Your training can give you more than a good foundation. It can shape your goals as well. So what should a serious ballet student consider in a preprofessional program? In this year’s Training Issue, we explore one of the toughest choices—whether to dedicate yourself to learning a single technique or opt for a curriculum that exposes you to a broad range. In “The Style Debate,” p. 31, teachers at leading programs discuss the pros and cons of each approach.
You may think your goal has been achieved when you land a company apprenticeship—typically training’s final step—but often the story doesn’t end there. “The Ones Not Chosen,” p. 66, looks at the heartbreak three now-successful dancers faced when their apprenticeships didn’t lead to a position in the corps.
Yet even more fundamental than training is the body that you train. Dancers obsess endlessly about their weight, their feet (see “Bad Feet?” on p. 52) and their height. And lately, the debate about what makes an attractive ballet body has been front and center, thanks to a controversial review by New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay. We asked top dancers and artistic directors in “Too Fat? Too Thin? Too Tall? Too Short?” (p. 40) how they feel body type affects casting and careers. Their answers are frank and eye-opening.
A word to the wise here. Long ago I was lucky enough to see Natalia Makarova perform Romeo and Juliet with American Ballet Theatre. From her innocent entrance to her heartbreaking suicide, I don’t think I even breathed. After endless ovations, they had to lower the fire curtain to make the audience to go home. Today the petite legend might be deemed too short for some of her most famous roles, like Swan Lake. What the ballet world might have lost by that!
Our cover ballerina, Melissa Hough, has had her share of body issues. “I struggled with being a little heavy in my late teens,” she admits. Yet Hough has found her comfort zone as her career has taken off. Read about her bold decision to go from Boston Ballet principal to Houston Ballet soloist in “A Daring Move,” p. 24.
It reflects her hard-won perspective on her body and talent. “When’s the last time you heard someone say, ‘I was so moved by her perfectly arched feet’?” Hough asks. “When I think about the most inspiring dancers, their bodies alone have never been what moved me. It’s what they’ve done with their bodies.” That’s the hardest lesson, but it may be the most important one to learn.
Working With It:
Soloist, Houston Ballet
“I’m a muscular dancer. It’s great to do Pilates, Gyrotonic and yoga because they can educate you about your body, and help you see it from a different perspective. I’ve learned a lot from them. You have to know your own dancing and believe in it. Know your strengths and your weaknesses, and work on your weaknesses until they become your strengths. And remember, you’re striving to become an artist.”
Principal, Boston Ballet
“I never feel small. For me, it’s about how I approach a role. Of course, speed and jumping come easily for me. And for a while I only got those kinds of parts. I used to say to myself, ‘Why do I always have to be the fast one? When can I have something slow and luxurious?’ Now I get to do Giselle and Romeo and Juliet, which have wonderful slow pas de deux. I am so happy to dance those roles. Do you think anyone cares how tall Giselle is? It’s about how I open myself to the role. Can I transport an audience? That’s what matters.”