Training

Am I On Time in My Training?

Deborah Wingert teaching class. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Manhattan Youth Ballet

Deep down, Dara Oda knew she wasn't ready. Despite 15 years of solid training at the School of DanceWest Ballet near her hometown outside of Chicago, by the end of high school she realized she still didn't have the technique or maturity for a realistic shot in a company audition. "It was terrifying," Oda recalls. "I was unsure of where I stood in terms of my dancing abilities, but I didn't really know where, or how, to improve." She did find a path to her career—she's now a member of Texas Ballet Theater—but she wishes she'd figured out that she was behind a lot sooner. "I'd had good training, but was oblivious to the fact that I needed to be doing so much more than I was."

Many students fear being in a situation like Oda's: arriving at a company audition only to discover that they haven't progressed technically and artistically as far as their peers. And with an endless supply of ballet prodigies online and in competitions, it's hard not to worry that you're not advancing fast enough. How can you make sure you're on track to meet your professional goals?



Training Benchmarks

There are no firm rules, but most teachers agree that students need to meet certain technical and artistic benchmarks en route to a career, and getting started early is a definite advantage. Deborah Wingert, who is head faculty at Manhattan Youth Ballet and teaches at The Ailey School's Professional Division and Ailey Extension in New York City, says that between 14 and 16, professionally aspiring dancers should have "base knowledge" under their belts: dancing on pointe, double pirouettes en dedans and en dehors, and an understanding of battu in petit allégro, for example.

Michelle Lees, principal and artistic director of Maryland Youth Ballet, agrees but adds that students behind the curve can make up for a late start or poor early training if they have enough natural coordination, physicality, determination and focus. The dancer's end goal influences the pace of their progress, too: A college conservatory program gives an extra four years of intense study and performance experience, and a contemporary or modern career path generally allows for later development.


Michelle Lees teaching class at Maryland Youth Ballet. Photo by Alyce Jenkins, Courtesy MYB.


Assessing Your Progress

Often, summer intensive auditions are the only way that students from smaller or regional schools can get a realistic assessment of where they stand—and if they're getting the training they need. "If, at an audition, a student sees others their own age doing steps and combinations they haven't learned or aren't secure in, that's a sign their training is lacking," says Lees. While acceptance into a major school is a positive indicator, Lees notes that technique is not the only way to measure a dancer's development. "Students shouldn't assess their abilities by comparing themselves to the prodigies they see online. Social media and competitions tend to focus on 'tricks,' and students are often swayed by that. But there's so much more to dance—artistry, musicality, movement quality—and dancers need to believe in what they can be."

Despite the tendency to highlight technique over long-term artistic potential, competitions and festivals can help dancers gauge their progress, while also providing outside feedback from judges and teachers. Oda's studio performed at Regional Dance America each year, giving her a chance to be among other dancers her age. "It was a good opportunity to prepare myself for a bit of healthy competition and measure my caliber, while taking advantage of all the performances, classes and workshops," she says. Wingert agrees that competitions are best used for the learning experience and exposure. "Especially if you don't perform a lot at your school, it's a great way to get some extra work: You have to be coached and put in extra training sessions. It's also eye-opening, even if you do well or win an award, to compare yourself to other dancers who may be better than you."


Dara Oda in CHristopher Wheeldon's "DGV." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy TBT.


How to Catch Up

If signs indicate you're behind others your age, consider ramping up your training regimen. If you're not going full-time to a professionally affiliated school, adding intensity is imperative. "Any and all extra training would help," says Lees. "Ideally, visit nearby cities for open classes and workshops with great teachers." Take advantage of any classes offered by a visiting master teacher, too. Websites like Ballet in Form (balletinform.com) and Progressing Ballet Technique (pbt.dance) offer training tips from a variety of renowned instructors.

If you decide to change schools altogether, shop around carefully. Research where the dancers you admire have trained, and remember that larger schools are not necessarily better. Wingert says to look for a school that gives personal attention to each student, has a reasonable balance of rehearsal, performance and class time, and clearly outlines what is taught at each level. "It must be curriculum-based, so students and parents understand what is covered each year, and have regular evaluations to discuss how they are progressing."

There's no reason to panic if you're behind your peers, but avoid getting complacent. Regularly redefine your goals and assess whether you're doing everything you can to move steadily towards them. Oda made up for lost time by enrolling in an intensive dance program at Belhaven University, but she regrets not going to more summer programs during high school. "Surround yourself with dancers who have the same goals as you," she advises. "I was passionate but didn't know what was required because the people around me weren't trying to do the same thing."


Gavin Larsen teaches and writes about dance from Asheville, North Carolina.

popular
Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

popular

Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

Keep reading... Show less
Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

Thinkstock.

Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

Keep reading... Show less
Career
Thinkstock

I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

Keep reading... Show less
Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

Keep reading... Show less
Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!