Devin Alberda in
George Balanchine's Agon (photo by Paul Kolnik)

You can thank Kanye West, in part, for inspiring New York City Ballet corps member Devin Alberda to pursue his budding passion for photography beyond Facebook profile pics. It was during the Yeezus Tour that West, whom Alberda calls “a real role model of mine," gave a sermon about believing in your vision. “That's when I decided maybe I could do more than I thought with the photos," says Alberda.

Not long after, a photography editor at The New York Times, who had discovered Alberda's impressive Instagram feed, approached him to publish a spread of photos in the paper—a major vote of confidence for the mostly self-taught shutterbug. “It's been really cool to have people believe in the work I do," he says.

Alberda, 29, calls photography a form of “identity expression," a way to engage thoughtfully with the intense, insular and high-pressure world of an elite ballet company. His spread in the Times depicted the focused and playful backstage life of his fellow company members, capturing the quiet moments, secret smiles and personal preparations. But first and foremost, Alberda is a dancer, part of the NYCB family.

He almost wasn't. After growing up in Ohio and training at the School of Cleveland Ballet, Alberda was accepted to The Juilliard School, where he planned to study a variety of dance styles. But the summer before classes began, he was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer program. He was then invited to stay for the year, which turned into an apprenticeship with the company and a corps position in 2006.

Since then, he has had the opportunity to taste from the broad spectrum of NYCB's repertoire. Prized experiences include George Balanchine's avant-garde Episodes, Wayne McGregor's quick and spiky Outlier and Justin Peck's In Creases.

Alberda has also dabbled in choreography, recently creating a solo called Individuate, inspired by, among other things, the dark sci-fi film Ex Machina. “I've always been interested in how technology might lead us to a different stage of humanity," he says.

That kind of existential questioning and the thrill of poking around in shadowy places informs Alberda's recent photography, which is mostly black-and-white, like an X-ray. “I'm a documentary photographer," he says. “I try to find beautiful images as they happen."

Others beyond the ballet world are taking note: The publicist of Hollywood producer Scott Rudin requested Alberda's photographic services at rehearsals of his upcoming Broadway musical Shuffle Along, which Alberda has found fun and fulfilling.

Despite such opportunities to flex another creative muscle, in some ways it seems photography is a placeholder for the autonomy and exploration Alberda craves as a dancer. “I'd like to find myself dancing roles where I can express myself more readily," he says. “There's something that changes when you get to make decisions as a soloist. I'd like to be given more of those opportunities."

Fun Facts

Music inspiration: Alberda loves hip hop. “I'm obsessed with Future this year," he says. “He's kind of a beast."

Photo tools: His Instagram photos are shot on an iPhone 5 or 6, but he recently got a new camera—a Leica MP. “I'm really excited about it," he says.

Favorite author: Science fiction writer Samuel R. Delaney. “He imagines a world that is a little freer of the constraints of identity politics."

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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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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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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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