When Sir Frederick Ashton premiered Thaïs Pas de Deux, a duet set to the "Méditation" interlude from Jules Massenet's opera Thaïs, the ballet was immediately acclaimed as one of his masterpieces, despite the fact that it is only a few minutes long. In this clip from 2008, Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre, then principals of the Bavarian State Ballet, give a tender, enchanting performance that is six-and-a-half minutes of pure beauty.
Your partner accidentally drops you during a lift. You collide head-on with another dancer in rehearsal. Or you're hit in the face while you're spotting a turn. Even if you didn't lose consciousness, you may have a concussion, which can occur from a direct blow to the head or rotary force of the brain moving excessively or striking the skull.
As a dancer, your first instinct may be to keep going, but you shouldn't, says physical therapist and athletic trainer Carrie Gaerte, PT, DPT, ATC, who works with Butler University in Indianapolis and at Ascension St. Vincent Sports Performance. "What's really hard for dancers is admitting that maybe something isn't right," she says. "But the big thing about concussions is that your brain is not like your ankle, shoulder or knee. When your brain has an injury, that needs to take precedence over a role or a job."
If You Think You've Had a Concussion<p>"If you have a dramatic fall, hit your head and lose consciousness, that's an automatic 911 call," says Gaerte. Sometimes, though, a dancer might run into someone and jostle their head, but they feel fine completing rehearsal. It might not be until that next day or later that they notice any symptoms (see below). "That's when you call your sports medicine physician," she says, stressing that a general practitioner might not understand ballet's athleticism enough to suspect a concussion.</p><p>Following any impact, a dancer should spend about 48 to 72 hours (or until they are further evaluated by a sports medicine physician) in relative rest—meaning that you shouldn't dance, though the old advice about not falling asleep after a concussion doesn't typically apply to these types of sports-related head injuries.</p><p>When you speak with the physician, be very specific. Use language like "I think I may have sustained a concussion," advises Gaerte. Detail when and how you think it happened and any symptoms you're experiencing. "They will get a sense of your situation quickly, and there won't be as much of a delay in the start of rehab."</p>
Cervical tests may be used to evaluate a potential concussion.
Courtesy Carrie Gaerte
Symptoms<p>A concussion isn't always evident when it happens, so monitoring your symptoms is crucial. The most common symptom is a headache, as well as dizziness, feeling foggy, blurred or double vision, or balance problems. Less common symptoms include memory dysfunction, sensitivity to light, fatigue or trouble concentrating.</p><p>Collegiate or high-school level dancers may notice the impact in their academic classes. "Sometimes they'll say that they can't pay attention, they feel very tired, their homework takes longer to do, or they have difficulty studying or taking notes," says Gaerte. Even if a collision seemed uneventful, these symptoms signal that you should seek treatment.</p>
Diagnosis<p>Gaerte emphasizes that there is no single test to diagnose a concussion. A physician or athletic trainer may administer some of the following based on your symptoms: vestibular (balance) tests; oculomotor tests, which monitor your eye movements; cervical (neck) tests; or emotional tests, evaluating your moods.</p><p>One popular method in the sports world is ImPACT testing, which Gaerte hopes to implement with dancers at Butler. Athletes take a series of computer tests that evaluate neurocognitive function at the beginning of a season to establish a baseline. If a concussion is suspected, they can retake the tests to see where their deficits are and, later, how they've improved, says Gaerte.</p>
A physician or athletic trainer may administer a balance test if you think you've had a concussion.
Courtesy Carrie Gaerte
Treatment Varies<p>There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for concussions. The nature and duration of your rehabilitation depend on the injury's severity and affected areas of the brain. A sports medicine physician will refer you to specialists who can treat your specific symptoms.</p><p>Dancers, in particular, may need to focus on neck rehabilitation. "They really need to make sure those muscles are working properly because of all the spotting and specific head movements," says Gaerte, noting that the neck's deep stabilizers are often impacted by a concussion. Other types of treatment may help you recoup your balance or deal with injury-related anxiety.</p>
Returning to Dance<p>After rehabilitation, Gaerte, in conjunction with a physician, leads the dancer through exertional tests to see if they're ready for a gradual return to the studio. For example, she might have them do a jumping combination or a series of chaîné turns. "Like any other injury, you don't want to jump back in all at once. It might look like just barre for a week or two," she says. As you progress, if you start to have familiar symptoms, you might need to take a couple steps back.</p>
Second Impact Syndrome<p>If you've had a concussion and return to dance before you've healed, you're putting yourself at risk for second impact syndrome. Having a subsequent concussion can result in life-threatening swelling of the brain. "Most dancers are very sensitive to the pressures they face, not wanting to be 'out' or injured," says Gaerte. "But it's really important for dancers to realize the gravity of a concussion." </p>
Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.
