Maria Kowroski
Principal, New York City Ballet

I had to learn to stay focused on myself, and not let other people’s successes and opportunities interfere with my own life. Being too focused on other people can give your career a negative twist. Everyone has his or her own path. I really struggled with perfectionism, too. If I made mistakes back then, I would get angry. That doesn’t do you any good. Now I know if I make some mistakes, but the feeling was there, it can still be a good performance. Once I let perfectionism go, I danced much better and enjoyed performing more.

Ballet can be too all-consuming. Expose yourself to a wide sector of the arts. I wish I had done more of that as a young dancer. Go to opera, musicals, plays, other art forms besides ballet—that can really enhance your artistry. You might even see someone performing at a high level make a mistake. It’s important to realize we are all human, and mistakes are part of that. This is a live art form and anything can happen. It’s okay to mess up. Don’t beat yourself up over it. We will always have time to practice and work on ourselves.

 

Ashley Murphy
Dance Theatre of Harlem

I spent too much time looking in the mirror and judging myself, which comes from insecurity. I had this idea of what I was supposed to look like. Now I understand that everyone’s body works differently, and that movement often feels better than it looks. Part of being in a company is about playing off our strengths and weaknesses.

I could have benefited from knowing more about cross-training, too. I had to wait to get injured to figure that out. Now I alternate between swimming, the treadmill and the elliptical, along with lots of core work, and I feel so much stronger. In the early part of my career, I also let others push me too hard. Our bodies tell us when they need to rest and we had better listen.

As for those heading out on a career: Learn to strive, but within reason. Be true to yourself, and encourage others. Don’t bother with the petty stuff—it isn’t worth it. Your company is like a family; these are the people you depend on. Don’t lose the connection with those around you. 

 

Amy Aldridge
Principal, Pennsylvania Ballet

First, you need to be 100 percent behind the decision to go for a career, and not contemplate whether it’s something you should be doing. You need total confidence.

That said, I wish I had known how to pace myself better. Sometimes less is more, especially when approaching rehearsal. I was working too hard, and it wasn’t necessary—I punched everything with such high energy that by the end of the day I was exhausted. Using less energy actually made the movement more appealing. Throughout my career, I have had to learn to dance with a little less, a little softer, a little under. I had to work hard to find balance both inside and outside of the studio: diet and nutrition, my energy, my emotions. I tried to build myself too quickly. You don’t have to throw yourself into everything.

Also, you should be totally prepared when doing a new ballet or meeting a new choreographer. Do your homework. I research their work, study their ideas, look at what they have done before and who danced in the original work. I want to know where their head is at.

 

Simon Ball
Principal, Houston Ballet

I was way too impatient as a dancer. I wanted to jump higher, do more turns and so on. I should have been more patient so that I could develop my placement. When I broke my ankle nine years ago, I realized I had been doing things incorrectly for a long time. I had to go back and correct many of the inadequacies in my technique. I have much better hip placement now.

I also needed to learn to be respectful of older dancers. You have to modulate respect and ambition. I got caught up in “back of the room” chatter, be it talking about other dancers or jealousy. That can be toxic. Luckily, I snapped right out of it when I realized it was a waste of time.

Dancers need to be on simmer all the time, be on the ready. Run things through your head. A big break might happen if someone is injured, so you need to be totally prepared. There’s no such thing as being too prepared—you are always on the brink of being recognized.

 

Natalia Magnicaballi
Ballet Arizona; principal, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

If I have to think of something that surprised me the most, I could say the “politics” inside companies when I came to America to audition. I entered company life when I was 15 years old in Argentina and went through the ranks very quickly. I think I was very naïve, thinking that being a great dancer was enough. I didn’t understand that there were other factors, like a company’s budget, who you know, height requirements, egos—things beyond your control—that can get in the way. I think it’s like that in any other profession, but when you start so young, it’s kind of surprising and hard to understand at first. Knowing that now, I wish I had not been so hard on myself. Some things are not meant to be.

