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It seems as if all dancers at major companies have gone to a year-round company school like SAB. Do I have a chance of a successful career without going away? —Hayley

Dancers take many different paths, so don’t get discouraged if leaving home isn’t an option. My parents wouldn’t let me move away when I was in high school, so I trained year-round at my local studio and only entered Milwaukee Ballet’s trainee program after graduating. And I’m doing just fine!

The advantage of going to a year-round conservatory or company school is that you can fully focus on your dance training. Company schools also give directors a chance to groom dancers in their particular style, so attending one can increase your chances of getting hired. “Artistic directors like when dancers have spent some time at their school because they get to know the dancers and see how they work with the company,” says Denise Bolstad, Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s administrative director.

Your career isn’t ruined if you can’t leave home at 15 or 16—it just might start a little later. Many companies offer preprofessional programs, like a trainee division or a second company, that last one to two years. Some dancers even go to college first (see “College Before Career?”, October/November 2010). “It’s okay if you’re 18 or 19. You’re not over the hill,” says Bolstad, who adds that several older students are enrolled in PNB School’s Professional Division. But do your research—some of the bigger companies only hire from within their schools. If you have your heart set on one of them, audition for the school’s summer course and inquire about age requirements for the year-round program.

The past three pairs of pointe shoes I’ve worn have given me bruised toenails. Is there something wrong with my technique? Or is there padding I can use to prevent this? —Sharon

It sounds like you need to investigate your shoes. If you’re constantly getting bruised toenails, you’re probably wearing the wrong size. Shoes that are too short or too narrow put added pressure on the toes. Or if your shoes are too wide, your toes will shift inside the box every time you relevé. I wore the wrong size shoe for a while, and the results were not pretty. I thought people were crazy when they suggested going narrower, but I haven’t had any major toenail problems since! Have a professional pointe shoe fitter take a look at your current shoes, and if they don’t fit, try different sizes and styles.

To help prevent further bruising, keep your nails trimmed on the shorter side, and experiment with different types of toe pads until you find a brand that protects your toes without adding too much pressure on the nails. Gel or foam toe caps, available in online dancewear stores, can help cushion bruised toenails. I’ve also applied an over-the-counter anesthetic (like Oragel or Anbesol) to the nail and surrounding skin for temporary pain relief. And keep your toenails clean to avoid infection; if redness and swelling develops, see your doctor.

My teachers are always telling me to use more épaulement, but I feel weird overdoing it. What if I accidentally do too much and look stupid? How do I know when it’s enough? —Aria

Trust me—if your teachers have to remind you regularly to use your épaulement, you’re not “overdoing” anything. Our épaulement, or upper-body expression, is just as important as our legs and feet—it’s the heart and soul of our dancing, our personal signature. It’s what gives Giselle her fragile lyricism and Kitri her feisty flair. Otherwise we’re just executing steps. By withholding your épaulement, you’re withholding your artistry and only dancing at half your capacity.

Try to break through your self-consciousness by practicing your épaulement in front of the mirror at home. Once you reach a position, go for more—grow taller, reach your arms further, stretch your neck and focus your eyes. Notice how much more confident and alive you look. In the studio, try not worry about what your classmates think; if anything, they’ll agree that your dancing has improved. And if you accidentally use too much épaulement, so what? You’ll find that it’s much easier to pull back than to dig deeper.


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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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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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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Pointe Stars
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.

Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

Let Curiosity Be Your Guide

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