Have a question?
Click here to send it to Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt.

I recently left home to go to a major ballet school. I’m dancing more than ever, but the cafeteria food is making me gain weight! How can I make sure I’m eating well? —Alison
Even though you can’t control how your food is prepared, you can take steps to avoid gaining unwanted pounds. First, choose wisely and control portion sizes. Houston Ballet’s sports dietician, Roberta Anding, recommends filling half of your plate with minimally prepared fruits and vegetables (think salads and steamed veggies). “General rule of thumb: If they look shiny, there’s a considerable amount of oil on them,” she says. Split the other half of your plate between a starch and a protein, each about the size of your palm. Also, try politely asking the kitchen staff for food with sauce or dressing on the side.

Drinks can be another source of excess calories—and not just sodas and creamy caffe lattes. “Juice is unbelievably nutritious, but it’s easy to drink 250 calories’ worth because of the sugar content,” says Anding. Same with bottled iced tea, which usually comes sweetened. Opt for water or skim milk instead, or try making your own unsweetened iced tea.

In addition, evaluate your snacking habits. Munching on large quantities of starchy crackers, or healthier (but high-calorie) foods like nuts or dried fruit, doesn’t help. Instead, stick to single-serving, low-calorie options like fat-free yogurt, fruit cups and 110-calorie snack-sized popcorn. However, don’t get carried away—remember, it’s smart to maintain a healthy diet, but we need food for energy.

I went on my first round of professional auditions and received two offers! One is an apprenticeship at a mid-sized regional company. The other is with a studio company at a slightly more prestigious place. Which is more likely to lead to a full company contract? —Brianna

Congratulations! Either option will give you valuable professional experience and help you get your foot in the door. But neither automatically guarantees a full company contract. The terms and details of apprenticeships, traineeships and second companies vary considerably, so be sure to read the fine print before signing either contract.

You may already have a gut feeling about where you’d like to go, based on one company’s reputation, repertoire and director. But also consider practical details, such as salary (if any) and contract length. How often will you perform with the main company? Many directors hire large fleets of apprentices or second company members to supplement their corps—will you be one of a few dancers vying for a contract or one of dozens? Study each organization’s track record to see if it typically hires apprentices or second company members into the corps. But know that even if you don’t receive a contract, you will walk away with solid professional experience.

I’ve been cast as an understudy in an ensemble piece, and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of choreography I have to learn (I’m the only understudy). Help! —Meggi

You’ve got a tough job ahead of you. Jumping in at a moment’s notice happens more often than you might think (trust me—I had to replace an injured friend last season and only had an hour to prepare). Since you are faced with the daunting task of learning everyone’s part, you’ll probably need to do extra homework outside the studio to get a thorough grasp of the whole ballet.

Start by learning one dancer’s spot first, rather than trying to absorb everyone’s part at once. Once you’re familiar with her choreography, you’ll be able to learn the others’ more quickly. (A helpful hint: If another girl dances directly across from her on the opposite side, all you have to do is flip everything, and presto! Now you know two parts.) After a few rehearsals, start observing a different spot. Don’t mark—dance full-out in the back of the studio so that you absorb the choreography into your muscle memory. Take detailed notes of the steps and musicality (especially specific counts during canons), and draw diagrams of formations and running patterns to give you a visual idea of where everybody goes. Ask to study a copy of the video if possible. Listen to the music on your iPod and mentally rehearse each individual part. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—remember, a good understudy is priceless!

Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Pointe Stars
Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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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 has also offered sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast in the past.

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!





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