Student dancer auditions for Juilliard

Senior Matilda Mackey explains the audition process for the Julliard School of Dance. She auditioned in Chicago for a spot at the internationally known college conservatory program.

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UPDATE: On Monday, March 21st, Matilda Mackey received a phone call announcing her acceptance into the Juilliard School.

With an acceptance rate of 6.7 percent, some may be frightened to audition, but Matilda Mackey ’16 is not one of those people. The Juilliard School located in the Lincoln Center in New York City is home to A-list celebrities, boasting successful names such as Emmy-award winner Viola Davis, cello legend Yo-Yo Ma and two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain. For Mackey, this audition is everything she’s been waiting on for six years as she auditioned for the dance school.

“The audition began at one o’clock on a Friday afternoon. We got our numbers and were placed in numerical order across the bar and we began our ballet class,” Mackey said. “After the ballet barre and ballet center, we went outside to wait for the results. They cut about 30-32 people which was a large percentage of people to start with. We began with 50.”

The second round, after ballet, was a modern class.

“It was shorter, but we did a mixture of combinations, moving across the floor, playing with musicality and tempo, arching your back and curves and getting grounded and more loose.”

Juilliard is internationally recognized as one of the best performing arts schools in the world, but that didn’t mean Mackey would be auditioning against strangers.

“There was a girl from my studio, Nolte [Academy of Dance in Iowa City], that was there. Two of my friends that I met at the Juilliard Summer Intensive in 2014 were there. What was really hard for was that only one of my friends and I made it through. The other two people I knew got cut after the first round,” said Mackey.

Aside from group auditions, the process entailed a solo round. Mackey performed a routine she had choreographed herself.

“I was nervous for this because solos are just so intimate and vulnerable, especially if it’s your own choreography,” she said.

After surviving the round of cuts from the solo, she was taught an entirely new combination to be performed in pairs.

“We learned a really fast paced modern choreography… My partner was actually cut after this round which was sad.”

Then, after four rounds of dancing and cuts, came the interview.

“It was unique to each person even though they ask everyone similar questions… They asked about two pages of questions. They asked how we work in groups, what we know about Juilliard, what book we read recently, what we enjoy academically and a time we had to overcome an obstacle. The questions were trying to pick up who we are as people instead outside of dancing.”

To prepare for the audition, Mackey says that she treated every class like an audition.

I also kept telling myself to breathe and I told myself that I am a human before I am a dancer.”

— Matilda Mackey '16

“Specifically at the start of this year, I treated every ballet and modern class as if someone was watching me at the whole time. I also did extra modern privates to up my intake of that specific style. They really enabled my muscle memory to pick up on things in a quicker manner. I also kept telling myself to breathe and I told myself that I am a human before I am a dancer.”

It’s easy to imagine that an audition for such a competitive school would be mean-spirited and lacking in kindness, but Mackey disagrees.

“At the end, there were five girls and five guys and we were all sitting around sharing food, talking about where we’re from. It was a really friendly environment. I could picture that becoming the actual class at Juilliard if we were to all get in.”

If you’re considering auditioning for Juilliard or any dance school, Mackey has a few things she wants you to know.

You have the ability to make everything work for yourself. If you persevere and keep your passion and dedication strong, you can achieve anything.”

— Matilda Mackey '16

“I want every young dancer to remember not to take everything too seriously. You have one life to live and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the person who makes it through all the cuts or hires for that job you really desire. You have the ability to make everything work for yourself. If you persevere and keep your passion and dedication strong, you can achieve anything.”

Correction: An earlier version of the article said Mackey auditioned in New York City at the school. Mackey auditioned in Chicago.