Early in Carrie Imler's 22-year career with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was excited to be cast in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. But immediately following dress rehearsal, she was removed from her role in "Melancholic." "My artistic director at the time pulled me aside and said, 'We can't put you out there,' " she remembers. "My weight fluctuated my entire career. Just when I felt like I had figured it out, I would gain it back and have to start all over again." Despite becoming one of PNB's most celebrated principal dancers, Imler never shook the fear of what might happen when a leotard ballet was in the repertoire.

Ballet prides itself on high standards, and the classical ballet physique is not the least of those expectations. Fear of the "fat talk" still lurks in studios, but, as Imler points out, weight is a challenge that many dancers face, while others may struggle with the arches of their feet or turnout. If you are confronted about your weight, know that many talented dancers have been there. Having "the talk" doesn't mean you can't become a professional, but if you take a mindful approach to the conversation, it will show your maturity and ultimately your ability to navigate a career.

Has Something Changed?


If your teacher or director has approached you about your weight, you're likely left feeling emotional, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Once you have a chance to think clearly, ask yourself what factors, like puberty, may be contributing to changes in your body. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet, says, "There is this huge focus on weight and body at a time when even non-dancers are struggling with body issues and everything else that is happening as an adolescent."

External factors often play a role as well. PNB's consulting nutritionist, Peggy Swistak, says that she often sees dancers struggle with weight early in the season as they adjust to living on their own and sharing a kitchen with a roommate. "One may have really bad eating habits and doesn't have to watch her weight at all, and the other is gaining weight. There is a conflict in managing their food together," she says. Ballet Memphis ballet master Brian McSween adds that financial stress can create barriers for eating nutritiously. "The one-dollar piece of pizza costs a lot less than eating organic," he says. "You have to make the best choices possible with what you have." Other changes, like a new schedule, layoffs or even emotional setbacks, will present the need to reevaluate your food habits and exercise routines throughout your career.

If you are confronted with criticism of your weight or physical fitness, Kaslow also suggests that you remind yourself what you do like about your body. "Dancers can all tell you what they don't like about themselves, but very rarely can they tell you what is good about their body."


Imler in one of Balanchine's famous leotard ballets, "Apollo." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Having the Conversation

These discussions go best when there is mutual trust between the dancer and artistic staff. "It is important that the dancer understands that whatever I am saying is in their best interest and in the best interest of the organization," says McSween. As long as the conversation is approached respectfully, listen to what is being said. Then, focus on how you'd like to move forward. "There needs to be an understanding on how to come to an agreement," says McSween. If you don't agree with what is being asked of you or you recognize unhealthy advice, you may be in a harmful dance environment.

While you probably feel embarrassed, it's important to not let those feelings consume you. "Seventy-five percent of my career was spent in a T-shirt," says Imler. "Whether I was skinny or not, I always felt like I was being judged. Every time I got those talks, I felt like everybody knew what I got called into the office for." Kaslow says that teachers and administrators need to help break this stigma. "Create forums to discuss feelings about their bodies and the stresses," she says, "because there are people in the dressing room that are really struggling and hating their bodies."

Get the Right Guidance

If weight conversations are approached too casually—a quick mention from a teacher, and then not followed up with a plan laid out by professionals—Swistak says you should be concerned. "The dancer loses a little weight and then they just keep going because they get compliments," she says. The toxic mentality of "some is good and more is better" can lead to eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia, she warns.

If your teacher or a member of the artistic staff gives you advice about how to address your weight, that's another red flag. "I shouldn't offer suggestions on things that I am not an expert on," says McSween. At Ballet Memphis, dancers are referred to the company's consulting medical staff to figure out what support is needed. "It's not just about nutrition," he adds. "It could be the way you are exercising or many other things." PNB provides its dancers and students with direct access to both a psychologist and a nutritionist in addition to its physical therapy and medical staff.

Swistak warns that the internet and TV programs are not the place to find advice for managing your weight. "Anyone can say that they are a nutritionist," she says. "Dr. Oz is out there giving nutrition advice and he is a surgeon." Fad diets that populate Google searches and ads on social media are unlikely to serve the nutritional needs of an athlete. If your studio or town does not have access to nutritional, psychological or athletic training staff who are well versed in ballet, look for professionals who work with athletes. If they are open to learning more about the unique challenges of dancers, they can become a great resource for you.

