"Both professions require one to know their bodies really well, and to have discipline, like understanding how to move and make shapes. If you know your body, it’s not as awkward when you’re modeling because you’re already super conscious," says Laura Love about the connection between modeling and dance to James Lin of nymag.com's "The Cut" blog. Love performed with Los Angeles Ballet before quitting the stage a couple of years ago to become a model. The fashion world fell for her after photographer Bruce Weber shot an epic 15-page editorial with Love and New York City Ballet's Chase Finlay (our last issue's cover boy) for the April 2011 issue of French Vogue. But although Love says she enjoys having more time since giving up the disciplined life of a ballet dancer, she admits she still dances one and a half to three hours a day. You can take the girl out of the ballet world, but you can't take ballet out of the girl.
Hollywood could make a movie about Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan's big break at Pacific Northwest Ballet.
It was November 2017, and the company was performing Crystal Pite's film-noir–inspired Plot Point, set to music by Bernard Hermann from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Ryan, then a first-year corps member, originally was understudying the role of another dancer. But when principal Noelani Pantastico was injured in a car accident, Ryan was tapped to take over her role.
Jayme Thornton for Pointe
Early Successes—and Struggles<p>Ryan, now 23, has been dancing since she was 3 years old, when her parents enrolled her in tap, jazz and ballet classes at a local dance studio. At age 5, her teacher recommended she pursue more rigorous ballet training at Philadelphia's acclaimed Rock School for Dance Education.</p><p>Ryan flew up the levels there, and by the age of 12, she'd advanced to the top, the youngest student in her classes. Although she held her own with high-school–aged peers, Ryan knew she was different. "Everyone was older," she says. "You were expected to look a certain way, but I was still going through puberty!"</p><p>That didn't stop Pennsylvania Ballet, which then did not have an affiliated school, from casting Ryan in its annual <em>Nutcracker</em>. Ryan was 10 when she danced her first role, a toy soldier. Miami City Ballet School director Arantxa Ochoa was a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet at the time, but she noticed the young dancer.</p><p>"I just remember her beautiful eyes and big smile," Ochoa recalls.</p>
Jayme Thornton for Pointe
Ryan with company dancers in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite
Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
A New Home<p>Ryan had attended Pacific Northwest Ballet's summer intensive the summer after joining PBII. She was among 30 young women enrolled in Peter Boal's class that summer—all excellent dancers, he says—but Ryan stood out.</p><p>"She had this kind of go-for-broke presence," Boal says. "A gutsiness." He made a mental note. A year later, when Ryan contacted him about an audition, Boal invited her to attend class when the company toured to New York City. At the end of that class, Boal offered Ryan a contract; she joined PNB as an apprentice in the fall of 2016.</p><p>"I loved PNB's rep, I loved the idea of working for Peter," Ryan says. Although she was scared about moving across the country, she calls it "good scared."</p>
Ryan in Ronald Hynd's The Sleeping Beauty
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
Finding Her Voice<p>During this long pandemic year, Davis and Ryan have had ample opportunity to explore their partnership. They share a Seattle apartment with two miniature Australian shepherds, Hawk and Magpie, who make frequent cameos during the online classes the couple both take and teach.</p><p>PNB's 2020-21 season is all-digital, and when the dancers returned to the studio last August, only those who co-habitated could partner one another. In the company's opening program, Ryan and Davis reprised the pas de deux from Balanchine's "Rubies." While dancing for cameras instead of live audiences hasn't been ideal, Ryan says she's learned how to use her face to convey emotions in a more intimate way, instead of playing to the second balcony.</p><p>Beyond the pandemic, the past year also ushered in frank national conversations about race and racism, which freed Ryan to speak more openly about her Latin heritage. "It gave me a voice I didn't always have before," Ryan says. "I always knew I was different, especially in ballet, but didn't often talk about it."</p>
Jayme Thornton for Pointe
Of all the unprecedented effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the dance world, perhaps the most unthinkable a year ago was the forced pivot to online training. With many studios mandated to close, we've outfitted our homes with barres and marley and harnessed technology to create more learning opportunities than ever before. And now, as some studios reopen for in-person classes (either fully or in hybrid form) and others remain online, it's easier to supplement your school's offerings by adding virtual master classes—or even going to another school for in-studio time. But while being able to take class from anyone, anywhere, offers great opportunities, there are pitfalls to jumping from teacher to teacher. It's important to balance out the pros and cons of creating your own "COVID curriculum."
