No role defines classical ballet more than Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. She embodies both youthful innocence and elegant majesty. Although cursed to sleep for eternity, Aurora has an inner radiance that proves too strong for the evil spell. Prince Désiré’s saving kiss—the symbol of true love—awakens the princess from her slumber and marks her initiation into womanhood. Her Act III wedding variation conveys both her love for Désiré and her newfound maturity, and it must be danced with the technical assurance expected of royalty.
Strong Delicacy 
“The character of Aurora is so sweet and pure,” says Anna-Marie Holmes, The School at Jacob’s Pillow’s ballet program director. Holmes was coached in the role by Russian greats Natalia Dudinskaya and Bronislava Nijinska, and has staged Sleeping Beauty at companies around the world. “It’s very delicate dancing, but very precise.” The variation should look light and effortless, but to achieve that, there must be substantial power behind the dancer’s movement. “You need strong technique—and a very strong center.”


Create the illusion of daintiness with Aurora’s noble épaulement and port de bras. “Hold the arms strong from the little wings in your back, and never let go of your core,” says Holmes, stressing that your arms should always transition through first position. Sleeping Beauty was originally choreographed in 1890, so the port de bras style must be unembellished to reflect that time. “This is Petipa choreography,” says Holmes. “Keep the elbows held, not collapsed.”

From Smooth to Staccato
As the variation progresses, you have to shift both your energy and the tempo. Early on, Aurora performs a series of smooth piqué arabesques traveling backward on the diagonal. The challenge is to stay in control and on your leg throughout the sequence, looking as though you could balance a glass of water on your head. “Keep your body very square with the supporting heel forward on pointe,” says Holmes. “Never let the standing leg turn in.” From the last arabesque, immediately close fifth to prepare for a series of bright sissones. While the pliés should be controlled between jumps, try not to get bogged down. “Think up and light, not down and heavy,” says Holmes.


The variation begins to accelerate toward the manége at the end. The final turns are a balancing act between speed and control. “The turns should be calm and rounded, not rushed or circusy looking,” says Holmes. “But on the développé à la secondes, the leg should get to its height immediately.” For the piqué and soutenu turns at the end, think of staying compact to avoid spinning out. “The feet should be quick—keep the turns tight and precise.”

Weightless Walks On Pointe
The series of walks on pointe, in which Aurora luxuriously pas de chevals her foot while simultaneously circling her arms and wrists, is perhaps the variation’s most memorable moment. But coordinating the arms and feet can be a bit like rubbing your stomach while patting your head. “Dancers often get very stiff here,” says Holmes. “They have to feel the movement and coordinate it.” For the upper body, Holmes stresses that the port de bras has a very specific path. “The arms come up to fifth, open and come down. You can’t just improvise any position you want. Think of very rounded and full, circular movements from below the elbow, not short and jerky.”


Below the tutu, Holmes emphasizes having a feeling of weightlessness in the feet. “When you walk on pointe, try not to slam your foot on the floor. Have a mental image of walking on eggshells or glass,” she says. “We should hear no sound.”

Find Your Inner beauty
Sleeping Beauty is a coming-of-age story. We watch Aurora grow up before our eyes, and the Act III variation should reflect her emotional development. “She grows from a sweet girl to a lovely young woman,” says Holmes. “She shouldn’t have a 16-year-old’s expression on her face anymore. She should be calm and beautiful, as if glowing on the inside.”


Aurora is now also very much in love and celebrating her wedding day. But always remember her royal background—think more aristocratic reserve than unbridled passion. “Aurora is not a peasant girl like Giselle,” says Holmes. “She is of noble birth.” Her choreography is classical ballet at its most pure.

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.


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.

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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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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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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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