Training

Should I turn down an apprenticeship to finish my dance degree, or should I put my education on pause? —Ashleigh

Congratulations on receiving an apprenticeship offer! They don't come every day. If you think you're ready for company life, and will be full of regrets if you turn the offer down, you can always resume school later. However, make sure you know what the position entails.

Not all apprenticeships are paid, and there's no guarantee that you'll be promoted to the company's corps de ballet at season's end. Are you comfortable entering the dance world without the security of a college degree? And are you motivated enough to return to school if you put your education on pause now?

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Training

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Should I bother auditioning for companies where I might not “fit in”? I don’t want to miss out on a potential opportunity, but I’m also trying to be realistic. —Abby

There’s never any harm in auditioning, especially if there’s an open call happening nearby. You have nothing to lose! But if you’re planning an audition tour or don’t live within driving distance of a frequent open audition hub, you’ll want to prioritize and choose companies wisely. Otherwise you risk wasting a lot of money on travel expenses if you don’t turn out to be what the director is looking for.

If you have doubts about fitting in, it’s more cost-effective to send the company an audition package in advance (include a video and dance photos so that they can see your movement quality and technical ability) and then follow up. Be honest about your height, training background and experience. That way, the director has all the relevant information up front, and you can make sure he or she is interested (or even looking for dancers) before investing in plane tickets. If, after following up a few times, you get no response, move on. But if they do encourage you to audition—and you’re interested in checking out the company—go for it.

My friend has an eating disorder. I want to tell someone, but I’m afraid it will result in her having to take time off, or even quit. I don’t want to ruin her life. What should I do? —Sarah

First, try not to think that you’ll be ruining your friend’s life. Quite the opposite—having an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia could ruin, or even end, her life if it’s not treated. And the earlier she seeks treatment, the better her chances of recovery.

That said, before you tell anyone, you should approach her yourself—you probably don’t know the full situation. Choose a private time to talk to her alone so that she feels more comfortable opening up. Let her know that you’re worried about her, but be careful about how you phrase your language. According to Dawn Smith-Theodore, a certified eating disorder specialist and author of TuTu Thin: A Guide to Dancing Without an Eating Disorder (available at tututhin.com and Amazon), talk about your concerns from your own perspective. Use “I” statements (“I’ve noticed you’re not yourself lately,” “I’m concerned about you,” “I want you to get help”). Avoid starting sentences with “you” (“You didn’t eat lunch,” “You were throwing up”), which sound accusatory. “That’s immediately going to put her on the defensive,” Smith-Theodore says, and make your friend less inclined to confide in you.

If she doesn’t respond well to your concerns, then it’s time to reach out to a trusted adult, such as a teacher or your friend’s parents. (Ask your parents to accompany you if you feel overwhelmed.) Start by telling them what you’ve noticed, and ask if they’ve noticed similar behavior. Let them know how worried you are—hopefully that will urge them to take further action. Will your friend be upset with you for telling? Possibly. But having the bravery to intervene shows how much you care about her well-being, which is ultimately more important. You could quite literally help save her life.

My extension to the side and back is fine, but I really struggle to get my leg up to the front. How can I build strength and flexibility? —Abbey

You’re not alone. Controlled extensions to the front are not only physically difficult, but they’re sometimes hard to understand anatomically. (For the record, développé devant is one of my least favorite steps.) Obviously, you want to work on increasing your flexibility with daily hamstring stretches. But often, the culprit is a weak iliopsoas—a group of deep core muscles that attach at the spine and run through the abdomen to the front of the hip. Your iliopsoas is crucial in lifting the leg, but it’s tough to find, and even tougher to activate.

(Courtesy Karen Clippinger)

Try this iliopsoas strengthener recommended by kinesiologist Karen Clippinger, author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology: Tie a medium-weight Thera-Band around your legs just above the knee and lie back on your elbows with your knees bent and feet lifted off the ground. Your pelvis should be tucked under at first to help you find your iliopsoas. Pull one knee in towards your chest, straighten the leg without letting the knee move away from the torso (it’s okay if you can’t fully straighten it) and return to the starting position, repeating six times on each side (eventually increasing to 10 reps). As you gain strength, practice the exercise with a more neutral pelvis, and gradually progress from leaning on your elbows to a more vertical position leaning on your hands.

(Courtesy Karen Clippinger)

Another exercise that always helped me is to simply place the leg on the barre in croisé devant, keeping the hips square and lifting out of the supporting hip. Rotating from the top of the hip, feel a lengthening, spiraling energy through the working leg and lift it off the barre. Hold for five counts and slowly lower. Don’t worry if you can only lift it a few inches—this exercise will strengthen your deep turnout muscles, which will take pressure off the quad and create support from underneath.

 

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