The first time I saw William Forsythe’s choreography I hated it. Passionately.

I’d just started at NYU and our choreography class was required to see Ballett Frankfurt out in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, my parents happened to be in town that weekend. But I brought them along, assuming anything called “ballet” would be safe.

You know what they say about assuming. N.N.N.N. consisted of four men walking around slapping the tops of each other’s heads. The women in Duo were wearing mesh tops THAT YOU COULD SEE THROUGH. One Flat Thing, Reproduced just had the dancers slinking around a bunch of tables. This was not what I called ballet. I was mortified.

From that point on, I avoided anything Forsythe. At ABT’s intensive the next summer I was forced to take a Forsythe-based improv class with one of his dancers, Jill Johnson. I was dreading it—until I got in the studio. Jill had us try out a simple exercise that was based on Forsythe’s process: Starting in first position, we could tendu in any direction in parallel or turnout, and use any classical ballet port de bras we wanted but one or both arms could be parallel, upside down or backwards. Exploring the infinite possibilities within this structure was thrilling. I felt in my body how movement that was completely weird and awkward actually related directly to ballet. At the end of class a couple of the students begged Jill to dance some Forsythe for us. Watching her move, I could see how the steps were based in classicism but took it to an entire other galaxy of possibility.

This week I saw Duo again. After many years of watching downtown dance, I’ve moved past my aversion to nudity onstage so I was actually able to see the dance this time. And it was so beautiful I almost cried. Sitting there I realized that seven years later, each piece of that Ballett Frankfurt performance I had hated so fervently still stuck in my mind, crystal clear. I can’t say the same about shows I saw last month. Even though it had blown my mind because I was unprepared for that type of dance, it had moved me and left an impression that has never gone away.

Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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