Whenever I see videos of other dancers my age doing amazing tricks for competitions, I feel my self-confidence steadily decreasing. Am I not a good dancer because I can’t do those things? —Madeline
Absolutely not! During competitions, dancers often opt for virtuosic choreography to attract the judges’ attention. And let’s face it, nose-high extensions and quadruple pirouettes will definitely turn heads. But in the professional world, the goal is to interpret the choreographer’s vision, not to win a prize. Even when they’re attracted to amazing technical feats, artistic directors also look for movement quality, artistic expression, work ethic and emotional maturity. I’m certainly no master of showstopping technique, but directors have hired me based on other strengths. Tricks have their place, but they’re the extreme, not the basis, of ballet.

 

Unfortunately, there will always be someone out there who can do more than you—that’s a harsh reality that all dancers have to face. I have days when I get depressed while watching younger dancers whip off flawless triple pirouettes in class. But rather than thinking “I’m a miserable failure because she turns better than I do,” I try to deal with these feelings by asking myself how I can learn from what she’s achieving. I examine her preparation, her placement, her arms, etc., to see if she’s doing something that I could try in my own turns.

 

Next time you watch a video, try not to compare yourself to the students competing—they may have unusual natural abilities or better training opportunities than you do. Instead, use it as inspiration to focus on strengthening the quality of your own technique, and then build quantity from there.

I don’t know if I should stay at my year-round school or go to a different program this summer. I want to remain at my studio because I love it, but would that affect my career later on? My teacher says it’s important to expand my resumé and get my name out there. —Paula
Your teacher has a point. It’s wonderful that you like your local studio, but stepping outside of your comfort zone can be hugely beneficial. New experiences bring new ideas and expand your horizons. You’ll be exposed to other techniques and styles you might not have access to at home. Sometimes a new teacher will describe a concept differently and the correction will suddenly click. For example, my teachers at home always used to say “suck in your stomach.” But once at a summer program, a different teacher giving the same correction told me to lengthen my lower back. I understood the advice better that way and eventually developed more stability in my core.


 

At a different program, you’ll also have a chance to make new dance friends, explore a new city and size up the competition. You’ll dance all day, every day—think of how much you could learn! And if you want to dance professionally, a summer program is the perfect place to be seen by company directors and to audition for traineeships. If you just want to get your feet wet this year, several schools have started to offer shorter two- or three-week intensives (see my article on this type of program on page 80). I expect you’ll have a great experience and be back for more.

How can I get rid of the wiggles? Some people have perfect control, but I always make little adjustments when I try to balance. I’m working on my core, but what else can I do to achieve stability? —Anne
There could be several reasons why you’re having trouble. Luckily, you’re on the right track to correcting the problem—a strong core will definitely help you find balance and control. I spoke with Deidre Miles Burger, director of Orlando Ballet School. She believes you may be experiencing tension in other areas of your body, such as your arms and hands. “Your movements should always come from the center outwards,” she says. “Keep the solidity of your core while remaining calm in your extremities. The arms should be held, not tense.” She recommends taking Pilates or Gyrotonic classes to help you strengthen your center.

 

You should also be honest with yourself while you work. For instance, do you shift your hips and feet every time you close fifth position to compensate for imperfect turnout? If so, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Work correctly and intelligently with what you have to maximize control—otherwise you will constantly have to adjust your body between movements.


Have a question? Ask Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt at pointemagazine.com/ask-amy.


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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 also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

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!


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.

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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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