Look inside most company studios and—in addition to barres and a piano—you’ll likely find a television monitor, DVD player and VHS recorder. Production offices moonlight as video libraries, stacked with row after row of past performances. And with websites like YouTube, you can now watch umpteen versions of almost any variation instantly from home. Videos have become an integral part of company life, and while they can’t replace human interaction with choreographers and ballet masters, they supplement the learning process in a variety of ways—whether you need to research a role, break down tricky partnering or record an inspired choreographic idea. Pointe spoke with three pros about how they use film.

Yumelia Garcia, The Joffrey Ballet
Before the Joffrey Ballet’s Yumelia Garcia starts rehearsing for a role, she watches a video of the production to prepare. “I always like to use video as research, no matter what role I’m doing,” she says. “I think it enriches the process of putting the ballet together for the role you’re trying to interpret.” She finds it most helpful when she’s unfamiliar with a ballet or choreographic style, like when she was slated to rehearse Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow. “I’d never seen The Merry Widow in my life—I didn’t even know what it was about,” she says. She found a copy of The National Ballet of Canada’s production and “threw it in like a movie” to absorb the whole ballet. Then, once casting was announced, she went back and watched her character’s specific scenes.

Garcia doesn’t try to learn choreography off of video, preferring to wait until she’s in the studio with the rehearsal directors. “But sometimes seeing it once makes it easier to visualize how it’s supposed to be done,” she says. “It helps me grasp the steps faster.” Once the day is over she’ll also often pop in the DVD to go over counts and review everything she’s learned. “It helps settle everything in my brain.”

Katherine Lawrence, Ballet West
For Katherine Lawrence, a principal dancer with Ballet West, video comes in especially handy when she’s learning classical variations. For BW’s production of Sleeping Beauty, the principal dancers were allowed to dance whatever version of Aurora’s variation flattered them best. In this case, Lawrence found the numerous clips available online enormously helpful. “I looked up different versions of Sleeping Beauty and found steps I liked,” she says. “The next day I showed it to my director, and he decided whether it fit with the rest of the production. It was nice to find what suited my strengths.”

Lawrence also finds video beneficial when she’s learning a ballet she’s not scheduled to perform right away. “If the company rehearses something at the start of the season, but we’re not performing it until later in the year, we’ll videotape a rehearsal,” she says. “Then we can go back and look at what it was exactly. Everybody remembers it slightly differently, but the video helps us avoid arguments.”

John Welker, Atlanta Ballet
While video can be helpful during the rehearsal process, leading Atlanta Ballet dancer John Welker notes that it’s integral to the creation process, too. Recording rehearsals allows him to review the phrases he’s choreographed each day and to make necessary changes. “It also helps me remove myself from the piece and see it from a distance, from more of an audience perspective,” he says.

Welker, who is currently a student at Kennesaw State University, had his first opportunity to choreograph last year on the dance department—and he decided to put his camcorder to good use. “I only had two hours of rehearsal a week, so I videotaped them to make the most of it,” he says. Reviewing the footage allowed him to arrive for the next rehearsal prepared and ready to go. “I wasn’t just going from memory. We could move forward rather than rehash stuff.”

Video can also serve as a memory bank for future ideas. When Twyla Tharp came to Atlanta Ballet last summer to start choreographing her new ballet The Princess and the Goblin—which she’s been conceiving for the last 20 years—much of what Welker learned came from improvisational material she’d recorded years ago. “From that respect, video is an amazing archival tool.”

Video Drawbacks
Video is an important teaching tool, but it has significant limitations. Victoria Simon, a ballet mistress with The George Balanchine Trust, cites human error as a major reason why she doesn’t take what’s on a tape as the final word. “A video is just one performance,” she says. “And things go wrong in a performance. I often look at several if I’m setting something for the first time.”

Problems occur on the production end, too. Simon mentions one made-for-television video of Balanchine’s Western Symphony where the music is incorrectly synced with the dancing. “Everything is literally off one count. When [the dancers] are up they should be down, and when they’re down they should be up.”

Even more importantly, relying too heavily on video can sometimes stifle a dancer artistically. “If you just see one interpretation, that dancer’s way of doing the role gets stuck in your mind,” Simon says. “While you don’t want to change the steps, you also don’t want to copy somebody else—you want to be able to develop your own interpretation.” Atlanta Ballet dancer John Welker agrees. “Artists sometimes get flexibility with how they interpret a role, just to give it more life and breath. What you see on the video is not necessarily what the choreographer set or will set.”

Dancers should be thoughtful about their use of video because it can never answer all of their questions, says Johanna Bernstein Wilt, a ballet mistress for Cincinnati Ballet. “You can see the steps, but you don’t necessarily know the motivation behind them,” she says. “You need the memories of the people who danced them to pass it along. For me, that’s what keeps the work alive.”


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

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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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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