The Audition Experience
to Nadine Knows
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Last year, I flew so
often that I received one of those free roundtrips from Southwest Airlines. I
had to use it by the first weekend in January. It was a no-brainer to use the
free trip to San Francisco, even though I had just spent the holidays in the
City and had already returned to Seattle for work. But, I had another
motive for flying into SF that weekend – to audition for the Mambo Romero
Latin Dance Company.
Actually, it took quite
a bit of convincing to get my chickensh*t-self to do it. When I first saw
Gabriel’s posting to the salsa list about the open auditions, I daydreamed,
“wouldn’t it be cool to kick butt in the auditions.” No sooner did that
beautiful vision form than it vanished and I snapped back into reality. Chuh.
What makes me think that I’d even do remotely well in an audition for a high
precision salsa group like Gabriel’s? I mean, he’s looking for dancers with
dance training like jazz and ballet. How’s me and my ghetto-picked-up salsa
supposed to match up to that? And besides, I’m still recovering from my
ruptured Achilles tendon. (Boy, would my surgeon love to hear about my salsa
dancing frenzy after two months of being on crutches and immobile.)
Before I flew to SF for
the holidays, I consulted my good friend Theresa, who just so happened to be
online. I IM’d her (or maybe I called her…):
Me: Hey you. Did you
hear about the audition?
Her: Nope. You gonna do
it or something?
Me: Well, I think it’s a
crazy thing to do. But half of me wonders what it would be like and how I
would I do. The other half is too scared to even consider it.
Her: What? You? Scared?
That’s not the Nadine I know. If fear is the only thing holding you back,
then you have no excuse.
Me: But, I’m so intimidated by the
dancers in that group! I mean, I’ve never even gotten a chance to dance
with them. I’ve even tried asking, but I’ve been turned down. Although I
guess I’d have a better chance if I had guts to ask for a dance before
the last song of the night. But still! Ugh. Like, what if we have to
memorize a million patterns in a new choreography? Or what if we have to
dance with partners and we just don’t click? Or what if he tests our
flexibility and strength? I dunno. I just don’t think I’m good enough.
Her: No butts. If you’re
itching to do it, you should go for it. You’ll do fine. You’ve got nothing to
Me: Sure I do. I could
look stupid and then I’d be laughed at and black-listed forever as that
un-coordinated salsa chick. And THEN who’s gonna dance with me???
Her: Stop being a
She had me.
Me: OK. He’s asking for
a Dance Resume. What the HECK goes into a dance resume anyway? You’re gonna
help me with it, right? Maybe I can work on it during the winter break.
Her: Yeah. Sheesh. Of
all my friends, I can’t believe you’d be scared. Crazy girl.
Yup…Gotta love friends
who’ll tell it to you straight. I shifted my mind into gear and sucked up the
guts to audition. I also had the bright idea of writing a column about the
audition experience and emailed Gabriel to ask if he was open to the idea. He
didn’t mind. So, I figured it would be OK if I looked goofy, and I went into
the audition with the goal of simply enjoying myself and the experience of a
The Audition - Welcome
About eight women and one man arrived by
12:30pm for the audition. People were dressed to work-out. I fit right in and
was quite comfortable in my dance sneakers, Adidas rip-aways, a tank top, and
a long sleeved top layer. Some had makeup on and hair done. Others didn’t.
While we waited around, I introduced myself to Gabriel as the “person who was
going to write about the audition experience” (read “don’t expect too much
from me”). I recognized a few of the other dancers there and struck up some
nervous conversation. Backgrounds ran the gamut and included dancers with no
salsa performance group experience, having ballroom or other dance training,
having choreographed dances, and having performed with an on-2 salsa group.
Gabriel introduced himself to the group,
thanked us for coming to audition, and passed out a sample contract to each of
us. He explained his expectations from his dancers: to attend practices on
Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, to attend his classes (free to his dance
members) in order to learn the vocabulary of his dance steps, to attend extra
rehearsals if there is an upcoming performance, to pay for one’s own costume
up to $100 and to help pay costs for renting dance studio space, to agree not
to attend other dance group’s rehearsals, to act responsibly in a public salsa
setting as the dancer’s conduct will reflect on the dance group, and to not
abuse substances. In return, he is willing to work with and commit to teaching
his dancers everything he knows (hey Gabriel, does this include singing
lessons?). Also, dancers are paid for each performance they do.
As we handed our dance resumes to him, he
took questions from the group. “What kind of dancer are you looking for?” He
answered that dancers who are athletic and who have performance presence may
be more likely to fit well with the group. Gabriel also explained that he
wasn’t looking for a certain number of dancers, just that he was interested in
adding dancers to his group. Group members do not dance only with one fixed
partner. Also, not all dancers perform all the time. Some members may train
for a year before they do their first performance. Others may reach
performance level more quickly. Others may be unable to attend certain
performances, which may be as many as 10 or more a month. Everyone learns the
choreography, but only those who are ready to go on stage get to perform.
