How Dana Genshaft's diverse training and strong instincts shaped her career.

As told to Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

My earliest training was at the School of American Ballet, from ages 9 to 11. But I received the bulk of my training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC, and I still consider myself to be a Russian-trained dancer.

When I was 16 years old and approaching graduation, I felt that I needed more than Vaganova technique—which is very clean, very black-and-white—if I was going to be an employable dancer. I wanted more in order to be marketable. So, I auditioned for the Paris Opéra Ballet School and spent a year there.

As a student I would watch a lot of performances and see dancers I admired—that was how I first got the idea that POB might be a good place for me. The power I saw behind the female dancers was impressive to me. I was attracted to the school’s emphasis on quality and classicism, but also speed and precision. The dancers there have incredible footwork; I have articulate feet and I felt that my body type suited the company.

I saw online that they were accepting international students, which was somewhat rare, so I wrote a letter and sent a video—that was basically it. I spent some time before my video audition preparing with François Perron, the artistic director of the French Academie of Ballet in New York City. I also took a class with Claude Bessy (then the director of the POB School), who was in NYC by chance.

I didn’t realize that living abroad and going to the POB School would be so hard. You have to yield to the institution and the layers upon layers of rules. The hierarchy is profound. No one was hostile toward me, but I was deeply lonely. That said, the experience in the classroom was really fantastic.

With French training, the lower half of the body is very dynamic and energetic and has an attack to it. The teachers would almost sing the corrections along with the music so that you get the correct dynamic. And in Paris, it’s not about what they teach but how they teach it. They use very simple corrections, but you see those corrections play out at every technique level. That’s why, if I had the chance to do it again, I would have gone sooner. I had thought of POB as a finishing school, but it’s actually better for foundations. I was able to cognitively immerse myself in the training, but I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to truly embody it.

After my year in Paris, I came back to the U.S. and spent the next year tying everything together. I took lots of open classes, especially with Wilhelm Burmann at Steps on Broadway in NYC. I also took private lessons with Fabrice Herrault, a French teacher. A professional career asks so much of you and nothing exemplifies that better than taking open classes in NYC, where the dancers and teachers are so different from each other. That was my real finishing year after being in a strict academic environment.

After that, I started auditioning. I was almost 18 when I came to San Francisco Ballet, and I had immediate chemistry with the company. I didn’t understand why at the time, but I knew it was the right place for me. Now, it makes sense: SFB dances everything and works with everyone. No two dancers are alike.

You have to remember that training is just tradition and a point of view. Each of my choices were made from an instinctual place. I picked out the things that I thought were beautiful and right, and that’s how I’ve meshed all my various influences. For example, I’ve aimed to keep the footwork from the French method, the expressive port de bras from my Russian training and Willy Burmann’s way of distributing weight over the supporting leg.

These training methods each have a value system and a set of goals. I admire them and work toward them. But it’s important to find your own voice, and that comes down to developing your sense of taste. Ask yourself what kind of dancer you want to be. I was able to hone my strengths at SFB—which happened to be quite contemporary—and the company valued my melting pot of training. It became my true artistic home.

Editor’s note: Dana Genshaft retired from San Francisco Ballet in May 2015.

Andersen in Balanchine's "Valse-Fantaisie." Photo by Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

I got my corps contract on my 18th birthday. It was such a relief. I had convinced myself that I would be okay not dancing, but inside I just wanted to get a contract with Miami City Ballet.

I'd trained at Milwaukee Ballet School pretty much my whole life, and in 2014 I went to the MCB summer program and loved it. They invited me to stay for the year, and right when I got there, they offered me an apprenticeship. I spent the next two years as an apprentice. My second year I got to tour with the company and did Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Bourrée Fantasque.

Once I was told that I had a contract, it felt like so much weight was lifted off my shoulders. Every single person came up and individually congratulated me. They were so kind, and ever since then they've been like a big family.

It's such a jump from being in a school setting to being in the company. I'm lucky that I was able to experience so much firsthand as an apprentice, but there were still some things that I couldn't get used to. As an apprentice, I would spend half my day rehearsing and taking class at the school, and the other half rehearsing with MCB. Once I got into the company, there was so much less work. It was hard to stay in shape and make sure that I was on top of my dancing. The ballet masters don't give you as many corrections, and I didn't have anybody there to discipline me. It was all self-motivation.

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Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee is back, this time sharing her tried-and-true advice from the streets of New York City. While conducting a pointe shoe seminar at the Joffrey Ballet School's NYC Ballet Intensive, Lee put together a list of five things to keep in mind when choosing a summer program. Whether you're about to embark on this summer's intensive or are already thinking ahead for next year, these are good tips to keep in mind. And what better way to receive advice than while viewing a stroll through some of our favorite ballet-happy spots in NYC?

American Ballet Theatre's Cassandra Trenary seems to have it all—not only is our June/July 2016 cover star a dazzling soloist at ABT, she has a sunny, down-to-earth personality and a life-saving hero for a husband. But her first year in the company had its fair share of disappointments—in fact, she almost left dance altogether to pursue acting.

In May, the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to aspiring performing artists, brought Trenary (herself a 2011 YoungArts winner) and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky together for a salon-style discussion. Together they talked about critical turning points in their careers, as well as the challenges of navigating the dance world as a young professional. Below are exclusive excerpts of their interview—we hope their words inspire you as much as they inspire us!



There's still time to enter YoungArts's national arts competition for a chance at scholarships, workshops and more. Click here for information on how to apply.

ADrian Durham in CPYB's production of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.

As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. "Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. "It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.

Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.

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Alessandra Ferri in "Romeo and Juliet." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.

"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.

Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.

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Via Instagram

Last fall, Diana Vishneva shocked her NYC following when she announced that she would give her final performance with American Ballet Theatre on June 23, 2017. The Russian-born dancer has been part of ABT since performing in Romeo and Juliet as a guest artist in 2003, and has held the title of principal dancer with the company since 2005 in addition to her principal role with the Mariinksy Ballet. Throughout her time with ABT, which she spoke about in the below video for The New Yorker, Vishneva has danced as a guest artist with Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Berlin State Ballet.


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Karen Kain is internationally renowned as a performer and as the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director. The former NBoC principal always carries herself with the grace and sophistication of a true leader. However, in this 1976 clip from Giselle, the distinguished ballerina is convincingly naïve and bewildered in her interpretation of the mad scene.



Kain conveys Giselle's innocence at the start of the scene with pure, unaffected gestures and facial expressions. Then, after Albrecht betrays her, her eyes stare unfocused into the distance as if she's in a trance. Although this scene is mostly acting, Kain dances dreamily to the musical motif at 5:30 and conceals her technical strength in order to show the character's frailty. It takes a true ballerina to perform this heartbreaking and beautiful role, and with performances like this and her lifelong commitment to the art form, Kain proves that she is an extraordinary one. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Photo by Quinn Wharton

How can I wean myself off my coffee fix without experiencing headaches and crankiness that will disrupt my rehearsal process? —Lauryn

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