Ballet Careers

How BalletX's Roderick Phifer Leapt from a BFA to Company Life

Roderick Phifer in Trey McIntyre's The Boogeyman . Bill Hebert, Courtesy BalletX.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Roderick Phifer graduated from University of the Arts with a BFA in dance in 2017.

While walking out of a technique class during the first semester of his senior year at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, Roderick Phifer was approached with an unexpected offer. BalletX needed a guest artist for an upcoming performance, and after seeing Phifer perform in one of his senior shows, a UArts alumnus dancing with the company had offered up his name. Phifer ran straight from his technique class to a company class with BalletX, and the troupe's artistic leadership quickly gave him the green light to perform. "It was so last-minute, that, I kid you not, I had three rehearsals," he says. He performed with BalletX as a guest artist that fall, auditioned for an open company position in the spring and had a contract by the end of his senior year.


Roderick Phifer, dressed in black pants, ballet shoes and an open black, sheer shirt jumps in the air against a blue background.

Roderick Phifer

Gabriel Bienczycki, Courtesy BalletX


Looking for something different: Coming from a competition studio, Phifer was looking for a collegiate program to round out his dance knowledge and to catch up on ballet. "We solely trained to compete and focused mainly on contemporary, tap and hip hop," he says. "I knew that I needed a little bit more knowledge on what actually was out there in the dance world."

Incorporating improv: At UArts, Phifer took a mandatory improvisation class, and like many dancers, struggled at first with the practice. "Even to this day, I wouldn't say it's my favorite thing to do, but now I'm just so much more comfortable with who I am, and what I bring to the table."

A group of dancers in brightly colored pants and tunics hold back Roderick Phifer, who stands in a parallel lunch with his arms spread in both directions.

Roderick Phifer with BalletX in Matthew Neenan's Credo. Bill Hebert, Courtesy BalletX.


Favorite part of college: The friendships. "I learned to find a brotherhood somewhere that wasn't home, and somewhere that was completely out of my comfort zone."

Loving to learn: "UArts put me in that position where I had no other choice but to be ready and willing to learn something new." This attitude has helped Phifer at BalletX, a company focused on premiering new works regularly. In his three seasons with the company, he has learned 25 to 30 new pieces.

Advice for dancers considering college: "You want to be in an environment where you're having fun or you're learning to have fun with the things that you're doing," he says. "Take care of who you are because you're a person first, before anything else."

Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy

When you're looking for a ballet program to take you to the next level, there are a lot of factors to consider. While it's tempting to look for the biggest name that will accept you, the savvy dancer knows that successful training has more to do with the attention and opportunities you'll get.

We put together a few of the most important things for dancers to look for in a summer or year-round training program, with the help of the experts at Colorado Ballet Academy:

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Courtesy Nichols

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using black face in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on blackface, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

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Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy US Prix de Ballet

The US Prix de Ballet is taking an unconventional approach to the ballet competition—by putting the competitors' health first. After a successful first year in 2018, the Prix is returning to San Diego, CA this February with an even more comprehensive lineup of wellness workshops and master classes, in addition, of course, to the high-level competition.

Though the talent is top-notch, the environment is friendly, says HARID Conservatory faculty member Victoria Schneider, who serves on US Prix de Ballet's elite panel of judges. "The wellbeing of the dancer is the main focus," says Schneider, who awarded three scholarships to HARID at last year's competition.

US Prix de Ballet was born after its founders traveled to the Japan Grand Prix International Ballet Competition in 2016. "The company ran every aspect of the competition with professionalism, dignity, honor and precision," says founder Neisha Hernandez. "We knew we wanted this level of experience for America."

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