It is important to remember that the world of ballet is also evolving—everyone interviewed agreed that there are more and more places for dancers with diverse body types. If you are at an impasse with your director and do not think what they are asking for is safe or possible, there is a better place for you. Imler, who became known for her athletic body, says, "I was lucky to find a company that didn't need a dancer to be rail-thin and dance the way I did. I was never going to get rid of my butt and my thighs. But I was lucky to have artistic directors that accepted me for who I was."

Is This Toxic?

If you've experienced any of these situations, you may be in an abusive or unsafe environment.

  • You are given a goal weight. "I don't talk about weight. I talk about physical conditioning," says Ballet Memphis ballet master Brian McSween. "There are plenty of dancers that, maybe on the scale by context to the world, are in fantastic shape but lack muscle definition," he says. Psychologist Nadine Kaslow adds that a weight range (that is more than a few pounds apart) can be helpful, but you should never aspire to an exact number.
  • You are body-shamed or receive harsh comments in front of others. If a teacher has concerns about your body, they should talk to you privately and help you create an appropriate plan.
  • Your teacher creates competition by comparing dancers' bodies. "Dancers can look good in all kinds of bodies," says Kaslow, who warns of this red flag: "Teachers who say, 'You don't look like a dancer,' as if there is only one."
  • It's implied that your weight is connected to how much you love dance. "The person at the front of the room shouldn't dictate whether or not you really love what you're doing," says McSween. Your relationship to your art should not be determined by an outside source.

Advice for Teachers

  • Create a policy with your staff and enforce it. At PNB School, teachers are not allowed to discuss weight with students, says nutritionist Peggy Swistak. Instead, concerns are taken to the school administrator or artistic director. The policy protects the student-teacher relationship while allowing teachers to focus on the dancing.
  • Be prepared with resources. "How are dancers going to find these people on their own?" asks psychologist Nadine Kaslow. "You're not always going to find someone that was once a dancer and is now a nutritionist or a psychologist, but you can find professionals who are used to working with athletes."
  • Remind students that they are athletes. "Dancers need to weigh less than the person on the street that is the same height," says Swistak, "but they are athletes and have to be healthy."
  • Break the stigma. Have group conversations with students about the pressures to be thin. "It helps to have everybody be able to talk about it together," says Kaslow. "It is about switching the culture."
The Conversation
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Orlando Ballet dancers Kate-Lynn Robichaux and Arcadian Broad. Photo by Michael Cairns, courtesy Orlando Ballet.

It's been nearly a year and a half since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, but that doesn't mean the effects of the storm aren't still being widely felt. Thousands of Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida after the storm hit (the exact number is unknown), and many are still settled in Orlando.

This weekend, Orlando Ballet brings its Bailamos! program to audiences in Central Florida, and the company is offering 1,000 free tickets to Puerto Ricans in the area who were displaced by the hurricane. The ticket donation was organized in partnership with Orlando's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, who helped spread the word about how individuals and families could claim their tickets to the February 16 matinee. Some of the marketing for the performance was entirely in Spanish, and the program will also include an insert for Spanish-speaking audiences. "We're not just a professional ballet company; we are Orlando Ballet and we have a role to play in this community," says executive director Shane Jewell. "We have a social responsibility, I believe, as an arts organization, to do whatever we can to enrich the quality of life for everyone who's here."

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It's never too early to start thinking about your dream job. And summer intensives are an essential step down the road to achieving your dance dreams—whether you want to perform in music videos, ballet companies or Broadway shows.

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The individual touches that ballerinas incorporate into well-known classical variations are a source of endless fascination for us bunheads. (The abundant "variation compilation" videos on YouTube is proof of our obsession!) Odette's solo in Swan Lake's Act II is one that is particularly open to interpretation. The style is lyrical and introspective, giving dancers ample opportunity to make personal choices about choreography, musicality and character. The Canadian ballerina Evelyn Hart, a former principal with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, performs a fairly traditional version in this clip, yet with each nuance she defines her own Odette.

