I've noticed that my progress has plateaued. Class starts out pretty well, but once we get to center, it seems like I am not improving whatsoever. Help! —Sade


You're not alone; all dancers experience a plateau at some point. Chances are you are improving, but slowly—maybe so slowly that you don't realize it. I've often found that fresh ideas and a good dose of inspiration help. Is there a master class or workshop you could take? A perspective from a different teacher can help you realize things you hadn't considered before, or make a common correction suddenly "click."

Instead of fixating on higher legs and perfect pirouettes, think about musical nuance, your expression and port de bras, moving your body through space.

Think about how you approach class, too. Improvement doesn't just "happen" with blind practice—you need to actively build upon concepts from barre in center. If your teacher has asked you to turn out more from the standing hip in an attitude balance, for instance, think about that later as you practice attitude turns. You might also try taking a lower-level class once a week. Being the most advanced dancer in the room will give you a boost of confidence, but the class will also help you explore the basics of your technique.

Whenever I've been frustrated with my progress, focusing on my artistry really helped. (That's what we're all doing this for anyway, right?) Instead of fixating on higher legs and perfect pirouettes, think about musical nuance, your expression and port de bras, moving your body through space. Trust me: It will make a difference in how you feel and how you dance.

Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt at askamy@dancemedia.com.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

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"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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