Trending
Hellebuyck and Michael Davis in Abdur-Rahim Jackson's "aBnOrMaL Normal." Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios, Courtesy KCB.

Molly Smolen started her professional career at age 14 as an apprentice with Cincinnati Ballet, and then joined American Ballet Theatre at 15 years old. Onstage, her talent and technique made her fit in with adults, but offstage, her young age caused problems.

Smolen, a now retired principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, struggled to handle the responsibility of a full-time job while living on her own in New York City. Her technique slipped due to long layoffs and repertoire limited to corps work. At 16, her body began to change, which led to humiliating experiences, like being cut from Swan Lake after she was told her thighs were too big.

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Trending
Les Grabds Ballets dancer Mai Kono in a promotional phtoo for next season's production of "Lady Chatterley's Lover." Photo by Sasha Onyschenko, Courtesy Les Grands Ballets.

The latest front in the controversy over the underrepresentation of female choreographers in ballet is at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. They're facing a petition and choreographer resignation that forced them to rebrand a season and publicly defend their programming.

On February 26, artistic director Ivan Cavallari, who started the job in the summer of 2017, announced the 2018-2019 season, which included a program titled Femmes. The program announcement said the evening would have "woman as its theme," and that Cavallari had "chosen three distinctive voices, rising stars of choreography, to undertake this great subject."

The three voices Cavallari chose to create on the theme of women, however, were all men.

"This was just too much for me, it was the last straw," says Kathleen Rea, a former member of National Ballet of Canada who now freelances, choreographs and teaches in Toronto. Rea says she's been bothered by the dearth of women choreographers throughout her career. But referring to women as "subjects" and excluding them from choreographing on a program about them compelled her to take action.

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Health & Body
From left: Erin Arbuckle in rehearsal for a new work by Richard Isaac. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy Arbuckle; running the 2015 NYC Marathon. Photo by MarathonFoto, courtesy Arbuckle.

When Erin Arbuckle takes ballet class wearing her New York City Marathon shirt, teachers often ask her, "You didn't actually run that, did you?" She did, twice, and she's running again this year on November 5.

Arbuckle, 28, a graduate of School of American Ballet and a freelance dancer who has performed with Ballet Next and Emery LeCrone Dance among others, is a rare ballerina who not only runs but has taken on the challenge of a marathon.

"If I can run 26 miles, I can handle a two-minute variation," she says.

Ballet dancers are taught to save their bodies for dance and avoid injury from other activities. While low-impact cross-training like swimming is encouraged, running is generally considered too high impact.

"I was told it would give me huge calves and thighs and damage my knees," Arbuckle says.

Her two foot surgeries were from dance injuries though, not running, and her body is holding up well despite what she was told to expect.

Marika Molnar, director of physical therapy at New York City Ballet, generally advises dancers to run only as a warm up. "Running for 5 to 10 minutes before ballet class to move the large muscles of the body is useful," she said. "Beyond that, you start to have risks."

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