didn’t last 4 years… I landed my first agent and immediately booked a show in the city. Since then, I haven’t stopped doing everything from regional work & tours, as well as international with Tokyo Disney.  I would consider myself a “theater jazz dancer”. While I am trained in everything from ballet, tap, contemporary, latin, etc. I am most comfortable in athletic movement that tells a clear story or emotion. 


How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

My approach to auditions has changed over the years since I have learned to not put so much pressure on myself. I am an assistant to a director/choreographer which has put me on the “other side of the table” for auditions. Casting a show is like putting together a puzzle. 90% of the time when you walk in the room, they may only be looking for 1 or 2 specific tracks. You can be cut before even learning the combination because they are looking for someone 5’8″ or someone who sings the alto line. I’ve learned to just show up, do MY best, have a good time, treat it as a free dance class or a chance to meet new people and if I’m not the puzzle piece they are looking to fill…”onto the next!” 







Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?

I like to stand toward the center in auditions. I don’t always put myself right in the front because I want a full view of the choreographer, but I stand where I can see and have the most space to move. 


Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly at an audition?

I have always been a “fast learner”, so picking up choreography has never been a problem for me. I do find that saying the steps in my head as I’m doing them helps. 





What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?

When it comes to style, I focus more on making the pictures and “less is more” to start. If it’s a style that doesn’t feel as comfortable in my body, I try and copy the shapes that the choreographer is making and allow my body to RELAX when making transitions. Feeling the music helps too.


Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

YES! Always ask questions and pay attention when other people ask questions too. There is nothing worse than asking a question that was just answered. When I am unsure of something I ask for clarification, ie. “Can you clarify this phrase—“, “Would you mind breaking down the steps before/after…”, …Be as professional as possible because how you ask a question says a lot about how you will be in a rehearsal setting. 


What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it? 

My most challenging audition was actually for the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil tour. Like I said before, I am a theater jazz dancer…the hip-hop/pop stuff isn’t my forte. I felt completely out of my comfort zone. Instead of comparing myself to the other girls in the room and trying to be a carbon copy of the choreographer, I decided to learn the steps as well as I could…have fun…show my personality…and even learn a new way of moving. I didn’t get cut right away, but I didn’t make it to the final round either. I actually learned a lot from that audition because there were dancers in the room who moved exactly like MJ—it was incredible to watch. They were made for that particular show. However, if they were auditioning against me for a show that I am perfect for, the tables would be turned. 







Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills? 

Just take class and vary it up! The more you challenge your brain & body outside the audition room, the easier it gets. I recommend Jeff Shade, Lisa Harvie, Scott Thompson…they all teach a beginner level and are wonderful at mixing up styles. All three of them were once performers themselves, so they get where you are coming from. 





What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I can give is to just show up. There is a puzzle that everyone fits in. Don’t take anything personally, and don’t try and be someone you’re not. Judy Garland once said, “Always try and be the first rate version of yourself instead of the second rate version of someone else.” By trying to be what you think the people behind the table want may cost you a job you are perfect for further down the line… I’ve been called in for shows after being seen at a different audition. You may not be right for the show you are auditioning for, but you may be perfect for their next project! Have fun and do what you love to do!




Marisa’s Audition Advice

I first met the stunningly beautiful (inside AND out) Marisa Merliss while working on a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the Village Light Opera Group.  She was brought in as an assistant choreographer.  From the moment she stepped into the rehearsal room, she brought nothing but sunshine and happiness.  We had a huge cast which was comprised of performers ranging from six to eighty-six years old, most of non-dancers.  All needed to meet the challenge of executing the original Jerome Robbins choreography at a professional level, and yes this included the infamous bottle dance!  (Our brilliant director demanded nothing less than the best!)  Marisa was a true gift.   She attended every rehearsal, drilling the choreography with the cast and individually helping each performer with their technique, style, and emotional connection to the material.  Thanks to her hard work and expertise, the audience left the show saying that they couldn’t have seen better on Broadway.  She was asked to come in and do the same for the company’s production of “Carousel” this past spring.  While I was unable to attend, my friends who did all praised Marisa’s work above all compare.  In addition to her choreography/dance captain skills, Marisa is a gorgeous dancer and captivating performer.  Because of this,  I thought sharing her insight would be a beautiful way to start off the “Audition Advice” series of this blog.  So without further ado – here is MARISA MERLISS!

