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Everything Dancers Need to Know About Audition Photos

Audition Photo Tips: Research To Do Ahead of Time

Your audition photographs are important, and they are not the place to sell yourself short. Dancers spend about 6 to 8 hours in a studio almost every day, feeling good, feeling great, feeling crappy, working their tails off, to get to the point where they feel good enough to start looking for a job or dance education in college. By spending the time and energy to market yourself properly you not only show your prospective Artistic Director that you take yourself and the job seriously, but that you do not take his or her time for granted and that you appreciate them by taking the time and making the effort to present yourself at your best.

You don’t ever get a second chance to make a first impression.

How to start

What type of pictures you personally like to look at? What is required for the company or school? What photos would make you look best?

So, essentially, you are going to do some research.

What types of images do you like?

There is a ton of good dance photography out there. What do you like best? Do you prefer dark and moody; light and airy; color; crazy poses; or the simplest of clean lines? Look around in dance magazines and on the internet. If you are not sure what really speaks to you, find out!

Book a date:

Try to avoid booking your session on a busy day, when you have other things on your plate. You need to be focused and present for the time you are working with your photographer, not thinking about a rehearsal that you have to make by 5:30. Not to mention, most dancers don’t realize just how physically difficult getting good shots is.

Energy and intention must come through each pose and movement. You will more than likely be doing each pose 20-50 times. Yes, you read that right. It’s extremely common to repeat each movement that many times, with top energy. That will eat up a lot of your physical and mental capacity.

Please remember:

Try not to be too hard on yourself as you build your shots. It often takes 10, 20, 30, even 40 tries to get the perfect angle with the right head, lines, and facial expression. Good shots take work and very few dancers (with the exception of highly seasoned professionals), get it on the first go around.

Get a good amount of sleep the night before you shoot and eat well.

What to wear

What style of clothing/costuming will work best with what you are trying to present to a director?  The type of companies/jobs you are interested in is key to this question, as are the characteristics of your dancing and personality that you want to represent and highlight.

While thinking over the question of what to wear, I wanted to share the following tips:

  • The first and last impression you leave on a director may be most important. If you take yourself seriously, so will they. This starts with the first thing they see, often your photograph. It is important to do everything you can to have the best pictures possible.

  • What you wear is so, so important and depends on the companies you are interested in. Start with the basics for classical companies: a leotard, with or without tights, is the norm. Skirts are fine if they don’t cover too much up or run a distraction. My emphasis is always on shows off your legs to your best advantage. Some students enjoy shooting in stage costumes like a tutu or an empire dress for the ladies and tights plus T’s, colored tights with bare chest or biketards and shorts for men.

  • For more contemporary shots, bare legs/chests are great, as are shorts and alternate tops. This is definitely an area to discuss with your photographer as well as your teacher or mentor.

  • Makeup should be natural, slightly elevated. For example, avoid heavy lines around the eyes, but extra mascara is a good idea. Go for a fairly natural look, a step up from street makeup and two steps down from stage makeup. Men, make sure to bring at least some powder and chapstick. Chapped lips are very hard and thus often expensive to re-touch.

For boys or men, the premise on selection is the same

  • Look at the style of the jobs that interest you and pick your wardrobe accordingly.
  • Color and style selection can also be helpful in giving your audience an idea of your tastes and personality. A flamboyant, passionate dancer might choose color palates that denote that, for example, wearing pastel blue, pink, green or white is going to give you a softer, more subtle tone and texture, while deep reds, purples, and oranges speak to strength, confidence and boldness.


  • The neckline should always flatter, evening out your hips with your shoulder line. Where the straps sit on your shoulders should be directly over the line of your hips.

  • Bodysuits with cut-outs, while fun, may sometimes provide more skin in a shot than you want or than is ultimately flattering.

  • Very high cut or very low cut legs are often distracting from the true lines of your leg. Avoid.

  • Colors are very important. Not only can colors flatter your skin and eyes; they speak to your personality. Spend some time thinking about what colors really represent your style

On Clothes and Retouching:

 If you tend to perspire heavily have extra options to work with in the studio. Men, if you are doing white T-Shirts or tanks, bring several without any yellowing. Shoes should be clean and neat, ribbons/elastics sewn properly

  • Plan to bring several more options than you initially think you need. Once you start shooting some things might work and others might not, depending on your poses, movements, backgrounds and lighting. If you are interested in using props, keep them simple for audition photos (scarves, hats, strands of pearls, a stool or chair).

