And Now From the Men...

Cory Stearns, American Ballet Theatre
Why partnering couldn’t start soon enough: I had a crush on this girl at my school. Did anything happen? [Laughs] No. I had no confidence, so I never told her. She probably knew.
Top mentors: My first partnering teacher, Dimitri Papadakos, was a former football player, never a dancer, and his advice was all about timing. Today, I go to Kevin McKenzie and Marcelo Gomes. There’s pride in good partnering at ABT. Do the women take advantage of that? Some do. [Laughs] They’re impatient with men who aren’t accomplished partners. But others are extremely easy to work with. I will say, when you work with someone who really makes you swallow your pride, it makes you a better partner.
When to talk onstage: Only if something is wrong. For me, if you’re really in the show, you are that character. It becomes dangerous if I’m out there switching back and forth between Cory and Basilio, or Cory and Siegfried.
When things go wrong, do you take the blame? Oh, totally. I come offstage and say, “Sorry, that won’t happen again,” even though I don’t feel like it was me. [Laughs]
Top choice for next partner: It’s hard to say. There are people who are so well-known and it feels like an honor to dance with them, but a lot of them have huge egos. Notable exception: Polina Semionova—when I finally got to dance with her, it was amazing.


Jonathan Porretta, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Partnering mantra: Keep her on her leg and don’t tick her off.
Partnering rule: Take the blame, no matter what. That’s what Jock Soto instilled in us, at the School of American Ballet: If something doesn’t work, it’s the boy’s fault. Now, I might not say that in the dressing room later on, but in public I’ll take full responsibility. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.
How to talk onstage: Through big smiles, of course. In Act II of Nutcracker, principal Kaori Nakamura and I have it down to a science. What do you talk about? Shopping, dinners, the dancing, how many more Nutcrackers we have to do.
Top choice for next partner: Here at PNB? Leta Biasucci. She’s a corps member, gorgeous, has amazing technique, she’s fun—everything a ballerina should be. Everything she does comes from her heart.


Andrew Veyette, New York City Ballet

Rotating partners: I did Allegro Brillante a couple of seasons ago with my wife Megan Fairchild, Tiler Peck and Sara Mearns—all in the same week. They were three different ballets. I didn’t even pretend otherwise.
Trick of the trade: Sara Mearns goes for broke on everything. I started doing this thing in rehearsal where I beep at her progressively faster if we’re taking something too far. And if we have things under control, it’s just be a few slow beeps here and there. That’s our warning system. [Laughs]
The truth about partnering your spouse: Social niceties go out the window. Megan and I used to say, “You know I hate it when my partner does that, so why are you doing it?” We’d be short with each other sometimes, just because we felt like we could be. We had to get used to having a professional—as well as a personal—relationship. It took some practice, but we get along great now. We’re more polite.
Pet peeve: Megan would say that I hate it when the girl drives, when she starts leading. I’m not doing anything else, so if you’re doing all of the partnering and the dancing, then I’m just walking around. Let me do my job. 


Vito Mazzeo, Dutch National Ballet

Best advice: My teacher Leonid Nikonov told me, “Don’t forget you’re a human being, not a barre. Try to match the ballerina, her épaulement, not just think about where your hands are.”
Trouble in the bedroom: Once in the bedroom pas de deux of Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet, Yuan Yuan Tan woke up 16 counts early, when Juliet is supposed to be sleeping and Romeo is supposed to just watch her. I didn’t know what to do! So we started to kiss, for 16 counts, which doesn’t even make sense with the story. We were talking and almost laughing, with Yuan Yuan saying, “I’m sorry, Vito!”
Diva ballerinas: The divas are usually the coaches at the front of the room. [Laughs] My coach for many years was Carla Fracci and she is a diva, you know? But she taught me so much, especially about Giselle.
Top choice for next partner: Sylvie Guillem. I have so much love for her, and it’s not because technically she’s amazing. She has something inside her heart and brain that is always working and she knows how to manage herself. She’s unbelievable, that woman.


