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

I used to be the most advanced dancer in my class, but recently I feel like my technique has stopped improving while everyone else is getting better. What do I do? —Carrie
This is a good thing—you finally have some competition! It’s easy to feel comfortable when you’re the best dancer in your class. But sometimes that leads to complacency because you don’t have the extra incentive to push yourself. It’s time to reevaluate your approach to class and step it up a notch. Are you focused and listening to corrections, or are you phoning in familiar combinations? Do you use down time between groups to practice or do you take a break? Identify where your self-discipline wanes and make improvements.

It’s normal to experience a plateau every now and again. It may last for a few weeks or a few months, but it’s usually followed by a breakthrough and flurry of improvement. Body conditioning classes (like Pilates, yoga or weight training) can help you reconnect with your body in different ways and provide new ideas to apply to your technique. Inspiration helps, too—go to a performance, listen to ballet music or watch videos of your favorite dancer to recharge.

I practice my fouetté turns every day but they don’t improve. I travel so much, and it’s frustrating me! Do you have any tips for building strength and consistency? —Heather

Several things might be affecting your fouetté turns, such as poorly controlled relevés or wild arms. But according to Lupe Serrano, a faculty member at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre, dancers usually travel when they’re lifting their working hip. “Your hips need to remain the same height,” she says. “Otherwise you create a tilt of the spine, which will throw you off balance.” You can practice fouettés endlessly, but they’ll never improve if your alignment is off.
There’s no need to go back to the barre—since you’re losing your balance in the center, that’s where you should tackle the problem. “Practice the movement properly in the center without turning,” says Serrano. Relevé passé, then slowly plié the leg front, open side and relevé passé to find your placement and balance. “Keep your hips at the same height,” she says. “Be careful not to lose your turnout on the supporting leg as you open the working leg to the side.”

When you can consistently find your balance and proper placement, try turning. Shoot for 16 clean, well-placed fouettés. Once your traveling is under control, you can aim for more.

What’s the best way to store and take care of practice tutus so that they don’t stick up at weird angles? —Kathryn

You should hang a tutu upside down when you store it. Gravity will naturally cause the tulle to droop, so keeping it upside down helps the skirt stay pancake-flat. However, don’t just stick a hanger through the panty; the elastic will stretch out and provide—ahem—inadequate bottom coverage.

Instead, sew hanging tape (those loops that are sewn on the inside of skirts and strapless dresses) to the inside of the waistband, says Holly Hynes, resident costume designer for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and costume consultant for The George Balanchine Trust. “Pull the loops through the leg holes and hook those on the hanger,” she says. Make sure you leave enough space around your tutu so that the tulle doesn’t get crinkled.

Several companies make circular tutu garment bags, which are perfect for when you’re traveling to the theater. “These are great for gigs, but not for long-term storing,” says Hynes. The tulle can get crushed along the edges if the tutu is not perfectly flat inside the bag, so take it out and hang  it upside down once you get to your destination.

If your tutu looks wrinkled, treat it the old-fashioned way. “Tutu net does well with an iron and ironing board,” says Hynes. “This means untacking and retacking the layers, but it’s the best method.” How do you know when it’s time for a new one? “If you can roll it up and stick it in a suitcase,” she says, “it probably needs to be replaced.”

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.


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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Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.


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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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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