Stephanie Kurlow, a 17-year-old Australian and aspiring professional dancer, says she "loves and thrives through the process of ballet." She demonstrates clean technique and an infectious joy while performing, but what sets her apart from most girls her age is her unyielding determination to follow her dreams and her reverent devotion to her Islamic faith.Her decision to adorn traditional Islamic headwear and modest dance clothing while training and performing has caught the world's attention, and she's now being celebrated by international brands, such as Converse and Gaynor Minden, and designer Tarese Klemens.
Kurlow began taking ballet at 2 years old, but ceased classes at age 9 after her family converted to Islam. Unable to find a dance studio that catered to Muslim girls, she didn't think it possible to continue. In response to seeing her daughter struggle, her mom opened a ballet academy where she could practice freely.
Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based ThePointeShop chats with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Hannah Carter to hear about how she prepares her pointe shoes. Carter shares her darning hacks (hint: a TheraBand is involved), and the reason why she doesn't designate right and left shoes.
Alexandra MacDonald (front row, third from left) didn't win a medal at the Genée International Ballet Competition, but says she came home inspired and newly motivated by the people she met there. Photo Courtesy Genée IBC.
Ballet competitions are an exciting part of any dancer's career. Yet while scholarships, prize money, job offers and the prestige that comes with winning a medal are compelling incentives to participate in one, they're not the only benefits. In fact, many dancers who go home empty-handed still look fondly on the experience and go on to become successful professionals.
This week, the 2019 Genée International Ballet Competition kicks off in Toronto. From August 20-29, over 50 dancers, ages 15–19 and trained in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, will perform three solos in the hopes of winning a medal and a $10,000 cash prize. Many past medalists have gone on to illustrious careers—but so have those who didn't win anything. We spoke with three Genée alumni now dancing professionally who know what it's like not to place. Read on to find out why they deem their comp experiences a success, and how you can make the most of yours—whether you win or not.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Elizabeth Murphy and Seth Orza in Alexei Ratmansky's Don Quixote (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB)
In theory, partnered pirouettes should be easier than regular pirouettes, right? After all, there are not one, but two of you there to make lots of smooth, glorious rotations happen. But in practice, they can be…complicated. (Just ask Kristi Capps, ballet master at Kansas City Ballet, who once broke her ring finger on her partner's chest during a whip turn.)
Thankfully, partnered pirouettes can be exciting—and injury-free—if you and your partner work together to coordinate your timing and spacing. Here are a few simple rules to help you and your partner find common ground.
Having survived two consecutive decades as a dedicated ballet dad, I've collected some tidbits of wisdom over the years. With apologies to David Letterman, I've loosely organized these pearls of wisdom into roughly 10 simple—and not so simple—rules and guidelines of being a black-belt ballet dad. Some are obvious. Some are challenging. Others can be downright impossible. But that's the price you pay when you sign up for the emotionally charged position of ballet dad.
Boston Ballet's Daniel Randall Durrett. Photo by Rene Micheo, Courtesy Dance Jox
When I was 13, I was in a class with boys who were a few years older than me at the School of American Ballet. One day before class, I gave a little sass to a 16-year-old classmate who was swinging his leg as his warm up, showing off his flexibility.
"Kick that leg," I say.
"Wear those briefs," he replies.
My face went beet-red. Was I supposed to be wearing a dance belt? I was sure I was too young, but I asked a friend of mine just in case. He told me, gracefully, that yes, I needed one and that it was a topic of some discussion among my older peers.
Even though I had been at SAB for three years, when to wear a dance belt had never been discussed.
"When I would get competitive over every little thing, my teachers would remind me that there is no perfect dancer out there," says ballet student Alina Taratorin. (Photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)
Ballet dancer Alina Taratorin has struggled to control her competitive nature for years. "When I was younger," the 17-year-old Bayer Ballet Academy student says, "I would get so intimidated by the other dancers at competitions. If someone made a nasty face at me or did intimidating stretches, I would actually shake and fall onstage because of it." Her desire to win was strong, but rather than channeling that desire in a productive way, she'd attack herself. "I tend to overanalyze everything," she says. "I had to learn to control my own mind."
These days, Alina uses an array of mental tricks to perform at her peak without getting psyched out by the competition. Are you struggling with overly competitive tendencies? Try these tips from the experts to bring balance to your dancing life.
Barry Kerollis' (instep enhanced) feet in Mark Morris' A Garden. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
When we watch dancers with drool-worthy arches, we assume they either worked really hard for them or they were born with them. Professionals spend years training the articulation of their foot muscles. But some of us who have made it in the big leagues still need some help when it comes to line and flexibility. Most dancers would never admit what I am about to share, but here goes: There is a contingent of artists who pad the tops of their insteps to project the appearance of naturally curved feet.
The curtain falls, the costumes are packed away. Dancers say good-bye to the choreography, the adrenaline rush of being onstage and the special camaraderie of performing together. "You put your heart and soul into a show and then you're like, 'That's it?' " says Miami City Ballet principal Jeanette Delgado. "You hope you'll get to dance that piece again, but you can't know for sure."
From left: Duncan McIlwaine and Joseph Markey rehearse a new work by Gemma Bond. Rachel Papo.
The members of ABT Studio Company straddle two worlds: student and professional. On a March afternoon, as the dancers rehearse for a work choreographed by ABT dancer Gemma Bond, they appear more the former: Clean academic leotards and tights reveal coltish legs. But as soon as they launch into the piece (which later had its New York City debut at The Joyce Theater), it's evident how close these dancers are to a professional rank. Their movements and expressiveness grow bolder with each entrance. Soon they're sliding to the ground in floorwork and swirling confidently in daring lifts. "This group is particularly brilliant to work with," says Bond. "Each dancer seems to have something interesting in the way that they move, which made the creation process a little more of a collaboration than some of my other works."
Karin Ellis-Wentz and Joffrey Ballet Academy of Dance student Elliana Teuscher. Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet.
"Hopping on pointe is a bit of a weird feeling," says Karin Ellis-Wentz, head of pre-professional programs at the Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago. But, she adds, it's a skill advanced dancers need "because it's in so many variations." Here, she takes us through the techniques and exercises that help her students master this necessary trick.