Christopher Alloways-Ramsey teaches a men's class at University of Utah.
Courtesy University of Utah
Fall of Sophomore Year: Start Your Research<p>It's never too early to get to know your options, but sophomore year of high school is a great time to start. Talk to your high school's college counselor. They may not be familiar with ballet programs, but they will be familiar with the college application process and timeline. Then, begin your hunt by reading up about different programs on their websites. Don't know where to start? Get recommendations from your dance teachers and read the company bios of dancers that you admire to see where they trained.</p><p>Claudia Rhett, who graduated with a BSOF (a BS in music with a ballet emphasis and an outside field in business) from Indiana University this year, found the <em><a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/st/College_Guide" target="_blank">Dance Magazine College Guide</a></em> invaluable to her search. The guide, which is published by Dance Media, contains information on more than 600 programs. Once you've come up with a list of schools you're interested in, reach out to their dance departments for more information. "We love talking to prospective students and their families," says Whitney Herr-Buchholz, director of operations and advancement at University of Arizona's dance department. "We encourage students to reach out. We want to help guide their search." </p><p>Don't be afraid to ask for direct contacts for professors and current students. "Word of mouth is the best form of research," says Stefanee Montesantos, a 2020 Butler University graduate who earned a BFA in dance performance and a minor in English and creative writing. "It's an authentic source because the person is telling you about their actual experience."</p>
University of Arizona dance students Wen Na Robertson and Omar Rivera in performance
Ed Flores, Courtesy University of Arizona
Fall of Junior Year: Visit Schools<p>As you head into your junior year of high school, start scheduling campus visits. Nothing will give you a sense of day-to-day life quite like walking around the school's grounds. "Talk to the dancers and watch class," recommends Rhett, who says that when she visited colleges, she considered community involvement and volunteer opportunities, as well as how she'd get around via public transit. </p><p>As you tour schools, consider the variables. Think about if you would prefer attending college in the country or a city. Rhett suggests that having an idea of whether you want to attend a big school or small school can help guide your search. Do you want to live on campus in a dorm? If not, what are the off-campus residential options? Be sure to get a sense of what student life is like. Are there clubs or extracurricular activities you might like to join? Are you interested in Greek life? If so, see if you can talk to members of sororities and fraternities. Be sure to get a sense of how the dance department is integrated into the university at large, who your professors would be and what they've done professionally. If possible, get familiar with the area you're visiting, and see if there are nearby ballet companies you'd have access to.</p><p>Keep in mind that getting a good feel for university campuses may be trickier this year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the schools you're interested in may be offering virtual tours.</p>
Butler University 2020 graduate Stefanee Montesantos
Courtesy Stefanee Montesantos
Spring of Junior Year: Prepare Your Application Materials<p>Getting and staying organized is key when it comes to college applications. With so many components to juggle, you'll want a clear system in place. "Create a calendar from day one," says Christopher Alloways-Ramsey, assistant professor of dance and recruitment director for the ballet program at University of Utah. "Look at each school's website, find their deadlines and put them in your calendar." Your high school guidance counselor may have some useful suggestions for how to stay on top of these dates.</p><p>Make a list of all the required application materials and be mindful that there will be separate components for both the universities and the dance programs themselves. When Rhett applied for IU, she had to submit photos, a resumé and an essay to the dance department on top of her regular application materials to the university, such as SAT scores, letters of recommendation and transcripts. If possible, see if you can complete those components before audition season starts.</p><p>If a program requires a video submission, make sure you know exactly what they're looking for. Some departments want specific classwork alongside a variation or two, whereas others may be more open to choreographic submissions in other styles, like jazz, modern or tap. "You can choreograph your own piece, but be sure to say that it's self-choreographed," says Montesantos, noting that admissions committees like the innovation and creativity.</p>
Autumn Eckman's ballet class at University of Arizona
Ed Flores, Courtesy University of Arizona
