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How should I deal with pre-performance nerves? I try so hard to be confident, but I can’t stop thinking about all the “what ifs.” —Kasey
Nerves aren’t all bad—we need a few to give us that extra shot of adrenaline and keep us focused onstage. Trust me, I’ve made careless mistakes from feeling too complacent. But I’ve also given terrible performances due to paralyzing anxiety. And if you feel terrified, chances are the audience feels terrified for you.

Obsessing over potential disasters will only twist your stomach into larger knots. Sure, bad things happen—I’ve fallen on my face, forgotten choreography, lost a headpiece, improvised on the spot after an injured dancer crawled offstage. You just have to keep going.
You can’t control every aspect of a performance, but you can feel as prepared as possible. In rehearsals, don’t stop dancing if a step doesn’t go perfectly or the tempo seems a little off—you won’t be able to stop onstage, so practice adjusting. On performance days, give yourself plenty of time to properly warm up, fix your hair and makeup, and rosin your shoes—rushing will only increase your anxiety. Look for ways to relax: Listen to your favorite songs on your iPod, find a quiet space to meditate or chat up a friend who makes you laugh. Visualize a flawless performance instead of a disastrous one to help build your confidence.

When I put my weight between my first two toes on pointe, it feels like I’m winging. Can you roll over the inside corner of your box too much? —Hannah
If you feel like you’re winging on pointe, your weight is most likely not centered over the first two toes. Sometimes dancers intentionally push over the inside corner of their box to improve the line of their foot. But winging in a weight-bearing position can also signal weakness and cause a host of problems down the road. The excess pressure on your big toe and first metatarsal can aggravate bunion growth. And, according to North Carolina Dance Theatre’s physical therapist Angie Koonin, PT, ATC, you can also develop anterior impingement syndrome, a painful condition where tissues of the front, inner ankle are pinched between bones, causing them to swell and thicken.

Koonin recommends strengthening your ankles with a few simple exercises. First, in bare feet or slippers, face the barre in parallel and slowly practice prancing your feet through demi-pointe. “Try to keep your weight on all five toes and maintain a neutral foot position,” she says. Then, repeat in pointe shoes. She also recommends Thera-Band exercises in all four directions (pointing, flexing, winging out and sickling in), working each direction until your muscles begin to fatigue. And don’t forget your intrinsic muscles (those tiny muscles that move your toes). Try picking up marbles one by one with your toes and dropping them in a bowl.

Keep in mind that other factors, such as forced turnout or poor core strength, may also be contributing to your problem. And make sure your pointe shoes provide adequate support—boxes tend to warp as they break down. You can apply strong glue to the inside corner to help strengthen the box. 
I feel bad sending all of my dead pointe shoes to a landfill. Is there any way to recycle them? —Connie
While retiring old pointe shoes feels wasteful, we do it for a reason—wearing dead shoes can be dangerous and bad for our feet. Currently there are no specific pointe shoe recycling programs. However, I did a little research with the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, whose members acquire used clothing (including shoes!) for recycling purposes. According to SMART’s spokesperson, traditional pointe shoes—which contain natural and man-made materials like satin, cotton, jute and leather—can be recycled. Most likely the shoes will be sorted and broken down into their basic fiber components and manufactured into new products. To be sure, I took an old pair of mine to a textile recycling booth at my local farmers market, and they accepted them without a hitch. Check SMARTasn.org to see if there’s a textile recycling program near you.

Another option is to reuse your shoes creatively, or donate them to an artist. You’d be surprised by the number of crafty pointe shoe creations on websites like Etsy.com and Pinterest—check them out for inspiration or to find an artist who may want them.
However, don’t fret too much if you have to throw your old shoes in the trash. “Most pointe shoes are biodegradable and will break down under heat, moisture and pressure,” says Elissa McDonald, product specialist for Bloch Inc. “All of these elements combine in a well-developed compost situation and in most landfills.”

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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Summer Study Advice

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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