Slow Down

I’ve never been a very patient person or dancer, and this has always been reflected in the kinds of classes I like to take.  I prefer a pretty fast class in which the barre just flies by so that I can get to center and really dance.  I love petit allegro, too—the faster, the better, and since I hate doing adagio, I prefer to get it over with quickly.  I enjoy a speedy and difficult class, and when I’m enjoying myself, I feel better about my dancing.  However, I’ve recently started taking a slower class twice a week, and it’s made me realize that the real test of your technique is not how fast you can dance or how many whip-like pirouettes you can do.  It’s about how refined your fundamental technique is, and I really believe now that this can only be achieved by regularly taking a slower class.

These kinds of classes may not be a lot of fun, and you may find yourself chomping at the bit to speed up, but it’s always worth it in the end. It’s a valuable opportunity to challenge yourself to make everything as perfect as you can, which in the end is a lot harder than flying through it without a second thought, because you don’t have time to think.  For example, take a simple movement like a passé relevé from fifth front to back.  Easy to do quickly, right?  After all, you just go up and down.  Now try it again, but stretch the descent of your working foot over eight slow counts without holding on to the barre, and without coming off relevé until that foot is in fifth.  It’s really hard to do without losing your balance, but if you practice it regularly, as I do in my slow classes, your pirouettes will definitely improve.  This is because what you’re really doing is practicing holding the retiré position and controlling your landing.  You’ll be able to do more and cleaner turns; not only because your balance will be more solid, but also because you’ll be more patient in staying on relevé or on pointe before putting your working foot down in fourth or fifth.  When I started doing this exercise, I was surprised at how much self-discipline it took not to get in my own way by slamming my foot back down on the floor as quickly as I could.

This is just one example of how a slower class can benefit your technique, but if you work correctly, everything you do in that class will benefit what you do in a faster class or in rehearsal.  Since you’ll have been able to identify and correct errors that you wouldn’t see in a fast class, your dancing will be cleaner and more confident overall.  More importantly, you’ll also learn to be more patient with yourself, and your work ethic will improve, which will not go unnoticed.

Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

Keep reading... Show less
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."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

Keep reading... Show less
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:

Keep reading... Show less