Your Career

The Motivation Equation: Three Dancers Reveal How They Stay Motivated in the Corps de Ballet

Rebecca Rhodes (center) in Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy of San Francisco Ballet

Being in the corps can be pretty unforgiving. You dance in nearly every performance, it sometimes feels like you're only onstage to add to the scenery, and you're expected to fit in—while still vying for soloist roles. It's enough to make even the most determined dancer lose steam. Pointe spoke with three corps de ballet dancers about how they use a combination of self-discipline and creativity to keep themselves motivated.

Shine in Class

After a few years, morning class can feel like a chore—especially during heavy rehearsal periods when your body just wants to rest. But rather than viewing it as a drag, try reframing class as a chance to show your best, hardest-working self. For San Francisco Ballet corps member Rebecca Rhodes, class is a time to push harder, not slack off. "It's a great time to be noticed," she says, especially for dancers hoping to be cast in featured roles. "I make sure to do every combination two or three times, and I try not to pick and choose what's comfortable," she says.


Pushing yourself is especially important because professionals are expected to be self-reliant. Milwaukee Ballet artist Rachel Malehorn occasionally seeks feedback from peers and ballet masters, but she prefers to use daily class as a way to measure her own progress. "You can cheat through things," she says, "but then you're depriving yourself of an opportunity for growth."

Take Pride in Corps Work…

Tapping into the teamwork aspect of the corps de ballet can help alleviate discouragement. "There's this perception that being in the corps isn't important," Malehorn says. "In fact, you're doing something larger than yourself. It's something powerful that no single person can achieve." She points out that it's natural to feel competitive about rank or casting. But she urges dancers to find fulfillment in working as a group toward a common goal, rather than fixating on being couple number eight, standing in the back.

It's also important to note that making peace with a corps role doesn't mean you have to give up ambitions for a soloist spot. Carolina Ballet corps member Carmen Felder reminds herself that her best bet for future casting is dancing well in the ensemble. "If I'm doing my job in the corps, the right soloist role will come along," she says. "I've had audience members tell me that they enjoy watching me in the corps." Even in a long line of swans, it's possible to be noticed.

Photo by Chris Walt

…And Make the Most of Casting

When soloist opportunities do come along, they might not be what you expect—or even want. But by looking at everything as an opportunity to grow, you might surprise yourself with the results. "When we did Raymonda I wasn't cast in a classical role at all," Malehorn says. "At first I felt really disheartened, but I was cast as the lead couple in the mazurka and I decided to give it 100 percent." When a Milwaukee dance critic reviewed the show, it was Malehorn's performance, rather than any classical role, that received a special mention. She was able to turn a potentially frustrating experience into a triumph.

And while receiving a plum role can be motivating, it can expose areas where dancers need to push themselves. When Rhodes was cast as the Scotch Girl in Balanchine's Scotch Symphony, her coach noted that she was dancing as if she were in the corps. "I had to learn where to embellish and how to have more authority," she says. "Finding that helped me in class and onstage."

Look Within Yourself and Outside the Studio

All three dancers agree that cultivating self esteem,plus having a life outside the studio,is the most effective way to stay motivated in a grueling career. "Once, after visiting an art school, I had a conversation with an artist about line and composition," Malehorn says."The next day in class, I thought about the brush strokes my arms and legs might make while I dance. You have to look for those kinds of opportunities to grow as a human being."

For Rhodes, an open mind and a level head—not to mention her loved ones—have helped her get through tough times, while Felder has found that mentoring students from nearby North Carolina State University recharges her batteries. "Volunteer, make jewelry, find something that sparks your interest," she says. "Being in the studio all the time makes it hard to see the big picture of the world around you."

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.

Keep reading... Show less
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).


Keep reading... Show less

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.

Keep reading... Show less

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.


Keep reading... Show less
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.)

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!