When Sarah Walborn first joined San Francisco Ballet as an apprentice, the excitement of joining her dream company soon gave way to dread. “I would go into work every day with fear as opposed to the excitement I had in school,” explains Walborn, now with Ballet Arizona. “I didn’t want to do any roles, much less go in for the workday.” Something needed to change.

Acknowledging such negative thoughts can be scary and lonely for dancers, no matter what stage in their career. If you don’t feel your company is the right fit, it can affect your motivation, a vital component in a profession that requires 110 percent every day. And yet, contemplating a move can bring up an equal number of anxieties. Luckily, employing a mix of self-reflection and research can help you avoid making a rash decision.

List Your Goals

To facilitate self-awareness and encourage self-assessment, Lauren Gordon, a career counselor with Career Transition For Dancers, recommends writing down an annual checklist of goals that reflects your aspirations in your company, for your overall dance career and for your personal life. How closely does your current experience match your checklist? If it doesn’t, what will it take to get the two more aligned?

After some reflection, Walborn realized that she needed more training. “I was too immature,” she says of her time at SFB. “I felt intimidated, so I held back and didn’t push myself as much as I could have.” The next year she reenrolled at her alma mater, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, to regain her confidence. While there, she concluded that she would be more comfortable dancing in a smaller company.

Jeffrey Cirio in Paul Taylor's "Company B" (photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

Signs You Should Leave

While fear, such as Walborn described, can be a powerful indicator, there are other telltale signs that it’s time to reassess your current environment. For instance, if you’re consistently passed over for roles or a promotion that you feel you deserve, you may have better success elsewhere. A hostile or exploitative workplace situation is another indicator that you should move on.

Other times, the reason can be harder to put your finger on. For Jeffrey Cirio, who danced as a principal at Boston Ballet before taking a soloist position at American Ballet Theatre last year, it was feeling too comfortable. “I was getting to the point where I was doing everything opening night and going into rehearsal feeling more nonchalant,” says Cirio. “I’d look back on a particular day or rehearsal and wish I would have pushed for more. Even though I was doing well, I needed a different mind-set.”

Major company changes can also trigger thoughts about moving on. After dancing with The Washington Ballet Studio Company, Walborn joined Kansas City Ballet, where she felt at home right away. But during her second season, there was a change in the artistic directorship. When she felt KCB changing overall, it no longer felt like an artistic fit and she began to put out feelers. On a recommendation, she auditioned for Ballet Arizona, where she found director Ib Andersen’s direct demeanor and approach to technique to be similar to hers.

When to Wait It Out

Of course, no company is perfect, and not every complaint warrants walking away. “It’s important to remember that the company is not the bad guy,” says Gordon. “It’s your responsibility to take care of your own goals and to be able to ask for things.” Acknowledging the positive aspects of your work environment can help you assess the negative more clearly. For instance, maybe there is a tour or an exciting choreographer slated for next season, or perhaps your company offers an educational partnership with a local university.

“It can also be smart to stay longer when you aren’t sure and need to gather more information,” says Gordon. “The knowledge that steps are in motion can help you get through a season, take away the impatience and appreciate the work ahead.”

Cirio, who had been in Boston his entire career, made his decision to leave over a two-year period. Aware that he still had great repertoire to dance and opportunities to choreograph, he also realized that if he went to a bigger company, he would probably have to accept a lower rank.

To be sure, he reached out to friends in other companies and consulted his sister, fellow BB principal Lia Cirio, who had made a similar career decision years before. “Be discreet about exploring,” advises Gordon, “because it can be taken the wrong way. However, it can be tempting to say ‘yes’ to an offer without first knowing if it is a good fit. Research ahead of time and your decision will be more rational.”

Taking your time can also help with making a graceful exit. “Every culture handles leaving differently,” warns Gordon. “A good leave-taking process is important because in this profession everyone crosses paths and either helps or thwarts each other.” Once Cirio was fairly certain of his decision to leave Boston Ballet, he sought out the advice of artistic director Mikko Nissinen, who ultimately gave his blessing. At the very least, planning a future move while cherishing your final moments at your current company can help make the transition easier.

Training
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As summer intensive audition season starts up, I've been reminiscing about my own experience as a young dancer—way back in 1993—and how challenging it was to navigate. In fact, I think it's safe to say that my first summer program audition was a complete disaster.

I was almost 16—a little late by some standards—and was still pretty clueless as to how I compared to others outside my hometown. That weighed heavily on my mind as my parents and I made the hour-long drive to Milwaukee. The audition was for a school in Pennsylvania, and as I scanned the big-city studio, my mind slipped into exaggerated teenage self-consciousness. Dancers lined the barres stretching, showing off their flexibility as if doing some sort of war ritual. Many were chatting in groups, wearing trendy warm-up jumpers and donning perfectly shellacked buns. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but inside I was a wreck.

The teacher clapped his hands together to begin class. He was fast-paced, no-nonsense and not one for smiles. During pliés, he stopped in front of me with his clipboard as I emerged from a cambré back. He looked me up and down, frowned and kept going. I, of course, freaked out—what did that mean? I still had an entire hour and a half left of class to prove I was still capable, but instead I completely lost my concentration. I just couldn't shake that frown. I forgot combinations and even started with the wrong foot in front a few times in center. By jumps, the adjudicators had stopped watching me altogether. Needless to say, I spent the majority of the ride home trying not to cry.

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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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popular
via YouTube

It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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Videos
Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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Your Career
Photo Courtesy Barry Kerollis.

I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.

"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

Keep reading at dance-teacher.com.

Summer Study Advice
Erica Lall and Shaakir Muhammad in class at American Ballet Theatre's 2013 New York Summer Intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Pointe.

When Pacific Northwest Ballet School student Madison Abeo was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School's summer session on a partial scholarship, she was thrilled. But then she added up the remaining cost for the program and realized she didn't have the funds. “I really wanted to go," she says, “but we just couldn't make the other half of it work."

Ballet training is expensive. For many families, a trip to a dream summer intensive simply isn't in the budget. SFB was $2,500 out of Abeo's reach. But she was determined. At the suggestion of her aunt, Abeo created a Facebook fan page where she asked for opportunities to babysit or perform odd jobs, and included a link to a PayPal account where friends and family could make donations. Two local dancewear businesses, Vala Dancewear and Class Act Tutu, offered to outfit her for fundraising photos, which a photographer took for her Facebook page for free. By June, Abeo had raised enough for tuition—plus plenty of pointe shoes.

Affording your dream intensive isn't as difficult as you might think. There are a surprising number of eager dance supporters out there. Case in point: On Kickstarter, dance projects have the highest success rate of any type of campaign, with dancers receiving over $4 million in donations through the site since it began. You can also apply for need- or merit-based grants and scholarships, either through your summer program or an outside foundation. Most dancers who want it badly enough can make it happen.


Madison Abeo with other Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the 2013 School Performance of an excerpt from "Serenade," choreography by George Balanchine. Photo by Rex Tranter, Courtesy Abeo.

Take Your Cause to the (Online) Streets

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Summer Study Advice
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.

DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally

An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."

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