Can you give us a little background your dance career? ( where have you trained/worked, what would you say is your primary style)

I’ve been dancing since I was 3 and trained at the Hartford Conservatory, Atlanta Ballet, and currently take class at Steps, BDC and Peridance . Since graduation I’ve danced in several musicals, a few casino shows, and tons of dance industrials, concerts, and photoshoots. I’m currently the fit model for Capezio dancewear and am in the Off-Broadway Cabaret Show Erotic Broadway-Vintage Variety. I don’t really have a primary style at this point though theatre dance and tap are what I’m enjoying most these days.

How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

I used to get so nervous and worked up at auditions. I would get hyperfocused on what the people behind the table where thinking and if I fit into their idea of what they were looking for, etc, etc. Now I tend to look at it as an opportunity to dance and perform, I walk in and have a good time. And if I get a job great, if not at least I had a fun day!

Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
In the front close to the middle of the room. That way I’m seen, I can easily see what the choreographer is teaching and when it comes time to switch lines I can work out the choreography and screw it up, if need be, in a place where less people can see me.



Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly in auditions?

Stay IN THE ZONE and focus Focus FOCUS!!!!! Forget about the train delay that almost made you late for the audition, the fight you had with your boyfriend/girlfriend the night before, if you’ll be able to sublet your apt. if you get this job, blablablaaaaa…..keep what ever is weighing on your mind out of the audition room and out of your head. If there are a few steps you can’t get, even after you’ve asked the choreographer for help just focus on what you’re good at and figure out a way to get through it without drawing extra attention to your weaknesses. Don’t apologize in words or expression. Smile and perform with confidence, a lot of times choreographers really want to see if someone can pick up a style and perform rather than perfect every little step they threw at you in 10 minutes. Don’t sweat it, just go for it!

What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style? Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

If it’s a style issue I’ll pay close attention to the choreographers assistant since they are typically someone they have hired multiple times and who gets their style. Definitely ask a question if you need to, I wait for an appropriate moment and ask the choreographer or preferably the choreographer’s assistant. I also pay attention to the answers of the questions other people are asking. If the choreographer gives specific direction on a step, esp. one you asked a question about, do your best to execute that movement the way they directed you. Choreographers, just like directors, want to know that you are directable.




What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it? 

Hmmm…..I’ve had so many different kinds of challenging auditions it’s hard to choose. The first “challenging” audition that comes to mind was a dance agency audition about 4 years ago. I had been out of commission for 5 years due to severe injuries and multiple surgeries I had after having a terrible accident in a show I did. I was #622 on the sign in list and wanted to leave from the time I walked in the door. There were some really talented looking people covering every inch of the holding room and I remember feeling more intimidated than I was comfortable with. They brought us in the audition room in groups of 60 and taught the choreography so fast and I could barely see what was being taught through the sea of people. Then it was time to go and I thought to myself “ok, I can stress over getting half the steps and look like a fool or just go for it with the steps I’ve got, smile and enjoy the fact that I’m dancing again and hopefully look like a little less of a fool”. I did the latter and a week later I had a dance agent!



Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills? 

YES!!! Jim Cooney’s Beginner Theatre Dance Class at BDC is fantastic. If you want to focus in on Fosse Technique or learn choreography from shows Diana Laurenson at BDC/Steps is great. Jeff Shade has a great Beginner Theatre Dance Class at Steps which is so fun and creative, it helps you get out of your head and really enjoy “the dance” as he calls it! Find a good ballet class to work on your strength and I would recommend find a dancer friend and do a trade. Rent a studio, practice basic dance moves across the floor and work on specific choreography you may need to know for your auditions, then you help them on their audition songs or monologues. It’s a great free way for you both to boost your audition skills!

Lastly, you are an incredibly fit person, what sort of cross-training do you do to stay in shape? Is there anything you would especially suggest to singers?


Well first off, thank you! And secondly the best thing I think you can do is to find a couple or more workout that you enjoy or semi-enjoy doing. The best way to lose inches, tone, or if your at your optimal weight/size the best way to maintain it is to confuse your muscles. Change it up, don’t do the same thing every time you workout. I run a couple times a month but I can’t stand the treadmill or the eliptical so I picked up rollerblading and biking. Both of these activities are easier on your joints and less counterproductive to dancing. I also do pilates, occasionally yoga and I stretch every day. If you are into non-dance workout videos I really enjoy Rev Abs and Brazilian Butt Lift by Beachbody. I do a lot of workout video shoots and these programs were the ones I found to be most effective and fun.





