The summer I turned 16, my head swirled with "what ifs" as I counted down the days until the start of the Chautauqua intensive. I'd attended the program four years earlier, and the experience had been a harrowing one—my first lesson in the competitive nature of ballet. Leaving the temperate waters of my little pond, I'd found myself a very small, uncoordinated fish in a pool deep with talent. Now, I was going back to test myself again, this time in Chautauqua's top level. Would I be as good as the other dancers? Would the teachers like me? Would I make friends?

Summer intensives are aptly titled. Their extreme demands can cause anxiety, nerves, jealousy and stress. But put down the question marks! Don't let a negative state of mind keep you from soaking up everything your summer has to offer.



I Want to Be Asked to Stay for the Year-Round Program
As dancers, we set lofty goals: getting into the School of American Ballet, becoming a principal at American Ballet Theatre, being on the cover of Pointe! These are what Dr. Charlie Brown, a retired sports psychologist who has consulted with dancers from Charlotte Ballet, calls "outcome goals." While they're important (they're the stuff dreams are made of), you can't measure yourself by these lengths alone. "More than anything else, a person's confidence is based on how well they achieve their goals," says Brown. Your goals shouldn't only be things that are out of your control—like getting selected to stay for the year-round program

A better idea is to create "performance goals," such as consistently nailing triple pirouettes. These goals are more attainable and suited to your immediate abilities. But they can still be problematic, since obstacles like an injury or a slippery floor could prevent success. The best strategy is to make "process goals." For example, instead of focusing on nailing triples, hold yourself accountable for executing the correction the teacher gave you the day before. After all, such corrections will help improve your turns, and showing you listen could land you a year-round spot.


I'm Afraid the Other Dancers Will Be Better Than Me
Ever heard the phrase "It's all in your head"? In this case, it really is. "Stress is one of these things that you cause yourself," says Dr. Alan Goldberg, a sports psychology consultant who works with junior to Olympic-level athletes. According to Goldberg, the high-caliber dancers aren't making you nervous; they're just giving you more opportunities to feel that way. "What makes us nervous is how we react to the circumstances," he says.

Some of the other dancers might be more advanced than you. But focusing on their talent will only deplete your confidence and cause anxiety. Make a list of your worries and cross off anything that is out of your power (what level you'll be in, if your feet won't be as good as your peers'). Focus on the things you will be able to control (getting a proper warm-up, taking all corrections as your own). And remind yourself that you were selected for the program because you deserve to be there.



What if I Don't Make Friends?

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member JoAnna Schmidt was always afraid of being a loner. But, she says, "Remember that everybody is in the same boat: They may not display it, but they're all nervous." Don't be afraid to sit with someone you don't know at lunch; they'll most likely be relieved that you did.

Being in competition with would-be friends can also be a barrier. But being friendly with your rivals is something every dancer needs to learn to do. "If you're comfortable with the people you're dancing with, it's easier to grow together as opposed to just looking at each other as competition and nothing more," Schmidt says. "It's the same way in a company."



Summer students at The Rock School for Dance Education. Photo by Tiffany Yoon, Courtesy The Rock School.


I'm Nervous to Leave Home
Just as you're most anxious to perform while waiting in the wings, the time leading up to your departure can be the most nerve-racking. Before leaving home, eliminate some of the stress by writing down a list of exactly what you want to accomplish during your summer intensive. It will help you to prioritize and keep your focus on what is essential. "One of the first things that happens under stress is that your memory starts going," Brown says. "If you write things down, you just took away one of your demands because you don't have to remember everything."

Next, Brown says, gather your resources for the trip. Bring a few things that comfort you: a blanket your mother made, a photo of friends. Pack nutritious snacks so that you won't have to look for healthy food options when you're overwhelmed. "Make plans for regular contact with your support system," he advises. Schedule a recurring Skype date with a friend or set up times to talk to your family on the phone. Once you arrive, scope out a quiet place where you can be alone when you want to be.

For me, that second summer at Chautauqua was one of the most fulfilling times of my dancing life—I knew that I deserved to be there. When I wasn't cast as Aurora in the final performance of The Sleeping Beauty, I felt a little rattle of doubt. But then, on a sunny afternoon in July, I had the opportunity to rehearse my role as the Lilac Fairy alone in a studio with Patricia McBride, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Violette Verdy—an absolutely spectacular time to be dancing in the moment.


Keep In Mind:

  • The level you're in doesn't matter as much as how you shine where you're placed. Your teachers work with lots of students in multiple levels. You'll stand out if you're at the top of your class.
  • You might go to the wrong program, and that's okay. Without summer intensives, we would set our sights on a school where we wouldn't feel appreciated or take a contract with a company in a city we'd hate.
  • If a fellow dancer is unkind to you, it reflects badly on them, not you. Not everyone deals with competition well. If another student is particularly rude to you, it's probably because she knows you're good. Use her attitude as a challenge to get even better.

This updated article first appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of Pointe.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Your Best Body
Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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Pointe Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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Pointe Stars
Vladislav Lantritov and Ekaterina Krysanova in "Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

If you haven't checked your local movie listings yet for this weekend, hop to it. The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series and Fathom Events is broadcasting a performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew to theaters nationwide on Sunday, November 19. (To see if it's playing near you and to purchase tickets, click here.) While the rest of the Bolshoi's cinema season features 19th- and 20th-century classics, The Taming of the Shrew gives audiences a chance to see the revered Moscow company in a thoroughly modern, 21st-century take on Shakespeare's famous play.

Aside from a limited run in New York City this July, American audiences have had little exposure to Maillot's 2014 production. To learn more, check out these two exclusive, behind-the-scenes webisodes below. Principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova, who stars as the hotheaded Katharina, gives an intimate play-by-play of two major scenes in Act I. The first is her fiery rejection of three potential suitors (who all would prefer to marry Katharina's younger sister Bianca).

The second scene breaks down Katharina's first encounter with Petruchio (danced by the larger-than-life Vladislav Lantritov), the only man who seems to be able to challenge her. Here, too, we see the shrew's heart start to soften. (Don't miss her time-stopping attitude turn at 4:27.)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series continues through June; for more details on upcoming screenings, click here.

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Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.


The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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