Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member Abby Relic has never been your typical bunhead. At her Kansas high school, she was a member of the decidedly un-balletic drill team—which is where she first discovered hip hop. “The captain made up this sort of hip-hoppy routine for us that I loved,” Relic remembers. “It was such a release. I’ve always enjoyed busting out of the ballerina box.”

But Relic didn’t start taking hip-hop classes regularly until she arrived in Seattle in 2008: “I discovered this studio, Westlake Dance Center, that has a bunch of hip-hop teachers. It’s fun to learn all their different styles. They’ve taught me that hip hop is about capturing an attitude, a feeling, and then adding a bit of yourself on top, instead of just copying the teacher.”

That emphasis on putting a personal stamp on choreography has changed the way Relic thinks about even the most classical pieces. “When you’re in the corps of a story ballet, you have to dance cleanly so you fit in—but now I consciously put more of me into the movement,” she says. Plus, she’s found that when the company is learning a contemporary ballet, her diverse hip-hop experience helps her nail the quirkier steps. “I’m used to picking up new styles quickly, even if they feel foreign at first.”

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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Everything Nutcracker
Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz as the Sugar Plum Fairy during a stage rehearsal for George Balanchine's Nutcracker. All photography by Arian Molina Soca.

For many professional ballet dancers, Nutcracker means weeks of performances. That usually translates to multiple casts—and important breakout opportunities for those in the junior ranks. On the afternoon of December 13, Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz made her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy along with her Cavalier, corps member Austin Eylar. For the Brazilian-born dancer, who joined PAB in 2018 after two seasons at Houston Ballet, Sugar Plum marks one of her first principal roles.

"I'm really excited," says Golz. PAB artistic director Angel Corella appointed 12 casts of Sugar Plum Fairies over the run's 29 performances. "When I first found out, I was like, 'Pinch me!' I still can't believe it."

We caught up with Golz just before her debut to see how she prepared for her big break.

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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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