Stephanie Williams, one of American Ballet Theatre’s newest corps members, loves to move. As she waltzes and balancés through a rehearsal of Giselle, she’s as involved dancing a peasant in the ensemble as she would be dancing Giselle herself. Williams brings considerable experience to her corps position. She danced with The Australian Ballet for four years before embarking on a wider quest in New York. With her lovely classicism, ample jump, sunny smile and quick learning skills, the 5' 5" dancer has every chance of success in her new company.

 Williams grew up in Newcastle, New South Wales, a mining town  north of Sydney, which she claims has produced (Billy Elliot–style) a surprising number of dancers. She trained at the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy and, at age 11, when dancers from The Australian Ballet came to perform Don Quixote, she announced to her mother that she wanted to be a ballet dancer. “It was intriguing for me to realize you could make that your life,” she says. At 15, she entered The Australian Ballet School, where she studied with teachers like Marilyn Rowe, the school’s director, who helped Williams shape her goals. “Stephanie possesses physical beauty, purity of line, artistic depth, musicality and an understated and easy technique that sets her apart,” says Rowe. “She also has a wonderful work ethic and is an artist of great generosity.”

After graduation, Williams joined The Australian Ballet as a corps member. There she danced principal roles in ballets like Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun, Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Rehearsing with choreographer Wayne McGregor on Dyad 1929 proved a transformative experience. “It’s so mesmerizing the way he works,” she says. “You can see his brain telling his body how to move. His movements are unique, and so different that you have to be fearless to even attempt them. Working with him gave me such fulfillment.”

So why did she decide to leave? A promotion to coryphée in 2008 and a guesting gig with Morphoses in 2009 triggered an itch to take more professional chances. Williams says she felt herself getting stuck: “I needed to explore. I’m always best when I’m open to people, places and opportunities,” she explains. “I felt like my life was closing off and that scared me.”

She left Australia with zero planning and globe-hopped for six months. “I found a really good perspective on life,” she says. “I was getting to a point where I was feeling a little too consumed with getting to a certain status or a certain role.” She joined the Dutch National Ballet for six months, but  had long hoped to dance at ABT. One day she sent an email to inquire about taking company class. They said yes, she flew over and was hired this January.

During ABT’s spring season, she danced corps roles in a number of ballets, including Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions and Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream and new Firebird. Living in the city that never sleeps has been an easy adjustment for Williams, an insomniac. When not dancing, she runs, which calms her busy mind, or reads. Her colleagues in Australia miss her, but also respect her choices. “It was very difficult to see Stephanie leave, but she needed to stretch her wings and experience the world of dance on an international level,” says Rowe. “I hope that in time, she will return to her home country and company, where the journey began. She is, after all, a product of this wonderful land.”









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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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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
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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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