Summer Before Senior Year: Plan Out Your Audition Season<p>Have a firm list of the schools you want to apply for before your senior year starts, and then see when they are holding auditions. Keep in mind the time and money you'll spend traveling to attend them and decide how many you can realistically go to. "I applied to three or four programs," says Montesantos. "It's difficult to have an intense audition season when you're a senior. It can be really taxing on the body to do six, seven or eight auditions."</p><p>Spring of senior year tends to be the heaviest audition season for colleges, but find out if any schools offer fall auditions. A few programs, like University of Arizona, not only have fall auditions, but they allow prospective students to audition twice. "We're happy to give feedback. If a dancer receives a non-accept and would like to audition again, we encourage them to give us a call," says Herr-Buchholz.</p><p>Some schools, like the University of Utah, hold auditions in multiple locations. See if a program you're interested in is hosting one in a city nearby. Also, ask if a video submission is possible. "We offer it," says Alloways-Ramsey. "It gets so expensive traveling."</p><p>The audition process might look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many universities are planning for auditions to resume in person, contingency plans are being created in the event of continued social-distancing guidelines. For example, at University of Arizona, all applicants this year will audition via video submission. "We will not hold in-person auditions," says Herr-Buchholz. "We feel this is the most accessible and safe way to proceed in light of COVID. I anticipate many schools will be making use of video-audition methods in the coming year."</p>
Claudia Rhett on her graduation day at Indiana University
Courtesy Claudia Rhett
Spring of Senior Year: Make a Decision<p>After you've gotten your acceptance letters, making the final decision on where you'll go can feel immense. Just take a deep breath, consider everything you've learned throughout the application process alongside your financial aid options, and go with your gut. "Don't be afraid to make a mistake," says Montesantos, who notes that transferring is an option if you get to college and find that a program is not a good fit. "If you feel a place is good for you, go for it. If you get there and decide it's not for you, really embrace that change." Go into the process with an open mind, and don't be afraid to ask for help; your professors, advisors and peers want to see you succeed. Trust your intuition, and remember that college is just one step on your dance journey. </p>
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.
Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.
As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.
Congratulations on your recent appointment! What does this hiring mean to you?<p>For me, it's kind of the pinnacle of my after-dancing career. To join a wonderful, large organization with such a fantastic reputation in the industry is really rewarding. To have used all my experience with San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet and NDI—all of that comes together to give me the experience I need for this.</p>
Courtesy Ballet West
What drew you to this particular opportunity?<p>Ballet West feels like completing a circle. I started at San Francisco Ballet as a student at the end of the Harold Christensen regime. I was hired into the company by Lew Christensen, and Ballet West founder Willam Christensen would come out and visit his brothers often. I had the chance to meet him, and was even able to come to Utah to stage Michael Smuin's <em>The</em> <em>Tempest </em>at one point. It feels like family.</p>
What are your goals for the school?<p>I'm particularly excited about building up our youth—the future generation. It's important that the base of our company pyramid is broad. These dancers are more than just our future company members, they're our future audience, musicians, donors, staff. There is something for everyone. The things these young dancers learn will give them the ability to focus, to understand spatial awareness, to recognize their own physical capabilities, self-confidence, work ethic and critical thinking. These skills will allow them to become the best workers in any discipline.</p>
Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West
What challenges are you anticipating?<p>The climate of our country is our biggest hurdle. We have students in the studios and they are beautiful and so happy to be back dancing outside of their bedroom, but they are still masked. I can feel their trepidation moving forward into the unknown. Our youth are facing things we have never experienced before. The challenge is keeping them inspired and in the dream so we don't lose dancers, who could have otherwise had wonderful careers, to the pandemic.</p>
You’ve been a trailblazer for women of color in the industry. What advice would you give to the next generation of dancers looking to break barriers?<p>I feel this generation has an extraordinary opportunity because barriers have been mostly broken down. There may be a few obstacles, but I would challenge this generation to see them not as hurdles to jump over, but opportunities to take hold of. Use who you are as a strength to benefit ballet.</p>
What advice do you have for dance teachers looking to lead in this difficult time?<p>It is essential you be more sensitive to the youth right now. Have an open door for them so you can stop casualties of the pandemic. I've already had one student quit due to hopelessness. Teach your students that all their dreams can still happen, even if they look a little different than they thought. Help them view this as something empowering, rather than something that will squash them. Ask them to step forward honestly before their concerns overwhelm them.</p>
Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career
This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.
Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.
"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.
Training Grounds<p>Melendez was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, where she danced from age 4 at a small recreational studio. "I did everything from ballet to contemporary, jazz to acro," says Melendez. At 8, she switched to All American Dance Factory and Classical Ballet School, studying and competing in the standard comp-kid fare of jazz, acro, contemporary and hip hop. Yet Melendez found herself drawn to ballet's clear structure. "My first ballet competition was Youth America Grand Prix in 2011," she remembers. "I did it on flat because that was my first year on pointe." Before long, she became a regular in the top five at ADC|IBC, World Ballet Competition, YAGP and New York City Dance Alliance.</p><p>Melendez says there wasn't any one lightbulb moment that made her realize ballet was her dream. But that doesn't mean the ballet world wasn't taking notice of <em>her</em>. In 2015, the Ballet West Academy had already offered 15-year-old Tatiana admission to their year-round program when she was spotted at ADC|IBC by Houston Ballet II's ballet master Claudio Muñoz, who was judging. "My eyes went right to Tatiana, because her jumps and turns had phenomenal energy," Muñoz recalls. That "raw, incredible talent" netted Melendez a full scholarship to the Professional Program at Houston Ballet Academy. After taking time to consider Houston Ballet's rep (contemporary-leaning), her connection with Muñoz (strong and encouraging), and friends' testimonials about the year-round program (glowing), Melendez moved into student housing.</p>
Going Pro, With Cons<p>After graduation, Melendez headed to Fort Worth, where she'd landed a trainee contract with Texas Ballet Theater. It was a tough transition. "I went from training all day every day, to one morning class followed by standing on the side during hours of rehearsal," she says. Melendez's gifts were far from ignored, though. As a trainee, she danced in the corps of productions like <em>Swan Lake</em> and <em>Beauty and the Beast</em>, was one of six lead women in Ben Stevenson's world premiere <em>Martinu Pieces</em>, and led multiple performances of <em>The Nutcracker</em> as Clara.</p><p>At the end of the season, however, Melendez's worst nightmare came true. Her contract was not renewed because, at 5' 1", she was considered too short for the company. "My height had always been an insecurity," Melendez says. "Once, at a ballet competition, someone told me as I came offstage that I would never make it because I'm 'not built for dance.' " </p>
From left: Candy Tong, Melendez and Eriko Sugimura in Dwight Rhoden's Love Rocks
Justin Chao, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary ballet
Taking Flight<p>Thus began what Melendez calls the hardest, happiest two days of her life. More than 400 dancers showed up to the Complexions' open call in April 2018, but after technique classes and "the fastest I've had to learn choreography, ever," Melendez made it all the way through the final cut. By the end of the two nonstop days, she felt sure that Rhoden's daring, athletic contemporary movement was her true calling—but still assumed she wouldn't get the job.</p><p>She needn't have worried. As Desmond Richardson, Complexions' co-founder and co-artistic director says, "Tatiana clearly made her presence known from the moment she walked through the door. I remember Dwight and I saying, 'Wow, she's really something.' Her professionalism, her innate sense of musicality and the sheer force of her were quite nostalgic to me." Rhoden adds, "What made Tatiana stand out was her fearlessness. She applied corrections, dynamics and ideas immediately in the audition. She knows how to cross the t's and dot the i's."</p>
Simon Plant and Melendez performing Dwight Rhoden's WOKE
Stephen Pisano, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary Ballet