While we know you practically live in your leos and tights (and a tightly wound bun), summer is the perfect time to literally let your hair down and show off your style outside the studio.
Not sure where to start? Take a page from these pro dancers' ensembles. From classically chic to kooky and daring, these ballerinas know how to express themselves—on and off the stage. The #1 rule? There are no rules.
There’s one accessory Brittany Stone doesn’t leave home without: her headphones. “I’m always listening to music, usually something from the ‘90s,” she says. “It just makes your day better, especially in the morning when you don’t really want to get up and take class.” Her playlist is full of “good walking music”—upbeat songs that get her moving and motivated. The rest of her street style is characterized by cozy standbys: T-shirts and jeans, white sweaters, overalls and her favorite shoes, Dr. Martens. “They’re basically my staple,” she says. “I have three pairs. I wear them all the time, especially in the winter.”
In dancewear, Stone’s priority is seeing her lines. “My style in the studio is very simple, very classic. I almost always wear pink tights,” she says. For essentials like toe pads and tights, she turns to Discount Dance Supply: “A lot of times the girls in the company will coordinate when we need stuff and make a big order, because the shipping’s cheaper.” Outside the studio, too, Stone notes, shopping is a great way to bond with new friends—something she’s been doing a lot of since transitioning from Boston Ballet to The Washington Ballet last fall. “Everyone in the company is so nice and welcoming. It’s been really good,” she says.
Leather jacket: “I got it at a secondhand store in Connecticut, where I’m from. I love vintage shopping.”
Urban Outfitters jeans: “I love high-waisted things. I think they’re really flattering.”
Dr. Martens: “They make everything look cooler than it is. The red ones are my classic ones; they were my first pair.”
Discount Dance Supply leotard: “It had a liner in it, but I cut it out because it was a little too hot. It’s a great color and a great line, I think.”
RubiaWear legwarmers: These were designed by Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis. “She’s always been an inspiration to me; her dancing is so beautiful.”
Bloch Inc. slippers: “I used to wear leather shoes, but I think you can feel the floor better with the canvas. I’m hardly ever in flat shoes—just sometimes for barre.”
Ballet-inspired clothing is nothing new, and the dance and fashion worlds have always been in conversation with each other. Think of how many prominent choreographers have enlisted fashion designers to create costumes for their work, or how ballet flats have become a wardrobe staple.
But lately, activewear brands are catching on too, with collaborations that emphasize the athleticism and strength of ballet dancers. There's Misty Copeland's "I Will What I Want" campaign for Under Armour, the recent GapFit campaign featuring dancers like Calvin Royal III, Keenan Kampa and Mayara Pineiro, and, as of next week, a whole line of ballet-inspired sneakers and sportswear from PUMA, as part of their "Do You" campaign.
The collection is part of PUMA's partnership with New York City Ballet, which began last summer. Called Swan Pack, it's made up of mostly black and white pieces, including a sneaker with pointe shoe-esque ribbons and a black cape with feather embellishments.
While we're excited about the clothes themselves, the best part of all is the campaign's stunning photos, which feature NYCB corps dancers Lara Tong, Olivia Boisson, Mimi Staker, Unity Phelan and Rachel Hutsell wearing some of the new looks. And the "Do You" message, encouraging self-confidence and individuality, can't be beat.
The collection launches on February 1, and will be available in stores and online.
What is Céline Cassone’s favorite thing to buy? Cowboy boots, to add to her growing collection. “I’m just crazy with boots,” the Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal dancer says. “Always the same style, some short and some longer.” It’s also the one part of her outfit where you might find a pop of color, as most of her wardrobe is black and gray. She has boots in pink and purple, as well as more neutral shades of black, brown and white. “I’m looking for a nice red,” she says. She tends to do most of her shopping when the company is on tour. BJM travels five or six months a year, and Cassone has been everywhere from New York City to Israel to Italy.
In the studio, she’s never without her bright-green, peanut-shaped exercise ball, which she uses to work on her abdominals. “You can do Pilates exercises with that,” she says. “It’s super-light and it’s always with me.” She’ll even use it as a pillow on the bus. Cassone favors long, loose layers and fun patterns in her dancewear—but she makes sure to keep her look practical, especially if she needs to dance on pointe. “For center, I want to see my legs and I want to see my feet,” she says.
COS top: “I bought it in Los Angeles.” Cassone rarely shops at home in Montreal.
Levi’s jeans: “I always wear jeans, never dresses.”
Boots: “I bought them in Guadalajara, Mexico. We were on tour, and they had so many boots. I bought five pairs because it’s so cheap there.”
Lululemon top: “I’m a crazy Lululemon fan. I like that it can be for dance but also for the street.”
Wear Moi legwarmers: “I like flashy colors in the studio.”
Socks: These were made by Daniil Simkin’s mother, and given to all the dancers during the premiere of his INTENSIO project, which Cassone danced in.
Don’t expect to catch Simone Messmer wearing a leotard—at least, not for company class. “Ballet class is for me,” she says. “It happens every day, so it turns into a major part of how you set yourself up for the day and how you’re feeling. I think it’s really important to take control of that.” In class, the Miami City Ballet principal prefers comfortable separates with clean lines and long sleeves. When it’s time for rehearsal, she’ll bring out her leotards and tights. “And I tend to bring the skirt or tutu that’s appropriate for the role. I try to start right away, to get a feeling for it,” she says.
