Have a question?
Click here to send it to Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt.


I go to a strict school that is very technique driven. However, the summer intensive I just attended focused more on performance quality. Going back to my old studio, should I keep thinking about my presentation or return to dancing like a stiff robot? How can I still please my teacher? —Lauren
One of the wonderful things about summer programs is that they open your eyes to new perspectives. As you start branching out into the larger dance world, you’ll discover many different and sometimes contradictory approaches to training, all of which contain elements of truth. Your home studio’s emphasis on technique may feel a bit robotic or boring, but it probably stems from the valid philosophy that you should learn the rules before breaking them. A strong, solid base is essential, so try not to be dismissive of your teacher.

However, it’s imperative to develop artistically if you want a professional career. This summer served as a major artistic awakening for you. Rather than throw it all away, apply what you’ve learned to your meticulous technical training. Test the waters—see where your newfound presentation fits within the boundaries of your school’s syllabus. Take advantage of variations class, rehearsals, even jazz classes, where you’ll have more artistic freedom. And give your teacher a little credit—she knows that you’ve been studying with other instructors and probably expects you to return home dancing a little differently.

At the end of last season, my director gave me a principal role (our company is unranked). I felt very proud of my performance. But I’ve just been cast in a role usually done by apprentices. I can’t help but feel discouraged. How do I get back to the dancer I was? —Sherron
Trust me, most of us know how you feel. Casting rarely pleases everyone, and it’s hard not to interpret a minor role as an ominous sign of rejection. However, try not to take it so personally. In unranked companies, directors have more freedom to cast who they feel best embodies the role, and in this instance you simply may not be the right fit. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad dancer; it just means your movement style or even your look doesn’t suit this specific ballet. Your director may also simply want to give other dancers opportunities.

The artistic staff obviously sees your potential based on last season’s casting. But remember, one principal role doesn’t mean you’re entitled to them from now on, especially when you’re a young company member. Since it’s early in the season, don’t panic—and definitely avoid coming off as defeated or ungracious. Use this setback as incentive to work harder than ever. If poor casting continues throughout the year, try talking to someone on the artistic staff to gain insight into their casting decisions and see if there’s something you need to improve.

My shoulders naturally slump forward. When I try to push them back, my teachers tell me I look too stiff. But when I relax them, they tell me to push my shoulders down. I’m not sure what to do. —Emily
I can relate—I’ve been fighting slumpy shoulders my whole career. Called rolled shoulders, they can result from having weak upper back and tight chest muscles, and unfortunately create a self-conscious or lazy-looking aesthetic. Luckily, stretching and strengthening exercises, along with some added awareness in class, can help improve your posture.

Karen Clippinger, a kinesiologist and professor at California State University, Long Beach, recommends this exercise from her book Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. Sit crossed-legged on the floor and hold a Thera-Band taut between your hands; have your palms facing up and elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, pull the ends of the band apart so that your shoulders externally rotate. Then, arch your upper back, making sure to engage your lower abdominals to prevent your pelvis from tipping forward.

Sometimes dancers overcompensate by squeezing their shoulder blades together tightly, almost eliminating the space between them. This could be what you’re doing when your teacher says you look stiff. Instead, push your shoulder blades down and lift your chest slightly (keeping the ribs together), as if you’re wearing a beautiful diamond necklace. At the same time, imagine both shoulders expanding outwards to the sides. This should help you engage the right muscles.

















Your Best Body
Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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Pointe Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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Pointe Stars
Vladislav Lantritov and Ekaterina Krysanova in "Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

If you haven't checked your local movie listings yet for this weekend, hop to it. The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series and Fathom Events is broadcasting a performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew to theaters nationwide on Sunday, November 19. (To see if it's playing near you and to purchase tickets, click here.) While the rest of the Bolshoi's cinema season features 19th- and 20th-century classics, The Taming of the Shrew gives audiences a chance to see the revered Moscow company in a thoroughly modern, 21st-century take on Shakespeare's famous play.

Aside from a limited run in New York City this July, American audiences have had little exposure to Maillot's 2014 production. To learn more, check out these two exclusive, behind-the-scenes webisodes below. Principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova, who stars as the hotheaded Katharina, gives an intimate play-by-play of two major scenes in Act I. The first is her fiery rejection of three potential suitors (who all would prefer to marry Katharina's younger sister Bianca).

The second scene breaks down Katharina's first encounter with Petruchio (danced by the larger-than-life Vladislav Lantritov), the only man who seems to be able to challenge her. Here, too, we see the shrew's heart start to soften. (Don't miss her time-stopping attitude turn at 4:27.)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series continues through June; for more details on upcoming screenings, click here.

popular
Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.


The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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Pointe Stars
Jurgita Dronina as Kitri in "Don Quixote." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

When Jurgita Dronina first danced Kitri for a guest performance of Don Quixote with Teatro Filarmonico-Fondazione Arena Di Verona, she was in essence cast against type. "Before Kitri, I was dancing only lyrical or dramatic roles, so I had to start from scratch in finding my own signature in the steps and my own interpretation of the character," says Dronina, who was dancing with Royal Swedish Ballet at the time.

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