When you think about it, it’s not surprising that ballerinas are terrified sometimes. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re launching yourself through space, being lifted and caught, and pirouetting on pointe—all in front of a few thousand people.

But when you see a dancer who appears supremely confident, you shouldn’t assume that she doesn’t feel anxiety, among other things. Over time, you learn to perform at a high level regardless of what you’re feeling. Any great dancer, and anyone who aspires to be a great dancer, is always pushing her limits. You can be a safe dancer and perform very competently, but you will never be really captivating unless you learn to work through your fear.

When Pointe asked me to write this essay, I was frankly a little surprised. I don’t necessarily consider myself the most confident performer. Like everyone else, I deal with nerves, anxiety and self-doubt. But over the course of my career so far, I’ve learned how to work with those negative emotions—and even how to use them to my advantage.

When I was a teenager and joined the ABT Studio Company, I was fearless onstage. I wasn’t really thinking about what I was doing; I was just doing it. I had an almost childlike absence of self-consciousness. Once I joined the corps of ABT, I had to learn to be patient. I was eager to do more, and because the roles didn’t come immediately, I began to doubt myself. I wasn’t getting the attention that I did as a student and in the Studio Company. I think many dancers experience that difficult transition when they join a big company. I wanted so badly to prove myself that I was overly sensitive to criticism from my director and my coaches. It became harder to enjoy performing.

The first soloist role I got to dance with American Ballet Theatre was the jumping girl in Swan Lake’s pas de trois. I was beyond thrilled. But when the show came I found myself paralyzed with nerves. I was on autopilot; my face felt frozen. I started critiquing my dancing while I was still performing. I felt like everyone could see my lack of maturity.

Luckily, after my initial meltdown, I had more opportunities to dance the part. Soon, I began to get other soloist roles. My nerves got a little better; I started to have moments of freedom onstage. But I still knew that I could get a lot more out of those roles.

A couple years later, I found out I was going to dance the principal role in Theme and Variations with one of my idols, David Hallberg. I put all my physical and mental energy into preparing for the part. My coach, Susan Jaffe, worked with me on the steps and the style without trying to impose any unnatural directions. Focusing on the feeling and not the look of the dance helped ease my fears. When the show arrived, I was nervous, but I felt ready. I had rehearsed it so much that I knew I could physically get through it. I told myself to breathe and listen to the music, and the experience was magical. Since then, I’ve found that connecting to the music is the best way to work through nerves onstage.

I feel a million times more confident in performances now than I did when I was first starting out, but I still deal with nerves and am constantly questioning myself. Since I can’t make the nerves go away, I’ve found ways to use them to my advantage. One benefit of being nervous is that it makes you extremely focused. For example, when I do Swan Lake, I try to channel my nerves into the fear that Odette is feeling when she first meets Prince Siegfried. And the more roles and performances I do, the less anxious I feel, which allows me to take more risks and make new discoveries. In the end, experience is the best way to build confidence.

Since I’ve become a professional dancer, pretty much everything that I was once afraid of has happened to me: ?falling onstage and spraining my ankle, forgetting choreography, getting dropped, not finishing my fouettés, getting a bad review. But at the end of the day, none of it makes any difference because my goals are still the same. I’m still going to keep working and trying to improve and grow and evolve as an artist. The nerves and anxiety are all worth it for those moments of freedom onstage.

Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Pointe Stars
Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT has also offered sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast in the past.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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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!





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