Ballet Careers

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."

Show Comments ()
popular
via Instagram, Thaler Photography

Having danced with New York City Ballet, Béjart Ballet and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Aesha Ash undoubtedly inspired more than a few future ballerinas during her 13-year professional career. But now that she's retired, she's found a way to reach even more young girls, particularly those who live in inner-city neighborhoods, after founding The Swan Dreams Project.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo via @isabellaboylston on Instagram.

From baking to leotard design, we love seeing dancers' passions outside of the studio. This week, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston revealed herself to be an avid reader. She posted a photo on Instagram from her dressing room on the company's tour stop in Lincoln, NE, posing in her black swan tutu with a book in hand and the following caption:

"Hey guys!🚨🚨 Who wants to join my book club? The first book will be THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K Le Guin. I've always been a huge bookworm, and would love to connect with you guys over some great books! I was thinking we can do an Instagram live in a couple weeks and people can comment in to discuss.😃 📚 🐛 any suggestions on what the next book should be?"

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Debra Austin in "Giselle."

Whenever Debra Austin jumped, she soared—and not only onstage. Invited by George Balanchine to join New York City Ballet at age 16, she was the first African-American woman to enter the company (where she eventually rose to soloist). She later joined Zurich Ballet, returning to the U.S. to accept a principal contract with Pennsylvania Ballet in 1982—a groundbreaking milestone for a black dancer outside of Dance Theatre of Harlem at the time. In this clip from a 1987 production of Giselle, her beautifully pliant feet and effortless ballon shine through the fuzzy video quality. In her Act I variation, the classical, understated purity of her port de bras belie the sheer technical strength of her attitude pirouettes and hops on pointe. Then watch, at 4:00, how she appears to fly through the air as a spectral wili, only to rise ever so delicately for a series of fluttering ronds de jambe en l'air.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
All photos by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Kailei Sin of The School at Steps.

During class, you're tuned in to every aspect of your dancing. But when the day is over, you may be tempted to head home and skip out on a proper cooldown. Don't: Going from grand allégro to a full stop is hard on your muscles. Bené Barrera, an athletic trainer who works with Houston Ballet, says, "If you're doing an end-of-day cooldown, you're going to need at least 20 minutes. That allows the muscles to calm down." And your body should notice the difference: "You'll have less trigger-point pain later, and your soreness might reduce a bit." A proper cooldown may even help you sleep better.

But post-class stretching isn't about sitting in a straddle. "As a dancer, you're never truly isolating one area," says Barrera. Your cooldown should mimic that. "You want to cover the whole body altogether. You don't want to just stretch one muscle group."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Garrett Anderson. Photo Courtesy Ballet Idaho.

Big news in Boise: Ballet Idaho has announced that Garrett Anderson will succeed Peter Anastos as the company's next artistic director, starting in July. Anderson, who had an extensive dance career as a soloist with San Francisco Ballet and Royal Ballet of Flanders, and later danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, has a special connection with Ballet Idaho's home city. He performed with the Trey McIntyre Project in 2011 and later as a guest artist with Boise-based LED, a music, film and dance collaborative. Anderson has also served as the chair of the Dance Department at New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe.


Members of Ballet Idaho in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo by Mike Reid, Courtesy ballet Idaho.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Kyle Froman

"I'm all about comfort and easy clothing because I'm always on the go," Jasmine Perry says. But that doesn't keep the Los Angeles Ballet company dancer from looking stylish. Favoring dresses and athleisure wear, Perry also prefers classic lines and neutral colors like white, black, navy and gray, which are easy to mix and match. The finishing touch: a pair of sneakers from her extensive collection. "I had ankle surgery four or five years ago, so I need a good walking shoe," she explains. "I have a ton of Nikes and running sneakers from Brooks for when I've had a long day at work and need something that feels like clouds on my feet."

But in the studio, you won't find any of the yoga pants or loose-fitting T-shirts she loves so much. "I don't actually have that much attire for layering," Perry says of her strictly leotards-and-tights class style. "It doesn't get that cold here," she explains. "I have a few legwarmers and things for when I'm rehabbing an injury, but they're not part of my daily attire."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!