A fabulous weekend with Mykhailo Shcherbakov!

On October 6th, 2019, Mykahilo Scherbakov, Soloist with Moscow Ballet, held a master class at Ballet Academy of Charleston for intermediate to advanced adults and teenagers.

Mr. Shcherbakov was in Charleston to direct an audition for Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” to be performed at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on December 21st, 2019 (at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.).

Mykhailo was born in Pugachov, Russia and moved to Kiev at just ten years old to start studying ballet at the Kiev Choreographic College. While in school, he participated in many ballet competitions, including the famous Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition and the International Ballet Competition and Contest of Choreographers in Moscow. In 2008, Mykhailo was invited to join the Kiev Municipal Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet for Children and Youth. A year later he became a Principal Dancer at the theater and has participated in every performance since he started working there.

He began studying at National Pedagogical Dragomanov University in 2010 and graduated in just two years with a degree in teaching. Mykhailo has traveled all over the world performing with a few ballet companies. He has performed in multiple countries including Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and France. Mykhailo joined Moscow Ballet in 2016 and performs in the Great Russian Nutcracker as Brother Fritz, the French Variation, and the Nutcracker Doll.

We greatly appreciate Mr. Shcerbakov’s contribution to our school and traveling all this way to set the student’s choreography for “The Great Russian Nutcracker”!

How to Prepare for an Audition

It’s audition time! How can you be sure you are prepared, both mentally and physically to meet the challenge?

Consider a few tips outlined below:

  1. Get adequate rest.  If possible, in the weeks leading up the audition, but most especially the night before, be sure you’re getting a full night’s rest.  For some suggestions on how to acheive this, read this list from healthline.com.
  2. Eat well. You want to be sure you have enough energy to perform your best but that you haven’t eaten to such a point that you become lethargic. Be sure to eat a breakfast chock full of good fats, proteins and carbohydrates. If the audition is later in the day, make time for a healthful lunch as well. You want to give your muscles plenty of fuel!. Also, allow time to digest the meal fully, perhaps eating about an hour before your audition. For a snack, bring something light such as trail mix or a protein bar. Preferably those that mostly contain only natural sugars and are high in protein. Pointe Magazine has some helpful suggestions for a good audition day diet.
  3. Stay hydrated.Be sure that you remain well hydrated in the days and weeks leading up to the audition since dehydration can lead to fatigue and malaise. It will also prevent you from overdrinking just before the audition because nervousness can make your mouth dry, especially when you are dehydrated. Of course, you should drink sufficient water the day of the audition. Just be sure that you taper it off during the hour or so leading up to the audition. 
  4. Be informed. Knowing your audition company, their preferred technique and performance style, can go a long way in getting you noticed. If you can find the choreography you know they might use in the audition (especially if there is a particular role you are interested in), learn it and practice it beforehand. Then, if and when it comes up in the audition, you will be prepared to perform it well. At the very least you will feel prepared, which will increase your confidence when you walk in the door.
  5. Be neat and neutrally dressed.  While your attire doesn’t have to be new, you want to ensure it’s in good condition (e.g. no holes or stains). Wear neutral, solid colors such as black or navy blue. Typical attire for girls in a ballet audition is pink shoes, tights and a simple, black leotard, with hair in a tidy bun. And for boys, black tights, shoes and a white t-shirt, with hair neatly quaffed. It’s your dancing and demeanor that should stand out in an audition; not your outfit. I once went to an SAB (School of American Ballet) audition wearing a red ribbon in my hair (at the suggestion of my teacher) and a white, skirted leotard. I still cringe when I think of it. Oh, boy did I stand out! But for all the wrong reasons. Learn from my mistake.
  6. Get there early and be prepared. Pack your dance bag with all the necessary things you’ll need as well as a few extra (e.g. bobby bins, sewing kit or tights). Lay out the clothes you intend to wear the night before and make a list of everything you need if necessary. Be sure to arrive at the studio early. Even if you have to wait outside the studio before the doors open, it is better to arrive too early than to be rushing to get there and be stressed by the time you arrive. As soon as you can, begin warming up and stretching before the audition begins, even if the audition includes a warm-up. Remember, you want to be ready for anything!
  • Think positively. Dwelling on potential mishaps and the disappointment you might feel if you don’t get the part you want is counterproductive and a waste of mental energy. Yes, an audition is a lot like a test in that you will be evaluated by how you perform on that day. However, it is also like a test in this way: Once you have walked into an audition, you have done all the preparing you could. There’s nothing more to do but focus, be in the moment, and ENJOY it. Why do you dance? Because it makes you happy, right? So, just think of the audition as yet another opportunity to do what you love, enjoy the experience and let go of pointless anxiety. Easier said than done of course. If simply willing the worries of your mind away isn’t working for you, try this…
  • 7. Think “negatively”.You may be wondering how on earth that could be productive so let me explain:  Some of the auditions where I performed my best were those where I stopped worrying and just let myself enjoy the process. I would tell myself, “What happens now doesn’t matter. I don’t care if I get the part. In fact, I’m NOT going to get the part.” What it did was relieve the pressure. Because I had told myself that what I did didn’t matter, I was actually able to focus better and shut off the negative voice inside my head which might have prevented me from dancing well. Every time I did this in an audition, I not only performed well and got the attention of the audition holders, but I ended up with a part better than what I expected. So, give it a try! Tell yourself, “It doesn’t matter” (because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t) and dance your heart out! 

