Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Victoria Watford recalls the first time she auditioned for the company: Even though she had attended PBT's summer intensive several times, the Cleveland native felt completely unprepared. "I was treating it like a summer intensive audition," she remembers. "There was an energy in the room of a lot of people who are ready to be professionals and are confident in their dancing. If you're not ready, you will feel it." Watford wasn't offered a job, so she took a place in the school's graduate program. Over the next two years she pursued company auditions until she ultimately landed her spot at PBT.
This week, master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop answers another of your pointe shoe questions: "My pointe shoes always twist. I've tried so many brands and models! Can you tell me what causes the twisting, and how to avoid it?" Lee dives into why twisting happens and ways to keep it at bay, from technique to padding.
Last Saturday night, I had a balletic epiphany. I wasn't in a mirrored studio taking class or even in a theater watching a performance. This luminous ray of understanding beamed into—wait for it—the basement of a math museum.
The National Museum of Mathematics (yes, that exists) hosted its fourth Quadrivium, a salon focusing on the intersections of music and math last Saturday in New York City. The evening's special guests were none other than ballerina Merritt Moore and choreographer Claudia Schreier.
Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop is back, this time answering all of your pointe shoe questions. Here she answers: "What could I do if my box is dead after a few weeks, but the shank is still hard?" Lee explains the anatomy of a pointe shoe, and offers tips on how to extend the life of your shoes, whether you break the box or the shank first.
It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistry. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).
The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.
An injury can feel like a complete backslide, but that doesn't mean you have nothing to gain while you're on the sidelines. According to researchers from St. Mary's University, talking out your emotions after getting hurt can make it easier to move past the negative and come back stronger.
Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Margaret Mullin will never forget one of her first big breaks as a young company member: a debut as Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty alongside Jerome Tisserand. At the time, she recalls, PNB was auditioning different conductors, so she hadn't had much time to get to know who would be leading the orchestra. They talked to the conductor about the coda's tempo, "because we both liked it really slow," she says. "That night, however, he ended up doing the polar opposite. It was the fastest I'd ever heard the music, and I couldn't finish the turns."
I'm at the point in my training where my teachers say that I have the steps down, but my dancing needs something more exciting. They especially tell me to use my face more, but I'm having trouble figuring out how to do that without just plastering on a smile. —Hannah
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When Katie Spagnoletti was 16, she auditioned for several well-known, company-affiliated summer programs. Although she received some acceptances, the price tags and level of competition felt daunting. She decided to try the relatively smaller Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive instead, and when she walked into orientation her first day, she sensed she'd made the right choice. "Co-director Melinda Roy greeted me—and every other student—by name. It made me feel like the faculty was truly invested in me as a person and a dancer," says Spagnoletti, now a dancer at City Ballet of San Diego. "I had friends who'd gone to some of the big-name schools, so I'd heard about those experiences—and I knew mine was going to be unique."
When planning your summer, it's exciting to think about an intensive at a prestigious pre-professional school—maybe the one attached to your dream company or that all your friends are talking about. But is bigger always better? With a wealth of options for summer study, it's worth looking at the benefits of smaller schools. For many dancers, training in a close-knit atmosphere can outweigh the cachet of a big name.
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
1. Rotator Activation
This simple exercise isolates turnout from the hips, says the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries' Emily Sandow. Lie on your back with legs in the air and feet flexed. Rotate from parallel into first position and back again, seeing how the upper leg rotates and the feet follow. Feel the muscles at the backs of your legs—where the elastic of your leotard's leg seam is—and your inner thighs engaging to make the rotation happen. Notice how you can turn out without using your bigger gluteal muscles.
Physical therapist Lisa Apple recommends doing this common exercise against a wall to prevent tipping the pelvis backwards or forwards. Lie on your side with your back and feet flat against a wall, both knees bent and the legs stacked. Open your top knee as far as you can. Hold this position before slowly bringing your knee down. Repeat until the point of fatigue and switch sides.
3. Hip Abduction with External Rotation
Still lying with your back against a wall, bend your bottom leg with your foot flat against the wall and straighten your top leg. Turn out the top leg and lift it slightly (like a small dégagé), keeping it firmly pressed against the wall. Progressively lift your leg an inch or two higher at a time, holding at each level for 1–2 seconds. Go as high as you can go without losing contact with the wall. Lower slowly with control, maintaining the turnout you achieved on the way up. "Holding your placement against the wall going both up and down is key for pelvic alignment," says Apple. Start with 6 reps per side, aiming for quality over quantity.
To reproduce this feeling standing, Apple recommends standing in parallel with a paper plate under each foot (or rotation discs if you have them) and rotating to first using the same muscles.