Messmer, who joined MCB in 2015 after dancing with American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, has been embracing her new home—and adjusting to Miami’s warmer climate. Lately, she gravitates towards looser, flowy pieces and lighter colors. “It’s a process after my New York garb for 13 years,” she says. “Everyone’s like, ‘You’re still all in black,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s all I own!’ ” Still, even amidst change, Messmer has a strong sense of who she is, and her style reflects that. “I think if the clothes are wearing you, it’s the wrong outfit,” she says.
Trench coat: “I’ve had a best friend in New York since I moved there. There were a couple years I lived with him and his parents, and that’s his father’s army trench.”
Sweater: “I have a favorite store in New York’s East Village, Tokio 7, which is a consignment store. It’s a hit-or-miss place, but you can get great stuff.”
Lanvin shoes: “These can dress up easily, especially post-theater.”
RadetskyWear top: “I don’t do patterns. I think they’re distracting in the mirror. This is kind of as far as I go with them.”
Leggings: “When Twyla Tharp did Rabbit and Rogue for ABT, I was part of the group that created it with her. Norma Kamali did the costumes, and these are Norma Kamali leggings.”
Capezio pointe shoes: “They have been making me these pointe shoes for 10 years now.” Because of the humidity, Messmer goes through shoes more quickly in Miami.
As a young student, Shea McAdoo’s classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova.” She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet’s summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I’d never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring.”
McAdoo’s experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn’t cross my wrists,” she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me.” Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine’s Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet’s fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.
Learning about ballet’s various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer’s development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it’s a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.
Let Curiosity Be Your Guide
Whether it’s Bournonville, French or Balanchine, every methodology has its own aesthetic, movement quality and areas of emphasis. Most dancers find that there’s one in particular that appeals to or suits them best. McAdoo’s admiration of New York City Ballet’s dancers made her want to study at the school that trained them, but another dancer might love the expressive port de bras of The Royal Ballet’s dancers, or the Vaganova method’s power and purity.
One thing is certain—don’t let an unfamiliar style deter you from auditioning for a school’s intensive. While some academies prioritize accepting students trained in their method, most don’t. “We don’t look for students who’ve had Balanchine training previously at all,” says Kay Mazzo, SAB’s co-chairman of faculty. She notes that most of its summer students are brand-new to Balanchine technique. Similarly, at Sarasota Ballet’s Margaret Barbieri Conservatory, two out of three intensive students are unfamiliar with what principal Christopher Hird calls the “English style” (a hybrid of Russian, Italian and French influences that result in seamlessly clean footwork and eloquent port de bras).
“One of the benefits of a summer program is being exposed to a different way of dancing,” says conservatory director Margaret Barbieri. “The dancers are learning to adapt to whatever is required of them that day, which is an important skill to instill in a student—they will need it as a professional.”
Mazzo says students should start investigating all their options early. “It’s important that when they’re still 12 to 14 years old they look around at different styles, schools and companies, to see what’s out there. Because by the time they’re 15 or 16, they should know what’s right for their body, what they like and what fits well for them.”
What to Expect
Venturing into a new way of dancing can be confusing at first. An overload of information, from the way combinations are presented to different terminology, can make you feel like a beginner again. Last summer, 16-year-old Sofia Yarbrough struggled to make sense of the specific ways the teachers wanted her to hold her head and arms at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. Everything, from the language the Russian teachers spoke to the way frappés were done, was different from her home studio, the Ballet Center of Fort Worth. “At first, I felt like a fish out of water,” she says. But soon the new technique took hold in her body. “By the fourth week, the coordination started to make sense and feel normal.”
Mazzo knows how hard it is for students to grasp SAB’s trademark speed, attack, musicality and, for the advanced girls, taking every class on pointe. She counsels being patient. “We tell them on the first day, ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ because this might be 100 percent different from what you’ve been taught. Take it one day at a time, and work on one new thing at a time.”
It’s also important to remember that what you already know is not invalid, and the basic concepts of technique carry across all styles. Alexandros Pappajohn, now a member of The Washington Ballet Studio Company, spent a summer at the Paris Opéra Ballet School when he was 15. “It was definitely a big change,” says Pappajohn, then a student at Ballet Academy East. Keeping an open mind helped him adopt the school’s emphasis on clean, fast footwork and épaulement. He admits it was hard to break ingrained habits (like how to prepare before combinations), but otherwise found adjusting to the French classes surprisingly easy. “Ballet is ballet. You always have to straighten your knees and point your feet. If you have good, solid technique, you can go other places and it’s not a shock to your system.”
Being able to do steps differently from class to class, according to what each teacher wants, helps develop versatility—a skill professional dancers need when adapting to choreographers’ eclectic movement styles.
“We instill in students that even if they don’t agree with one thing or another, they should soak up everything like a sponge,” says Barbieri. Last summer, students were able to watch Sarasota Ballet dancers rehearse Sir Frederick Ashton’s repertoire to see the intricacies of his style at work. “If they want to be professional, they have to incorporate different styles, and know that Balanchine requires steps to be done differently than Ashton. It also helps them learn what sort of repertoire they want to dance.”
After her summer experience, Yarbrough loved the Vaganova method so much that she decided to remain at the Kirov Academy year-round. But whether studying a different style leads you on a new path or not, exposure to the many unique disciplines of ballet is an invaluable part of becoming a strong, versatile dancer. While it’s challenging to learn something new, Kirov Academy co-artistic director Adrienne Dellas Thornton notes that students are capable of more than they may think. “Young dancers pick up the nuances of other techniques so quickly. They don’t have to fear losing something by learning a new method—it is part of the adventure of dance.”
Gavin Larsen, a former principal dancer with Oregon Ballet Theatre, teaches and writes about dance from Portland, Oregon.