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.

Fitness Apps

I was perusing other fitness blogs to get ideas and came across a wonderful site called “trying fitness.”  The site is currently featuring an article about the best fitness apps for your smart phones.  Here is a link to their site.

It also got me thinking that I should share some of my favorite apps!

When I was getting certified as a pilates instructor, I had to learn all of the different muscles in the body, their functions, and which muscles and bones they connected to.  At first I felt like I was back in 6th grade anatomy, but quickly realize truly understanding this anatomy helped me in reaching my dance goals.  Seeing how integral the core abdominal muscles were (and truly understanding the cue “abs in and up”) was career changing knowledge.  Without knowing the muscles groups and their functions, this revelation may have never happened.  I found several wonderful apps that helped me learn the muscles and their functions.  3D4medical.com produces several applications about the skeletal and muscles systems.  They also have app games and quizzes so you can test your knowledge.  I enjoy Muscle System Pro (they also have a FREE version which is great!) and 3DQuiz.  It helps make those long subway rides feel productive!    I also love the Learn Muscles app! It is perhaps the most comprehensive and cost effective app I have found.

For those of you who are interested in pilates, there is an app simply called pilates interactive.  It gives you a long list of pilates moves accompanies by pictures and videos.  It’s great if you are on the go and want a quick pilates fix.

If you are calorie counting – My Fitness Pal is a very helpful app.  It easily keeps track of your calories and exercise for you.

And of course – you need Pandora so you can have work out music!

I’ll be back in NYC tomorrow night.  After all the unpacking, dance and fitness videos will follow!:)  Until then, learn your muscles!