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

I know the basics of pirouettes—pull up, hold your core and connect your passé—but I’m still having trouble getting around and sticking my turns. Can you suggest any tips? —MaryCate
There are so many things to remember during pirouettes that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, lose your mojo and start fearing them—which is turning suicide in my book. I’ve been taught some helpful imagery through the years. First, take a look at your passé position. As you spring to relevé passé, feel opposing energies running through your body: one energy pushing down into the ground through your supporting foot, with another rising up through your head—as if your body is being pulled taut like a rubber band. This will help you reach the full height of your position and stay better aligned over your supporting foot. Whether you’re turning en dehors or en dedans, engage your supporting leg’s turnout muscles to lock in the position as you rotate. Then, think of your pirouette as a spiraling corkscrew so that you grow taller as the turns progress.

One more hint: Connect your rotations with the musical rhythm, timing each spot of your head. Doing that always helps me to stop overanalyzing and start having fun.

I’ve had four patellar dislocations—one from a fouetté in class and others from movement like turning in bed to reach for my alarm clock. What causes this, and how can I stop it from happening again? —Danielle

Yikes! Dislocations are no joke. Your patella, or kneecap, is a floating bone encased within the patellar tendon. It has a groove that fits into a notch at the end of your thighbone, so it can slide up and down as you bend and straighten your knee. You could be experiencing one of two things: patellar subluxations (where the kneecap momentarily shifts sideways) or full dislocations (where the kneecap stays out and must be manually adjusted back in).

Jennifer Green, physical therapist and founder of PhysioArts, a New York City clinic for dance rehab, says the structure of your knee joint might make you more prone to dislocations. “If the kneecap’s groove is too shallow, the fit won’t be as good and there’s more room to slide,” says Green. The kneecap is held together by ligaments, and dancers tend to have looser ones. (While you can’t strengthen your ligaments, doing exercises for the muscles around the knee will make the joint more stable.) Muscular imbalances can also aggravate your knee.

See an orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible. Even if you haven’t experienced a full dislocation, frequent subluxations “can lead to a dislocation,” says Green, “so it’s important that you get care.” You’ll need physical therapy, and your exercise program will depend on your exam results. If it’s skeletal, your treatment may focus on correcting your alignment and technique, whereas a muscular imbalance will involve strengthening weak thigh and hip muscles, and lengthening tighter muscles. Don’t tackle this on your own! Make a doctor’s appointment before you experience further damage.

I’m in a regional ballet company that does a long Nutcracker run every year. I think I’m developing snowflake burnout. How can I keep my performances fresh and interesting? —Lauren

After a run of Nutcracker, I often wonder how Broadway dancers do it—eight shows a week for months or even years on end. True, it’s easy to feel a little stale after your 18th run of “Waltz of the Flowers.” But the worst thing we can do is phone in a performance—that’s when careless mistakes happen. Luckily, there’s always room for improvement, especially as you grow more confident in a role.

Try setting small goals for yourself to make the shows more interesting. Sometimes I focus on minute details, such as making tighter, faster bourrées or running more quietly. Play with your characterization; vary your facial expressions or gestures so you’re not giving cookie-cutter performances. Make eye contact with your cast mates for an energy boost. And it might help to imagine that there’s someone important in the audience—a dance critic, your parents, your secret crush—to help give your performance extra oomph.


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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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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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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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.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.

Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

Let Curiosity Be Your Guide

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