Diminutive Dynamo: Staatsballett Berlin's Iana Salenko on Guestings, Salsa Music and Her Knack for Design

Salenko in "Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Yan Revazov, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin.

Staatsballett Berlin's Iana Salenko on guestings, salsa music and her knack for design.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I'm a tiny dancer, so to dance roles for tall ballerinas I would never have dreamed about, like Swan Lake—I'm very proud that I managed to get them.

What's the hardest thing about guesting with other companies, like The Royal Ballet?


Being attentive and learning what they want. I try to do everything they ask, including learning different choreography. People expect you to be amazing as a guest, and I feel this pressure sometimes. With The Royal Ballet, it was very difficult to learn the Ashton style; it was a lot of counting and different coordination.

Salenko in Balanchine's "Rubies." Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin.

What do you listen to when you're warming up?

Salsa. Sometimes I warm up and start dancing a little salsa in the studio, just to laugh—it gives me energy.

What's your best memory onstage?

The Nutcracker at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. The audience was screaming as if it was a stadium. I felt such warmth that I almost cried. I'll never forget it.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes for performance?

I prepare maybe five pairs of shoes a week before the show: I harden them with a lot of shellac, wear them in class to make them softer, then add more shellac. I also darn the tips to make them more stable. It takes three hours of work for each.

Do you have any must-have items when you travel?

I'm always with a book. I try to read in English these days, because I've had problems in London. I couldn't speak English so well, so I'm trying to get better.

If you weren't a dancer, what would you be?

I would probably be a designer. I like to make my own costumes. I try to make them work for my proportions. I love the smaller American tutus, so I started making smaller ones to make my legs look longer.

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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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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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

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