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Boston Ballet's Dusty Button competed frequently as a ballet student. Photo via Dance Magazine

Competitions can be intimidating. But their many benefits can serve you well, regardless of whether you come home with a prize. Whether you're a competition veteran or trying it for the first time, here are a few of our best tips for making the most of the experience.

Evaluate whether you're ready. You may be a technically advanced dancer, but competitions come with a whole other set of challenges, from networking to the stress of performing for judges. Before signing up, ask yourself these questions to clarify your goals and make sure you're prepared to handle the pressure.

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New York City Ballet principals Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz (photo by Paul Kolnik)

She's regal, yet kind. Approachable yet commanding. Delicate yet firm. Clara may be the heart of Nutcracker, but the Sugar Plum Fairy is its soul, with her sparkling, queenly dancing. In most versions of the ballet, we sit through nearly the whole thing just to see her. This year, whether you're dancing the role, cheering on a friend from backstage or taking notes on your company's guest artists, really familiarize yourself with everyone's favorite fairy.

1. Even though Lev Ivanov’s original choreography shows up in most Sugar Plum Fairy variations, there are countless versions of Nutcracker and just as many motivations for Sugar Plum's dancing. Make sure you understand the "why," along with the "how," of your character's choreography before setting foot onstage.

2. Guesting as a Sugar Plum Fairy can be artistically and financially rewarding—and riddled with problems. Brush up on your business savvy before signing any contracts.

3.We'll say it again: Even professionals get nervous before performing. New York City Ballet soloist Ashley Laracey reflected on the pressures of her Sugar Plum debut.

4. Not only is the music stunning, the costume is to-die-for. Here's a roundup of our favorite Sugar Plum tutus from Nutcracker productions around the world.

5. Royal Ballet principal Lauren Cuthbertson preps for the role, offering insight into the hard work that goes into every step, even after your umpteenth Nutcracker entrance.

Merde for the rest of your season!

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

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A dancer backstage at YAGP finals. Photo by Kyle Froman, via Dance Magazine

Spring performance season is an exciting time, but it's also a hectic one. Between performance prep, studying for school exams and gearing up for summer intensives, your stress levels may be higher than usual. Here are some of our best tips for taking care of yourself during this busy time.

  1. Watch out for hidden stress. Sometimes anxiety can creep up on you before you have a chance to figure out what's causing it. Be aware of these sneaky sources of stress so you can avoid them.

  1. Take a social media break—the right way. Research has found that using social networks actively, like posting a shot of you and your fellow dancers backstage, is more beneficial. Scrolling through your Instagram feed and looking at all the fun others seem to be having might leave you feeling lonely or envious.

  1. Write it out. If you're doubting yourself the night before a performance, try jotting a few thoughts in a journal. It's been found to increase self esteem—and could even help you perform better. (Still nervous the day of? Try this helpful self-talk trick to beat stage fright).

  1. Fuel up. When you're busy, it can be harder to keep up with your usual nutritious habits, but it's important to fuel your body with foods that will give you the energy you need (hint: find the right balance between protein and carbs).

  1. Find moments to unwind. Even if you only have a few minutes between activities, there are quick tricks you can use to relax, so you'll be ready to take on the rest of your day. It could be as simple as looking at photos of baby animals.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

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