Inside Madonna's Weird Material Girl Auditions


“Dance 4 A Chance to Meet Madonna!” blared signs all over the Broadway Dance Center where, at 8 Thursday morning, dancers lined up to do just that.

Here’s the deal: the audition, sponspored by Material Girl, Madonna’s new clothing line, and distributor Macy’s, was the first round of a contest. At the BDC and on YouTube, dancers audition; the top 20 will become finalists, and ten will be handpicked by Madge to dace at the Material Girl launch party on September 22nd.

We were told that “the first 150” dancers would be allowed to audition, but in the end only about 50 were queued up – partially because, as one young dancer told me philosophically, “it’s kind of a long-shot, for a non-paying gig.” Each dancer was ushered into the room and did a one-minute piece for a panel of judges consisting of Leroy “Hypnosis” Barnes, whom Madonna discovered right out of high school and who said frankly that he was doing this as a favor to her; Material Girl’s marketing officer, and Macy’s Fashion Director. Later, an emcee from Fox, dressed in Material Girl, joined the panel too, which really seemed no less random than anything else.

I was seated with the other “press” and a bunch of camera crew documenting the dancers for YouTube. The woman seated next to me informed me reproachfully that her publication had recently received a failing grade in Midweek Madness. There was one of those cardboard boxes full of Pike Place Blend from Starbucks and a selection of energy bars. There was a distinct lack of Danish to be seen.

When you watch dancing in person, you’re struck by the things that you don’t notice on TV: the sound of a body hitting the floor, or the squeak of a sneaker. It’s when you don’t notice that that you know you’re watching something special. And while none of the dancers was Idol-mockery-reel bad, some definitely had a magical quality to their dancing that even we on the sidelines could appreciate. The dancers were wildly varied: some were Modern; others hip-hop; still others obviously had ballet training or were amazing break-dancers. Some cartwheeled onto the floor or came out whooping.

The range of getups was also vast. One woman rocked a fur vest and stiletto boots; another had knee-high Chucks. “Is this your usual look?” I asked on Tailor, a 25-year-old B-girl. “Oh yeah, I don’t change for anyone,” she said. A few, of course, had gone the Desperately Seeking Susan route. “I love Madonna and her daughter and everything 80s,” gushed one high-schooler in a fingerless lace glove. “I can’t wait for this line.”

The judges were uniformly friendly, and greeted each dancer with a remarkable degree of enthusiasm. Each one received, at the least, enthusiastic applause and at least one heartfelt “Good shit, man” or “Nice job.” All the dancers talked about how nice they were. “Much nicer than normal judges,” said one guy, Rick. And, “the energy is really good in there,” said a dance student named Meggie. Of course, after the dancers left the room, the judges consulted amongst themselves. It was hard to make out much more than a “She was hot” or “Yes yes yes YES!” “She came out swinging,” or “Love the gusto.” And it was clear to see a few made an impression: Che – “like the revolutionary” – for one, or Matteo who, we were told, “doesn’t speak much English” (“Can he say “WORK IT” in Italian?!” screamed one judge) and did a series of gravity-defying flips.

The dancers themselves seemed to treat the event as something between a lark and an audition. “It’s such a good opportunity,” said Nicole [in video #1], a stunning 18-year-old from Staten Island in fishnets, boots and hot-pink minishorts (“Forever21”), who’s starting stenography school next month (“but that’s a back-up — 250%!”) Julien, who was soft-spoken, had young-Basquiat hair, was sporting an O.D.B. tee and was from Guadalupe , said he recognized some of the dancers from other auditions “but we’re all friends now.” A dancer named Hayley said that the small numbers had facilitated bonding far beyond that at a normal audition.

The dancers, who seemed to be evenly divided between working and aspiring, were all good sports, gamely doing a “fake audition” for the camera, freestyling on demand to “Material Girl” and posing with Hypnosis while shouting “Material Girl at Macy’s!” Lest anyone forget why we were there, a reporter with a microphone demanded of a dancer still catching her breath, “What does it take to be a Material Girl?” I was impressed by her response, under the circumstances (“You have to be SO FIERCE!”) which was much better than what I had in mind: “Prioritizing stuff over intangibles.”

There was a large picture window through which the contestants could watch the other dancers audition, which people told me was not standard, but not uncommon either. “It makes me a little nervous,” said one dance student who admitted that this was her first New York audition. “Don’t be,” said another contestant. “It’s an amazing opportunity, but this is sorta pretend.”

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