Training

Ask Amy: Gaining Perspective

(Photo by Natan Sayers)

I can't stop beating myself up over past mistakes. How can I focus on what's in front of me? —Susan

One of the most beautiful things about dance is that it exists only in the “now"—once the movement's moment is over, poof! You can never get it back. But you can always try again—and that's where the real success lies.

I know from experience how damaging relentless self-criticism can be. I used to cry when a class or rehearsal didn't go well, or give up mid-combination in defeat. Once, after a particularly frustrating rehearsal, the stager took me aside and made me repeat, over and over again, “It just doesn't matter." I felt pretty silly, but she helped me realize that I was getting in my own way.

Try to look at your training and dance career as an endless learning process. If you've performed poorly or had a bad class, it's normal to feel frustrated. But try to have a little perspective. I promise, there are much bigger problems in the world. Instead of equating a botched pirouette as a failure, think of it as an enticing challenge. What lessons can you take away from it? And remember, give yourself credit for all the things you've done right.


Do you have tips to camouflage a long torso and short legs? —Casey

As dancers, we often develop our own personal style—but it's important to think of it as flattering your proportions rather than hiding or “camouflaging" them. I have a long torso myself, and there are easy ways to highlight your line. For instance, when choosing a leotard, high necklines, like turtlenecks, will accentuate the length of your upper body. Instead, opt for open necklines and backs to visually break things up. The height of the leg opening helps, too—“ballet-cut" leotards come up higher on the hip, adding the illusion of a few more inches of leg.

As for your lower half, chopping up the leg—whether with longer shorts or cut-off tights—will be less flattering. Instead, opt for footed or stirrup-style tights. If your dress code allows, try wearing pink or black tights over your leotard, letting the elastic hit at the waist (as opposed to slinging them low around your hips—low-waisted styles will make your torso appear longer). Short skirts and cropped sweaters can easily help complete a flattering ensemble.

Are private lessons necessary? I think I'd improve more quickly, but I'm already really busy. —Sarah

Private coaching, while expensive, certainly has benefits—it allows you to fine-tune small details or concentrate on specific things you're having trouble with (such as pirouettes or petit allégro). They're especially helpful if you're behind for your age, have some serious bad habits or if you're preparing a solo.

But busy dance students also need time for homework, family, socializing and rest. If you're already struggling to keep up with a heavy schedule, it's better to hold off on private lessons for a time when you can really focus—after your performance season is over, for instance, or during summer, winter or spring break. That way, you're better equipped to mentally and physically handle the intensity. And keep in mind that some schools frown upon private lessons, especially if you're working with an outside teacher. Make sure your studio is okay with it first.

Do you have a question for Amy? Send it to her here, and she might answer it in an upcoming issue!

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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.

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Early in Carrie Imler's 22-year career with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was excited to be cast in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. But immediately following dress rehearsal, she was removed from her role in "Melancholic." "My artistic director at the time pulled me aside and said, 'We can't put you out there,' " she remembers. "My weight fluctuated my entire career. Just when I felt like I had figured it out, I would gain it back and have to start all over again." Despite becoming one of PNB's most celebrated principal dancers, Imler never shook the fear of what might happen when a leotard ballet was in the repertoire.

Ballet prides itself on high standards, and the classical ballet physique is not the least of those expectations. Fear of the "fat talk" still lurks in studios, but, as Imler points out, weight is a challenge that many dancers face, while others may struggle with the arches of their feet or turnout. If you are confronted about your weight, know that many talented dancers have been there. Having "the talk" doesn't mean you can't become a professional, but if you take a mindful approach to the conversation, it will show your maturity and ultimately your ability to navigate a career.

Has Something Changed?

If your teacher or director has approached you about your weight, you're likely left feeling emotional, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Once you have a chance to think clearly, ask yourself what factors, like puberty, may be contributing to changes in your body. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet, says, "There is this huge focus on weight and body at a time when even non-dancers are struggling with body issues and everything else that is happening as an adolescent."

External factors often play a role as well. PNB's consulting nutritionist, Peggy Swistak, says that she often sees dancers struggle with weight early in the season as they adjust to living on their own and sharing a kitchen with a roommate. "One may have really bad eating habits and doesn't have to watch her weight at all, and the other is gaining weight. There is a conflict in managing their food together," she says. Ballet Memphis ballet master Brian McSween adds that financial stress can create barriers for eating nutritiously. "The one-dollar piece of pizza costs a lot less than eating organic," he says. "You have to make the best choices possible with what you have." Other changes, like a new schedule, layoffs or even emotional setbacks, will present the need to reevaluate your food habits and exercise routines throughout your career.

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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.

Summer Study Advice
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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.

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Career
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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

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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!

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