4. More is Not Always Better
Spending hours each day in turnout causes the external rotators to shorten, tighten and work less effectively, Sandow says. To maximize your potential turnout, balance stretches (like the figure four stretch and pigeon pose above) with strength work and spend time not turned out. "If you're taking class and rehearsing all day, walking turned out just leads to chronic overuse of those muscles," she says. "Plus, you're unnecessarily stressing the ankle ligaments and tendons." Try something as simple as walking in parallel.
Turnout is one of the defining characteristics of classical ballet and the foundation of your technique, but the deceptively simple concept of external rotation can be hard to execute. For those born with hip joints that don't naturally make a tight fifth position, it's tempting to take shortcuts in the quest for more rotation, but you'll end up with weaker technique and a higher risk of injury. We asked top teachers and physical therapists to break down the meaning of turnout and offer safe ways to maximize your range.
Before attending the Alonzo King LINES Ballet summer program at age 18, Maya Harr did not have much experience with improvisation. In fact, she was such an introverted bunhead that even the word seemed scary. "The teacher came into the studio, turned off the lights, put on music and told us to dance," says Harr, now a LINES company member. "We didn't stop moving for 45 minutes, and I was grateful for the freedom I've found."
You might feel obligated to spend your summer honing your technique at a classical ballet program. Yet as ballet companies open their repertoires to more contemporary works from choreographers like Aszure Barton, Kyle Abraham, Crystal Pite and Nicolo Fonte, you may want to consider opening yourself up to contemporary styles and the outside-the-box thinking that underlies them. "This work is necessary for the future of ballet," says Dwight Rhoden, artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet and its affiliated summer intensive.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a member of American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, you're in luck. The latest episode of "No Days Off," a documentary web series profiling young and inspiring athletes, spotlights 17-year-old Joseph Markey, a first-year Studio Company member. The doc not only underscores the physical aspects of Markey's training, but also the artistic refinements he must make on his road to becoming a professional dancer.
17-Year-Old Is The FUTURE of Dance www.youtube.com
With nearly 43,000 followers on Instagram, Elisabeth Beyer is a social media sensation. The 16-year-old Ellison Ballet student came in first place in the senior women's category at the Youth America Grand Prix's New York City Finals this year and has been medaling all over the ballet competition circuit since she was 11 years old. But despite the thousands of likes she gets on each post, she also receives criticism. "It happens a lot," says Beyer. "I get accused of being too skinny or being anorexic, and it just isn't true."
The rise of social media has given dancers more visibility than ever before. The Pew Research Center reports that 71 percent of Americans 18 to 24 years old are on Instagram. And in ballet, which strives for the pinnacle of visual perfection in both execution and physicality, it can be deflating to see perfect penchés fill your feed on #whackedoutwednesday. But there are also great benefits for dancers connected on social media: Instagram can broaden your worldview and open up doors to opportunities you never imagined. The following five rules of Instagram will help you to focus on the positives and develop a healthy relationship with your favorite app.
"In Cuba, everybody turns," says Caridad Martinez, a ballet faculty member at The Ailey School and a former principal with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Here, she walks us through the exercises and techniques that comprise "the Cuban secret" of pirouettes in general, and fouettés in particular.
Two legs in plié: The Cuban methodology teaches the fourth position preparation for turns with both legs in demi-plié. The benefits of this approach are speed and control, says Caridad Martinez. "That push of the back leg to passé, at the moment of relevé, makes it easier to generate more turns."
Finish up: For all turns, says Martinez, "we teach to finish on relevé, because that's when you really finish. Hold the position a little bit more—gluteus in and up, turn out the standing leg, open the knee and stay! Don't leave anything behind."
Spotting secrets: To find a more active torso, says Martinez, "have the sensation that you quickly bring your back to the audience." This "switch" of the torso propels you farther around, and with more energy. In addition to spotting with rhythm, try telling yourself "Back! Back!" You may find you effortlessly have the force for that extra rotation.
Round arms: "We keep the arms rounded," says Martinez of the Cuban method, though she notes that it's not incorrect to extend to allongé. She gives a simple exercise to help her students coordinate their port de bras in turns: Hold an object in your opposite hand (the left, if you are turning to the right) as you prepare. At the moment of the relevé, quickly pass the object to your right hand as you turn.
The progression: Following the Cuban training method, Martinez builds strength and coordination for fouettés systematically in class. "It's very important not to skip any steps," she says.
- Begin with consecutive relevés in retiré, both at the barre and in the center.
- "Then do that with a quarter turn, then a half. That is awful! But later you appreciate it."
- Progress to three consecutive full pirouettes, holding the leg in retiré as you plié between turns.
- Repeat the above, this time extending the working leg à la seconde with the plié between turns. Then add a beat, back-front, to the passé as you turn.
- Pirouette, plié á la seconde, pirouette is one way to fouetté. "When you have the coordination and the technique to control that, the next step is to go to the front and then seconde," says Martinez.
- Work up gradually, starting with three or four fouettés.
Options: As noted above, the working leg in fouetté may extend directly to the side with plié or rond de jambe from front to side. With rond de jambe, you have a further choice: You may relevé with the à la seconde and then turn, or open the leg in plié and relevé at the moment of the pirouette. "We use both," Martinez explains, depending on the choreography.
The twizzle: Rather than pushing off from fourth directly into a high passé, many students allow the back foot to linger on the floor as they begin to turn, causing the passé to over-cross and the standing leg to turn in. In fouetté, the consequence of this is that the working leg drops too low when it extends. "That leg does not come down," Martinez cautions. "Feel that you isolate from the hip to the knee, and keep that distance the same."
1. "Practicing balance—that is the students' homework," says Martinez. She suggests trying promenade on relevé at the barre, going en dehors with the leg in retiré and en dedans with the outside leg in cou-de-pied.
2. During fondus or ronds de jambe at the barre, Martinez works on the transition from plié attitude en avant into écarté derrière: "Extend the standing leg and get to écarté at the same time—that coordination is important when we are thinking about fouetté." Practicing attitude, as opposed to extending fully to the front, helps prevent over-crossing.
What's the best way to store or hang a tutu? —Leslie
Tutus are very delicate and expensive, so storing them properly is a must—especially if you have pets. (I once woke up to my cat chewing my Marzipan tutu to pieces!) I asked Laura Berry, costume shop manager and tutu designer at The Rock School for Dance Education, for her pro tips.
Do you ever feel frustrated during class, wishing you could balance longer on pointe? Here, master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop shares everything you need to know about finding the perfect pointe shoes for better balances.
How to Find Pointe Shoes For a Better Balance www.youtube.com
Elisabeth Beyer may only be 16, but she is already cultivating an international following. A Professional Training Program student at Ellison Ballet in New York City, this year she won first place in the senior women's finals at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York and the junior gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition. In late October, she had the opportunity to perform Grand Pas Classique at the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival in a gala alongside stars from The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala and, of course, Cuban National Ballet. Her partner was Cuban-born international guest artist Daniel Sarabia, and the two only had a short time to prepare. We caught up with her to talk about what the whirlwind experience was like.
If you've had an opportunity to see the Cuban National Ballet Company perform, or taken class with a Cuban-trained teacher, or observed a Cuban-trained dancer in classical, contemporary or character roles, you've probably wondered what it might be like to study or dance professionally in the island nation. The U.S. trade and travel embargo can seem like an obstacle, but under its provisions, travel to Cuba is permissible for pursuing an education or professional interests. Shortly after the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival, I spoke with two dancers—a student and a professional—whose experience studying and dancing in Cuba sheds some light on what it's like.
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A good personal trainer can coach you through a challenging, safe workout. A great one understands the unique demands dance places on your body and helps you correct specific weaknesses to make you an even stronger performer. Enter Joel Prouty.
Before his passion for fitness took over, he was a member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Houston Ballet and Boston Ballet, toured with Twyla Tharp and performed in Broadway's Come Fly Away. When he retired from the stage in 2010, he dove into exercise physiology courses at New York University, captivated by the idea of dancers as athletes. "My main focus and obsession was how to train like an athlete—strong, powerful, quick and resilient—while still maintaining the long, lean aesthetic required to be a dancer, and perhaps more specifically a classical ballet dancer."
Do you call the pirouette position passé or retiré, or do you use both? What about the term élevé? Do you use it? Have you ever considered what these French words actually mean?
"Ballet terminology is somewhat subjective," says Raymond Lukens of ABT's JKO School. "Often there is no definitive way to say something. What's really important is to create a picture in the minds of your students so that they will do the step you're asking the best way possible. You can split hairs forever over this stuff!"
Another thing to keep in mind is this, says Lukens: "For the French, ballet terms are seen as verbs or action words, and to non-French speakers they're seen as labels for the movements."
What bunhead hasn't dreamed of dancing Clara in Nutcracker? But with so many young dancers aspiring to the role, casting disappointments are inevitable each year. Today, three professionals share their childhood Clara casting disappointments and what helped them move on and learn from the experience. We hope their stories will encourage you this Nutcracker season!
A shallow plié can be frustrating for any dancer. But even if you think you've reached your limit, a deeper, juicier plié may be achievable, says Karen Clippinger, professor at California State University, Long Beach, and author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. "Many dancers can improve the depth of their plié through persistent stretching and careful attention to optimal body alignment," she says. Barring any structural issues that would shorten your plié, such as bone spurs at the front of the ankle, these three exercises will help you access your full range.
- a 1/2- to 1-inch thick book
- a Thera-band