Tutu Torture

If I were to create a list of top three reasons why little girls want to be ballerinas, it would probably look something like this:

 

1. Tutus

2. Tutus!

3. Did someone say "Tutus"?

 

That's right, those sparkly, lacy, fluffy costumes seen on many ballet stages are generally what cause what I like to refer to as "tutu fever" in most girls ages 3-6, when a lot of them start creative movement and ballet classes.  I witnessed the symptoms often enough when I was the manager of a dancewear shop that sold oodles of mini-tutus, and they commonly manifested themselves as: open-mouthed wonder upon first encountering said tutu (adorable), followed by delight in ripping it off the hanger and running around with it (not so cute), followed by tantrum when Mommy would not buy tutu because it was not the class uniform.  Needless to say, Mommy usually ended up buying it after that, which miraculously cured the fever, and everyone went home happy.

 

Now that I'm a bit older than six,  and having worn many tutus, I think about those little girls watching their first ballet and getting hooked by those beautiful costumes and wonder if they have any idea what they're getting themselves into.  Those tutus look amazing from the audience, sure, and they definitely help create the mystique and ethereal aura around ballerinas, but once you're in one, boy, everything is different.  First, tutus, especially the traditional ones with a heavy, non-stretch bodice and boning in the seams, are NOT comfortable AT ALL.  Since there's often no spandex in the bodice, it has to be very tight, and when it has boning, it's very stiff.  This means saying goodbye to breathing normally and being able to bend your torso easily.  Second, let's talk about the leg holes.  If you're lucky, you can just wear your own dance underwear that matches your tutu and that actually fits, or, if  you're unlucky, the tutu will have built-in bottoms.  Now, as all derrieres are not created equal, there is a good chance that they will not be cut to fit you, which means that they might be too tight around your hip joints (awful) or that you'll be showing some cheek down there.  This is o.k. if you're wearing a romantic tutu, but can be tough if you're sporting a classical "pancake" model.  Either way, these two factors, when combined, make for an uncomfortable performance experience.

 

All that being said, one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had was appearing as Dew Drop in my youth company's Nutcracker, and yes, I wore a tutu.  And of course, all the discomfort melted away when I ran out onstage at the beginning of that waltz, and felt all eyes on me as the hot lights twinkled and danced across my sequined skirt.

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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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.

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Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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