“Ballet dancers are notorious for being a bit stiff. Studying other styles helps you get rid of that rigid quality.”Ashley Dawn

 

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Ashley Dawn didn’t take ballet seriously until she was about 10 years old. “Before that, I was really into tap and jazz and hip hop,” she says. Eventually she discovered that she loved ballet’s technical challenges. But even as she began to attend ballet summer intensives, she found that she relished the programs’ occasional jazz and hip-hop classes. “They were the perfect breaks from the intensity of ballet,” she remembers.

Today Dawn takes those “breaks” at Vega Dance+Lab, an open-class studio in Portland. “I drop in all the time to take hip hop,” she says. “I’ve even experimented with ‘Burly Q,’ a combination of burlesque and jazz! I love to get a little funky, to give classical music a rest and dance around to top 40 songs.” Dawn also finds that mixing things up stylistically “keeps your brain fresh,” she says. “You’re learning a routine really quickly,” without any ballet vocabulary shortcuts. “It helps you stay sharp.”

Last year, OBT performed Trey McIntyre’s Speak, a “hip-hop ballet” danced in sneakers. “There’s even a pas de deux set to a Bloodhound Gang song!” Dawn says. “Definitely not traditional. But it didn’t feel strange to me. I didn’t have to fake my way through it.”

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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Everything Nutcracker
Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz as the Sugar Plum Fairy during a stage rehearsal for George Balanchine's Nutcracker. All photography by Arian Molina Soca.

For many professional ballet dancers, Nutcracker means weeks of performances. That usually translates to multiple casts—and important breakout opportunities for those in the junior ranks. On the afternoon of December 13, Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz made her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy along with her Cavalier, corps member Austin Eylar. For the Brazilian-born dancer, who joined PAB in 2018 after two seasons at Houston Ballet, Sugar Plum marks one of her first principal roles.

"I'm really excited," says Golz. PAB artistic director Angel Corella appointed 12 casts of Sugar Plum Fairies over the run's 29 performances. "When I first found out, I was like, 'Pinch me!' I still can't believe it."

We caught up with Golz just before her debut to see how she prepared for her big break.

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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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