Isabella Boylston has been teaching on Zoom for Universal Ballet Competition, as well as on Instagram Live. (Courtesy Boylston)

(Virtual) Dancing with the Stars: How to Get the Most Out of Online Classes with Dance Celebs

When your dance studio is your second home, taking class in your actual home just isn't the same. But if there's one silver lining to the current situation, it's that some of the biggest dance stars from stage and screen have gone online to lead barres, host dance parties, demonstrate combos, and teach technique classes—some of which are completely free.

"Students can learn so much from working with the pros directly," says American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who teaches on Zoom through Universal Ballet Competition as well as offering the Cindies Ballet Class on Instagram Live with fellow ABT principal James Whiteside. "It's inspiring and eye-opening to connect with dancers all over the world."

So what benefits do these virtual master classes offer? How do they fit into your overall training regimen? And how do you even navigate all of the content that's out there? Read on for advice from the pros.


Be Choosy

Is there a teacher you've always wanted to take from, but couldn't get to in person? Are dancers from your dream company or summer intensive offering online classes? Lisa Pelliteri, owner of Plumb Performing Arts Center in Scottsdale, AZ, encourages seeking out virtual classes that will help you explore your career goals. "I tell my students, 'Please experiment!'" she says. "Learn what's out there. See what a style feels like on your body. Try something different." Celeb master classes can count as research toward your future.

As you follow your dreams and whims, consider the pros and cons of various platforms. Is the class live or pre-recorded? Will there be interaction with the teacher? Will you be able to access a recording after the live session, to keep practicing? Wanting a workout is different from craving technical feedback, and there's content out there to meet every conceivable need.

Dana Wilson teaching an online class (courtesy Wilson)

Plan How You'll Learn

For virtual workshops, let go of the pressure to get every detail right. "Focus on broad strokes first," says commercial performer Dana Wilson, who teaches for New York City Dance Alliance, including NYCDA's ongoing Virtual Dance Experience. If the teacher posts YouTube videos, prep for success in the live session by watching them, to get a feel for their style. Also, on a platform like Instagram Live where the teacher can't see you, "feel empowered to do a bit of your own thing," Wilson says. "A hidden gem here is that you can exercise your creativity."

On Zoom, which promises more interaction, go in with realistic expectations about the kind of feedback you'll be able to get, and how much. Francesca Hayward, principal at The Royal Ballet and star of the 2019 movie CATS, prefers not to single anyone out in her Zoom classes for UBC. "When I see something, I'll give everyone a reminder of what I would think of while doing that movement," she says. Because UBC's virtual workshops also include a Q&A with the teacher at the end of class, any lingering questions can be addressed then.

Francesca Hayward leading a Zoom class for UBC (courtesy UBC)

Lags between devices and mirrored camera settings can keep teachers from assessing your timing, musicality or footing. Instead, anticipate comments on placement, shape, spatial orientation and performance quality. Wilson has also been using her Zoom classes to introduce camera terminology. "Mid-shot, closeup, extreme closeup—this is language dancers may need when jobs come back," she says.

Finally, whatever type of class you're in, "treat it like a private lesson," Wilson advises. "If the teacher asks a question, answer it out loud, even if you're on mute. Talking out loud can commit lessons to memory, just as dancing full out encourages muscle memory."

Take It Home

"Online master classes aren't a replacement for your studio classes," cautions Pelliteri. Even in a time when physical contact isn't an option, your regular teachers know you on a personal level. "We know what you're working on and can give more precise corrections," Pelliteri says. If a comment in a master class resonates with you, bring it to your studio teacher to dig deeper.

Above all, remember that the benefits of a virtual master class go far beyond honing your technique and performance. "This is such a tough time," Hayward says. "At the moment, we all need inspiration and motivation, and to remember the joy of moving our bodies in space. I hope classes like mine can help keep things feeling fresh and exciting until we're all safely back to the studio."

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Courtesy Carrie Gaerte, modeled by 2020 Butler University graduate Michela Semenza

Concussions Are More Than a Bump on the Head. Here's What Dancers Need to Know

Your partner accidentally drops you during a lift. You collide head-on with another dancer in rehearsal. Or you're hit in the face while you're spotting a turn. Even if you didn't lose consciousness, you may have a concussion, which can occur from a direct blow to the head or rotary force of the brain moving excessively or striking the skull.

As a dancer, your first instinct may be to keep going, but you shouldn't, says physical therapist and athletic trainer Carrie Gaerte, PT, DPT, ATC, who works with Butler University in Indianapolis and at Ascension St. Vincent Sports Performance. "What's really hard for dancers is admitting that maybe something isn't right," she says. "But the big thing about concussions is that your brain is not like your ankle, shoulder or knee. When your brain has an injury, that needs to take precedence over a role or a job."

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Thinking About College Ballet Programs? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to the Application Process

Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks