New York City Ballet performs The Sleeping Beauty. The Kirov dedicates an evening to Balanchine and Robbins. The Royal Ballet keeps Wayne McGregor on contract as resident choreographer. In today’s globally integrated dance world, it’s no longer enough to find one style that suits you and stick with it. Ballet companies are trying to keep the attention of an audience that’s always looking for the next new thing—which means that 21st-century dancers are asked to do it all. “To be in a classical company you also have to be a contemporary dancer,” says Ashley Wheater, artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet.

But training yourself to shift from Swan Lake to Agon to In the Upper Room can be daunting—so what do you really need to know? An open mind is your greatest ally. “If your whole way of thinking and relating to the art form is to only do a certain kind of repertoire, it’s not going to go well for you,” says Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director Christopher Stowell. Familiarizing yourself with a few essential styles will take you a long way.

A Classical Core
The diversity of today’s rep doesn’t change the fact that you’re a ballet dancer; you need a strong foundation in classical technique. But whether you follow the Vaganova, Cecchetti or the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus doesn’t matter as much as you might think. What’s important is having a clean, adaptable movement style. You’re training to join a company, and a neutral base without affectations will give you the most professional options. The majority of today’s top academies create versatile dancers by teaching a hybrid of methods so dancers can easily pick up and switch between styles.


Although Balanchine is technically considered a classical technique, the classes train you to perform his neoclassical ballets, which are known for their elongated lines and exaggerated movements. Balanchine-trained dancers are celebrated for their speed and precision, as well as the ability to shift their weight quickly and cover space. Practicing his technique while you’re in school helps train your body to move faster, sharper, larger.    

“If a student hasn’t been exposed to Balanchine work by the time they’re intermediate or advanced, they’re really missing a critical element,” says Margaret Tracey, director of the Boston Ballet School. “I don’t know of any major company that isn’t doing his work.” While Tracey isn’t advocating that every dancer join the School of American Ballet, she feels all students should at least be acquainted with what she calls his “academically accessible variations,” such as those in Divertimento No. 15 and his version of Raymonda.

His neoclassical style also prepares you for contemporary work. After years dancing Balanchine ballets in New York City Ballet, Tracey found that learning Forsythe’s movement came naturally. “A lot of his choreography is about taking something and augmenting it, and that’s really what Balanchine did with the classical technique,” she says. “He stretched it and made it more interesting and gave it depth, and then Forsythe took it a step further.”

Graham & Cunningham
A classical dancer’s first steps into the world of modern dance can feel bewildering. But since Graham and Cunningham both created codified modern techniques with linear positions and structures that are similar to ballet, their classes provide less intimidating entry points. “There is a method, a syllabus and a curriculum that make sense to a person who has been trained in ballet, which has a method, a syllabus and a curriculum,” Stowell says.

Learning to work in parallel strengthens underused muscles and helps prevent injury. Graham’s focus on targeted inhales and exhales also helps classically-trained dancers incorporate breathing into their movement. Both choreographers’ use of contraction and off-balance tilts can strengthen your core in ways that ballet won’t. François Perron, who recently opened the French Academie of Ballet in New York City, where he trains dancers in the French style, hopes his students will learn from his mistakes. “For me personally as a dancer, it took me such a long time to really feel my core,” he says. “I didn’t want to take modern and in class I was not open-minded. I regret it.”

As a young dancer entering the professional world, you need to have a sense of perspective about your art form and where it’s going. Gaga, a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, has taken the dance world by storm. The technique pushes the boundaries of movement, and establishes an organic flow throughout the entire body. “Choreographers are very interested in dancers being open, improvisational and experimental,” says Stowell. Gaga develops these qualities by providing movement instruction with verbal cues and imagery rather than having dancers mimic a prepared set of steps. The philosophy can also be cathartic for ballet dancers—there are no mirrors, and no right or wrong, just movement.

Upon first seeing a Gaga class while teaching at Juilliard, Perron immediately recognized the potential benefits for ballet dancers. “It makes dancers aware that they can’t really move if they do only ballet,” he says. Recently he offered a Gaga class at the French Academie of Ballet. “It’s very hard for the ballet dancer to assimilate to, but even after an hour of class you can see them let go. In a way it’s an extreme control, but a completely different control than in ballet.” Perron also found that the dancers looked forward to the next class—not always an easy feat with a room full of bunheads.
There’s no way to create an exhaustive list of everything you should know before entering a professional ballet company. The best thing you can do is to seek out movement that feels foreign while maintaining your roots in classical technique. “You’re the brush, you’re the paint,” says Wheater, “and you need to be very open-minded to be the greatest artist that you can be.”

Earn College Credit Onstage

Dancers are often afraid that choosing college means giving up on a performing career. But London’s Central School of Ballet lets dancers earn a bachelor’s degree by performing. During the third and final year of its undergraduate program (which is open to Americans), students form a touring troupe called Ballet Central, and perform about 25 shows in 20 theaters around the UK. In the last few years, Matthew Bourne, Ashley Page, Helgi Tomasson and Richard Alston have all set pieces on the troupe.

Students earn a BA in professional dance and performance, validated by the affiliated University of Kent. Ballet Central artistic director William Glassman says that approximately 70 percent of alumni find professional dance jobs within a year of graduating. Members of last year’s class now perform with Ballet Boyz, Matthew Bourne, Scottish Ballet and Estonian National Ballet, among other companies.
Ninety percent of the program is held in the studio or onstage. “The course is designed to develop inquisitive performing artists,” says Glassman. Even before students’ last year, the school aims to improve their artistry by having them perform as often as possible. In addition to school concerts, students dance in outside events around London, such as the Critics’ Circle Awards. They also perform as extra dancers or supernumeraries for companies ranging from the English National Ballet to the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets. See for more information and audition dates.

Job Fair In Orlando

Wish you could skip the traditional audition tour and just have several directors watch you take a class? Check out the World Ballet Competition of Orlando. The annual event hosts a job fair—open to both competing and non-competing dancers—where hopefuls can take an onstage audition class in front of artistic staff members from several companies. Representatives from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, The Washington Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Orlando Ballet and BJM Danse Montréal have participated in past years. The class is also recorded and streamed online to additional directors who are unable to attend in person.
This year’s job fair will take place on June 2 at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. About 25 to 35 dancers will be chosen to participate via a preliminary DVD audition. The fee is $30. Applications are due by April 23. For more information, see

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.

Keep reading... Show less
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

Summer Study Advice

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.

Keep reading... Show less

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

Keep reading... Show less

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!

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less





Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox


Win It!