Pointe Stars

Dance Theatre of Harlem's Ingrid Silva: On Top of Her Game

Ingrid Silva. Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers.

Thumb through Ingrid Silva's Instagram and you'll see plenty of beautiful professional photos of her dancing. But her profile feels much less curated than what's usually found online. She's hanging out with her brindle- coat French bulldog, Frida Kahlo. Or she's working with the outreach program Brown Girls Do Ballet. Or she's rehearsing at Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she's been dancing since 2008, leotard and tights on, Afro out. It's the perfect portrait of a modern-day ballerina.


Silva, who is 28, has an impressive 47,000 followers. Many of them com- ment with the usual compliments about her line—her hyperextended legs and beautifully arched feet. But dancers, and even dance moms, regularly drop in to ask for advice. "Can I please ask how you dye your pointe shoes and with what... for my babygirl who has started ballet too," asks one follower. "Please DM and I will explain," replies Silva, with a smiley face.


Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers

You could argue that a dancer's social media popularity is trivial to her work. And though it definitely doesn't define Silva's, it's been essential to her career. As she's established herself as a leading dancer at DTH, she's also begun to make a big name for herself outside the company. She's represented brands like Capezio, TNT Energy Drink and, most recently, ACTIVIA yogurt, all without the help of a publicist. Meanwhile, she has come into her own as an artist, taking on a range of rep at DTH and becoming one of its most visible members.


The Road to DTH

Social media fame and campaign ads sound glamorous. But Silva's life grow-ing up wasn't so sparkly. Her family lived near a favela, or an urban slum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her parents—her mother is a maid, her father retired from the air force—encouraged her to keep busy with sports like soccer, basketball and gymnastics. She found ballet at 8, after a neighbor suggested she try classes through a community-outreach program. It clicked. After a few years, she was training at Dançando Para Não Dançar and then the school of Rio's prestigious Teatro Municipal, as well as with Brazilian contemporary dancers Deborah Colker and Pedro Pederneiras.

As Silva flourished in ballet, she realized there were few pro- fessional opportunities for black dancers in Brazil. She says it left her no choice but to find strength in the daily process of technique class and rehearsal. "I didn't have anyone to look up to," says Silva, "so I've always been inspired by the dance journey itself."

At the encouragement of her teachers, Silva auditioned to train with Dance Theatre of Harlem (through videotape), and at age 18 moved to New York City. It was the first time she had set foot outside of Brazil, and she didn't speak English (though you would never guess it now). "I was afraid," says Silva's mother, Maureny dos Santos Oliveira, about letting her move to New York. "But I had no doubt that this was her shot and she could not miss it."

Yet as foreign as it all was for Silva, it also felt right. "As soon as I stepped into the building I was like, 'Wow, there are so many people that look like me.' I felt at home. I felt like I found myself," she says.

Silva excelled. Within two months, she was asked by founder Arthur Mitchell to join DTH Ensemble, the junior company that performed during the professional company's hiatus, and became a member of DTH when it was reborn in 2012.


Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers


A Blossoming Career

It's a winter afternoon at the Dance Theatre of Harlem studios, and Silva is rehearsing Swan Lake's Black Swan variation and coda. It's been years since she's taken on a classical role—her rep consists of more contemporary works like Donald Byrd's Contested Space and Dianne McIntyre's Change. Yet she approaches it with mea- sured footing and quiet confidence, attacking fouettés and jumps with technical prowess and vigor. "It's very exciting to be able to use her power when you're partnering," says Silva's regular part- ner, Dylan Santos. "She's so strong, she makes everything work."

Today, though, she could use a little more bravura. "You have to enter and arrive at sous-sus like this is your stage. You own it," urges artistic director Virginia Johnson in a coaching session. During a break, Silva practices stepping up into fifth position over and over. It's not quite there yet. Her eyebrows furrow together in dissatisfaction as she paces around, letting the correction linger.

"Most striking about Ingrid is her determination and focus, her hunger to knuckle down and put her full concentration on what's needed," says Johnson. "Dance is partly a God-given talent. But it's also about having a vision to make something magical hap- pen. And Ingrid certainly has that quality."

