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Playing the audition game. (2002 Auditions Guide).

LAST WINTER, PHILADELPHIA-BASED MARC Spaulding was just one in a crowd of college seniors in the market for a job in dance. Casting around for audition opportunities, he and a group of friends decided to pony up for plane fares to San Diego, where the fourteenth annual International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference was taking place. [] Spaulding knew that the annual conference allows burgeoning dancers to rub elbows with heroes like Donald McKayle, Ron Brown, Dudley Williams, and Virginia Johnson. He also was keen to attend seminars and take class with instructors and directors from some of the country's most prominent black dance companies. But above all, he was eager for the chance to audition for a coveted job with a handful of companies. In San Diego, the artistic directors of Philadanco (Philadelphia Dance Company), Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, and Dallas Black Dance Theatre all were scouting for dancers.

"We knew we just had to get out there," Spaulding, 22, recalled recently. Six months later, he had landed his first professional job: as a company dancer with Donald Byrd/The Group.

It's a rare event for a dancer to get hired on the basis of a single IABD audition. Dancers and company directors agree that the great majority of successful auditioners follow a more circuitous, and ultimately more rewarding, path. Spaulding's experience was typical: Nothing came directly from the San Diego auditions. But his connection to the black dance conference has proved invaluable to his career.

"Word of mouth is so important, and showing up at the conference and really participating in all it has to offer establishes a good rapport, gives you a good name in the dance community," said Spaulding, who has attended the annual conference in two different cities. "The directors talk to each other, and someone might say, `This guy's coming to your area. Check him out.'"

Byrd had heard good things about Spaulding from Joan Myers Brown, the Philadanco founder who organized the first Blacks in Dance Conference in 1987. Myers Brown had seen Spaulding both in Philadelphia, where he had taken company class, and at the conference, where job-seeking dancers have ample opportunity to be seen--in the various classes, at the auditions, and, sometimes, in performance. In San Diego, dancers could start the day in class with the good-humored, always energized Donald McKayle, spend the afternoon learning a hot combination from Ron Brown, pass the evening in an inspiring session with Carmen de Lavallade, and join in the frenzied, marathon Midnight Mantaba with African American Dance Ensemble's force-of-nature founder, Chuck Davis.

"It's not just about having talent; it's about letting people see you, in class, at lunch, at the auditions, at the performances," said Spaulding, who bit the bullet and moved to New York shortly after graduation from University of the Arts in Philadelphia. "You might take class with [a company's artistic director], and three years later, they remember you."

Though the central purpose of the conference is to foster awareness and exchange among artists about the contributions of blacks in dance, organizers started holding auditions in the early years to find good dancers from different parts of the country.

"We realized we needed male dancers and black dancers," said Cleo Parker Robinson, who runs a Denver-based company that provides dancers with year-round work, medical coverage, and the opportunity to perform internationally. "And we thought, `Why not at the conference?

IABD auditions are open not just to conference attendees but to any dancer who is prepared for a professional career. In Brooklyn in January, Philadanco, Cleo Parker Robinson, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Atlanta's Ballethnic all scouted for talent at auditions on the conference's closing day.

While the directors say they're only looking for dancers "who are ready to start next week," many auditioners are like Spaulding--graduating seniors hoping to get a break. "We ask them to let us know when they're available," Myers Brown said.

Directors who auditioned dancers at the San Diego conference cited raw talent, intelligence, versatility, and the ability to learn quickly as qualities they were seeking in a dancer. Persistence, too, is key. Myers Brown told the story of a young dancer from Pennsylvania named Tracy Vogt, who came to audition for Philadanco in Philadelphia, New York, and at an IABD conference in Dallas.

"By the time I saw her in Dallas, I thought, `She's put forth a lot of effort for me to see her.' I really didn't see her the first couple of times. By the third time I saw her, I realized I'd seen her before, that this was someone who was really interested, and that she might make an ideal company member, because this is clearly where she wants to be." Five years ago, Myers Brown offered Vogt a contract, and she's been with Philadanco ever since.

Directors are highly selective and on-the-spot contracts are rare, though not unheard of. Most directors see the auditions as a means of creating a file of good candidates should a company job open up.

"I always tell the dancers, `You should audition us--know the company, know the repertory, know our dancers,'" Parker Robinson said. "I want a dancer who chooses me--my company." Parker Robinson uses the auditions to find apprentices, not company dancers; if she sees dancers she likes at the conference, she might ask them to come to her summer program so that they get to know one another. "If they show up in the summer," she said, "you know they're serious."

For information about the International Blacks in Dance Conference, call 215/432-5050 or visit

Jennifer de Poyen is a 2001-2002 mid-career fellow of the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University.
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Author:de Poyen, Jennifer
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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