Photo by Nathan Sayers

Visit a New York City Ballet rehearsal on any given day and you may find an unlikely guest named Theo, a 3-year-old Shiba Inu with wolf-like eyes and a teddy bear coat who has become something of an NYCB mascot. He tends to sit patiently off to the side, lost in his own thoughts, while his owner, the captivating 24-year-old soloist Taylor Stanley, concentrates in the center of the studio, displaying his usual discipline and quiet focus.

“I bring him everywhere I go,” says Stanley. And like his canine companion, Stanley is a popular presence. “He brings a ray of sunshine into our workspace,” says fellow soloist Erica Pereira. “He’s a very good person on the inside and people feed off of good energy.” But that cool demeanor belies a high-voltage internal spark. “When he dances he eats up the stage,” says principal Robert Fairchild. Indeed it’s Stanley’s unique ability to combine power and passion with ease and humility that has made him a magnetic presence onstage and one of the company’s breakout talents.

Stanley’s rise at NYCB has been remarkable: After a year at the School of American Ballet, he became an apprentice in 2009, a corps member in 2010 and a soloist by 2013. In that time, he has proven himself in both romantic roles (dancing Romeo while still in the corps) and the neoclassical works of George Balanchine. But Stanley has also distinguished himself as one of the most sought-after collaborators in new creations, developing a particularly fruitful artistic bond with NYCB’s new resident choreographer, Justin Peck.

in Justin Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, photo by Paul Kolnik

Stanley’s journey began in Philadelphia, where a performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet inspired him to attend his first ballet class at age 3. “I was terrified because it was me and all these girls,” he says with a laugh. But he was unleashed, too. “I loved moving around and being crazy and free.” His early training at The Rock School for Dance Education’s west branch also included tap, jazz and hip hop; for a while, he entertained fantasies of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a commercial career (dream gig: Missy Elliott). But a summer intensive with the Miami City Ballet School at age 15 introduced him to the broader world of ballet. “I was drawn to the professional side of it,” he says—and specifically to the challenging work of George Balanchine.

The decision to focus on ballet was pivotal, both for his training, and for his personal development. “I had to sacrifice the jazz and all the other styles that I felt more comfortable in,” he says. Pursuing a professional path required a leap of faith. But he found support from his teachers, like former Rock School faculty member Jennifer Wheat, and his parents, whom he calls his biggest advocates. “I needed the encouragement not to fear change or growth.”

At 17, drawn to the rigorous training provided at the School of American Ballet and the allure of Balanchine’s entire ballet library, Stanley enrolled in SAB’s summer program and was asked to stay for the year. Following a bravura turn in Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes at the school’s year-end workshop, he was offered an apprenticeship with the company.

As an apprentice, he originated a role in Benjamin Millepied’s Why am I not where you are, and was tossed last minute into a performance of Jerome Robbins’ N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, where he excelled, drawing on his earlier jazz training. That string of opportunities proved he was ready for more, and soon ballet master in chief Peter Martins cast him as the lead in his Romeo + Juliet.

In Jerome Robbins' N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, photo by Paul Kolnik

For Pereira, who danced opposite him as Juliet, his good energy in class suddenly wasn’t enough—she had to feel secure in his arms, too. Turns out, this is one of Stanley’s strengths. “I never have to worry,” she says. “It’s rare and it’s really special when you come across a partner that’s willing to make it work for the girl.”

Yet even while partnering, Stanley maintains a sense of individuality. Other men may look down at their partner’s waist with stern concentration, but Stanley remains alive in the moment, projecting to the balconies. And when dancing solo, he effortlessly mixes precision with grandeur—a regal presence that’s lit from within.

It’s a combination that makes him something of a muse for choreographers, including Martins, his colleague Troy Schumacher (Stanley dances in his contemporary side project, BalletCollective) and Peck, who has cast him in each of his works for NYCB, including two upcoming premieres. “He’s the most accurate interpreter of my movement style,” Peck says. He cites Stanley’s strong work ethic, lightning-quick learning and smart musicality as reasons why he’s such an invaluable contributor to the creative process.

“Taylor can be shy, but he feels comfortable enough to let his guard down in my work,” says Peck, who notes that Stanley, who had a featured role in last year’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, “really acted with his soul in the piece.” The feeling is mutual. “Justin allows you to find yourself,” Stanley says. “I don’t have to be anything else but me, and that feels nice.”

In Balanchine's Square Dance, a signature role. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Stanley’s true self can be tucked away during working hours, but ballet master Kathleen Tracey says there’s a goofiness that comes out occasionally. More often, he’s intensely focused, which his colleagues say is both a factor in his success, and sometimes a challenge. “He’s very modest, and he can be self-deprecating,” says Tracey, sometimes to the point of being too self-critical. Pereira agrees. “It’s hard for me to watch him beat himself up sometimes,” she says. “I’ve stopped him a few times and told him, ‘Don’t worry about the small things, don’t show it.’ ” Both say that he has taken those suggestions to heart over the years and has become a more mature and confident performer. “He dances for himself now,” says Pereira.

Stanley acknowledges the long process of getting to that point, crediting one role in particular with helping him face those challenges: the lead in Balanchine’s Square Dance, where he finds strength in the introspection and contemplativeness of the male solo. “That was my catalyst,” he says. “Letting go of the fear and waking up the soul and exuding something that’s bigger than me.” It has since become one of his signature roles.

Stanley says that while he thinks about becoming a principal, “I’m content with who I am and my journey so far. And I have other artistic endeavors that I would like to have a shot at.” Extracurricular activities scratch that itch, whether dancing with BalletCollective, attending a Nederlands Dans Theater intensive this summer, taking Gaga classes or pursuing a BA in liberal arts through St. Mary’s College of California LEAP program. He’s also ready for more challenges on the Lincoln Center stage—creating new work with Peck and getting a crack at more of Balanchine’s black-and-white ballets, including his dream role, Apollo. It’s a full load, but Stanley seems almost incapable of keeping his curiosity in check.

Brian Schaefer writes on dance for The New York Times.

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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.

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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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Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

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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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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