Silva attributes her success to hard work and the balance of having a normal life outside of dance. She spends her off time hanging out with her husband, a fellow Brazilian she met in New York. They hike (with their dog in a backpack), go to the movies and cook Brazilian food. "I think that's why my Instagram is so popular," she says. "This is who I am. I'm a person, too. People aren't per- fect—if you're going to have ice cream, post it!" Johnson echoes: "Ingrid is a 21st-century ballerina. She's a real human being and there's an honesty there. She's not here to seek fame."


Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers

Johnson is right—Silva is humble, even on social media. She says her goal is simple: to connect with audiences everywhere DTH travels. "I never imagined I'd ever be anyone's role model. But I'm honored to be able to inspire others," she says. "When I was young, I never saw anyone that looked like me. But with social media it's easier for people to be inspired."

Though Silva has achieved her dream of dancing Black Swan, she would like to take on more classical repertoire in the future. She also hopes that her mom, who hasn't seen her perform since she left Brazil, will someday be able to come to the U.S. to watch her dance. Silva plans to continue to call DTH her home, but is interested in guesting with other companies (she's already worked with Armitage GONE! Dance, as well as groups in Brazil). She also wants to pursue a psychology degree and use it to coun- sel dancers. And eventually, she hopes to return to Brazil to start a school, similar to the one she started at.

But for now, DTH seems to be Silva's perfect fit, not just because of its diverse repertoire, but because the message the company sends is very much in line with her own ethos. More than a ballet company, she says, "it's an elegant example of what is possible when an inclusive approach to art thrives."

popular
via YouTube

It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

Keep reading... Show less

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
Videos
Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Career
Photo Courtesy Barry Kerollis.

I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.

"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

Keep reading at dance-teacher.com.

Your Career
Erica Lall and Shaakir Muhammad in class at American Ballet Theatre's 2013 New York Summer Intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Pointe.

When Pacific Northwest Ballet School student Madison Abeo was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School's summer session on a partial scholarship, she was thrilled. But then she added up the remaining cost for the program and realized she didn't have the funds. “I really wanted to go," she says, “but we just couldn't make the other half of it work."

Ballet training is expensive. For many families, a trip to a dream summer intensive simply isn't in the budget. SFB was $2,500 out of Abeo's reach. But she was determined. At the suggestion of her aunt, Abeo created a Facebook fan page where she asked for opportunities to babysit or perform odd jobs, and included a link to a PayPal account where friends and family could make donations. Two local dancewear businesses, Vala Dancewear and Class Act Tutu, offered to outfit her for fundraising photos, which a photographer took for her Facebook page for free. By June, Abeo had raised enough for tuition—plus plenty of pointe shoes.

Affording your dream intensive isn't as difficult as you might think. There are a surprising number of eager dance supporters out there. Case in point: On Kickstarter, dance projects have the highest success rate of any type of campaign, with dancers receiving over $4 million in donations through the site since it began. You can also apply for need- or merit-based grants and scholarships, either through your summer program or an outside foundation. Most dancers who want it badly enough can make it happen.


Madison Abeo with other Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the 2013 School Performance of an excerpt from "Serenade," choreography by George Balanchine. Photo by Rex Tranter, Courtesy Abeo.

Take Your Cause to the (Online) Streets

Keep reading... Show less
Your Career
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.

DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally

An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."

Keep reading... Show less
Your Best Body
Mikayla Scaife of The Ailey School's Professional Division. All photos by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

Whether you're being lifted in The Nutcracker's grand pas de deux or doing weight-sharing in contemporary choreography, female ballet dancers can't expect their partner to do all the work. "Strength with stability is a hallmark," says Rebecca Kesting, staff physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. The other person is usually moving too, she says, so you need to be able to use your upper-body strength to find stability.

Kesting recommends these three exercises, which imitate pressing into a partner. If you're just starting to build upper-body strength, practice them four days a week to develop your shoulder stabilizers and upper-back muscles. Later on, you can scale back to two or three times weekly for maintenance.

You'll need:

  • an inflatable ball you can hold in your hand (like a kickball or smaller)
  • a foam roller


Side Plank with Port de Bras

Regular and side planks strengthen the shoulder stabilizers, like the serratus anterior, along with the abdominals. Once you've mastered these basic forms, Kesting recommends a side plank with moving port de bras. Play with your own pattern, like first to fifth to second, and then reverse. "You get the stability of pressing away from the ground as you would through a partner," she says. "And you're adding that dance-specific movement."


Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!