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

I recently graduated from an intense program with a BA in dance that left me feeling burned out. I think I may be done dancing but would feel guilty quitting. How do I decide? —Joanna
Sometimes, the endless sacrifice and dedication that dance requires can get to be too much. I’ll admit, I’ve considered quitting during periods of deep discouragement, disillusionment or injury. And because being a dancer is such an integral part of our identity, it’s natural to feel conflicted when your heart’s not in it anymore.

Give yourself time; ride out these feelings for a while before you quit altogether. Often, dancers think career decisions have to be all or nothing, especially since they are short. But if you need to take a break, do that. It doesn’t mean you’ve given up.

While I don’t recommend getting completely out of shape, explore other interests. Take open dance classes in a low-pressure environment for a while so that they feel less like a job requirement. Trust me, it’s easier to rekindle your passion when you dance solely for your own enjoyment, rather than to impress a director, teacher or college professor. That’s what helped me when I was at my lowest point, and I eventually came to the conclusion that I wasn’t ready to stop.

Of course, you may decide that you’re not interested in pursuing a dance career. And that’s okay! While you may feel like you’re letting people down, remember that this is your life. There’s a big world out there, and it’s full of possibilities.

My grand plié in second position is so shallow that it looks more like a demi-plié. I think it may be due to a restriction at the front of my ankles. Is there any way I can get a deeper plié, or am I stuck with it? —Jillian

The majority of shallow pliés are caused by tight calf muscles and Achilles tendons, which regular stretching can remedy. But a small percentage of dancers develop a bony ridge of calcium deposits or bone spurs along the bottom edge of their tibia or along the front of their ankle bone. This inhibits movement. “It’s bone hitting against bone,” says Dr. Alan Woodle, foot and ankle specialist at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Another cause could be the shape of your ankle bone, or talus. When viewed from the side, the talus normally slopes downward from the center of the joint towards the floor. “That angle allows you to plié from the front of the ankle,” says Woodle. Some dancers have a horizontal talus, which lacks that slope, which means they experience a decreased range of motion.

Does that mean you’re stuck with a shallow plié? Short of surgery, yes—but adjustable heel lifts can help. Woodle recommends Sorbothane heel lifts (available from Amazon). “Heel lifts tilt the whole ankle bone downwards, giving an increase in range of motion in front of the ankle,” says Woodle. “They move the bony blockages away from one another, so you feel like you can plié deeper.” Try stacking two ¼quarter-inch lifts under both heels, and sew a ½half-inch strip of elastic along the back upper edge of your technique or pointe shoes to prevent them from slipping off. Wearing heel lifts may tighten your Achilles tendons, so be sure to do regular calf stretches.

I always psych myself out thinking each audition is the be-all and end-all of my dance career. How can I keep things in perspective? —Angie
A surefire way of making yourself anxious before an audition is to think of it as a life-or-death situation. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the “idea” of an audition: hundreds of dancers clamoring for one position, the intimidating director at the front of the room who’s ready to dismiss you at the first shaky pirouette. And, of course, getting rejected can feel like the ultimate judgment of your abilities. But an unsuccessful audition—or a string of them, for that matter—doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never make it into a company. In fact, most dancers attend multiple auditions before landing a contract.

It’s easier to approach an audition acknowledging that much of it is out of your control. Keep in mind that directors see hundreds of dancers a year, and many factors go into their decisions that have nothing to do with you personally. I’ve had auditions that didn’t pan out because of my height, or because my movement quality didn’t match that of the other company dancers. Frustrating? Very. But if I took it personally I would have quit a long time ago. Arrive prepared and hope for the best—and be ready to keep moving forward if necessary.

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!

Pointe Stars
Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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Pointe Stars
Vladislav Lantritov and Ekaterina Krysanova in "Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

If you haven't checked your local movie listings yet for this weekend, hop to it. The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series and Fathom Events is broadcasting a performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew to theaters nationwide on Sunday, November 19. (To see if it's playing near you and to purchase tickets, click here.) While the rest of the Bolshoi's cinema season features 19th- and 20th-century classics, The Taming of the Shrew gives audiences a chance to see the revered Moscow company in a thoroughly modern, 21st-century take on Shakespeare's famous play.

Aside from a limited run in New York City this July, American audiences have had little exposure to Maillot's 2014 production. To learn more, check out these two exclusive, behind-the-scenes webisodes below. Principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova, who stars as the hotheaded Katharina, gives an intimate play-by-play of two major scenes in Act I. The first is her fiery rejection of three potential suitors (who all would prefer to marry Katharina's younger sister Bianca).

The second scene breaks down Katharina's first encounter with Petruchio (danced by the larger-than-life Vladislav Lantritov), the only man who seems to be able to challenge her. Here, too, we see the shrew's heart start to soften. (Don't miss her time-stopping attitude turn at 4:27.)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series continues through June; for more details on upcoming screenings, click here.

Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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Pointe Stars
Jurgita Dronina as Kitri in "Don Quixote." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

When Jurgita Dronina first danced Kitri for a guest performance of Don Quixote with Teatro Filarmonico-Fondazione Arena Di Verona, she was in essence cast against type. "Before Kitri, I was dancing only lyrical or dramatic roles, so I had to start from scratch in finding my own signature in the steps and my own interpretation of the character," says Dronina, who was dancing with Royal Swedish Ballet at the time.

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