Any other words of wisdom?

Hmm…..let’s see…..
Don’t offer to do anything in an audition that you don’t want to do 8 shows a week. If you’re worried about injuring yourself in an audition don’t be afraid to say no or walk out, jeopardizing your health is not worth it.
Find a way to enjoy the audition process and surround yourself with supportive positive people at auditions and more importantly in life!


***




You can learn more about Marisa Merliss and her career by visiting her website.  You will see that in addition to being an incredible dancer, she is a kind giving spirit, who is intelligent (She’s a pediatric nurse!) and a national baton twirling champion!  You can currently see her in Erotic Broadway at the Triad at 158. West 72nd street!  

SPOTLIGHT ON JEN!

This is the week of spotlights!  Today I would like to spotlight an incredible woman named Jen!  She has a supernatural talent for finding the ridiculous in every situation – including DANCE CALLS!  She is the consummate non-dancer, but boy is she funny with fabulous singing chops!  No one has more fun than her in dance calls – which she will explain after I finish rambling about how amazing she is.

I first met Jen doing FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with The Village Light Opera where she played the greatest Grandma Tzeitel the world has ever seen.  One day we were both waiting for an audition together.  Since we had a few hours to wait, we left to eat dumplings (one of my many obsessions) and she told me about HER blog! http://www.jen365.blogspot.com/     HER blog is so awesome it was featured on CNN and in Cosmo Magazine!   The purpose of this blog is to try something new everyday – and her new things were usually crazy such as brushing her teeth in an elevator, wearing a mustache for a day, adopting a blue-footed boobie, and castrating a calf!  Check out her blog!  It’s inspiring!  She has changed it this year to “trying things she is bad at” – and this week it’s all about DANCE!  Keep checking it for updates on her progress!

I have learned so much from Jen about comedy and living life to its fullest!   I have also learned about patience and how to truly see the good in every single person and in every single situation.  A kinder heart has never existed.  She decided to channel this kindness towards helping me with my own blog.

So without further ado – let me introduce JEN!

M4M: What is your pursued career?  

Jen: Writer of books who auditions for low-pressure shows.
M4M: What are favorite forms of exercise and why?  

Jen: Free dance. The kind where there’s no choreography, no instructor, no elitists, no judgments. Just loud music and legwarmers. 

M4M: What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them? 
Jen: Dance Dance Party Party, which is all of the above and more. You wear whatever you want, dance however you feel and participate as much as you feel comfortable. Last time I went I wore a tutu and hot-pink Chucks.
***M4M note – you can see a video of Jen dancing at Dance Dance Party Party here on her blog!  

M4M: What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can’t get to a class or the gym? 

Jen: Rejoice in having such a lovely excuse! But I do travel a lot, and since I fear DVT almost as much as I fear dance auditions, I try to walk and stretch my legs in the galley during long flights. This usually means that a coffee pot gets knocked over, or a flight attendant has to clear her throat kinda loudly, but I have yet to accidentally open the emergency hatch with my foot. 

M4M: How do you approach a dance/movement audition? 


Jen: With abject fear and a deep desire to run.  I usually avoid auditions with a dance call. In the rare case I actually go through with it, the only option left is to just sell the hell out of it. If I can’t show that I can dance, I can show them how funny I am. I’ve had to learn how to commit to the gist of the choreography, since I’m too clunky to make the technical parts look good. What I lack in grace I make up for in enthusiasm. This has yielded desired results only once ever. 

M4M: What advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?  (or what has been the most helpful bit of advice you’ve received regarding dance and movement auditions.) 
Jen: SELL IT! If you know you’re going for a non-dancing role, do the dance audition in character. It’s better to have them notice your exuberance than your terrible extension. 
Jen backstage FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

SPOTLIGHT ON DANIELLE!

Next in our SPOTLIGHT series is the gorgeous, talented, and infinitely generous Danielle!

