Ballet Stars
Adiarys Almeida in Don Quixote. Courtesy Almeida.

How was training at the Cuban National Ballet School different from what you see in the U.S.?
It was free education, so it was very hard to get in, and there was a cut every year. We had academics alongside art, and we had to take a lot of different things: modern, character, ballroom, choreography composition, history of dance, music, French, makeup—everything you need for this profession.

Why did you defect?
I always wanted to have an international career. But also, I was 19, and I had a boyfriend. We were dating in Cuba when he won the lottery visa to come to the United States. When I was on tour here with the National Ballet he came to see me and I thought, I'm in love! So I stayed with him.

Has the political opening of Cuba affected you?
Before, if you defected, you had to wait five years to go back. That was pretty rough. Things have changed so much. It's about time; we're neighbors! Last year I was able to go back and perform at the Grand Theater in Havana—with my family, my teachers and my friends there.

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Ballet Training
Beloserkovsky and Dvorovenko perform a variation of the classic fish dive. Photo by Dave Friedman, Courtesy Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky.

Married couple and former American Ballet Theatre principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky share their advice for an essential partnering element: fish dives.

For Men

Handle with care: Holding the ballerina in the wrong place can cause her a lot of pain. "I learned that the hard way with Irina," Maxim Beloserkovsky laughs. "I suggest wrapping the right arm around her hips, feel the bones. As low as possible, because by lifting, the arm will slide up." Depending on choreography, the left arm can go either over or under the arabesque leg.

Don't splay: It's the partner's responsibility to stay as square as possible. "If I turn en face," Beloserkovsky explains, "she twists open; it's no longer arabesque, and it completely distorts the shape of the fish." Dvorovenko adds: "Then the ballerina is leaning on her side, and she can't hold the position."

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Ballet Training
Kyle Froman for Dance Teacher.

Gargouillade was a trademark step for Margaret Tracey. Now, the Boston Ballet School director helps the next generation of dancers acquire this "magical little movement." Here's how.

Technical prerequisites: To prepare for gargouillade, Margaret Tracey recommends practicing petit battement battu on pointe ("particularly serré," she says) and fast double ronds de jambe en l'air, especially in the center with a relevé or a jump. In pas de chat, focus on getting off the ground quickly. Then, says Tracey, "there's hope that gargouillade will fall into place."

Rapid-fire feet: "It's helpful to have a big jump," Tracey admits. "But I've seen dancers without that who figured out the coordination and speed." Even though one leg begins, and the other follows slightly after (same deal for the landing), think about it happening together. "That's how the gargouillade looks suspended in the air."

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Ballet Stars
Rosalie O'Connor; Courtesy Boston Ballet

What comes naturally to you?
My emotion onstage. I don't have the ideal ballerina body, so I have to move to prove myself. My strength is that I can work hard and I don't think it's hard; I enjoy it.

You went to the School of American Ballet after your apprenticeship at San Francisco Ballet. Did that experience change you?
Hugely. I had coordination and could do some tricks, but no basic technique. I came to the United States from Japan and hit the wall. What do you do? You have to fix it. SAB gave me confidence to be a dancer because I was able to fix myself.

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Ballet Training
Berdo with Charlotte Ballet apprentice Elisabeth Baehman. Photo Courtesy Charlotte Ballet.

Many dancers struggle with brisé, says Laszlo Berdo, associate director of the Charlotte Ballet Academy. "But once you've mastered it, it's not that difficult." Here's how he helps his students beat the brisé blues.

Hold your turnout: Laszlo Berdo says a common mistake is stepping forward on a turned-in leg in anticipation of the brisé. "You lose the support of that standing leg. Then you have no power to jump," he says. "That plié is your saving grace and control."

Create a line: Berdo notices that some dancers dégagé à la seconde instead of effacé. "It's really difficult to chase that leg into second when you're trying to move forward." He teaches brisé with an open shoulder blade. "The back arm's extension is a reference to the front leg's dégagé. Keep that energy stretching out."

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CPYB student Alyssa Schroeder in "Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.

Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's founding artistic director Marcia Dale Weary shares how she coaches renversés of sigh-inducing beauty.

Practice it slowly: To help her students tackle renversé, Marcia Dale Weary first gives it in adagio. Take a développé to croisé devant. "Think about the shape of the right foot coming front," she says. "Show off a jewel on your heel." Pivot to effacé, then carry the leg through a high écarté, into an attitude that "circles around you. As the right arm opens, both legs bend and the left arm circles to frame your face."

Maintain turnout: Weary notices that many dancers lift their working hip in the rond de jambe. "Rotate that leg so the hip stays down and the sole of the foot stays facing front, and then carry it back without letting the knee turn over." Feel the standing leg turning out too. "Keep that knee back over your little toe."

Weary at work in the studio. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.

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Ballet Stars
Maggie Small as the Butterfly in Stoner Winslett's "The Nutcracker." Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

You've gone from Clara to Sugar Plum in one place. What made that possible?
I was lucky to grow up here, in a school that fed directly into a company, so as a child I could visualize exactly what I wanted. I think my career is due in part to being aware of how lucky I am, being grateful for it and preserving it.

What does it mean to be a "ballerina" in a non-ranked company?
It means you do it all. The last time we did Romeo and Juliet I was a harlot, and it was so much fun. If we did the same thing all the time it wouldn't be as stimulating or exciting.

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Herman Cornejo in "La Bayadere." Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre.

A double tour, says American Ballet Theatre principal Herman Cornejo, "is the step that defines a male dancer." Here, he shares his thoughts on mastering this necessary trick.

Don't anticipate: "The takeoff is hard," Herman Cornejo acknowledges. "You want to take all your force around, and that twists your back to the side and your fifth out of place." Instead, the impulse for the rotations comes from the bottom of the plié. "Be calm to start. Prepare to a relevé, plié, and the moment the heels touch down, then you take the force."

Use your glutes: A common error Cornejo sees is "sticking your butt out and your chest forward in plié so that you're not on top of your hips. You'll never make it to the other side!" Your glutes, he adds, are "so powerful that when you engage them, it really makes a difference."


Cornejo in a double tour en l'air. Photo Courtesy Cornejo.

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