Schlepping Through Class?

Evening classes have always been tricky for me. After 5:30, I can’t seem to muster the energy to dance that is so easy for me to access in the morning, and it can be really hard to get through class. It happened to me on Monday evening. I was already tired before class even started, and about halfway through barre, I even felt my eyes getting heavy. I thought about leaving before center, then during center, and before big jumps, but forced myself to keep going. Needless to say, this was not one of my better classes—forcing myself into the required positions made me clench my muscles, and I ended up feeling tight, tense, and even more exhausted.

 

I think every dancer often feels this way, especially if you’re training at an elite level, perhaps even in a professional school. By the time you get to your evening class, be it after academic classes, after work, or a full day of other dance classes, it’s hard not to feel like you’re punching through the combinations, not dancing and enjoying the movement. I remember coming home from and eight-hour school day when I was a teenager and sacking out on the couch for two whole hours before my 6:00 p.m. ballet class, and barely able to get up to make it on time. It was tough going then—and I probably had pointe or rehearsal afterward, too.

 

I realized after Monday’s dreadful class that the reason I couldn’t get my energy up was because I had already talked myself out of being fit to dance. All I thought about during the last half of my day was how tired I was, and how badly I was going to do, and what my teacher was going to think. Instead, I really think that the key is to stay positive, and instead of getting yourself down by predicting a poor performance, look forward to your evening class as a time to loosen up and get your blood flowing after working hard all day. Try stretching a little, or doing some crunches if you get there early enough, which might help to get you moving, instead of sitting and zoning out. Allow yourself to relax and breathe during combinations, taking it one exercise at a time, without gripping your muscles too hard, which will only drain your energy reserves further. It usually helps me to pick a spot further from the mirror, so that I’m not overanalyzing every inch of my body and my technique instead of focusing on myself and keeping my movements free from strain. By the time center arrives, you’ll probably feel lighter, brighter, and ready for more. Especially that killer petite allegro your teacher always gives, right?

Ballet Training
Hortense Millet-Maurin (third from left) and her classmates perform August Bournonville's La Conservatoire. Svetlana Loboff, Courtesy POB.

As a little girl, Hortense Millet-Maurin fell in love with the wide spiral staircase that dominates the center of the Paris Opéra Ballet School. Today, as a focused 15-year-old POB student, she and her classmate Vincent Vivet navigate the school's spacious architecture on a daily basis. In a hallway strewn with foam rollers and tennis balls, their faces are laced with concentration as they prepare alongside their peers for afternoon ballet class. Color-coded uniforms reflect Vivet's and Millet-Maurin's third division; with only two advanced divisions remaining, they are increasingly close to realizing their professional aspirations: joining the Paris Opéra Ballet. Pointe spoke with these two young dancers to see what it's like studying inside the world's oldest ballet academy.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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Ballet Training
Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of The School at Steps.

If you're feeling wobbly in adagio or wish you could hold your piqué attitude a bit longer, there are ways to assess and improve your balance. Try these four exercises, recommended by Heather Southwick, Boston Ballet's director of physical therapy.

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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