Posted on the walls in the O’Neill Library and McElroy Commons stairwells during the first week of class were dozens of fliers advertising auditions for a seemingly uncountable number of dance groups. Throughout the same week, posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter enticing prospective dancers to come to tryouts over Labor Day weekend—with additional options the following week for those who were traveling and were unable to make it.
These days were packed to the gills with auditions, first meetings, and open practice among the various dance groups. New students—especially those interested in dance—certainly know that Boston College has dance teams. They’ve likely seen one or two teams perform at orientation or during Welcome Week. But very few new students—or even returning ones—realize that BC is home to a grand total of 16 different dance groups ranging across genres, style, professionality, message, and presence. And many teams are refreshing their ranks in the new year, after graduation left them low on members. Minki Hong, creative director of UPrising and MCAS ’19, spoke on other potential replacement factors for UPrising, one of BC’s hip-hop dance crews.
“We try to replace the seniors,” Hong said. “Some people unfortunately do have to attend to their other priorities, but no hard feelings.”
Being on dance team is a large commitment, and juggling shows and practices can become challenging when combined with academic and social responsibilities. While the majority of the time it is due to last year’s seniors having graduated, many dance teams lose one or two people per year due to other commitments.
In order to achieve this replenishment of their numbers, the dance teams hold auditions. Many of these auditions, across genre and style of dance, follow a similar theme. Over the course of one or several days, the dance team will host auditions in order to gauge the experience and skill level of prospective dancers and determine if they would be a good fit on the team. For example, Dejah Cosby, co-president of Phaymus and MCAS ’21, explained the way they run the auditions for Phaymus, one of BC’s hip-hop-based dance companies.
“We choose a song to dance to based on our set last year,” Cosby said. “For about an hour we’ll teach it to them, and if they have any questions, they can ask us. And then we’ll give them about 10 or 15 minutes with the song running so that they’ll commit most of it to memory.”
After this preparation, the auditionees are divided into groups of three or four dancers and ushered out of the room. One by one, each group is brought in to dance in front of the Phaymus eboard.
“We’ll have them do the dance twice,” Cosby said. “Once with a returning member and once by themselves.”
After this process is over, the Phaymus eboard provides a little surprise for the prospective dancers.
“We surprise them with a little freestyle,” Cosby said. “We’ll put on a classic song and tell them to dance like they’re having a good time somewhere just to see general dance moves.”
This process is fairly standard across the dance teams. Max Bahar, co-captain of Masti and MCAS ’21, gave a run-down of the group’s auditions. Masti is BC’s South Asian dance troupe. Masti’s auditions run for about two hours, in which members teach the prospective dancers choreography and then they too break the auditionees into groups in order to watch them perform.
“We have them perform in front of us while we record them,” Bahar said. “That way we can have videos to reference.”
This allows them to return to various performances to more carefully judge individuals’ dance capability without making these auditionees dance in front of them over and over again.
Some teams deviate from this audition norm. For example, Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step (F.I.S.T.S.), BC’s all-female step team, conducts interviews alongside their auditions, asking the potential member questions to determine if their values would fall in line with the values of the organization as a whole. Felicia Cafua, manager of F.I.S.T.S. and MCAS ’19, emphasizes the importance of these shared values.
“We are also really concerned about sisterhood and giving back to the community,” Cafua said. “We ask, what does sisterhood mean to them?”
In an even greater deviation, some teams hold only partial auditions, or even none at all. Full Swing, BC’s swing dance team, conducts auditions only for its Showdown team—the dancers that will be competing in the highly publicized and highly attended event that occurs in the spring. Those auditions run fairly similarly to those described above. For all those not planning to dance on the Showdown team, Full Swing takes all comers. Jason Rothstein, president of Full Swing and CSOM ’19, explained that the team is constantly adding new members throughout the year, maintaining Full Swing’s numbers at somewhere between 30 and 40 active members. For those not on the Showdown team, Full Swing emphasizes the fun community that swing dancing provides, while downplaying issues of strong commitment that might hinder the other dance teams in finding new members.