Afterall, a great performance comes from a confident, well-rehearsed group of
dancers who aren’t peeking at each other’s footwork to cue themselves for
their own dance steps.
After answering all our
questions, we moved into the dance studio, where several of the current Mambo
Romero dancers were already stretching. Gabriel put on Sting’s melodic “La
Belle Dame Sans Regrets” and led everyone into 20-30 minute warm-up stretches
of neck, shoulders, back, hips, and legs. Following the natural phrasing of
the songs, we did sit-ups, obliques included, and pushups as well. (whoa,
haven’t done those in a while!) The warm-ups were relaxing but started to work
me up into a sweat and I had to take off my top long-sleeved layer at the
end. Any lingering nervousness quickly dissipated by the end of warm ups.
Sting put me at ease. Mental note to consider warming up to mellow tunes in
The audition was a
series of technical dance exercises. First Gabriel described and demonstrated
the technique. Then he had us do it, including his dance group members.
Finally, we repeated the moves to music. Another man and a couple other women
joined the audition as we went through the exercises. With the number of
bodies in the room, I felt as if I was attending a dance workshop. It was a
familiar feeling, and that too, helped put me at ease.
Mambo Romero dancers
stood in the first couple rows while the rest of us gladly stood behind as
Gabriel described the first exercise: double cross and syncopated step
combination with fluid hand movements. (“Double cross” = while walking
forward, the right foot crosses and taps to the left, then to the right, then
to the left. Taking the next step, the left foot crosses and taps to the
right, then left, and right again. “Syncopated” step is like the double cross
step, but now your back foot taps in between each cross. The first half of the
syncopated step is such that the right foot crosses to the left and taps, the
back foot taps in place, the right foot crosses to the right to tap, the back
foot taps in place, and the right foot crosses again and taps left. For the
second half, take a step forward with the left leg crossing and tapping to the
right and then repeat the pattern. My friends and I call this syncopated step
by a less-refined name “da-ga-da-ga-da.” Onomatopoiec, eh?) We did this to
music, while looking up and in performance quality style. Then the Mambo
Romero dancers rotated to the back and we moved up front and repeated the
The second exercise was
the Cuban step (to the back corners), rolling each shoulder back with
the step and using the midsection to emphasize the tumbao. We also did a
variation of this where we alternately raised one arm with each step.
We performed the next
series of exercises to music two people at a time, across the length of the
room. The first exercise was chaîné turns, which are a
chain of turns while spotting the end of the room you’re moving toward. It’s
kind of like stepping into a turn in the direction you’re traveling, while
using the arms to open and close the turns.
Next came another traveling move
where, while facing the “audience” (would that be “stage front?”), we took a
step out in the direction of travel, squat and plunge-bowed at the hips,
and then rolled back up into standing position. We repeated these dramatically
cheesy yet graceful (if you did them right, I guess) moves across the room. As
we took an open step, our arms, rounded in front of us, fell back behind us
with the bow. The moves counted something like this to an 8-count: 1 = step
out and look at audience 3=head and body bow, then slowly roll up 5=travel.
Another fun exercise followed.
In this technique, he was looking for isolation of the abs or
mid-section. Facing the front, we walked sideways to the other end of the room
while shaking the abs forward and back. (I know there’s a better way to
describe this, but I can’t seem to think of it now.) One arm was in front at
our head level while the other arm was behind the waist.
In the last exercise, while
facing the audience, we stepped out to the side, and did a body roll.
Then we repeated this across the room. He was looking for how we our arms and
bodies moved with the rolls. It took a bit for me to get this one to look
right. I mean, I’ve done millions of body rolls while standing in place. But
taking a step out before the roll was trickier than I thought it would be!
After about an hour’s worth of
technical exercises, Gabriel led us into a quick warm-down to another mellow
piece. He then told us that he had in mind who he was interested in selecting,
and invited us to relax or dance in the studio for the next few minutes while
he discussed the selections with his dance members. Wow, we thought. How
quick. After about 10 minutes, he returned to the studio. Gabriel explained
that he does not like to leave people hanging and prefers to make his
decisions by the end of the auditions. Those selected would be invited to
attend his rehearsals for about a month – during which time he would determine
if the new dancers would be a good fit with the group. From amongst us,
Gabriel selected 2 female dancers and one male dancer to join his group.
Before adjourning, he graciously thanked us for taking time out of our
Saturday afternoon to audition and offered to put us down for free passes to
his afternoon salsa on-2 classes.
It was a great workout. I enjoyed the challenge
of trying to improve myself with each pass at a technique. Dripping and
smiling to myself, I let the rushing endorphins carry each sensory
reminiscence to its final destination in the body. Flashes of dance visions,
salsa sounds, and the feel of body movement to music were buzzing within me.
My questions were answered.
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