Fabrice Calmels, Joffrey Ballet

Best way to approach a new partner: Do some homework first, and get to know what kind of a ballerina she is, whether athletic, someone who can really jump and turn, or more lyrical, flexible. The lyrical ballerinas, you have to maneuver them more—they are more work.
Hero: My very good friend, Marcelo Gomes. His eyes aren’t always glued to the woman. It’s a great partner who can just feel the ballerina, where she is, at any time.
Pet peeve: When a ballerina is insecure onstage and a mistake happens and she doesn’t know how to just absorb it and move on, so you hear these sounds of frustration about the performance.
Top mentor: Attilio Labis at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. He focused on teaching you how to do things the opposite way. For example, people use their right hands a lot, so he made us work using only the left hand.
Partnering mantra: Take care of her. She is your responsibility from the moment you walk onto that stage.

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The author, Lucy Van Cleef, dancing Balanchine's Serenade at Los Angeles Ballet. Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet

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If you'd have told me in 2009 that it would take 12 years to earn my bachelor's degree, I never would have believed you. Back then, I was a dancer in my early 20s and in my second year with Los Angeles Ballet. I was used to the straightforward demands of the professional ballet world. I knew that hard work and willpower were the currency you paid in the studio, and that the thrill of live performance made all that investment worth it. What I didn't know then is how life's twists and turns aren't always so straightforward. In hindsight, I can see how my winding road to higher education has strengthened me—and my relationship with the ballet world—more than I ever could have imagined.

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Margaret Severin-Hansen, teaches class at Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. Cindy McEnery, Courtesy Carolina Ballet

7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Summer Intensive

Last summer many intensives were canceled or online-only. And the past school year has been spotty and strange for many, as well. All the more reason to look forward to an in-person summer program this year with excitement—but also, perhaps, some nerves. Take heart, says Simon Ball, men's program coordinator at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. "Once you get there the first day, all those fears will be relieved."

Here, Ball and two other experts share their advice for how to make the most of this precious opportunity to dive deep into dance—and how to handle complications that may get in the way, like injury and drama.

1. Show Off...Your Work Ethic

Summer intensives offer a preview of company life: You'll be dancing in a variety of styles over the course of the day, and all day, everyday. But that doesn't mean you have to be company-ready on day one! Though the first day may be filled with placement classes, try not to approach every class as an audition. "This year has taught us that the work is the important thing," says Ball. "Let go of trying to impress. The best impression I ever receive as a teacher is when I see someone receptive to doing things differently, even if that means taking one step backwards initially, to be able to take two steps forward by the end of the summer."

Angelica Generosa, a principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet, clearly made a splash during her first of three summers at the Chautauqua Institution's School of Dance. At 14, she was cast to dance the pas de deux from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes in the final performance. Generosa describes her younger self as "very eager." She'll be a guest teacher at Chautauqua this summer, and says that a similar eagerness catches her attention: "Dedication, and willingness to try. That twinkle in the eyes when a step is really challenging."

2. Make Friends

Even if friends from your year-round school will be with you this summer, branch out. During breaks at the studio, you may be tempted to spend time on your phone. "Take your headphones off," suggests Margaret Severin-Hansen, director of Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. "Share that ballet video with the person sitting next to you! Their eyes might see it differently; you could learn something. Or find that you have other things in common, too."

Do things outside the studio, too, even if your social circle is limited for safety reasons to a "pod" of classmates. "Sign up for activities," says Generosa. Go on that weekend shopping trip, or out for ice cream. "Be open," she says. "These are people you might see along the way in your future."

Simon Ballet, wearing dark clothing, is shown from behind demonstrating ecart\u00e9 arms while in front of him, a class of teenage ballet students perform d\u00e9velopp\u00e9 ecart\u00e9 devant on pointe in a medium-size studio. The dancers, all girls, wear leotards, pink tights and pointe shoes.

Simon Ball leads class at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Courtesy CPYB

3. Stay Healthy

"The first week is tough—you're going to be sore," says Ball. "Prepare yourself." He means that literally. Before your program begins, ramp up cross-training, especially cardio to build your stamina. Severin-Hansen recommends you also keep dancing. It no longer matters that your regular school might be on break: We now know it's possible to take virtual classes from home or in a rented studio. If you're on pointe, make sure to put the shoes on every day, at the very least for some relevés. Keep the skin on your toes tough; the last thing you want is to be sidelined by blisters.

