On the Journey to Becoming a Professional Dancer: Meet Ava MacGillivray
20-year-old Ava MacGillivray is a Mount Albert native who has been dancing since she was just two years old. We sat down with her to talk about how she decided she wanted to become a professional dancer and the journey so far, including a recent audition in New York City for the Rockettes Ensemble!
So Ava, let’s start with the big one. You recently auditioned for the Rockettes Ensemble, can you tell us how that process worked?
A: Yes! They block out three days for auditions, so you have the first day, a second round of callbacks the second day, and the third round of callbacks on the third day. It was so much fun!
What did you do to prepare? What did you know ahead of time?
A: They have all the information on their website, and one thing they called out is that you have to be able to sing and dance at the same time. In the weeks leading up to the audition, I made sure to really focus on doing vocal warm ups while on a treadmill in my character heels, to really get my stamina up and make sure I could sing and dance at the same time. I also took online classes every single day through CLI Studios to get the quick thinking down, because it’s a very fast paced environment. In the audition, you only have 10 minutes to learn the combination, which was precision jazz, so there’s a lot of detail you have to hit very quickly. In the online classes, I was practicing getting the choreography in my body on the first go through to prep for that environment.
I practiced daily affirmations every single day, because auditions are so much about your mental state, and also made sure to eat really clean energizing foods!
What would your biggest piece of advice be for anyone hoping to audition for the Rockettes?
A: The biggest thing for the Rockettes Ensemble is getting comfortable in your heels. The floor we learned the combo on was a very squishy carpet, and we were dancing on a very slippery wood. So getting used to your heels (Ava wears the LaDuca Teresa 3 inch character shoe!) is really key.
What was the most memorable thing about the audition?
A: Everything was so memorable, I’ve been dreaming of this forever! The thing that sticks out the most was when they called out our numbers to go run the choreography, there were two girls beside me who just turned to me and started chatting. It was so nice to talk to other dancers because I graduated from my studio during Covid, and a lot of auditions are very individual, and so it was nice to feel like we were going through it together. We all smiled at each other in the audition room. Also the directors were very kind! They didn’t try to intimidate us, they were very relaxed.
How did learning the combination go? Was any feedback given to you, or was it very quick?
A: We learned the combination from Danelle Morgan, who is the Assistant Choreographer and Dance Captain for the Rockettes. She did give some corrections if she saw somebody doing something wrong, but it was a big room with lots of dancers, so other than that, we didn’t get too much feedback.
Auditioning for the Rockettes Ensemble is a pretty big deal, was this the first major audition you’ve done?
A: Yes! This was my fourth audition in general, but the others I have done was to get into the dance schools I’ve gone to (Huron and Ryerson) and World Performers in Canada. So this was the first big one for a job!
That’s incredible! Do you have some other auditions lined up? What’s next?
A: I want to be signed with an agency, and go from there. I am planning on auditioning for Disney, so I have a profile with them. For that you just sign up with your headshot and resume, and they give you a calendar of audition dates, and you can go if you want! I’d love to work on a Disney Cruise or even in the Disney parades. I danced in a Disney parade when I was dancing at my studio, and I absolutely loved it.
So tell us how you got to this place! Tell me about your dance history, and when you wanted to do it as a career?
A: I’ve never questioned dance, I never had an “aha” moment that this is what I wanted to do, I just always knew. When I was in grade 8, I really started to understand it as a profession, and started to understand what I needed to do to be good enough to be successful.
Have you always done multiple styles? The Rockettes requirements are to be proficient in Jazz, Ballet, and Tap, but what’s your favourite? How do you handle the styles you don’t love as much?
A: I teach Jazz right now at my studio (Stouffville Academy) so that’s definitely my favourite. I’ve done stomp, samba, hip hop, but the main styles I was trained in are Limón and Graham modern, contemporary, lyrical, ballet, and jazz (including Fosse). I love the music and history of jazz, and love all the different techniques. I definitely struggled with tap. I only did tap for five years, but I started when I was 12 and was thrown into a comp class, so that was definitely a challenge. I love tap, and love the music, but it’s so hard.
You went to Ryerson, was that a dance undergrad degree? What was that audition process like?
A: Yes, I had the intent of completing my undergraduate degree, but with Covid, I decided to stop and go my own route. I can always go back if I change my mind. I auditioned through their two week summer intensive. It wasn’t like a normal audition where you go for two hours and dance, you audition over the course of the two week program, you work with alumni, they see you at barre. At the end of the intensive, you get invited to the program if they liked you. I got offered early acceptance to join the program.
That’s amazing! So, in your dance journey so far, the Rockettes Ensemble audition was the largest thing you’ve done. Did that audition process confirm for you that this is what you want to do with your life? Did you feel invigorated by it?
A: Absolutely, I didn’t want to stop. I got out of that audition and felt like I wanted to go to every Broadway show and find out if they had auditions. I’m definitely still on that high, and feeling very eager to audition for more things.
Obviously you’re auditioning during times you aren’t working at the studio, do you have any advice on how to balance a job with the audition process? This is something most professional dancers have to deal with while working often sporadic jobs!
A: I’m definitely still figuring it out as I go! In terms of handling it with your employees, be open and talk to them. Working in a dance environment is really helpful, there’s a lot more understanding of how the audition process works. I have an agenda, I book off my time to balance both work and finding auditions.
Do you have any final advice for dancers out there?
A: Yes! One thing that I had never thought about but really noticed in the Rockettes Ensemble audition was how important spacial awareness is. When you’re in a big room, people are standing next to each other, and people were bumping into each other while doing the choreography. Danelle Morgan even had to stop to remind people to be aware of their space, which never looks very good. Even when you’re at a convention, you need to stay in your own dance space. Dancers are often used to dancing at a big studio in choreography where they have an assigned spot, so being aware of your dance space is really important.
Also, you want to be at the front, but in a humble and kind way. There will be people who will stand directly behind you because they also want to be in the front! So you really need to be aware of your space.
In general, be a nice person. You have to make eye contact with everyone, you have to smile at everyone. If someone is annoying you, you can’t let that show on your face. Be kind, be humble, smile, and enjoy it! Trust your training, and trust yourself.
Thank you so much for sitting down with us to talk about your experience so far Ava! We wish you the very best of luck in breaking into this exciting career path!
We are so excited to continue to support Ava throughout her journey to becoming a professional dancer! Tell us in the comments, what is your best audition advice? Do you want be a professional dancer?
Photos courtesy of Ava MacGillivray