More often than not, a dancer stumbles before she soars. Sarah Walborn breezed through her training years at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, spending summers at San Francisco Ballet School. After high school, she accepted SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s offer to become a trainee, and by her second year was hired as a company apprentice. “I had a phenomenal time,” she says. “I really  felt a connection to the company.”

 

Then the bottom fell out. At the end of her apprenticeship, Walborn wasn’t taken into the corps. SFB hired no apprentices that year, but Walborn blamed herself.

 

“It was my first job,” Walborn, 22, says. “I didn’t have the confidence, so I held back.” With only a year to prove herself, she lost not only focus, but also technique. Walborn learned too late that dancing in a large company meant she was responsible for maintaining a top technical level without the watchful eyes of teachers.

 

She returned home to spend a year at CPYB rebuilding—both her technique and her confidence. That spring, Walborn hit the road, auditioning nearly every week, about 24 auditions in all. When artistic director Septime Webre expressed interest after a Washington Ballet audition, Walborn said “yes” without hesitation. She sensed that a small company of just 18 dancers might be a better fit for her.

 

“Despite her classical training, Sarah has an energy that I find very modern,” says Webre. “There’s something fresh about her—she’s a contemporary ballerina, but she can still handle the classics.” 

 

Webre offered Walborn a studio company contract. She took it, relying on her parents and a summer job to pay expenses (studio company dancers only receive a stipend for rehearsals and performances). The experience gave her time to get to know the main company: She took their morning classes and joined them in large ballets like The Nutcracker and Le Corsaire, sometimes dancing second-cast soloist parts or understudying lead roles.

 

Since her upgrade to an apprentice position at the beginning of this season, she says her job hasn’t changed much, aside from the pay scale. Yet Walborn feels a greater sense of responsibility. “I have more expectations on me now,” she says. “Before I just wanted to get into the company. Now my goal is to live up to my peers and support them.”

 

She works alongside the company dancers, beginning with a 9:45 am technique class, then a rehearsal, a lunch break between 2 pm and 3 pm, and more rehearsals until 6 pm. So far, she’s danced in Don Quixote, a demi-soloist part in Webre’s Great Gatsby and in Karole Armitage’s premiere Brahms on Edge. She spends nights working on her online University of Phoenix math course. Some free weekends she drives to Pennsylvania for maintenance classes at CPYB.

 

“I look at this as another training year and a chance to show what I have,” Walborn says. Webre usually hires apprentices for two years and hopes
that those dancers will work well in the intimate family-like atmosphere so they can move into the company. Not every apprentice becomes a company member, but it remains the best doorway.

 

Still smarting from her experience in San Francisco, Walborn is thankful to have an extra apprentice year to find her footing. “I want to be in a place that’s going to challenge me, but what matters most is how I feel about my dancing,” Walborn says. “For so many years, I was worried about what other people thought. Now I know that if my dancing has flow, effort, feeling and a reason behind it, it’s going to look good.”

Career
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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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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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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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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.

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