Balance Opportunity and Consistency<p>Some virtual classes can feel more fun than others—Instagram Live with a celebrity dancer can be an exciting contrast to the familiarity of your regular Zoom classes. But for a lot of students, the combination of isolation and inadequate space at home becomes a huge struggle. As some schools reopen for in-person classes while others remain fully online, the urge to grab a chance at studio time elsewhere is real.</p><p>"Some students are having a really difficult time with online training," says Erica Fischbach, director of the Colorado Ballet Academy, which has been mostly virtual since last March. While the Academy's policy prohibits students in the pre-professional program from taking outside classes, Fischbach has cautiously allowed it during the pandemic, within strict parameters. "If a student comes to us and is really struggling, we've said it's okay to go to another studio to take classes—so long as CBA is still virtual, it does not conflict with their current classes, and they are not overtraining."</p>
Colorado Ballet Academy director Erica Fischbach teaching CBA Pre-Professional Division students
Mark Hutchens, Courtesy Colorado Ballet
Consistency Versus Variety<p>Students seek out supplemental virtual training for various reasons. Pre-pandemic, Miami-based Veyette Virtual Ballet School mostly worked with students seeking individual attention missing at their primary school, whether to prepare for a competition, learn the nuances of a different style, or simply gain confidence through one-on-one coaching. While VVBS has since added group classes for those wanting to train with them under a more consistent schedule, directors Lauren and Francis Veyette are still very careful in how they guide private students who attend another school full-time. Finding a balance between variety and consistency is crucial, they say. "I think any teacher has a little bit of tunnel vision; even the best teachers may not see every little detail," says Francis. "Having a diversity of opinion can be valuable. On the other hand, if you take class from a different teacher every time, you're not going to get the chance to really work on the corrections each one emphasizes."</p>
Lauren and Francis Veyette work with one of their local students on a sit lift.
Ariel Rose, Courtesy Veyette Virtual Ballet School
Getting the Most Value from One-Off Classes<p>When taking a one-time class, consider how the teacher's perspective can complement and augment the training you're already getting, not replace it. Jessica Lynn, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma majoring in ballet performance and journalism, took virtual master classes on several platforms over her winter break, including ones on Zoom from Peter Stark and Cynthia Harvey. She feels those in particular reminded her how to use speed, plié and movement dynamics in different ways, elements she finds applicable to her OU classes.</p><p>But the one-time classes also gave her a taste of being a professional. "As I've gotten older, giving myself corrections is more important than ever," says Lynn. "That's something I've learned to employ from the Instagram Live and other online classes. Not having hands-on specific instruction is challenging, but I think that's indicative of how it's going to be in the professional setting."<strong></strong></p>
Sarah Cermak, Courtesy Lynn
Explore Smartly<p>If you want to explore outside your main studio's curriculum, whether in person or online, first determine what you're looking for and why, and question whether you're likely to find it. Learning a different style and progressing your technique are long processes which are most successful with faculty who are dedicated to you, says Fischbach. If you're itching for something more, talk to your main teacher first about finding it where you already are, whether that means private lessons or more targeted help in class on the area you're craving to develop. Fischbach says she always wants to hear from students so she can help them find solutions.</p><p>Remember, too, that there is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, and your current frustrations may be tied to a situation that will soon change. "There are right and wrong ways to supplement your training right now," Fischbach advises. "First communicate with your home school— sneaking around just creates ill will. Your teachers are invested in you, love you and want to see your happiness. They want to know about any issues you're having and help you find a path to success."</p>
Have you ever wondered what Daniil Simkin thinks about when he whips off a series of effortless pirouettes? Or how Polina Semionova initiates her "swan arms" when she dances Odette/Odile? Both dancers are now part of a new streaming platform called Dance-Masterclass, which offers targeted lessons from the ballet world's biggest stars to dancers of all levels. Launched in February, the platform presents 10 to 12-plus gorgeously filmed lessons from a new master teacher each month, with options allowing for private feedback.
Simkin and crew during the filming of his masterclass series
Courtesy Dance Masterclass