Ask Amy: Dec 2009/Jan 2010

Have a question? Click here to send it to Amy and she might answer it in an upcoming issue!

Some teachers say you should “dance big” at auditions and others tell you to stick to technique. What’s your best bet?

—Stephanie, Indiana

It’s a combination of both—you want to show off your technique, but you also need to reveal some personality to stand out. A great technician without any presence is just plain boring. In general, it’s always better to dance big; nothing says “wallflower” more than someone dancing timidly underneath herself.

But I don’t think exaggerated or dramatic dancing at an audition is a good idea, either. Too many over-the-top facial expressions can make you look silly. And “exaggerated” often translates to “affected,” which isn’t usually desirable to directors. I once stood next to a gorgeous dancer at a company audition years ago. She had feet, legs, extension—the works. However, all of her movements were extreme, unlike the simple style the director was demon­strating. She was among the first dancers cut. The only explanation I could think of was that she wasn’t paying attention to what the director was asking for.

Instead, maximize the space around you (without knocking down your fellow dancers, of course). Use your port de bras and the music to the fullest and project pleasantly towards the front of the room. Show them you’re an artist and a technician.

It’s really hard to stretch my knees when I stand on demi-pointe. And if I do stretch my knees, then my demi-pointe isn’t as high. How can I train it? —Paulina, Latvia

I spoke with Alison Deleget, a certified athletic trainer and clinical specialist with the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, about your problem. She suspects your calves and hamstrings are tight and/or weak, and that you’re compensating by using other muscle groups to relevé.

Try stretching in the simple runner’s lunge, with both a bent and straight back leg to target different areas of your calf. Also work on point-and-flex exercises using a Thera-Band while sitting with a straight leg to help you gain both strength and flexibility in your calves. “Practice two and one leg relevés with no plié at the barre to build strength,” says Deleget. Ask a teacher to observe your relevé to evaluate how you’re working. If you still have problems, make an appointment with a dance medicine specialist.

Which is a better training route for a preprofessional ballet dancer: performing with a local company or doing competitions such as Youth America Grand Prix? —Sofie, New Mexico

Ballet competitions aren’t a mandatory step towards becoming a professional dancer—most dancers I know did not compete. I myself danced with my studio’s performance group as a teenager, and I gained valuable stage experience that came in handy later. Dancing with a local company often gives you more performance opportunities and focuses on the group dynamic rather than on “winning.”

However, if you feel you have the time, resources and talent (not to mention steely nerves and a good coach) to prepare for a competition, go for it! Many famous dancers were first noticed at international ballet competitions, including Diana Vishneva (Prix de Lausanne), Sarah Lane (YAGP) and Rasta Thomas (USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson), to name just a few. Competitions give you exposure to major companies worldwide, plus you’ll gain intense individualized attention and experience dealing with high-pressure situations. Think about your goals and what you feel you can handle.


Talking to Amy:

Ballets de Monte-Carlo Principal Artist April Ball

“My brother and I competed when we were younger because we wanted to get more exposure and experience the highest level of our age group. Competitions can act as a massive audition because many directors come to scout talent. The medals got me into doors far easier, even years later.

I had a lot of invaluable one-on-one training with my coach, Roberto Muñoz. However, the process was extremely stressful. It takes a lot to be judged like that, so you have to figure out if you can enjoy yourself, too. But the nice thing is that if you don’t win, people won’t hold it against you.”

Latest Posts

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Coppélia" (1976)

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov share the unique experience of having danced at both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet during their careers. The two overlapped at ABT in the mid-'70s, where they developed one of the best-known partnerships in ballet. They were both celebrated for their dynamism onstage; however, in this 1976 clip of the pas de deux from Coppélia, Kirkland and Baryshnikov prove they are also masters of control.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Natalia Voronova, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Is Back Onstage: We Went Inside Bryan Arias' Latest Work

This summer, when parts of the world were slowly emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown, all live performing arts events having been canceled or postponed, choreographer Bryan Arias found himself in Moscow creating a brand-new work for the Bolshoi Ballet.

Arias, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New York City's Spanish Harlem, and danced with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater 2 and Kidd Pivot, had been invited by Bolshoi artistic director Makhar Vaziev to be part of an impromptu program of contemporary choreography titled Four Characters in Search of a Plot. Three other international choreographers—Martin Chaix (France), Dimo Milev (Bulgaria) and Simone Valastro (Italy)—had also been asked to participate. This program, unusual by all standards for Russia's esteemed classical ballet company, opened the Bolshoi's 245th ballet season on September 10. Eager to resume live events, the theater introduced a number of safety regulations for audience members, including limited and spaced-out seating, temperature checks upon entry and audio messages reminding patrons to wear masks and maintain social distance.

Below, Arias talks about his trip to Russia and his experience of creating his new piece, The Ninth Wave, on the Bolshoi Ballet dancers.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks