To what do you attribute your success?
To my work. I had to make a real effort to get to where I am because I didn’t have the qualities that the Opéra required. Technique came easily to me, but it took me a while to realize that the company doesn’t care if we can do three turns; they want two clean, beautiful ones.
What’s your best memory on stage?
My promotion to étoile, because the circumstances were pretty unusual. There was a strike that day, so we danced Nutcracker without sets or costumes. I really didn’t expect it to happen then, so it was very special.
Is there anything about your body you would change?
I’d love to have really nice feet. Mine are strong and allow me to do a lot technically, but I’d like to keep that strength and also have high arches. They finish the movement so beautifully.
Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
I eat pasta, and I take a nap! I love to sleep. It helps me relax. I wake up two hours before the show and don’t have time to stress out, so I just get ready.
What skill would you most like to have?
I’d love to be more knowledgeable, to have more of a general education. I joined the company young, so I didn’t graduate from high school, and I don’t have a great memory, so even when I read a book, I forget it. I wish I had studied philosophy.
What’s the least glamorous part of being a dancer?
The strict lifestyle we have to adhere to. We can’t just go out or drink until 3 am if we’re rehearsing the next day. You need to know when you can have fun and when you have to be serious. It’s still pretty glamorous, though!
What would you bring with you to a desert island?
Sunscreen. And chocolate—I always have some in my dressing room.
To what do you attribute your success?
Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."
What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.
Sarah Steele working out outdoors near the Washington Monument
Courtesy The Washington Ballet
Sabrina Landa was thrilled to be offered a traineeship with Pennsylvania Ballet. "As a trainee, everything felt like a chance to prove myself as a professional," she says. Her training hours increased and she was dancing more than she ever had before. When Landa began experiencing pain in her metatarsals partway through the 2018 Nutcracker season, she notified the staff. "But in fear of losing my shows, I downplayed the severity of it," Landa says.
She notes that no one pushed her to keep dancing but herself. "I was 18 and was aiming to receive a contract by the end of the year," she says. "I felt so much anxiety over missing an opportunity that I was afraid to be honest about my pain." Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic staff were understanding and supportive, but Landa minimized her injury for the next few months, wanting to push through until the season ended and contracts were offered. But after months of pain and an onset of extreme weakness in her foot, Landa was diagnosed with two stress fractures in her second and third metatarsals. She spent the next three months on crutches and six months off dancing to allow for the fractures' delayed healing.
Sabrina Landa, shown backstage as a trainee at Pennsylvania Ballet, downplayed the pain she was feeling in her foot during the company's Nutcracker run.
Courtesy Sabrina Landa
In certain cases, dancing on an injury can actually have long-term consequences and result in chronic problems.
Don't be afraid to consult a medical professional for advice on treating pain.
After taking over a year off, Landa is dancing again and pain-free.
Luis Negron Photography, Courtesy Sabrina Landa
When the world went into lockdown last March, most dancers despaired. But not Merritt Moore. The Los Angeles native, who lives in London and has danced with Norwegian National Ballet, English National Ballet and Boston Ballet, holds a PhD in atomic and laser physics from the University of Oxford. A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, she came up with a solution for having to train and work alone: robots.
Alice Williamson, Courtesy Merritt Moore