Ballet students learn quickly to follow directions and wait for reward or recognition from the front of the room. But navigating a professional career is very different from being a successful and talented student. Each dancer’s path is unique, and often nonlinear: A few dancers get promoted quickly while others remain in the corps. Some must make horizontal moves to new companies before they land a breakthrough job or role. And to keep their career momentum, many find it necessary to put themselves forward and ask for what they want.

Clara Blanco, now a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, had been dancing in the SFB corps for five years when she decided to move to Birmingham Royal Ballet. She soon realized it was not the right fit. Wishing desperately to return to SFB for the following season, Blanco knew the best thing was to meet with artistic director Helgi Tomasson and ask for her job back. “I am the kind of person who doesn’t hide things. I felt very vulnerable talking to Helgi,” she says. After thinking about it for a month, Tomasson gave Blanco a second chance.

Asking for an opportunity—whether it’s a job, a role, a promotion or a raise—rarely comes easily. It helps to practice. It’s also critical to canvas mentors or ballet masters to see if what you want lines up with your ability and commitment. So what’s the best way to break your silence and start a meaningful conversation about your career?

 

Do Your Homework
The first person you should be questioning is yourself. In preparation for a meeting with the director or other artistic staff, take some time to honestly evaluate your work. Are you sending the right messages? Do you show up late to rehearsal? In run-throughs, do you always give 110 percent, or are you marking? Are you already taking advantage of available opportunities?

Some companies make a point of giving dancers a chance to expand their repertoire. At Nevada Ballet Theatre, artistic director James Canfield has a policy of making all rehearsals open to the entire company. “If dancers are called, then they need to be there, but if a dancer is not called, he or she is still welcome to come and learn as long as they are respectful. If you learn the part and you are prepared, it creates an opportunity.”

Once you have analyzed your own job performance, find a sounding board. Julie Marie Niekrasz, a dancer with Ballet Memphis, looks to more experienced dancers when in need of an honest opinion. Building relationships with your ballet masters, rehearsal directors, choreographers or senior dancers can help you get realistic feedback about where you are in your career.

 

Timing Counts
When you ask can make as much of a difference as what you ask. All AGMA companies, and many nonunion companies, have annual meetings between dancers and artistic staff. This can be the ideal time to request opportunities. The artistic staff expects you to state your goals, and providing you are courteous and professional, no one should feel blindsided. Dr. Nadine J. Kaslow, a psychologist who works with Atlanta Ballet dancers, recommends practicing the conversation ahead of time and not being afraid to bring notes. “Rehearsing will give you confidence and ensure no one’s time is wasted.”

Niekrasz used her scheduled evaluation time to let the artistic staff know she felt ready to dance the role of Juliet. Blanco used her annual meetings to mention her dream of climbing the ranks. Niekrasz did end up getting to dance Juliet, and after several years of performing soloist and principal roles, Blanco became a soloist.

Sometimes a particular opportunity presents itself at some other point in the season. The Joffrey Ballet’s April Daly saw her chance during a layoff week. “Early on in my career, I was doing most corps work, and I wanted to do more partnering. I had a week off when only the lead dancers were called to rehearse the pas de deux from Balanchine’s Square Dance. I asked to come in and learn it, and the artistic staff said yes.”

Blanco also has had success making requests outside of the annual meeting. “I realized at one point that there was nothing to lose. If I wanted to learn something, I would ask to be in the rehearsal. With Raymonda, I asked to learn some of the variations—at one point or another, I ended up performing all of them.”

You’ll Never Know Unless…
The only way to get an answer is to ask. Even a “no” can help you reevaluate and realign your goals. “I have had a couple cases of a dancer asking for a role at a wrong time in their career,” says Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal. ”In that case, I offer them an alternative role to reach for, one that’s more realistic.”


Asking nearly always yields some gains. If nothing else, you send an important signal to management that you are ready for more. Asking also gives you some insight into where you stand, and what you need to do to move ahead. As Blanco points out, “When you are a professional, it’s more about finding the right place for you, the place where your dancing is appreciated. Art is hard to value and you have to place value on yourself.” Having the confidence to ask for what you want is the first step in doing that.


popular
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.

popular
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 December. 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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
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 also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!