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!

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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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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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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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.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.


Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

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