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In Defense of Patience

When I was about 10, I auditioned for New York City Ballet, to be in their Harlequinade. I got to the final round and then wasn’t selected. Of course I was disappointed, but my mother just said, “Julie, your time will come.” And I think understanding that is a part of growing up.

As a young dancer, you’re wondering what your life is going to be. Especially as you become a teenager, people are asking you “What are you going to do?” and you’re asking yourself the same thing. The reality is, it’s a beautiful unknown. It’s an exquisite mystery. You have to embrace that and understand that you don’t know—nobody knows—and as soon as a decision’s made, whether it’s an audition or an acceptance letter from a university or a job that you land, the work begins in a whole different way.

When I talked to young people at American Ballet Theatre’s summer program when I was teaching, I liked to start conversations about the artist’s pursuit. What I love so much about being a dancer is that every day, all of us start in first position, and we build on what we’ve accomplished the hour before, the week before, the year before, the performance before. We’re in a constant pursuit of beauty, musicality, clarity, specificity, power, delicacy—you can fill in the blanks endlessly. And if you embrace the notion that it is an endless pursuit, you eliminate a lot of frustration. It’s not that what you did the day before wasn’t good enough. It’s that you’re building on it and you’re always moving forward.

Julie Kent working with students at ABT (photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT)

In the summer program, I said, “Don’t try to accomplish in one week what you have five weeks to do.” You need to find your goal and make a logical trajectory to achieving it. Every day you’re making progress. Some days you might make giant leaps of understanding, some days it might be baby steps, some days maybe your feet don’t move at all, but in your mind you’re looking forward. It’s still progress.

Mikhail Baryshnikov gave a commencement speech a couple of years ago. He said, “In my opinion, ‘better’ is something more interesting than ‘best.’ ” Having watched him as a young dancer for five very formative years, I saw in him very clearly that pursuit. He was and arguably still is the greatest star in our art form, but he was always a servant to his art, always looking for more sophistication or clarity.

When I was a young dancer, there was no internet and no cell phone communication. There was less pressure and less distraction. Now, there’s such demand to have a high social profile on Facebook or Instagram, to be tweeting, to be Snapchatting—whatever is the thing of the moment. But with social media, you have to keep in mind that nobody’s going to post a picture of what they really look like at every single moment of the day. What you post are the beautiful shots—it’s publicity. It’s images of dancing; it’s not really dance. And so it has very little to do with the process of dancing. The work is still the work, and at the end of the day, the work is what you have left, and is both your labor and your reward.

The heart of it is the intention. The stage is a great revealer—it’s hard to cover your intentions when you’re performing, because you’re revealed for who you are. If you want to be a star, then you should set about ways to become a star. And that’s a whole different thing than becoming a dancer. Wanting to embrace a lifelong pursuit of an art form is different than wanting 300,000 followers on Instagram. You can do both, but the work should speak for itself, and it will reward you with something that is irreplaceable, and far deeper and longer-lasting than if you’re just pursuing fame.

There are a lot of wonderful role models today. Look at Stella Abrera—talk about patience and perseverance. Her focus was not solely on becoming a principal dancer, but was a bigger commitment to delivering excellence in every performance. There’s nobody with a more stellar work ethic, which along with her talent, patience and focus, propelled her promotion. Isabella Boylston is very vibrant on social media, but she’s also committed to being a well-rounded dancer and ballerina. Marcelo Gomes is so much about the work, but he’s also very much a star.

When I auditioned for ABT and Baryshnikov offered me an apprentice contract, I thought, Wow, this is happening, and when he offered me my full contract in the corps, that was it. But until that moment, I didn’t know that I was going to have this career. I was a ballet student who loved it and was doing well. I was managing my academics and my ballet studies, my mom driving me to ballet class—just like so many other young dancers. And then that moment came and really changed the direction of my life.

You don’t become a ballerina in one show or one season or one week. It’s a journey. You work towards the goal and the harder you work, the bar raises. And then over a period of time, you’re able to look back to see where you came from.

Working hard, being disciplined and focused, loving what you do—all these things that are a natural part of being a dancer—will equip you with the tools to make a contribution to the world and be successful. Do you want to dance? At the end of the day, that’s what it is. Get to the heart of what your work as a dancer means to you and then start pursuing it. 

New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the StageChagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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Danny Rivera (left) is one of six students from San Juan who the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is hoping to relocate so he can continue his training. Photo by Soho Images, Courtesy SCBS.


Many of us take our ballet training for granted. But for dancers living in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastating affects of last month's Hurricane Maria, pursuing a ballet career or simply taking class must now feel insurmountable. What do you do when Mother Nature not only destroys your dance studio, but your home and the majority of the city you live in? Priorities must shift to those of basic survival.

Now, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is trying to help six Puerto Rican dancers resume their training. The students, whose studio in San Juan was badly damaged, had recently attended SCBS's summer intensive. School directors Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez have started a fundraising effort called "Sarasota And Puerto Rico Dance Together" to temporarily relocate the dancers. While they can easily offer them scholarships, Serrano and Hernandez must raise an additional $36,000 to provide housing, food and living expenses for one year. (SCBS has a dormitory for female students, but not for male students.)

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Videos
Photo by Nisian Hughes

Transform your next black-and-white tutu look with these on-trend details like mesh cutouts and lace sleeves. And checkout the behind-the-scenes footage from our tutu shoot, below.

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