I first met Danielle in ballet class at STEPS where her long legs were the envy of everyone in the class and her cheery hard working personality inspired all!   Though she hadn’t chosen teaching as her profession at the time, she was already working as a teacher at the “School at Steps.”  She asked me to be her teaching assistant for a class of three year olds.  This task seemed incredibly daunting to me, but I was soo gobsmacked by how Danielle made ballet fun and appropriately challenging each of her students, from the one who would rather be coloring outside to the one who would be future prima ballerina.  They were truly lucky students.  (Her students today continue to be lucky students!)

She also has a super power that I can only dream of – she is a FABULOUS TAPPER!  (I am quite possibly the world’s most horrendous tapper.  I have virtually zero sense of rhythm, I’m a ballerina so my feet always want to point and be above my head instead of relaxed and tapping near the ground, and to make matters worse, I’m actually allergic to the metal the taps are made out!  Now if that isn’t a sign!)  At any rate, Ms. Danielle generously offered to help me learn to tap, and I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for the patience and humor she brought to each of our sessions.   Knowing my unwavering love of THE LITTLE MERMAID, she would even bring in arrangements of UNDER THE SEA knowing that if any song was gonna get me tapping, that was it!

THE BEST NEWS OF ALL is that YOU TOO can take class with Ms. Danielle!  She teaches both Zumba (at Steps Wed. at 8 p.m. and Ballet Hispanico Thursday at 7 p.m.) and Pilates (at Pilates on Fifth!)


Here’s a description of her Zumba class:

The Zumba® program fuses hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy-to-follow moves to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that will blow you away. Our goal is simple: We want you to want to work out, to love working out, to get hooked. Zumba® Fanatics achieve long-term benefits while experiencing an absolute blast in one exciting hour of calorie-burning, body-energizing, awe-inspiring movements meant to engage and captivate for life!

***(M4M note – Zumba is a FABULOUS way to get into dance, even if you have never danced a day in your life!  We will hopefully be doing a Zumba special in the future featuring Danielle!)

I NOW WITHOUT FURTHER ADO – I INTRODUCE YOU DANIELLE!





What is your pursued career?  (Singer, dancer, actor, lawyer?) 
I refer to myself as a “Movement Educator”. I primarily teach dance to kids, but I am also a licensed ZUMBA Instructor and Certified to teach Pilates (Mat and Machines)

What are favorite forms of exercise and why?  
I love to move so I try to mix it up regularly! I did a lot of Pilates before I started teaching it but I am trying to rekindle my love for it. I am currently loving Yoga and Gyrotonic. Of course, there’s also dance class- ballet, tap, jazz, modern….Since I started teaching Zumba I have no interest in Cardio equipment except the rebounder.

What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them?
Classes at Sonic Yoga, especially those taught by Johanna Aldrich (she is AMAZING- you will think about your life in ways you might not usually- while you have your shoulder tucked under your elbow and your other knee by your ear-it’s everything yoga shoud be- contemplative, yet hot and sweaty, and flowing and a kick tush workout!)  They also do 6 week beginner workshops regularly for people who have no yoga experience at all.

Barre Sculpt and Cardiolates at Pilates on Fifth– These classes take pilates ideas and meld them with ballet barre work and weights and the rebounder, respectively, and they are fun ways to mix up your routine.

ZUMBA (is it too self serving if I say taught by ME) I teach at Steps on Broadway and Ballet Hispanico, but you can find amazing classes all over! http://38595.zumba.com/ It’s FUN and it is a non monotonous way of doing cardio!

What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can’t get to a class or the gym?The flexband is your best friend. It’s tiny and portable and makes doing mat work or just toning and stretching exercises more interesting on the road. I also like www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com. Its a free service if you want to use it on your laptop, or you can pay to download workout videos to your mobile device. Katherine and Kimberly Corp lead a whole slew of awesome Pilates workouts to suit every need and level.

How do you approach a dance/movement audition and what advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?  
I don’t (audition) anymore, because I’m an amazing teacher and a mediocre auditioner. However, I had the most success at auditions when I was wearing something that I felt good about my body in. (Leotards, goodbye. Hello, Lululemon tank and Skort). I also found that I performed best when I was really relaxed and didn’t get over invested in any specific call. If you put forth all of your energy when you take dance class, treating an audition “like class” in your head really helps. If you take class regularly and give it your all and take risks in class (It’s great to fall on your but in class), you have a stronger arsenal of things to help you in auditions.