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Go Beyond the Dance Studio With These Online Certifications

Day to day you're scheduling a ballet Zoom class, tuning in to an Instagram Live Q&A with an admired ballerina, and getting plenty of R&R watching the best dance movies of all time. Yet, you're still lacking fulfillment. Given that you were used to a full day of dancing pre-COVID-19, it's no surprise that "quarantine" has been your most challenging role.


With time off your feet (literally), now is the perfect opportunity to explore a skill beyond 32 fouettés and double tours en l'aire. Ballet will always be your first love, but COVID-19 has shown it's wise to supplement artistic endeavors with other talents. Ballet's unforeseen risks, such as injury, audition rejection, seasonality and freelancing, make for unknown career longevity. That's why it's always beneficial to have a range of skills to help support the demanding lifestyle of a dancer.


In response to this time offstage, many professional dancers are delving into reputable online programs to earn certifications they can use now or for when they choose to take their final bow. For example, Sarasota Ballet corps member Lauren Ostrander dreams of becoming a physical therapist for a ballet company after she retires. She's spent the past few years completing online certifications in personal training, fitness nutrition and spin instruction, and she is currently finishing her kinesiology degree at California Baptist University Online. (Next she plans on taking a course through the Performing Arts Medicine Association.) In this time of uncertainty, she urges dancers to take advantage of online certifications. "This is time you won't get back," says Ostrander. "So when it's all over and everything is okay again, what will you wish you would have done? Do that now."

With a variety of online resources, many of which are offering discounts because of COVID-19, you're likely to discover something that gets you excited. Whether you picture yourself teaching fitness, running a ballet company's marketing, or working toward a degree in political science, here are some online certification programs to help you get a head start.

Lauren Ostrander wears a dark tutu, black tights and pointe shoes, and a blue feather on her head and kicks her leg in developp\u00e9 ecart\u00e9. Behind her is a line of dancers dressed as saloon girls and cowboys, and a lone cowboy stands on the right side of the stage looking on.

Lauren Ostrander and Ivan Duarte with artist of Sarasota Ballet in Balanchine's Western Symphony

Frank Atura, Courtesy Sarasota Ballet

Coursera 

Coursera offers a variety of courses, specializations, certificates and degrees from over 200 universities and companies. A number of courses are free, and additional ones are available at an affordable cost. With studies ranging from graphic design to IT support to business administration, you can find a nice contrast from your work in the studio.

Jeanette Kakareka, a soloist with Bayerisches Staatsballett, recently pursued a Mandarin language certification from Peking University through Coursera; it's motivating her to improve communication and build relationships with her fiancé and his family, who are Chinese. In regard to developing skills outside of ballet, Kakareka says, "A well-rounded person brings more life experience to the stage and has a more honest presence, and having other passions is critical for mental health whenever you are forced to take time away from the studio."

Alison

In a very user-friendly fashion, Alison offers free certificate courses, diploma courses and learning paths. Course categories include technology, language, science, health, humanities, business, math, marketing and lifestyle ( such as music, literature, etc.). Within each of these, there are sub-categories, providing plenty of options to explore. You earn a certificate simply through completing the course and achieving at least 80 percent in each assessment. Additionally, there are resources for career advice and development, no matter where you stand in your personal journey. There are even photography certificates to help you develop your dance portfolio and reels.

A young athletic woman wearing a green tank top and leggings props herself up on her elbows on a yoga mat and types on a laptop computer.

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American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Through their mission to promote movement, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers NCCA-accredited certifications to become a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, health coach and medical exercise specialist. ACE supplies tools such as video coaching sessions, quizzes, audio coaching sessions and handbooks. Self-paced, these programs are ideal for a busy rehearsal schedule and allows you to study on your time. Also, a fitness background compliments a dancer's athletic lifestyle because one can teach in the studio and virtually, while breaking a sweat.

International Sports Science Association (ISSA)

The International Sports Science Association (ISSA) is acclaimed for their personal trainer certification, bundles, and other health and fitness specializations. Well-recognized in the industry, ISSA has a number of gym partnerships, making employment promising. That said, if after six months of completing your certification you haven't found a job, they will refund you. If you're passionate about peak-performance nutrition, yoga, or becoming CPR/AED certified, definitely check out ISSA.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Louisville Ballet in Andrea Schermoly's Rite of Spring. Sam English, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

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Schermoly is also no stranger to film, having created a digital short called In Passing for the Ashley Bouder Project in 2015. But her most recent film project for Louisville Ballet, a new version of the iconic Rite of Spring, breaks ground—or, rather, ice—with its fresh, arctic take on the Stravinsky masterwork.

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