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At 5’ 10”, I’m afraid I’m too tall for the corps. I never fit the height requirements on audition listings. Is there no hope for a career? —Sally

There is hope—you just need to find the right company. I’ve danced with plenty of girls who are taller than me, and I’m 5’ 8”! Giselle Doepker, who has danced with Dresden Semperoper Ballet, Ballet Arizona and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, also clocks in at 5’ 10” and knows how you feel. She always had more success auditioning in company classes than at cattle calls. “I’d find somebody tall to stand next to in order to show that I could blend in,” she says. She also suggests investigating companies without ranking systems and looking for places with tall men to get around the partnering problem.

Not fitting into the corps has its advantages, too. The Trey McIntyre Project’s Ilana Goldman, who is just shy of 5’ 11”, was at first discouraged from pursuing ballet. But her height got her cast in many soloist and principal roles early in her career. “There are so many wonderful roles for tall women,” she says, “like Lilac Fairy, Choleric from The Four Temperaments, or the Dark Angel from Serenade.”

Be up front about your height before auditioning to avoid wasting money on travel expenses. “I had places invite me out to audition only to reject me immediately,” says Doepker. But never assume that height requirements are set in stone—if a director likes you enough, he might make an exception.

I always hear that dancers need to hydrate, but my teacher doesn’t let us drink water in class. She says we need to train our bodies for performance. What should I do? —Lara

First, you should know it’s not possible to train your body to use less water, according to Karyn Baiorunos, nutritionist for the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. Water is almost always provided backstage for professional dancers. “Dehydration is the number one reason for fatigue,” Baiorunos says. “It decreases your strength, stamina and the ability to dance as you’d like to.”

However, you need to respect your teacher’s rule. If you can’t drink during class, the next best option is to make sure you’re well hydrated beforehand. Baiorunos recommends drinking two to three glasses of water a few hours before class, plus an additional glass five to ten minutes before. “Your body will use that water in your sweat rather than taking water out of your cells,” she says. After class, spend the rest of the day rehydrating to replenish what you’ve lost.

How do you know if you’re drinking enough? Unfortunately, thirst is not the best indicator. “You become thirsty after you’ve already lost one percent of your body weight in water, and by then you’re compromised,” says Baiorunos. To figure out the minimum number of ounces of water or clear liquids you need a day , divide your body weight in pounds by two. And check the color of your urine: A clear or pale yellow color is a good sign that you’re sufficiently hydrated.

How do you get the best dance photos for auditions? Do I need to hire a professional photographer? —Matt

The benefit of a professional photographer is both their expertise and their equipment, such as lighting, backdrops and a high-quality camera. While directors will be judging your technique, not the photographer’s, a more aesthetically pleasing shot can only help. Directors use dance photos to help determine likely candidates when sifting through resumés, or to remember dancers after cattle calls. A good picture won’t guarantee a job, but it can help get your foot in the door.

Ideally, it’s best to have your photos taken by someone who understands ballet lines and has excellent timing with action shots. If you can’t find a photographer familiar with dance, sports photographers can serve as a good alternative. Bring a teacher or an experienced dancer with you to the shoot to make sure your positions look flattering, as well as pictures of poses you want to take so that the photographer knows what you’re looking for.

Professional photographers can be expensive, so compare prices and ask to see samples of their work before hiring one. You’ll have to pay for the shoot as well as for individual prints, which are copyrighted. Some photographers will release the rights to copy your photos for a higher sitting fee, so make sure to ask when you’re shopping around.

A less expensive option is to hire a photography student from a local college or art school or someone with a serious photography hobby—I’ve gone this route before with excellent results. Whomever you use, ask to see the images during the shoot to ensure that you’re getting what you want.


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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