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The Top 10 Pointe Stories of 2018

2019 is almost here—can you believe it? As you tend to your Nutcracker-sore bodies and prep your resolutions, take some time to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and delve into 10 of 2018's best ballet stories.


1. "I'm Forever Grateful Towards Ballet": Miko Fogarty Opens Up About Her Decision to Stop Dancing, and Her Exciting Next Steps

Miko Fogarty. Photo by Andrew Ross, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

After a few years out of the spotlight, fans of former comp star Miko Fogarty were dying to know what she was up to. Her incredibly candid interview with Pointe reminded us that the lessons that ballet teaches are applicable to so much more than a stage career.

Read Claudia Bauer's story here.

2. Misty Copeland's "Fouetté Fail" Is Proof Even the Pros Make Mistakes

Misty Copeland. Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Spirit.

Misty Copeland's social media response to critical comments on a video of her imperfect Swan Lake fouetté turns wins the award of best ballet clapback of 2018.

Read Marissa DeSantis' story here.

 3. 12 Exercises for Stronger, More Supple Feet

Modeled by Corinne Chowansky of Marymount Manhattan College, photo by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

Let's be honest, with all of the banana and biscuit jokes on Instagram, it's no surprise that every dancer wants to increase the strength and flexibility of their feet.

Read Madeline Schrock's story here.

4. The Show Must Go On: 4 Pros on How They Managed Their Most Embarrassing Onstage Moments 

Miami City Ballet's Nathalia Arja in George Balanchine's "Emeralds." Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

With all of the striving for perfectionism that comes hand-in-hand with ballet, it's a relief to remember that mistakes happen to everybody. These four professionals' stories will have you in stitches.

Read Hannah Foster's story here.

5. How My Approach to Class Changed Once I Went From Student to Professional Dancer

Purcell with Sarasota Ballet coryphée Weslley Carvalho. Photo Courtesy Purcell.

Madeleine Purcell's advice-filled account of entering Sarasota Ballet after countless years of training is a helpful reminder of what being a pro is all about.

Read Madeleine Purcell's story here.

6. Meet Shelby Williams, The Real Pro Behind Biscuit Ballerina 

Shelby Williams as her alter ego, Biscuit Ballerina. Photo by Nicha Rodbon, Courtesy Williams.

We don't have the numbers on this, but we're confident in saying that Biscuit Ballerina is the biggest breakout ballet Instagram star of 2018. It's no wonder that everyone wants to know the real story behind this mysterious maverick.

Read Chava Lansky's story here.

7. "I Wasn't Cast As Clara": 3 Professionals Share Their Childhood "Nutcracker" Disappointments

New York City Ballet soloist Claire Kretzschmar in Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

We know that Nutcracker season just ended and that you can't bear to think about another sugarplum or rat king for at least another year, but this story about three successful ballerinas who weren't cast as Clara as children is both heartwarming and encouraging.

Read Rachel Hellwig's story here.

9. 5 Resistance Band Exercises for Stronger Pointework

Getty Images

Pull out those Therabands! Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee's video outlining five resistance band exercises will help you to see big results in your pointe work—and fast.

Read Josephine Lee's story here.

9. Get to Know the 10 Dancers Heading to the 2019 Prix de Lausanne

The 2018 Prix de Lausanne finalists. Photo Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

In the ballet world, the start of a new year also means competition season. Now's the perfect time to brush up on the 10 American dancers heading to Switzerland come February.

Read Chava Lansky's story here.

10. Think A Dance Degree Is Only Good for A Performance Career? Here Are 4 Grads with 4 Different Career Paths.

Colleen Reed and a classmate in rehearsal at The University of Oklahoma. Photo by Noor Eemaan, Courtesy Reed.

Many young dancers pursue dance degrees with the hopes of joining a ballet company after graduation. These four dancers share how college opened their eyes to different paths and helped them develop new career goals.

Read Maggie McNamara Mandal's story here.

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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."

Tanya Howard in rehearsal Trase Pa. Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy of NBoC.

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Students of Canada's National Ballet School. Bruce Zinger, Courtesy Ballet Unleashed.

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Mavis Staines, artistic director and CEO of Canada's National Ballet School, became frustrated with this flawed system years ago. Why were so many talented dancers not being rewarded with work opportunities? And why was the only acceptable form of work a full-season contract, when in the music and theater industries, project-based employment was a legitimized way to build careers?

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