On a rainy October morning, Boston Ballet's Dusty Button sails through a pas de cinq rehearsal for Swan Lake. The variation is long and thankless, full of uncomfortable jump sequences and tricky transitions from pirouettes, yet Button, newly minted as a principal dancer, glides through it sunnily in a trial pair of Bloch pointe shoes. Unusually, she is not winded and is able to joke with assistant artistic director Russell Kaiser as he gives her notes.

“I think I just did a four-step soutenu," she laughs good-naturedly, hands on her hips. “Well, you are always overachieving, Dusty," teases Kaiser, giving voice to what could be the understatement of Button's last few years with the company.

Two catchphrases screen-printed onto the coverups of Button's dancewear line, Ribbon&Rosin, say it all: “Work until your idols become your rivals" and “Remember why you started." At 25, she appears to be following her own advice. After dancing at Birmingham Royal Ballet, Button was hired into Boston's corps in 2012, where she was promoted to soloist and then principal within two years. But her path to the top has been anything but traditional, and shows a keen entrepreneurial instinct that leverages growing up as a competition kid. In addition to designing her clothing line, she is a budding choreographer who teaches at dance conventions on the weekends. Her Instagram feed, at last count boasting 46,400 followers, and her brand-new website, worldofdusty.com, make it clear that she has a vision for branding herself that is more like a young Hollywood starlet than a ballet dancer. From the competition circuit to The Royal Ballet School, Button has grown from a precocious, talented student into a strategic artist and businesswoman.


Button, an only child, was raised in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She spent most of her childhood winning national titles at competitions such as Showstopper and New York City Dance Alliance. But in addition to jazz, hip hop and tap, she was also schooled in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus. RAD prepared her for a year-round invitation to The Royal Ballet School's Upper School in London at 15, but the prohibitive cost kept her in the U.S. Instead, after being scouted at Youth America Grand Prix, she was offered a scholarship to American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and moved with her mother to New York City.

After a year and a half, she was invited to fill in for an injured member of ABT's Studio Company and was soon asked to officially join them. But in a surprising move, she turned the offer down in order to enroll at The Royal Ballet School, this time on a mix of scholarship and sponsorships. Button wanted more training due to a late start in pre-professional ballet.

Towards the end of her year at RBS, she auditioned for Boston Ballet. “I saw this dynamic girl who had a jazz background," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “I liked her but didn't have anything to offer her." After her year-end RBS assessments, which were open to company directors, the 18-year-old received a contract with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

During her three years at BRB, Button excelled, earning lead roles in both story ballets, such as David Bintley's Cinderella, and contemporary repertoire. But she felt frustrated by the seniority-based hierarchy. On a quest for new challenges and a home where she could progress more quickly, she took what many dancers might deem a huge risk: She left at the end of the season without first signing another contract, and returned to the U.S. ABT heard she was back in town and offered her some freelance work. Yet she zeroed in on Boston Ballet. Having not received a contract years before, she saw the company as a challenge and auditioned again.

“When she came back, her strength was elongated, and she was more developed as both a dancer and a human being," says Nissinen. After finishing up with her commitments at ABT, she joined Boston mid-season.

Ballet master Larissa Ponomarenko helped Button find her footing after joining the company. “When I think of Dusty, I see a vibrant human being who is eager to succeed with anything she touches," says Ponomarenko. “She always gives a hundred percent of herself." Button seems to have easily blended into BB's diverse repertoire, performing both her dream role of Gamzatti in La Bayadère and leads in Alexander Ekman's Cacti and José Martinez's Resonance. “There's no limitation to what she can do," says Nissinen.

Having reached her professional dream of becoming a principal, says Button, “my goals are now related not only to my career but the lifestyle surrounding it. I want to build a life I never need a vacation from." With this in mind, it seems fitting that she and her husband, both self-described Anglophiles, would make a home in a New England penthouse condo that dons more than a few Union Jacks among Ducati motorcycles and a Ferrari.

Button seems to bring a contemporary dancer?'s mindset to everything she does. She often looks for inspiration outside the studio, such as watching motorcycle racing with her husband. “?As dancers, we are constantly surrounded by people who think the same thoughts, and it?'s easy to become routine,?" she says. “?What was the last new thing I learned? What can I do more of today than yesterday??" Button?'s ambition to be different drives her, she admits, “?to see my path clearly as the one opposite of the most traveled.?"

While this type of independent thinking has helped shape her into a dynamic and versatile dancer, it's also caused controversy. When she first joined the company, she preferred to do her own contemporary warm-up and run through her choreography before performances in lieu of company class. When Nissinen asked her to be in class more, Button felt she needed to understand his reasoning and asked if her choice was affecting her technique. She applies a similar interrogatory process to coaching. “You have to take what they are saying, but you can't just be a carbon copy,"she says, seemingly unaware of the raw talent that has allowed her to show such personality in the face of authority.

Nissinen'?s explanation that her new rank came with new role model responsibilities made sense to her and helped her reframe her approach to the daily practice. ?"When she first came, she wasn?'t always in class,"? Nissinen explains. ?"But we are serious about class here. We play team basketball. Once she understood the philosophy, she embraced it wholeheartedly.?" Now, she dances full-out from the first plié, adding a level of difficulty to every barre combination?: an extra fouetté turn during rond de jambe en? l'air, or dancing adagio on demi-pointe. Stripping down to just a leotard and tights in the center, she repeats her grand allégro combinations with the men, flying just as high.

At Boston Ballet's BB@home black-box event last year, Button showcased her choreography, its vocabulary an exciting mix of her contemporary and ballet heritage. She hopes to eventually create full-length works for ballet and contemporary companies around the globe. As she propels herself forward at warp speed, Button continues to show a nascent ability to reinvent herself. With new footholds in choreography and business, in addition to a principal featured role in Lady of the Camellias this spring, Button is redefining what it means to be a ballerina in the new millennium—and her enterprising spirit is proof that there is reward in such bold self-creation.

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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.

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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.

Summer Study Advice
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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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Career
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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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Videos

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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