The Gift of a Failed National Ballet School Teacher Training Audition
I didn’t make the cut.
Well, what was I thinking? Auditioning for the prestigous Canada’s National Ballet School Teacher Training Program, really? As an adult ballet starter, after, like, less than five years of ballet experience? And hoping to make it to the next round?
I must admit that while I did not have any expectations, and I certainly shouldn’t have had them, I did feel a sting of disappointment.
I had been playing with the idea of starting to teach ballet for a while. Maybe over the past year, when things truly started coming together for me and the relevatory sense that came from it. I felt that I was discovering a system of how to build this from scratch. Plus, I have a background in teaching and coaching, always enjoyed it, so it felt like a potentially organic next step.
So I did a bit of thinking and research, and saw that the National Ballet School’s teacher training audition was coming up. While I was not sure if I was really a good fit for the program, I decided that the audition would be a good start to learn more about it. I also liked that they had a two-step process: A first-round audition day in January, and a second-round four-day audition in late spring. And since two of my teachers happily agreed to write the required reference letters, I thought I wasn’t completely out of my senses for giving it a try.
It was my first ever audition for anything. I pretty much felt like all the 5th/6th grade kids who were auditioning on the same day. Only that their buns were much neater than mine.
Plus, it was quite the day. First off, my son decided pretty much last minute that he did NOT want to come with me. While this made some things easier, it also meant I had to prepare some stuff for him pretty much last minute, as I would be away for about four hours. Next, I open the door and to my shocking surprise, about 10-20cm of snow had fallen over night. (I had been so wrapped up all morning, that I hadn’t even looked out of the window.) Meaning, chaos and slow pace on Toronto’s streets. Resulting in delayed busses. I had planned in some buffer, and the bus delay did eat it up to the last minute.
And then the worst: As I got ready in the change room, I discovered that I had packed one old and one new ballet slipper when I prepared my bag the night before. (I had done it in half-darkness, and just hadn’t noticed.)
And even worse than the worst: For the first time ever, I was doing ballet only in a leotard and tights UNDER it! So not the cool way over it, which I was more familiar with. I felt so exposed. And then! The lady teaching the class came up to me right before the class started and with a whispering voice asked if I could wear my tights inside the slippers (my tights were convertible Zarelys and I always wear them just above the ankle). Oh, and being reduced to a number pinned to my leotard was kind of new to me as well.
I managed. I wasn’t outstanding, I felt off my legs, but I really got into it and enjoyed it. (I am so glad I took the masterclass with Evan McKie last year - this way I had already had the experience of being watched in class!). I even forgot that I was wearing two different slippers. It was a short class, just one hour, barre, center, and a few minutes of pointe work at the end. Mirrors were covered (that was a tough one for me! Showed me once again how much I rely on visual feedback.) The atmosphere was professional and formal, but at the same time welcoming and kind. We were 12 candidates, 11 women and one man. I don’t really know how I compared to the others, as I was so focussed on myself. Well, ok, I watched the guy a bit during center work. I always enjoy watching men jump. He was really good.
We were rushed out of the studio right away after class, and the interviews (about 5 minutes per person) began 10 minutes later. All five candidates before me came out with a radiant smile - they had received their rose. Meaning, their letter of acceptance to the second round in April.
Until it was my turn. I went in and sat down in front of the three-person panel that had been teaching and observing the class. The head of the program asked a bit about my background and then came straight to the point: Essentially, my ballet was not where she would accept me into the full-time program (FYI: it’s a one-year, six-day-per-week gig) at this point.
I asked for specifics, she said barre was pretty confident, but that my center work vocabulary was not strong enough.
She suggested that I start with the Professional Development options while continuing to work on my skills. Possibly considering working towards a RAD or Cechetti intermediate exam. She offered that I could get in touch with her over the summer, and discuss which of the Professional Development options would be a good fit. And after all this, try the audition again in a year.
That was it. I was out, and back into the Toronto snow storm. In fact, I didn’t have much time to be disappointed, because an hour of snow shoveling was awaiting me upon my return home. And a super hungry kid, who hadn’t found the time to eat his breakfast in between the many Youtube videos that he watched during my absence.
But the back of my mind was on it, for the rest of the day. During my evening meditation. As I slept. Today.
At first it was disappointment, and maybe even more so feeling LOST.
I think that secretly and subconciously, apart from hoping to get to the next round, part of me had hoped to simply get some formal validation and recognition of all the hard work, of getting far despite starting late and not long ago. And I thought that with the “no”, I hadn’t gotten it. And now what. Did it make sense to continue doing ballet and aspiring something beyond just taking classes? How would I go about it? Did I have what it takes to be a ballet person of any kind?
But with time, it dawned on me.
First of all - she was right.
My vocabulary, my fluency, especially in center work, definitely needs more strength and clarity. I thought how most of the classes I had taken especially over the past 1-2 years have really helped me find the strength and solidify the basic movement patterns in ballet, exposed me to performing - but they had not exposed me to a large enough vocabulary. And yes, if I want to teach, I definitely need to expand it. In a way, honestly at this point, I wouldn’t be the kind of ballet teacher that I want to be.
And then suddenly I realized what I had done.
I had just auditioned at one of the most prestigous ballet schools, for one of the most prestigous teacher training programs. I had brougth myself into a situation with candidates that had done ballet since or in childhood/youth. I was possibly a year away from getting into it. I had had my first formal audition experience. With two different ballet slippers and tights under EVERYTHING.
So yes, it does make sense to aspire something beyond taking classes. I just need more time. In a way “failing” this audition has taken some pressure off doing things too quickly. It’s ok to let my learnings, insights, improvements and aspirations settle a bit longer, let them integrate into the nervous system more deeply before taking the next step. And continue to “just” take classes.
So while not making the cut, this whole audition experience now feels profound and gratifying. I got to experience the incredible professionalism and smooth organization of this school, which showed me how much I resonate with this kind of excellent environment. I got to meet some fabulous soon-to-be teachers-in-training.
And I learned that I can dance on two different kind of slippers, and totally forget about it.