What looks good in a photo

What actually looks good on you and shows your body to the best advantage? What type of garments actually photograph well??

  • Avoid really great costumes that may be eye catching but cover up too much of, or detract from looking at, your body. Directors want to see what you look like.
  • Make sure the garments that you choose are easily able to be moved in. No sense in bringing your skinny jeans if they are going to split the first time you jump into the air.
  • Choose fabrics carefully. Lighter fabrics tend to move with you and can often add to the movement of a shot with their own flow.  Avoid velvet. It sucks in light; their colors don’t often photograph to true tone.
  • Avoid florescent colors. While we can photograph them and even see a good rendition of them on screen, printers can’t print this color palate well.
  • While on the subject of colors, avoid strong patterns and stripes in your garments. Solid colors 80% of the time are best, but textures are always a good idea. While this is a conversation that I could go on and on about, I think the next easy guide will help many of you most.

What to expect

  • Expect to arrive with plenty of time to relax and warm up, putting your mind in the right space to bring out the personality traits you most want to show directors.
  • Expect to use 10-25% of what you brought for clothing and costume options as you and your photographer decide together what works and doesn’t work for your shoot.
  • Expect all aspects of your wardrobe choices to show up in your photos; make sure that:
  • everything is ironed/steamed and folded nicely to transport to the studio
  • black items have been de-linted
  • everything is in repair, tights with holes and runs will almost always show

  • Take time between headshots and dance photos. If you are doing headshots before your dance photos you and your photographer will need time to re-group and change everything up in between the two shoots. 
  • Manage time for makeup and hair. You should arrive at your session with full hair and make up, ready to be photographed. If you change into different outfits and/or hairstyle during your session, make sure you have everything in the right order.
  • Don’t expect to get the best shots in the first 10-30 minutes.  Just like in dance class you need time to warm up and figure it out. Don’t even try for your key poses to begin with unless you have only booked an hour with your photographer.
  • The simpler the pose, the more time you need to make it look good.
  • Sometimes it takes 10-20 takes to get a shot to be what you want.
  •  7 times out of 10 a great shot needs to be re-done because of what your face or fingers (or both) look like.
  •  Take a break when you need to rest and have a nibble to eat.
  •  Make sure to take some time toward the end of the shoot to fool around and get some ‘fun’ shots. These often turn out to be much more contemporary in scope and can often be used to augment a classical portfolio or used for more off the wall projects.
  • Sum up the ‘What’s Next’ questions with your photographer at the end of the session. Make sure you know the following:
  • when and how will you be able to see the proofs
  • how to handle the selection process
  • if retouching is offered just what does that mean or include
  • how long does it take to receive the final image files or prints
  • how do you go about printing if you do that yourself
  • address any other questions you might have
  • Expect to be very, very sore that night or the next day. Very sore. Take a bath when you get home, eat lots of protein, shake your muscles out with your hands, and get some good sleep. 

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On the day of your session:

  • The day of the photo shoot, you need to find the balance of how much to eat to keep you in full form versus what might make you feel sluggish during the shoot. Light snacks are a good idea as well as juices and water to keep you hydrated. Fruit and power bars I see in my studio on a regular basis.

  • Warm Up: I often suggest to my clients that taking class before hand is a good idea but you might want to leave 1/2 way or after barre. Within a 2-4 hour shooting session you will leave it all out there, 110% of you again and again and again… so reserve yourself.

  • Arrive at your shoot location with plenty of time to prepare and further warm up and relax.

What Should You Pack in Your Bag ?

  • Tights/Leotards and clothing items/costumes
  • Warm Up Clothes that are easy to pull on and off
  • Any undergarments or undi-tards that you might need
  • In the case of headshots, a good selection of tops with different necklines (solid colors best, texture is always nice)
  • All possible shoes to be used (Do not bring just one pair of pointe shoes to a shoot. You never know how soft or hard a shoe you will want for a different movements and lets not hope a pair breaks on you)
  • Socks that don’t leave lines on your ankles to keep your feet clean if you are planning shots in bare feet.
  • Hair items and accessories
  • Makeup and hand mirror
  • Jewelery if you wear it. Go simple here, studs or small earrings for dance shots, you might want something funkier for fun or more contemporary shots or your headshots. They should not detract from you but can add to your personality if used appropriately.
  • Snacks and water
  • Music that gets you in the mood. Most studios will be able to plug in your play list and it makes a huge difference to have playing what gets you in the moods you need to be in for great shots.
  • Towel
  • Wet Wipes for emergencies
  • Small Sewing Kit with scissors and safety pins


 In the pre-session consultation my dancer clients want to know if they should prepare a list of poses. Dancers want to know what to do during a photo shoot.