Conspiracy Theory, BC’s breakdance team, holds no auditions whatsoever.
“We as a club think that you shouldn’t need auditions to come to dance,” Ashish Gurung, president of Conspiracy Theory and MCAS ’19, said. “If you want to learn how to dance, come to Conspiracy Theory.”
Throughout the year, Conspiracy Theory gains and loses members as commitments arise or new people are introduced to the club. Instead of focusing the team on competition or performance, the eboard holds open practices that strive to teach people different aspects of breakdancing. There is no experience necessary, and Conspiracy Theory does not expect any either. The team’s goal is simply to introduce newcomers to dance, and to its benefits as an activity and as a community. The lack of auditions is seen as a strength by the team.
“There’s too much of a focus on the audition process in a lot of dance teams at BC,” Gurung said. “I’ve seen a lot of members come to our club, I think me included, who are either afraid or exhausted by the audition process and just want to learn how to dance.”
But for the other teams, the captains, choreographers, and members of the eboard have specific criteria in mind while watching auditions. The director of the Dance Organization of BC (DOBC), Emily Zona, MCAS ’19, highlighted her team’s focus on strong technique, good attitude, and the ability to pick up choreography. Because technique is such a priority for DOBC, the team usually recruits students who have been dancing seriously for a while, instead of students who are new to dance. BC Irish Dance (BCID) also finds itself in a similar situation, Eileen McAleer, co president of BCID and CSON ’19, explained.
“Irish dance is a very unique type of dance, so a lot of times we are looking for people with experience,” McAleer said. The auditions are open to anyone, regardless of experience, but prospective dancers usually self-select based on their past experience in Irish dance. “For the most part, we are taking girls who have danced their whole lives and have a passion for Irish dance and have shared in our community before.”
BC Dance Ensemble (BCDE) is looking for a mixture of dance experience and ability. The director of DE, Caroline Dorko, CSON ’19, enumerated these styles.
“We really look for a combination of strong technique and strong performance, as both are so important to make a well-rounded dancer,” Dorko said in an email. “Dancers also need to be versatile, as DE does ballet, contemporary, jazz, and several other styles of dance.”
Fuego del Corazon, BC’s Latin dance team, finds itself in a unique position when evaluating the students who audition to be a part of the team. Elena Akins, the social media chair of Fuego and MCAS ’19, explained that practically no one has experience in Latin dance. Instead, the captains look for people who want to be involved in the team, who have good technique, have good personality—especially good facial expressions—and who will fit well in the team dynamic.
But for those teams who do conduct auditions, they work to welcome those new members they do select. Some teams will go door-to-door and surprise their new teammates at their dorm rooms, and others will send a congratulatory email. But each team is working on a tight schedule. Most groups have practice within one or two days of auditions, as they often have performances or competitions that need as much preparation as possible. This is in part the reason that auditions take place so immediately at the start of the academic year. For those who do not make it onto the team of their choice, this can be a very discouraging time. But the members of the team running these auditions were once in their shoes.
“It takes a lot of courage and strength to put yourself out there as someone auditioning for a group,” Zona said. “I have a lot of respect for those 40 girls that showed up this year. It’s hard.”
But for those who audition, this respect may be little consolation. Lizbeth Brea, MCAS ’20, tried out for Fuego last year and did not make the team.
“It was disappointing because they gave me callbacks so I like thought that I had it in the bag but then you kind of don’t hear from them for a week,” Brea said. “And you find out that they went to the peoples’ rooms who got in and made posters for them but they kind of just sent out an email and were just like ‘sorry’ after the fact.”
While most teams do welcome all comers to their audition process, it does not mean that they will accept all comers. Brea is now a member of Vida de Intensa Pasión (VIP), after auditioning and making the cut this year. But the competition that permeates BC’s dance culture can discourage many students from giving it another shot.
“It’s more competitive than they make it out to be,” Brea said. “When they say ‘no experience required,’ it’s pretty required.”
Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Editor