Walks and runs may seem like the simplest moments you have onstage. But the way a dancer steps reveals so much about their interpretation of a role: what they’re thinking, what their motives are, what their backstory has dictated. It’s often the first impression a performer makes onstage and, many times, the last. Four dancers told Pointe about how these basic movements inform some of their signature roles.

National Ballet of Canada

Role: Albrecht in Giselle
Just walking establishes who Albrecht is: an aristocrat pretending to be a peasant. You need to have a different demeanor from everyone else. If you do that, the audience subconsciously understands a little more about who you are. I imagine myself as Erik Bruhn—he was the ultimate prince onstage. He was perfection because he did so little: He pulled up in the middle, and was very precise with the way his feet touched the floor, always aware of his line and his demeanor.

When I worked with Marcelo Gomes on Albrecht, he told me that you have to indicate that you’re not really going to Giselle. She’s definitely the one coming to you, she’s the one who is more attached and in love. You take your time. You walk and stop, walk and stop. You know what you’re doing to her and you know how to do it. You’ve done it before.

In the second act when Albrecht enters with the lilies, he’s in a daze, this empty zone where the guilt is so intense that he can’t process anything. That first walk is incredibly articulate in the lower body, but the upper body is so heavy; the whole weight of the world is on his shoulders.

Later, when running away from the wilis, the hard part is that you still have to look like a prince. I try to push my feet and especially the insides of my heels forward, so they don’t drag behind me like I’m skating. I also think of pulling my stomach in, so that my abs and my lats are initiating the run—my upper body and my chest and my intention are taking me there. Running like that should be triggered by emotion, but crafted for aesthetics.

American Ballet Theatre
Role: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake

To convey Odette’s sense of terror when the Prince first enters, I make her steps really quick, like a frantic animal scrambling to get away from a predator. One thing that Alexei Ratmansky always stressed when I worked with him on other ballets is changing your pacing any time you have a long run or walk to make it more interesting. So when I’m running away from the Prince, I look back and take two slower steps and then take off really fast.

For Odette’s entrance with the other swans, when the music swells, I run out with a lot of resolve. She’s strong in that moment—trying to protect her flock. It’s about carrying my back and my chest through space, and the bottom half of my body responds to the upper half.

With Odile, there is none of Odette’s hesitancy or shyness. Every step Odile takes is fearless, seductive and confident. I try to make it vulture-y. I imagine that I’m wearing a really hot black dress and heels at a party. Susan Jaffe taught me that Odile is scanning the room, always calculating, so you really use your eyes with every step. And Odile takes her time, no rush; she knows everyone is captivated by her.

In the last act, Odette has a sense of weighty hopelessness. First you run in desperation; then when you see Siegfried, every step conveys heartbreak and despair. It’s not just betrayal, it’s losing all hope of freedom. Everything is ruined.

San Francisco Ballet
Role: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

With Juliet, you have to keep in mind that, yes, you need to hold yourself in a very classical balletic line, but you still need a sense of humanness. In Juliet’s first scene with the nurse, the running is playful and quite energetic. I am conscious of pointed feet, but I also move with a real sense of freedom.

In the ballroom scene, I’m trying to act a little more mature, with an elegance and a dignified walk, playing the part that my parents want me to play. When I meet Romeo, there’s a light, playful energy—as opposed to when I meet Paris, where my walk has a more contained tone.

I always have to practice running up and down the stairs for the balcony scene so that I feel comfortable, because when I’m caught up in the moment and my heart’s racing, I don’t want to miss a step and go sliding down! I run halfway down quite quickly, then I take a moment and pause to look up, then continue running down. As much as Juliet is ready to jump off the balcony to dance with Romeo, there is that moment of hesitation. She knows she shouldn’t be doing this, but she still wants to.

As Juliet, there can be a little lift in the shoulders in moments of tension in the body. Or the shoulders are down and back and open when there’s an abandonment to love. Or the chin can be down, and the shoulders a little more forward and down—a kind of angelic, nervous feeling. In the balcony scene, I run chest forward with my heart, with a lot of abandon.

When Friar Laurence marries us, we walk towards the altar, and there is more weight in my step, more thoughtfulness, an acknowledgment of the importance of what is going on. It’s a rash decision, but we are doing it together.

At the end of the ballet, you’re tired emotionally and physically. In that final scene at the crypt, it’s almost like I don’t even pick my feet up, because I don’t even care to. If you do it right, the body language of that moment tells her whole story.

Miami City Ballet
Role: Liberty Bell in Stars and Stripes

The music is very exciting with a military feel, so right away I’m very erect and upright. But at the same time I’m still fun and flirtatious. You can’t help but burst onto the stage. The ballerina’s leading the pack, so she’s confident, but not regal. She struts. She has oomph to her. And if she’s going to run, it’s because she’s heading somewhere to do something important.

In the pas de deux, you’re dancing and dancing, but then in the middle, you take a little walk, which I think is brilliant of Balanchine because it gives you a moment to say who you are. Every ballerina has to work on that moment. I’ve found that if I really close my fists like I’m marching, swaying my elbows with my shoulders as I walk, holding my head up high and staying on my high demi-pointe, it makes it a real moment without throwing away the step.


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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Early in Carrie Imler's 22-year career with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was excited to be cast in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. But immediately following dress rehearsal, she was removed from her role in "Melancholic." "My artistic director at the time pulled me aside and said, 'We can't put you out there,' " she remembers. "My weight fluctuated my entire career. Just when I felt like I had figured it out, I would gain it back and have to start all over again." Despite becoming one of PNB's most celebrated principal dancers, Imler never shook the fear of what might happen when a leotard ballet was in the repertoire.

Ballet prides itself on high standards, and the classical ballet physique is not the least of those expectations. Fear of the "fat talk" still lurks in studios, but, as Imler points out, weight is a challenge that many dancers face, while others may struggle with the arches of their feet or turnout. If you are confronted about your weight, know that many talented dancers have been there. Having "the talk" doesn't mean you can't become a professional, but if you take a mindful approach to the conversation, it will show your maturity and ultimately your ability to navigate a career.

Has Something Changed?

If your teacher or director has approached you about your weight, you're likely left feeling emotional, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Once you have a chance to think clearly, ask yourself what factors, like puberty, may be contributing to changes in your body. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet, says, "There is this huge focus on weight and body at a time when even non-dancers are struggling with body issues and everything else that is happening as an adolescent."

External factors often play a role as well. PNB's consulting nutritionist, Peggy Swistak, says that she often sees dancers struggle with weight early in the season as they adjust to living on their own and sharing a kitchen with a roommate. "One may have really bad eating habits and doesn't have to watch her weight at all, and the other is gaining weight. There is a conflict in managing their food together," she says. Ballet Memphis ballet master Brian McSween adds that financial stress can create barriers for eating nutritiously. "The one-dollar piece of pizza costs a lot less than eating organic," he says. "You have to make the best choices possible with what you have." Other changes, like a new schedule, layoffs or even emotional setbacks, will present the need to reevaluate your food habits and exercise routines throughout your career.

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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.

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.

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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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