Thinking About Full-Time Training Programs? 6 Key Discussions to Have First.

Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

If you think a full-time pre-professional program might be right for you, it's never too early to start talking about the big transition. Deciding to forgo a "normal" high school experience for the chance to take your training to the next level is life-changing, and it's vital to have in-depth discussions with your family. Here's a checklist of topics to bring up—before the auditions begin.


1. What are my professional goals?

At the very least, you should feel sure that you want a professional dance career. But beyond tutus and dreams, it's important to understand what this means on a day-to-day level: the daily grind of technique classes and physical therapy, all-consuming workdays, and the endless pursuit of artistry and perfection. "I find a lot of students haven't done enough research on what a professional life is about—what it really means," says Denise Bolstad, managing director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School.

In addition, think about what kind of company you want to join and which schools can facilitate that. What's your favorite repertoire? Are you interested in a large company or a smaller one? For instance, Miami City Ballet corps member Ellen Grocki knew she loved Balanchine, so she researched schools where she'd gain extensive training in the style. She eventually left her home in Maryland at 16 to study at MCB School.


Summer intensive students at Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.


But if you're not sure exactly where and what you want to dance yet, it's not the end of the world. "When our students come in at 14, they have dreams of being the next Makarova," says Michael Owen, director of dance at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a boarding arts high school in Natick, Massachusetts. "Then, in the years they're here, a lot changes for them—their eyes open up to other styles of movement."

Valerie Madonia, academy director at Colorado Ballet Academy, agrees: "As you grow and mature, your options will become more apparent, as far as which companies suit you, or whether in the end you decide to go to a college dance program."


2. How do we evaluate a school's quality of training?

A school's prestigious reputation doesn't always mean it will be best for you. Your top priority when researching pre-professional programs, says Bolstad, should be finding the best quality of training that your family can manage, location and budget-wise. Look at schools' curriculums (usually available on the website), and ask peers and teachers for recommendations. Attend summer intensives, if possible—and the sooner, the better. "Your investment in a school needs to start earlier than 17 or 18," says Bolstad. "Audition for at least one summer course, so you have a sense of what an organization is like." An intensive can be a good "trial run" to find what feels right. If going to one isn't possible, consider visiting for a few days during the academic year.

Additionally, ask the school about its track record of placing students in companies and college dance programs—and, specifically, which ones. "Do they only feed into their company, or do they feed into others around the world?" says Madonia. "Do the students come out versatile and ready to apply to many different programs?" It's a strong testament to the quality of the program—and the hire-ability of its graduates—if its dancers succeed in a variety of settings.


Valerie Madonia teaching pre-professional students at the Colorado Ballet Academy. Photo by Francesco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.


3. Should I wait until after high school to train full-time?

This question depends on the quality of your current training. "It's very individual," says Bolstad. In many cases, dancers "have a slight advantage if they've left sooner, before graduating high school."

But if you have solid training at your home studio and choose the normal high school route, it's not too late. Most trainee programs and second companies accept recent high school graduates. "Times have changed in the last 20 years," says Madonia. "We're also seeing more wonderful college programs, and seeing students going from college into second companies, into companies." Owen agrees: "Now, it's not unheard of for dancers who are 21, 22 or 23 to get into companies for the first time."



Photo courtesy Walnut Hill School for the Arts


4. If not, what do I do about my education?

Most dancers who train full-time during high school either continue their education online or through flexible classroom options. At MCB School, Grocki took classes at a high school across the street from the studio each morning before heading into her 10 am technique class. At performing arts high schools like Walnut Hill, academics are built into the daily schedule.

Online programs require a certain personality type for a student to be successful. You'll need to be driven, organized, time-efficient and okay working alone on a computer for hours each day. "I've seen some students excel without a problem and others who struggle with time management," says Madonia.


5. What are the housing options?

There are three basic housing setups in most boarding programs: dormitories, host families or, for the most independent dancers, unsupervised apartments. One of the reasons Grocki chose MCB School was that there were dorms across the street from the studio. She lived there her first year; by her second, her mom felt comfortable letting her move into an unsupervised apartment with fellow dancers.

For those who want more of a family experience, or if dorms aren't available, many programs will house you with a host family who already has a connection to the school and can provide meals, transportation and emotional support. Keep in mind that some schools, like PNB, do not offer supervised housing, in which case dancers rent apartments (usually with roommates).


Photo courtesy Walnut Hill School for the Arts.


6. How will we pay for this?

Ballet tuition, let alone housing and living expenses, is costly, and it's important for dancers to understand how heavily this factor may weigh on their parents. Merit-based scholarships are the most coveted form of financial aid, but also the hardest to come by. For Grocki, a half merit scholarship was a huge factor in making her dream possible. Need-based financial aid is usually more readily available, but be aware that the application deadlines may fall early in the summer, before you receive the invitation to study. Independent scholarships and grants through organizations like the National YoungArts Foundation can help pay tuition costs.

Some schools may offer work-study opportunities, while other times, dancers find outside work to help offset living expenses. At Colorado Ballet Academy, students often pick up babysitting jobs for parents of other students or even their dance teachers.

If your family can make it work, the investment in your training is well worth it. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be accepted and study in a major national school," says Bolstad. "I don't think anyone ever regrets it."

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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Vladislav Lantritov and Ekaterina Krysanova in "Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

If you haven't checked your local movie listings yet for this weekend, hop to it. The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series and Fathom Events is broadcasting a performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew to theaters nationwide on Sunday, November 19. (To see if it's playing near you and to purchase tickets, click here.) While the rest of the Bolshoi's cinema season features 19th- and 20th-century classics, The Taming of the Shrew gives audiences a chance to see the revered Moscow company in a thoroughly modern, 21st-century take on Shakespeare's famous play.

Aside from a limited run in New York City this July, American audiences have had little exposure to Maillot's 2014 production. To learn more, check out these two exclusive, behind-the-scenes webisodes below. Principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova, who stars as the hotheaded Katharina, gives an intimate play-by-play of two major scenes in Act I. The first is her fiery rejection of three potential suitors (who all would prefer to marry Katharina's younger sister Bianca).

The second scene breaks down Katharina's first encounter with Petruchio (danced by the larger-than-life Vladislav Lantritov), the only man who seems to be able to challenge her. Here, too, we see the shrew's heart start to soften. (Don't miss her time-stopping attitude turn at 4:27.)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series continues through June; for more details on upcoming screenings, click here.

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Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.


The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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