In a series of 8 separate rounds, 150 kids from age seven to seventeen came to audition for the premier and show teams at Pacific Ballroom Dance during the last two weeks of June. (Last year, auditions drew 120 kids.) After the overwhelming success of creating a premier team for the preteen age group last year and the steady growth in skill, dedication, and membership at all ages levels, Artistic Director Katie Mecham could see that a more robust audition process was necessary. Executive Director Heather Longhurst said “[Katie] collaborated with me, Monique, and the Artistic Team to design a new process that allows for more mindfulness on the partof coaches as well as care and consideration of the students.”
Last year there were just two rounds. First was the Syllabus round in which students of all levels danced the routines they learn in their syllabus class. After the syllabus round, youth and junior age kids were called back for the Choreography round in which dancers learned new routines in various dance styles and performed them before the judging panel.
This year, the first change made was the addition of Round One, a group class, for every age group. New dancers who might have been intimidated by the formality of the Syllabus round could now come dance and be seen without having to worry about preparing a Syllabus routine. It also gave judges a chance to take a longer look at each individual. All dancers were then invited to participate in the next round of auditions.
The Syllabus round now became Round Two, with a few big changes. In the past, every student of every age level came to the Syllabus round on the same day dressed in their black and whites with a number on their backs to dance before the entire artistic staff. Evaluating over 120 students one after the other required short rounds of just a few minutes each. Judges jotted down a quick numerical score and had to move on to the next dancer. This year, each age level came on a different night and danced before a smaller panel of coaches and artistic staff. Only two students were evaluated at a time, and judges were given ample time to create written feedback in addition to a numerical score. “[Our panel made] a gigantic effort to move beyond empty praise like ‘nice’ or ‘good job.’ [Their] comments were specific, meaningful, personalized, and supportive,” said Heather. At this point, preteen kids were done and a smaller group of youth and junior aged kids were placed on a call back list for the next round of auditions.
The Choreography round now became Round Three. Here, the changes were more subtle but equally significant. Heather Longhurst encouraged coaches to make this round”student-centric,” and offered a little guidance on what that might look like, while allowing coaches to create the experience of Round Three. “I saw effective emotion coaching, student choice, adult mentoring, skill building, opportunities for problem solving, empathy teaching, and more,” said Heather. Students were asked to arrive at Round Three with a written paragraph about their desire to be a part of a premier team. It gave students a chance to share their hearts and motivations.
Junior Premier coach Heather Bryant added an opportunity for students to work one-on-one with mentors from the panel to get real time feedback on how they could improve. Stars and Youth Show coach Raney Welch said, “I could tell just by watching the students react and respond that it was helpful for them and they felt seen. Their engagement and effort increased almost instantaneously after each coach approached them. It was amazing to see the entire level of dancing jump up within an entire group of dancers after just 10 minutes of personalized interaction.”
Youth Premier coaches Brent and Katie Mecham added a video element to Round Three for the youth age group. Students were asked to learn a short piece of choreography on their own time before coming in to the audition.
“We worked to make significant changes at all levels of the process, and this much change all at once is hard to pull off, but everyone collaborated and did a beautiful job,” said Heather Longhurst.