Choosing the right variation for you is like finding the perfect pair of jeans. Competition or audition coming up? How do you pick the best suited one for you? I would say, honestly, it all depends on your stress management. So first, be honest with yourself and assess how you do under pressure. It is scary to be put in the spotlight when you've spend most of your time in a classroom with your peers or in the corps de ballet of a company. You may think that this is your chance, that you can't miss it and end up putting so much pressure on this IT moment. The perfect recipe would be picking what you're comfortable with and adding a touch of challenge. We all know that when nerves kick in, the difficult moments of a solo become even more difficult. So let's talk about how to choose a variation and how to prepare for it.
ASK YOURSELF (and write your answers down):
What are you most comfortable with? Turns, jumps, balances, quick footwork, slow or fast movements, extensions, stamina, acting, smiling, drama, purely classical ballet or a bit neo, a tutu or a skirt (if you can pick a costume) or long sleeve or spaghetti strap leo, the music... the list goes on but start with these and you might discover others of your own.
I'll tell you my own experience...
STYLE: First off, pick the style that suits you best in equation with the company picked or competition requirements. Are you a more purely classical dancer or a Balanchine, or a neo-classical one? And on the other side of style, do you feel prettier and at ease in a tutu or a skirt, pink or black tights? What leotard looks best on you?
JUMPING OR TURNING: I've had a love-hate relationship with pirouettes. In the past, when I got nervous, I would lose my abilities, stress would take over, I most likely would doubt myself and not succeed to my best turning potential. I've learned to get better at managing this but if you are like me, I would recommend more of a jumping solo with one or 2 turns in it which are manageable to you. And vice-versa obviously. But you always need to show a bit of both though.
SLOW OR FAST: Is your stress level lower when it's a more moving and swooshing solo or a more controlled, balanced, adagio like variation? I personally feel liberated when the choreography moves and the music is a tad more rhythmical. I'll be nervous before going on stage but once on it, it'll go away. I have less time to become all Einstein on every movement.
Be honest also with the tempo that is good for you to not feel rushed or too slow so you can use the music to help your movement quality.
ARTISTRY: Being a character also helps at reducing stress. You can focus on the story you're trying to portrait and have a chance to touch your judges with the emotions you convey. If your solo doesn't have a story, still work on your facial expression and eye contact.
SHOW OFF YOUR ABILITIES: Self appreciation moment. What are you a queen at? High extensions like a Bayadère shade, turning like Esmeralda, jumping like a Gamzatti, balances like a Queen of Dryades? It's your time to wow your panel of judges. However, don't fall into the circus of ticks. You chose dance to be an artist, don't forget that. Be magnetic no matter what!
ATTENTION, TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE: Be careful with the popularity of the solo you pick. It could be a blessing and a curse. If it's really known, your judges will have expectations on certain tricky moments of the variation and if you don't succeed those specific hurdles, you might lose their interest from that moment on. If you decided to pick Black Swan for example, just be aware that those first pirouettes to fouetté attitude turn are gonna be scrutinized like the dress Scarlett Johansson chose for the Red Carpet.
Also, captivate your audience's attention by picking a solo that is not too long. I would recommend 1 min to 2min max. After 2min I think in our current society, people lose interest. You wanna be remembered!
WATCH YOUR IDOLS: A great tool to getting better is watching the Nuñez, Peck, Naghdi, Obraztsova, Dupont, Zakharova, Gilbert, Seo (to name a few) version of the solo you're interested in and pick the best suited version for you! Watch and learn what they excel at and try to emulate it! ⭐️
HOW TO PREPARE: First take a studio and start yourself with no one watching. Discover things for yourself. Do it bit by bit without running it till the end. Build your stamina for it. Try to film yourself and objectively be your own teacher. Then ask your teacher, ballet master, colleague to have a look at it to help you out with technical things, details and artistry. See my article on visualization to help you solidify your muscle memory. Make sure you rehearse in your costume if you have one (and prop) so you can be as comfortable with those elements as possible, quickly. Then, it's your turn Gorge! Go shine. 🦋✨🦋