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The Audition Experience

Back to Nadine Knows

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 lose.

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 drama queen.

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 challenge.


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 future. 


Audition exercises

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 exercise.

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!

Final decisions

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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