I always followed my instincts. As a young dancer you have to ask yourself what kind of ballets you’d like to dance. And figure out what is more important for you: to go through the ranks in a big company or be part of a medium-size company that doesn’t have ranks but gives you more opportunities to dance.

Andersen in Balanchine's "Valse-Fantaisie." Photo by Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

I got my corps contract on my 18th birthday. It was such a relief. I had convinced myself that I would be okay not dancing, but inside I just wanted to get a contract with Miami City Ballet.

I'd trained at Milwaukee Ballet School pretty much my whole life, and in 2014 I went to the MCB summer program and loved it. They invited me to stay for the year, and right when I got there, they offered me an apprenticeship. I spent the next two years as an apprentice. My second year I got to tour with the company and did Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Bourrée Fantasque.

Once I was told that I had a contract, it felt like so much weight was lifted off my shoulders. Every single person came up and individually congratulated me. They were so kind, and ever since then they've been like a big family.

It's such a jump from being in a school setting to being in the company. I'm lucky that I was able to experience so much firsthand as an apprentice, but there were still some things that I couldn't get used to. As an apprentice, I would spend half my day rehearsing and taking class at the school, and the other half rehearsing with MCB. Once I got into the company, there was so much less work. It was hard to stay in shape and make sure that I was on top of my dancing. The ballet masters don't give you as many corrections, and I didn't have anybody there to discipline me. It was all self-motivation.

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Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee is back, this time sharing her tried-and-true advice from the streets of New York City. While conducting a pointe shoe seminar at the Joffrey Ballet School's NYC Ballet Intensive, Lee put together a list of five things to keep in mind when choosing a summer program. Whether you're about to embark on this summer's intensive or are already thinking ahead for next year, these are good tips to keep in mind. And what better way to receive advice than while viewing a stroll through some of our favorite ballet-happy spots in NYC?

American Ballet Theatre's Cassandra Trenary seems to have it all—not only is our June/July 2016 cover star a dazzling soloist at ABT, she has a sunny, down-to-earth personality and a life-saving hero for a husband. But her first year in the company had its fair share of disappointments—in fact, she almost left dance altogether to pursue acting.

In May, the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to aspiring performing artists, brought Trenary (herself a 2011 YoungArts winner) and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky together for a salon-style discussion. Together they talked about critical turning points in their careers, as well as the challenges of navigating the dance world as a young professional. Below are exclusive excerpts of their interview—we hope their words inspire you as much as they inspire us!



There's still time to enter YoungArts's national arts competition for a chance at scholarships, workshops and more. Click here for information on how to apply.

ADrian Durham in CPYB's production of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.

As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. "Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. "It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.

Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.

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Alessandra Ferri in "Romeo and Juliet." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.

"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.

Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.

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Via Instagram

Last fall, Diana Vishneva shocked her NYC following when she announced that she would give her final performance with American Ballet Theatre on June 23, 2017. The Russian-born dancer has been part of ABT since performing in Romeo and Juliet as a guest artist in 2003, and has held the title of principal dancer with the company since 2005 in addition to her principal role with the Mariinksy Ballet. Throughout her time with ABT, which she spoke about in the below video for The New Yorker, Vishneva has danced as a guest artist with Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Berlin State Ballet.


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Karen Kain is internationally renowned as a performer and as the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director. The former NBoC principal always carries herself with the grace and sophistication of a true leader. However, in this 1976 clip from Giselle, the distinguished ballerina is convincingly naïve and bewildered in her interpretation of the mad scene.



Kain conveys Giselle's innocence at the start of the scene with pure, unaffected gestures and facial expressions. Then, after Albrecht betrays her, her eyes stare unfocused into the distance as if she's in a trance. Although this scene is mostly acting, Kain dances dreamily to the musical motif at 5:30 and conceals her technical strength in order to show the character's frailty. It takes a true ballerina to perform this heartbreaking and beautiful role, and with performances like this and her lifelong commitment to the art form, Kain proves that she is an extraordinary one. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Photo by Quinn Wharton

How can I wean myself off my coffee fix without experiencing headaches and crankiness that will disrupt my rehearsal process? —Lauryn

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