If you are recovering from an injury or managing something persistent like tendonitis, take action even further in advance. Find out if your intensive provides access to physical therapy, and if not, make a plan before you leave home. Learn exercises and massage techniques that you can do on your own, and ask about virtually checking in with your regular doctor or PT. Once you arrive, says Ball, communicate with your instructors. "Chances are it's a common ballet injury that teachers understand. They'll be able to help you."

During her summer intensives, Generosa often suffered flare-ups of inflammation. "I knew the tendonitis in my knees was from over turning out, and in my ankles from lifting my heels in plié." She was able to alleviate some of her pain by dancing more thoughtfully, addressing those habits. She also got creative about taking care of her tendons during off-hours. "I basically did ice baths in Chautauqua Lake."

4. Deal With Disappointment Constructively

Whether you're placed in a lower level than you'd like or were hoping for a soloist role that went to someone else, disappointment is understandable. Try, on your part, to understand too. The faculty may believe you'll thrive more in that particular group, or see a technical issue better solved by not pushing you too fast. If you're not sure exactly what you should be working on, ask. "Trust that you can make the most of your experience, whatever level you're in," says Ball. "Don't be afraid of the conversation."

5. Avoid Drama

Competition is inevitable, but unproductive competition is unnecessary, and bullying unacceptable. Severin-Hansen lays down a very clear guideline: "Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable." If you hear or see anything that bothers you—whether directed at you or someone else—don't hesitate to speak up. "If there's even one person creating drama, you feel it in the class. Summer is short. There's no room for that." Tell the resident advisor in the dorms, or bring the problem to the school administration.

Angelica Generosa performs an arabessque elong\u00e9 on pointe while her partner stands behind her holding her waist and with his left leg in tendu. She holds her left hand on her hip and extends her right arm out to the side with her palm up. Angelica wears a purple leotard, black tights and a white Romantic tutu while Kyle wears a yellow shirt, black tights and tan slippers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Angelica Generosa (shown here in rehearsal with Kyle Davis) made notes of corrections she'd received and variations she'd worked on during her summer intensives to help retain what she had learned.

Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB

6. Fuel the Long Day

Depending on your housing arrangement this summer, you may be on your own for buying or preparing your own meals. Generosa recalls her first time living in a dorm and eating cafeteria food: "I wanted to try everything: pizza, chicken tenders, the salad bar, the dessert section—that was also my introduction to coffee." She found, however, that caffeine and sugar rushes would give way to energy crashes, and soon enough her better knowledge prevailed. "I told myself, 'Angelica, get your protein, vegetables, complex carbs—the right kind of energy.'"

Masking requirements may make snacking at the studios slightly more difficult. Nonetheless, there will almost certainly be somewhere you can safely have a nibble in between classes, whether that's a dancers' lounge or socially distanced in the studio itself. Make sure you always have something with you that's easy to munch on during breaks. Ball recommends protein bars or fruits and veggies. "Hydrating is huge," he adds, and suggests bringing packets of powdered electrolyte supplements to add to your water.

7. Retain Corrections

Take a moment each evening, Severin-Hansen advises, to write a few things down. "Say the whole class got a general correction, like 'Use your head.' The person who takes notes will think about it: 'When could I have used my head?' It's all about how you come back the next day and improve."

Generosa set a goal for herself to get better every day. To accomplish this, she would stay late to practice, she says, "so my body could adjust to what I was trying to achieve in that class." If you're inclined to follow her example, ask a friend to practice with you. You can film each other to get a glimpse of your own progress.

At the end of her Chautauqua summers, Generosa made notes of some things she had worked on and which variations she'd learned. "Then it wasn't like I left and that was that. I brought the summer experience with me, for my whole year."

Michael Cousmano, AKA Madame Olga. Courtesy When I'm Her

New Documentary "When I’m Her" Shows How Madame Olga’s Positive Affirmations Can Transform Ballet

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After 10 years as a professional ballet dancer, Cusumano transitioned to Broadway, where his alter ego, a sparkly-turban–wearing Russian ballet instructor named Madame Olga, was able to fully emerge. In Madame Olga, Cusumano became the ballet teacher he wished he had growing up. While Olga's classes feature the same technical rigor as any other intermediate-advanced ballet class, they also incorporate her signature humor and positive affirmations. It's common for Madame Olga's students to vocalize those affirmations while dancing (for example, saying "love" out loud while doing an adagio combination).

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