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Dancers certainly don't need anyone to tell them how physical their profession is. But now, we have the data to prove it.

Researchers at InsuranceProviders.com analyzed data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a national organization developed through support from the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration, to determine the 20 most physically demanding jobs in the country. They analyzed the level of strength, stamina, flexibility and coordination required for a host of jobs, and each category was assigned

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Ballet Careers
David Kornfield, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada

I first saw Maria Seletskaya when she was dancing as a leading soloist in Europe. Years later, she sent me a video of herself with the Stuttgart Ballet—not as a dancer, but as a guest orchestra conductor! I found her work and this particular transition very exciting and so I brought it to the attention of David Briskin, musical director of the National Ballet of Canada (where I dance), to see what he would think.

Being a ballerina is certainly challenging on its own. But as Seletskaya negotiated a career transition that felt right for her, she opted to pursue another, equally demanding passion: music.

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Ballet Careers
Lara Paraschiv. Rachel Neville, Courtesy Paraschiv.

Most professional ballet dancers' stories start the same way. They begin training at a local studio between the ages of 3 and 10, move to a pre-professional school and eventually enter a company. Lara Paraschiv did not follow this script. She began her serious ballet training at age 16, and went from beginner to professional in just five years. Having overcome naysayers along the way, she is now in her first season at Russia's Astrakhan State Ballet, and plans to keep on climbing.

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Ballet Training
Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT

When I was 14 years old, I placed in Youth America Grand Prix's final round and was offered a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School's summer intensive. As overjoyed as I was, I couldn't help but realize just how hard I'd had to fight to get to this point. Despite the years of tears, bullies and constant exclusion that I'd faced, I hadn't given up—and it was paying off.

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Ballet Careers
Richard Termine, Courtesy New York Theater Ballet

Amanda Farris has never danced in a company with more than 20 dancers. "Growing up we have these notions that we're aiming for the big companies, and that's the only place success lies," says the California native, who dances with the 11-member Diablo Ballet outside San Francisco. Yet Farris' impressive rep says otherwise: Over the course of her career she's performed everything from Giselle to Balanchine's Apollo to Trey McIntyre's Blue Boy.

Small troupes tend to slip under the radar. But they offer unique benefits that are harder to find in big ballet companies, such as frequent opportunities for featured roles and forging deep connections with colleagues. The intimate working environment also provides ample opportunities for artistic growth. We spoke with dancers working at small ballet companies across the country to learn what they love about the careers they've made.

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News
David Makhateli leads class at the Grand Audition. Andrei Uspenski, Courtesy Grand Audition

When David Makhateli was about to graduate from the Royal Ballet School, financial difficulties hindered his ability to travel to auditions. "I thought it would have been so much easier to audition for several companies at once," says Makhateli, who went on to become a Royal Ballet principal. "That would have saved me money on traveling."

That experience would later inspire him and his wife, Daria Makhateli, to co-found the Grand Audition, a multi-company audition held in Barcelona each year that enables dancers and directors from around the world to connect at one destination.

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Ballet Stars
Former New York City Ballet soloist Savannah Lowery, here with Evan Swensen, came out of retirement to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Westside School of Ballet's Nutcracker. Photo by Todd Lechtick, courtesy Lowerey.

The holiday season is a time when dusty ornaments and wreaths get trotted out of their boxes for their annual moment to shine. For Jennifer Goodman, there's another item she looks forward to pulling out of the back of her closet: pointe shoes.

Goodman, 45, retired from full-time company life over 10 years ago. She kept performing here and there until 2015, when she transitioned to teaching yoga and ballet. Yet she still gets back onstage for Nutcracker.

"I've said 'one more time' for so many years now," says Goodman. "But my body is still capable, it's held up, so I just keep coming back."

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Everything Nutcracker
Stella DiPasquale. Courtesy Joy Jaworski.

Eleven-year-old Stella DiPasquale is preparing to make her debut as Marie this weekend in Fadeyev Ballet's Nutcracker in Greenvale, New York. Decked out in curls and party frills onstage, she'll stand out as the lucky girl who is given a nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve. In rehearsals, however, she stands out for another reason, too: DiPasquale, who suffers from alopecia, has no hair.

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Luca Sbrizzi. Courtesy Duane Rieder, Courtesy Luca Sbrizzi

If you ask Luca Sbrizzi what he remembers about performing Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, he can provide you with a laundry list of his mistakes. "Although I remember feeling an incredible connection to my partner and hearing comments afterwards on how moving and beautiful our performance was, those are not the first things that pop into my head when I think of Swan Lake," he says. "And I hate that."

The obsession with being perfect was a major contributor in his decision to retire from his career as a principal dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. "When I would have what I considered a bad performance, I would get so upset I wouldn't want to talk to anyone and would shut the world out, thinking that in behaving this way I would be more likely to do better the next time," he says. "It was a way for me to punish myself for not succeeding."

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Courtesy Dayton Ballet

A few months ago, Dayton Ballet's artistic director, Karen Russo Burke, approached Miranda Dafoe with an unorthodox idea: She wanted to cast a woman in the role of the Nutcracker in the company's holiday production, and she was tapping Dafoe.

"I honestly was pretty shocked," says the Dayton Ballet dancer. "But the more I thought about it, I thought, You know what? Clara's dreaming the whole thing from the battle into the Land of the Sweets. So why can't she dream of a woman saving her from the rats and taking her on this journey?"

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Ballet Careers
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Nutcracker season is officially upon us, which means the ballet world is swept up in a tizzy of rehearsals, double-show days and winter magic (just the way we like it!). Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, dancers have to make smart decisions about warming up—especially between matinee and evening shows. While companies often provide warm-up class, you never know when the unexpected might hit, and it's important to understand how to craft your own.

To help, we caught up with Miami City Ballet corps member Julia Cinquemani, and ballet master Steven Annegarn of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to get expert advice on how to create a personalized warm-up barre. Check out their tips below.

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Everything Nutcracker
Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz as the Sugar Plum Fairy during a stage rehearsal for George Balanchine's Nutcracker. All photography by Arian Molina Soca.

For many professional ballet dancers, Nutcracker means weeks of performances. That usually translates to multiple casts—and important breakout opportunities for those in the junior ranks. On the afternoon of December 13, Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz made her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy along with her Cavalier, corps member Austin Eylar. For the Brazilian-born dancer, who joined PAB in 2018 after two seasons at Houston Ballet, Sugar Plum marks one of her first principal roles.

"I'm really excited," says Golz. PAB artistic director Angel Corella appointed 12 casts of Sugar Plum Fairies over the run's 29 performances. "When I first found out, I was like, 'Pinch me!' I still can't believe it."

We caught up with Golz just before her debut to see how she prepared for her big break.

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