During the Audition:

  1. Be focused
  2. Be quiet
  3. Be polite
  4. Enjoy the process!
  5. Smile!

After the audition..

  1. Be Happy! Whew! You made it! However you may feel about how the audition went, remember that you were brave enough to do it! Auditioning is a very nerve-wracking process, so you should feel good about what you have accomplished. Bear in mind, that whatever you perceive as not having gone well, whether true or not, there is nothing more that you can do at this point. 
  2. When you don’t get the part…True, it is disheartening not to get the part you wanted, but what’s done is done and it has no bearing on your overall worth. And whatever part you get, no matter how “insignificant” it seems, put your ALL into it and have fun! I have many times danced parts or choreography that I didn’t particularly love. When I put my heart and soul into it and said, “Ok well this is what I got. I will make the best of it,” I ended up enjoying myself and experiencing a sense of accomplishment I never would have had I griped about the part or quit altogether. And if you wish to pursue dance as a profession, understand that you will rarely, if ever, have a say in which part you receive and will often face disappointments and setbacks. Look at this as practice for the future. Accept roles with maturity and a sense of professionalism. Learn from “failure” and improve. This sort of tenacity will serve you well, whatever you pursue. 
  3. There’s always next time. Remember that in the majority of cases, there is always a next time! You now have experience over which you can reflect during the intervening time which you can use to improve in an area of weakness that may have become apparent. 
  4. Relax and do something fun. Plan to have a meal with family and friends or plan an activity to which you can look forward and take your mind off of the audition. Think of it as a celebration, no matter what happened at the audition. Remember: You have just done something most people find very stressful and some wouldn’t dare try! So, be proud of your accomplishment and treat it with the celebration it deserves.
    5. It will get easier. Remember, that the more often you participate in an audition, the easier it will become.  Even if your goal is not to become a professional dancer, this type of experience will help you in life, whether it be a job interview or a presentation at work. 
    6. Be a Happy Dancer! Whatever happens, enjoy yourself, apply the lessons you learn, whether from a good or bad experience, and move on and be happy!

Does practice always make perfect?

We’re all familiar with the adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  But does it always?  Consider this quote by American scholar, Hamza Yusuf:  “Practice makes permanent, not perfect.  If you practice the wrong thing, you make the wrong act permanent.”  In other words, practice instills within us a permanent habit, for good or for bad.  It’s how we practice which largely affects how successful we will be, not merely the number of hours or repetitions spent on a given task.

The point is not that practice is unimportant, but that only when done correctly, can it lead to the results we desire. If you are attempting to drive a car forward while the gear shift is set in reverse and hit the gas 100 times, will the car eventually move forward?  The answer is obvious.  The point being, if you practice something incorrectly, you will learn it and perform it…You guessed it…incorrectly!  

So, how does one make sure they are practicing correctly?  The online education platform, TED-Ed states, “Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”  They offer the following suggestions:

  1. Focus on the task at hand and minimize distractions.  Avoid daydreaming or talking in class and listen to your teacher, even when the instruction seems unrelated to you.
  2. Start out slowly.  Coordination is built with repetitions. If you gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.  When learning a new exercise, practice it carefully and slowly under the watchful eye of your teacher, being sure to do it correctly before you increase your speed!  This is especially crucial in dance, since performing certain movements improperly can result in injury.
  3. Be balanced.  Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers.  Many top athletes, musicians and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft.  Many divide their time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.  Short practice sessions daily in between your weekly lessons can be immensely beneficial and will train your brain and body to treat the movement as second nature.
  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail.  A number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.  So, even when you can’t practice the steps with your body, you can “practice” them in your head!

In addition, a student may come to feel that their regular classes and at-home practice sessions are not quite enough to help them achieve the increased “edge” they are looking for.  Or they may be dealing with a discipline or movement which is particularly challenging for them.  If this is the case, a student should first approach their teacher and politely request specific feedback or exercises they can do on their own.  They may also consider speaking to their parents and teacher about additional classes and private lessons as a supplement to their training.  

Lastly, don’t expect perfection!  Sure, you want to try your best, but beating yourself up over a perceived flaw is neither productive or healthy.  

The conclusion?  Listen to your teacher, accept the correction and implement it to the best of your ability.  Practice as “perfectly” as you can, and the result will be a beautiful, healthy dancer, permanently.