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How do I mentally prepare myself for an audition? I’m afraid of seeming unsure if my nerves start to take over. —Meghan, New Jersey

Looking confident means feeling confident. Starting a few weeks before your audition, remind yourself of your strengths on a daily basis. Try writing down the impressive things that you achieve each day: Did you nail a triple pirouette? Did someone give you a compliment? Make positive thinking a habit. Catch yourself when you start getting overly critical during class—acknowledge what you need to work on, but also recognize what you’ve done well.

It helps to research the company you’re auditioning for. Do they look for a particular style? What is their repertoire like? The more you find out, the more you’ll know what to expect. And remember, an audition is your opportunity to see if the company is right for you, too. How do you feel about the director, the dancers, the repertoire and the city? I always feel more in control when I think of an audition as a two-way street.

If you still feel nervous, try not to let it read in your body language. Take a deep breath, smile and look the director in the eye. Auditions take practice. You’ll start to feel more self-assured after you get used to the process.

Every professional dancer I see has a really nice arch and instep. But my feet just have a medium-sized arch and a low instep. I use a Thera-Band and think it’s helping to strengthen my feet, but my arch and instep haven’t changed. Is it possible to make them better? —Lexi, Maryland

Unfortunately, you can’t change the bone structure of your arch or instep. But you can improve the look of your feet in other ways. A friend of mine at Ballet Arizona, Kendra Mitchell, has a similar problem. “I always wanted great feet growing up, and it used to get me down,” she says. “But eventually I figured out how to work with them.”

You’re smart to strengthen your feet with a Thera-Band. Mitchell also recommends this exercise: Keeping your heel on the floor, pick up a marble with your toes, move your foot to the right and gently place the marble back on the floor. Repeat going to the left. “Be realistic,” she says. “Exercises won’t give you bigger arches. But when your feet are strong, you can use them well.”

Try wearing deshanked pointe shoes during barre to help develop your foot articulation and strengthen your demi-pointe. Mitchell used to practice walking and running in her pointe shoes. “I also work on maintaining good turnout,” says Mitchell. “When you’re turned out, the heel is up and forward and your arch is less visible.”

Flattering pointe shoes are a must. Once you’re at an advanced level, try cutting your shanks where your arch bends the most so that your shoe forms to your foot. Sew the sides of your shoe down lower to create the illusion of a bigger arch. Mitchell also recommends buying shoes with a lower vamp: “You need flexibility in the toes to make up for the lack of flexibility in your arch.”

Try not to get frustrated with your limitations. You’ll need to habitually think about using your feet when you dance, but focus on the rest of your body, too. Solid technique and thoughtful artistry will draw attention away from your imperfections. The audience may not even notice your feet!

I recently auditioned for preprofessional schools, and every place told me that even though I’m good, I’m behind for my age and they’re not interested. I decided to stop pursuing a professional career but am having trouble coping with being a “recreational dancer.” How do I deal with quitting? —Olivia, New York

Becoming a professional dancer is extremely difficult. Just because a ballet career seems unlikely doesn’t mean you’re a failure! Because ballet is so consuming, we often identify ourselves only as “a dancer.” You may feel lost without that label, but don’t worry. I’ve watched many friends make the same tough decision. They needed time to adjust, but eventually they moved forward and are now living happy, successful lives. Most found ways to keep ballet in their lives by dancing in college, becoming ballet teachers or working behind the scenes. One friend even became a physical therapist who specializes in treating dancers. Just think: Now you can enjoy dancing for the love of it without dealing with the financial instability, competitive pressure or chronic pain that professional dancers face every day. And your dance training has armed you with valuable skills to succeed in many other professions.

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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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Videos

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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