The first time I ever went to an audition, reduced to a four-digit number on a piece of paper pinned to my chest, I wondered whether I made the right decision in pursuing ballet.
It goes against every human instinct to stand in front of the critical panel of judges who appraise and dart quickly from body to body with their trained eyes. Pushed against the other sweaty, hopeful dancers, all I could do was tremble and cling to any last vestige of strength I could find.
Being at an audition is showing yourself at your most vulnerable, opening up your body, your soul, your heart to a group of complete strangers who have complicated and indiscernible agendas that may or may not align with your own. In so many ways, what I have experienced from years of auditioning directly parallels the frustrating battle that high school seniors face in the college application process. The unpredictability of it all is difficult to manage, and even more difficult to convince yourself that it is not an indicator of your own value as an individual.
For about a month after the first auditions, my 13-year-old self experienced its very first existential crisis, faced with a harsh judgement on my own strength as an artist. It was a “no” that I did not understand how to take; all I could do was take it to heart. But eventually, I learned to look forward, away from the shame of failure and rejection. To me, there was a renewed hope in the promise of tomorrow, of more auditions and more hours in a humid dance studio.
Now as an 18-year-old, the promise of tomorrow is a scarier thing to reach for, less straightforward and direct in its path. In the days following college decisions, I find myself among many other high school seniors, lost in a maze of emails and packets, fliers and phone calls, all trying to push me one way or another.
The long list of auditions and applications in my life, both rejections and successes, give me a new sense of pride in the dignity I have maintained through strings of sometimes crushing failures. Ironically, I find that the more times I stand invisible in front of the judges of the world, the more real and strong I am becoming, driven by a newfound desire to understand and value myself.
I know that in the days to come, we will all be faced with many more “auditions,” more stressful expectations to prove our intelligence and abilities. To ignore the changeable push and pull of outside forces and instead, draw inward–that is the ultimate goal. In the words of Mary Oliver, we must “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” finding motivation in the things we are passionate about, rather than disappointment in the paths we cannot follow.