Your Career

Why You Don't Need to be the Company Star to be a Company Leader

Smuin Ballet's Terez Dean. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Smuin Ballet

From the outside, one might assume that the stars onstage are leaders offstage, too. It might be so, but life in a company is usually more complex. Opportunities to volunteer, teach or represent fellow colleagues allow dancers at any rank to develop important skills and make their voices heard. Others take the lead simply by lifting company morale or setting a good example in the studio. In fact, leadership takes many forms—and you don't have to be a principal ballerina to be an influential company member whom others look up to. For these three dancers, stepping into leadership roles has given greater meaning and fulfillment to their careers.


Overholt in Balanchine's "Symphony in Three Movements." Photo by Julian Duque, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

Get Involved, Give Back

Miami City Ballet corps member Lexie Overholt is always looking for opportunities to get involved. “When I was on full scholarship at Miami City Ballet School, I realized I wanted to give back to the ballet because they gave so much to me," she says. “Leadership is a natural calling for me, so I dive in whenever there are things I can do."

Now in her fifth season with the company, Overholt volunteers in almost all parts of the organization. She participates in outreach projects and lecture demonstrations at community schools. She also serves on the Upper Room committee, a group that plans events for young patrons. Overholt even helped connect Miami City Ballet to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “Now if there is a child in South Florida whose wish it is to be a ballet dancer, we get to share a day with them."


Overholt at an MCB outreach event. Photo by WorldRedEye.com, Courtesy Adrienne Arsht Center.

As a testament to her leadership skills, Overholt was nominated to be one of three representatives for Miami City Ballet. “We serve as a liaison between dancers and administration during contract negotiations," she explains, a job that requires her to navigate potential conflicts with management. “It helps us understand in greater depth the unique perspective of both sides."

Terez Dean, a dancer with Smuin Ballet, makes a point to learn about all aspects of her company, especially on the administrative end. She attends development and marketing meetings when she can, and always volunteers to step into a focus group. “It's important for dancers to give our input," she says. “We can talk about how we see our company evolving, and how we want to show that to the public." And in a business that's reliant on outside support and donations, Dean makes a special effort to maintain good relationships with patrons and other community members. “You never know who you're going to cross paths with in the future."


Sundermeier as Myrtha in "Giselle." Photo Courtesy Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

For Royal Winnipeg Ballet principal Jo-Ann Sundermeier, leading from the front of the studio gives her a special feeling of gratification. She will sometimes teach a master class to local students when the company is on tour. She also teaches for both the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the Aspirant Program (RWB's pre-professional group in which students have the opportunity to dance in large company productions).

“Teaching is a different kind of fulfillment than I get from dancing because I have direct interaction with the students," she says. “They take my advice to heart."

Set the Standard

Sometimes leadership is not so much about what outside roles you take on, but about how you behave and treat your fellow dancers. “I take my job very seriously," says Sundermeier, who tries to set a good example for all ranks of the company, not just the younger dancers. “I make sure I'm neat and show up to rehearsals on time. I conduct myself professionally in the studio and backstage at the theater, and I'm always listening."

Lending an ear or a helping hand to dancers in need also boosts morale and creates a more welcoming atmosphere. Sundermeier makes a conscious effort to be approachable, especially when dancers come to her for advice about roles she's done. “I talk to them about my experience, like my thoughts on musicality or how I felt." When new dancers join MCB, Overholt has been known to help them with their taxes or even find an apartment. Dancing, she says, is just one aspect of her job. “It's so important to be engaged and to know everyone," she says. “It makes what I do all the more rewarding."


Dean and Christopher Squires in Amy Seiwert's "Dear Miss Cliine." Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.


When Dean suffered a serious injury a few years back, she still found ways to help out and feel connected. “I went into the studio almost every day when I wasn't at physical therapy," she remembers. “I felt it was my responsibility to be a motivator for my colleagues." Dean watched rehearsals and performances, cheering for the dancers and being an open ear for their frustrations. “I was there every day to remind everyone how fortunate we are to work."

Because of her leadership experience, Dean feels more well-rounded, and she thinks she will have an easier time transferring into another professional environment when the time comes. “I know that my passion for working with others will continue to flourish in my next career," she says. “Being a leader in dance is being a leader in life."

New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the StageChagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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Danny Rivera (left) is one of six students from San Juan who the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is hoping to relocate so he can continue his training. Photo by Soho Images, Courtesy SCBS.


Many of us take our ballet training for granted. But for dancers living in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastating affects of last month's Hurricane Maria, pursuing a ballet career or simply taking class must now feel insurmountable. What do you do when Mother Nature not only destroys your dance studio, but your home and the majority of the city you live in? Priorities must shift to those of basic survival.

Now, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is trying to help six Puerto Rican dancers resume their training. The students, whose studio in San Juan was badly damaged, had recently attended SCBS's summer intensive. School directors Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez have started a fundraising effort called "Sarasota And Puerto Rico Dance Together" to temporarily relocate the dancers. While they can easily offer them scholarships, Serrano and Hernandez must raise an additional $36,000 to provide housing, food and living expenses for one year. (SCBS has a dormitory for female students, but not for male students.)

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Videos
Photo by Nisian Hughes

Transform your next black-and-white tutu look with these on-trend details like mesh cutouts and lace sleeves. And checkout the behind-the-scenes footage from our tutu shoot, below.

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