"Nobody ever tells you to be sexy or tough in ballet class, but in contemporary ballets that’s often what they expect—and jazz class is where you learn how to do it.” —Miranda Bailey

Like many bunheads, Columbia City Ballet soloist Miranda Bailey wasn’t sure about jazz when she was required to take it as a student. “I used to skip class all the time,” she admits. It wasn’t until Bailey was in her teens that she really gave jazz a chance. “Suddenly, I discovered that it was this class where I had so much freedom,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, my turnout isn’t good enough, my extensions aren’t high enough.’ It was about dancing, not about doing the 32 fouettés.”

Now Bailey takes and teaches jazz frequently. “It’s my little reward for getting through ballet class,” she says. It’s also good preparation for CCB’s repertoire, which is full of jazz-inflected contemporary ballets. “We only go into super-classical mode when we do something like Sleeping Beauty once every few years,” she says. “For the rest of our shows, we need to be able to do the hip isolations and the body rolls and the other good stuff you learn in jazz class.”

But Bailey thinks even dancers who dream only of performing Petipa ballets can benefit from jazz. “It’s fantastic cross-training, because you use totally different muscles,” she says. “Often that helps you fix your ballet technique problems. For years, my ballet teachers yelled at me to turn out my supporting leg, but I could never activate the right muscles—until I discovered them during a jazz combination.”

Ballet Training
Kali Kleiman performing at YAGP's New York Finals. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

As someone who has judged many ballet competitions, I've had the opportunity to see some breathtaking contemporary solos that combine fantastic technique with well-conceived choreography. Yet it's often hard for us judges to see the artistic intention behind these solos the way we can when watching a classical variation. For one thing, we're simply more familiar with classical ballet's repertoire and characters. But also, when a contemporary solo is just a string of one trick after another, or only delivers one emotion (such as overwrought angst), we don't get to see any artistic depth.

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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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Ballet Stars
Elle Macy in Benjamin Millepied's Appassionata. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Cross-training misconceptions: Before Elle Macy became an apprentice with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was apprehensive about cross-training. "I was warned that it might bulk you, or not to do certain activities because they could potentially injure you." But a stress fracture in her foot changed her perspective. Unable to bear much weight, Macy reluctantly tried stationary biking at her physical therapist's suggestion. "What I learned is that you're not going to get injured from being on an elliptical for 20 minutes or by taking a Pilates class," says Macy. Today, it's not uncommon to find the soloist training on the elliptical, doing ankle stability exercises, using the Pilates reformer or taking a hot yoga class.

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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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