Over all, this is an individual process and complicated topic because every dancer and their dance skills are different. 

Arabesques and Attitudes (1st, 4th, 5th & open 5th)

  • Arabesques and attitudes almost always shoot better directly to the side. But if you have killer technique, try a very slight diagonal line, up or downstage

À La Second

  • This really works well only if you really have a 180 and strong core to hold it. Try several different arm positions to help facilitate a leg close to the ear.

Passé Devant or Derrière

  • Here is an excellent place to show impeccable line and give you trenbolone a 100 an opportunity to work with your expression or intention.


  • Jetés, sissones and other jumps are great to show power and passion.
  • Make sure you are not showing strain in your neck, fingers and face. This is important to remember, and something I talk about with my clients all the time: some movements need to be modified in their execution for a photoshoot. 

Terre a Terre 

  • Make sure you start with a fully turned out supporting leg, and re-adjust your hipline to work with the angle of the camera. Arms often need to be re worked from 3D to 2D.

Contemporary Work

  • If you start the shoot with some of these poses in mind, take the time to work them to suit your body. Try changing angles or arms to look good on your own physique.
  • Often, a great way to come up with something really cool is to work an improv session with your photographer and see what happens. I often have dancers just flow and move, picking lines that I think might be interesting. When I see something unique or beautiful we pause to work on that shot and get it just right.

Tips on Poses for Dance Photos

  • Remember the PURPOSE of the shoot: what companies/schools are you auditioning for? Choose your poses to your audience. Speak to them directly.
  • BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF. Know that every pose will need to be tailored to your particular body in a shoot… making something you normally look at in 3D in the mirror look good in 2D, as well as having every part of your body and face engaged takes some time.
  • The number of shots IS NOT what you are going for in an audition shoot. As close to perfection as you can get takes time, even for the most seasoned professionals. Aim for 2 or 3 great shots in about an hour of shooting
  • Remember that variety is important. Give the dance company directors something interesting and eye catching to look at. Imagine sending in 3 shots: an arabesque, a jump and a contemporary shot. Imagine the difference if they are all done in the same leotard on the same background with the same lighting.
  • Now imagine those same shots done with different backgrounds, different leotards and perhaps different lighting. Are you giving the audience/directors a peak at your versatility and making your image interesting for them to connect with, or are you giving them something boring or not memorable?

When Working for a Killer Pose: Ask these Questions

  • Do the lines work for all parts of my body, legs, shoulders, feet, neck, fingers torso?
  • Do I look at ease in the execution of the movement? Is there tension in my fingers/neck/face that gives away effort?
  • Use facial expressions. You would be surprised at how much of an afterthought facial expression often is. Or how often dancers think they are giving it and how little is actually there.
  • Could a change in arms help the pose? Take a 1st arabesque for example. Simply changing the arms to a high 1st, 5th or open 5th or even a 4th arabesque can change the shape on your torso drastically. Hint: Very few dancers can shoot a 3rd arabesque well; it’s an incredibly unforgiving shoulder line from a flat side view
  • When you think you’ve given it 100% of your energy, do it again with 300% – often that is the difference between a good and a great shot! I often find myself in a shoot saying ‘Great, now more more more energy, you can do it!’

Dos and Don’ts

Do bring to your shoot more options than you think you will need. Sometimes you can’t be certain what will work or not until you are shooting.

Don’t bring 6 different options of the same item (people that come to shoots with their whole leotard wardrobe, but nothing else, are limiting themselves)

Do make sure your footwear is appropriate for all your chosen looks and that you can move in all your choices (not to mention making sure your feet look as good as they can! But that will be covered in our next installment)

Don’t choose primarily all one color for your options

Do have hair and makeup looks planned that compliment your outfits

Don’t go overboard on hairpieces or accessories. We want to see your body, your personality, your technique and your face and facial expressions.