Ask Amy

Whenever I see videos of other dancers my age doing amazing tricks for competitions, I feel my self-confidence steadily decreasing. Am I not a good dancer because I can’t do those things? —Madeline
Absolutely not! During competitions, dancers often opt for virtuosic choreography to attract the judges’ attention. And let’s face it, nose-high extensions and quadruple pirouettes will definitely turn heads. But in the professional world, the goal is to interpret the choreographer’s vision, not to win a prize. Even when they’re attracted to amazing technical feats, artistic directors also look for movement quality, artistic expression, work ethic and emotional maturity. I’m certainly no master of showstopping technique, but directors have hired me based on other strengths. Tricks have their place, but they’re the extreme, not the basis, of ballet.

 

Unfortunately, there will always be someone out there who can do more than you—that’s a harsh reality that all dancers have to face. I have days when I get depressed while watching younger dancers whip off flawless triple pirouettes in class. But rather than thinking “I’m a miserable failure because she turns better than I do,” I try to deal with these feelings by asking myself how I can learn from what she’s achieving. I examine her preparation, her placement, her arms, etc., to see if she’s doing something that I could try in my own turns.

 

Next time you watch a video, try not to compare yourself to the students competing—they may have unusual natural abilities or better training opportunities than you do. Instead, use it as inspiration to focus on strengthening the quality of your own technique, and then build quantity from there.

I don’t know if I should stay at my year-round school or go to a different program this summer. I want to remain at my studio because I love it, but would that affect my career later on? My teacher says it’s important to expand my resumé and get my name out there. —Paula
Your teacher has a point. It’s wonderful that you like your local studio, but stepping outside of your comfort zone can be hugely beneficial. New experiences bring new ideas and expand your horizons. You’ll be exposed to other techniques and styles you might not have access to at home. Sometimes a new teacher will describe a concept differently and the correction will suddenly click. For example, my teachers at home always used to say “suck in your stomach.” But once at a summer program, a different teacher giving the same correction told me to lengthen my lower back. I understood the advice better that way and eventually developed more stability in my core.

 

At a different program, you’ll also have a chance to make new dance friends, explore a new city and size up the competition. You’ll dance all day, every day—think of how much you could learn! And if you want to dance professionally, a summer program is the perfect place to be seen by company directors and to audition for traineeships. If you just want to get your feet wet this year, several schools have started to offer shorter two- or three-week intensives (see my article on this type of program on page 80). I expect you’ll have a great experience and be back for more.

How can I get rid of the wiggles? Some people have perfect control, but I always make little adjustments when I try to balance. I’m working on my core, but what else can I do to achieve stability? —Anne
There could be several reasons why you’re having trouble. Luckily, you’re on the right track to correcting the problem—a strong core will definitely help you find balance and control. I spoke with Deidre Miles Burger, director of Orlando Ballet School. She believes you may be experiencing tension in other areas of your body, such as your arms and hands. “Your movements should always come from the center outwards,” she says. “Keep the solidity of your core while remaining calm in your extremities. The arms should be held, not tense.” She recommends taking Pilates or Gyrotonic classes to help you strengthen your center.

 

You should also be honest with yourself while you work. For instance, do you shift your hips and feet every time you close fifth position to compensate for imperfect turnout? If so, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Work correctly and intelligently with what you have to maximize control—otherwise you will constantly have to adjust your body between movements.


Have a question? Ask Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt at pointemagazine.com/ask-amy.

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
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

The Anatomy of Arabesque: Why Placement and Turnout Are Key to Achieving This Crucial Position

Audition for any school or company, and they'll likely ask for a photo in arabesque. The position not only reveals a great deal about a dancer's ability, but it is also a fundamental building block for more advanced movements, like penché or arabesque turn. Beyond technique, it can be the epitome of grace and elegance onstage, creating unforgettable images—just try to imagine Swan Lake or Balanchine's Serenade without an arabesque.

Yet many dancers are unsatisfied with their arabesque lines, and students frequently ask how to improve their extensions. (Social media posts of dancers with extreme flexibility don't help!) In an attempt to lift the back leg higher, dancers may sacrifice placement and unknowingly distort their position in the process. How can you improve the height of your back leg while maintaining proper placement and turnout? We talked to a few experts to better understand the science behind this step.

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

Editors' Picks