Complexions Contemporary Ballet dancer Larissa Gerszke is a brand ambassador for Gaynor Minden.

Dorian McCorey, Courtesy Gerszke

Life as a Brand Ambassador: Four Dancers on What It Means—and How to Become One

A dancer's job is rarely ever just to dance. They are also fitness experts, on-the-fly seamstresses, makeup artists and social media managers. On top of this, many are also taking on the role of "brand ambassador." This title can mean a lot of different things depending on the company the dancer represents, and it's not all free swag and publicity—it's also a big responsibility.

Pointe talked to a few dancers who have taken on the role, for products ranging from dancewear to energy drinks, to find out the benefits and challenges of being a brand ambassador.

Ashley Hod: Gaitline Shoes

Ashley Hod, wearing bike shorts, a camisole top and black tennis shoes, balances on a Bosu ball in front of an outdoor pool.

NYCB's Ashley Hod balances on a Bosu ball in her Gaitline shoes.

Andrew Veyette, Courtesy Hod

New York City Ballet corps member Ashley Hod was recovering from three torn ankle ligaments when she saw American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher post about Gaitline shoes on Instagram. "I was actually looking for a comfortable shoe to wear on tour to Shanghai," says Hod, who, because of her injury, needed a shoe with extra support. "I got the shoes on my own and absolutely fell in love with them." Then a domino effect occurred: She told fellow corps member Alexa Maxwell about them. Maxwell then bought a pair, posted about them on Instagram and was contacted by the company. Shortly after, Hod became one of a group of NYCB dancers who have struck up an ambassador partnership with Gaitline.

The biggest benefit of being an ambassador for Gaitline is receiving a number of free shoes a year. In exchange, Hod meets with the Gaitline team whenever they're in New York to provide feedback, and, of course, she tags the brand on social media whenever she posts a photo wearing them.

For Hod, the Instagram endorsements were the biggest adjustment. She explains that it wouldn't have been easy for her to endorse just any brand—being authentic on social media is important to her. "I was hesitant to do it at first. But it's a product I really believe in. So I don't mind posting so much about Gaitline on social media. I really am always wearing their sneakers."

Chloé Sherman: Bloch

CHlo\u00e9 Sherman, wearing a purple short sleeve leotard, long pink skirt and blue booties, sits on the studio floor in front of large glass windows.

Chloé Sherman poses with Bloch products at the Joffrey Ballet studios.

Matt de la Pena, Courtesy Sherman

Chloé Sherman, now in her fourth season with The Joffrey Ballet, had worn the same brand of pointe shoes since she was 14, until she switched to Bloch last summer. Shortly after she switched, Sherman, who actively tags the brands she uses in her posts, was contacted by Bloch through Instagram about becoming an ambassador. Now she says her sponsored Bloch Instagram posts are some of her most "liked"—a perk of being associated with a big dancewear company (Bloch often reposts and promotes its ambassadors' Instagram posts).

While one of her main responsibilities is to promote the brand on Instagram, there's room to grow within her relationship with the company. Some Bloch ambassadors have gone on to do larger ad campaigns and photo shoots. As a relatively new ambassador for the brand, Sherman finds perks in the free products she receives monthly. "It's hard as a ballet dancer," says Sherman. "You don't have an abundance of money to spend on leotards, so it's really nice to be sponsored by a company that has incredible leotards that are produced well."

As far as limitations go, Sherman mainly feels a responsibility to bring an authenticity to her personal brand while also representing Bloch. "There's pressure in the sense that I hope I'm doing a good job," she says. On her Instagram, she posts a combination of professional photo shoots alongside pictures from her everyday life in order to find that balance.

Brittany Rand: Celsius Fitness Drinks and EZ Tofu Press

Wearing stage makeup, a white leotard and short white skirt, Brittany Rand sits on her dressing room counter backstage holding a bouquet of flowers in her left hand and a canned energy drink in her right hand.

Los Angeles Ballet dancer Brittany Rand poses with her Celsius Energy Drink after a performance.

Courtesy Rand

Brittany Rand is in her third season with Los Angeles Ballet. Her work as a brand ambassador for Celsius Fitness Drinks and EZ Tofu Press is just another part of being in L.A.—the land of influencers and health food. "When you live here you're always being exposed to the new, hottest health brands," says Rand. "I'm constantly influenced to try a new product almost weekly by social media and the L.A. social circle." She was originally introduced to Celsius by a close friend; she loved the drink so much that she searched their social media and found an application to become an ambassador. With EZ Tofu press, the company's creator is a family friend.

Aside from the obvious perks of complimentary products, Rand has found social benefits to being a Celsius ambassador, such as connecting with fellow athletes and networking within the brand. Rand's bubbly energy fits well with her enthusiasm as an ambassador, and her work promoting both of these products, which she normally does through social media content, has spilled into her company life. "I definitely feel like an influencer within my company," she says. "Some of my colleagues have begun to drink Celsius based on my recommendation. I try to encourage everyone in my company with positivity, good energy and happiness, and I like encouraging new products that are great as well!"

Larissa Gerszke: Gaynor Minden

Larissa Gerszke, in a gold, brown and white multi-colored leotard, stands on her left leg on pointe, her right leg in a turned in pass\u00e9.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Larissa Gerszke

Steven Vanderveldon, Courtesy Gerszke

For Larissa Gerszke, becoming a Gaynor Minden Artist was a no-brainer. "I've used their pointe shoes since my ballet competition days dating back to 2010," she explains. Currently in her fifth season with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Gerszke fell into the brand ambassador position after visiting Gaynor Minden's Manhattan boutique, where she saw a sign calling for fit models (dancers to try on prototypes and give feedback). She was later able to meet founder Eliza Gaynor Minden, who asked her to become one of their official "Artists." Her role now includes appearing in marketing materials, advertisements and promoting Gaynor Minden on social media.

The perks of being a Gaynor Minden Artist also include a merchandise honorarium for pointe shoes, tights, leotards and other products. (Gerszke actually plans on donating her honorarium upon the renewal of her endorsement.) But, of course, there are limitations. "We can't appear wearing other brands of shoes or dancewear, and they will notice!" But Gerszke doesn't seem to mind. Her favorite part is the actual collaborating she gets to do with the company—from tests that made the size 3+ box possible, to the Core Color project. "Being a woman of color in ballet, I always had to dye or 'pancake' my pointe shoes to match my skin tone," she says. "When I was approached to help select satin colors for the inclusivity initiative, I was elated." Gerszke explains that it's her trust in the brand that makes the relationship, and her role, a valuable resource for her.

How to Become One

Wondering how to become a brand ambassador yourself? There are a number of things you can do to make it happen. First, take a cue from Chloé Sherman: Keep an active and engaged social media presence. Tagging your favorite brands in your posts will help get a company's attention, and posting photos that represent you as your most authentic self will help them see if your personal "brand" aligns with the company's image.

Also, make sure you're following a brand's account—occasionally, brands like Gaynor Minden will be actively looking for representatives, and you'll want to be in the loop so you can apply at the right time, in the right way. Each company has its own method of finding ambassadors, so the most important things you can do are do your research, follow through with the appropriate steps and make sure you genuinely love the brand before you commit to the relationship.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

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