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Are you a total bunhead who loves to write? You might be the perfect fit for Pointe. We're seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about ballet and journalism.

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Marcus Miller in conversation with Merritt Moore and Claudia Schreier. Courtesy National Museum of Mathematics.

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Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop is back, this time answering all of your pointe shoe questions. Here she answers: "What could I do if my box is dead after a few weeks, but the shank is still hard?" Lee explains the anatomy of a pointe shoe, and offers tips on how to extend the life of your shoes, whether you break the box or the shank first.

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Let's face it: Auditioning is expensive. Between a $100-per-night budget-hotel room, a $300 round-trip plane ticket, $40 for food per day and $25 to $40 in audition fees, you may be out hundreds of dollars for one audition—and potentially thousands before you land a contract.

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Mackenzie Brown, the only American prizewinner, at the Awards Ceremony. Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

After a full week of class, coaching and competition, the 2019 Prix de Lausanne has announced its eight prizewinners. The dancers were selected from an initial group of 74, narrowed down to 21 selected to perform in last Saturday's Finals. The eight winners will receive company apprenticeships or scholarships to one of the Prix de Lausanne's partner schools. In addition, the Prix awarded five other prizes, and all of the remaining finalists received the Finalist Award, which includes 1,000 Swiss Francs.

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Mackenzie Brown, one of the four Prix de Lausanne finalists from the U.S. Rodrigo Buas, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

Earlier today, 74 young dancers from 19 countries had their chance to take the stage at the Beaulieu Theater in Lausanne, Switzerland to compete in the 2019 Prix de Lausanne. A panel of nine esteemed judges including Gillian Murphy and Carlos Acosta chose 21 dancers to advance to Saturday's Finals.

Check out the complete list of finalists below.

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From left: Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin, Merrill Ashley and Wendy Whelan. Eduard Patino, Courtesy NDI.

On Monday evening, four 20th century New York City Ballet stars joined Wendy Whelan in conversation for an event titled Balanchine's Ballerinas hosted by National Dance Institute, the dance education organization that former NYCB dancer Jacques d'Amboise founded in 1976. D'Amboise introduced the four ballerinas taking the stage as dancers who "graced Balanchine and were graced by him." Hearing the ensuing conversation between Wendy Whelan and Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin and Merrill Ashley proved just that; the sense of inspiration that George Balanchine gleaned from his muses, and the deep appreciation he had for each individual's unique traits.

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Rowser and Owen Thorne rehearse "Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux." Photo by Heather Thorne, courtesy Nashville Ballet.

Nashville Ballet's Kayla Rowser has performed a long list of leading roles: Aurora, Odette/Odile, Sugar Plum Fairy, the Firebird. But this weekend, Rowser takes on a new one created especially for her: the famous Dark Lady of William Shakespeare's sonnets, in artistic director Paul Vasterling's world premiere Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux. The ballet (running February 8-10) is based on the book Lucy Negro, Redux by poet Caroline Randall Williams. It explores the theory that Shakespeare's Dark Lady was a black woman, an actual London prostitute known as Black Luce or Lucy Negro.

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Skylar Brandt and Julian Mackay dance Flames of Paris. Vladim Shults, Courtesy Russia-K.

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The Royal Ballet's Marianela Nuñez in "Swan Lake." Image via YouTube.

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Grand Rapids Ballet in rehearsal. Jade Butler, Courtesy GRB.

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Heather Milne, Courtesy RWB

When Catherine Wreford found out that she had brain cancer in June 2013, with doctors predicting she had only two to six years left to live, there was one thing she knew she wanted to do: dance.

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Jayme Thornton

This is Pointe's February/March 2019 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

When Natasha Sheehan debuted in The Sleeping Beauty's Bluebird pas de deux last season, she enchanted the San Francisco Ballet audience with her filigree footwork, elegant lines and effortless charisma. It was a big moment for the then-19-year-old, who was just beginning her second year in the corps, but it wasn't her first—Sheehan has been in the spotlight since she was a 16-year-old trainee in the company school.

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Courtesy Nutmeg

Congratulations! You've made it through audition season and have decided which summer intensive to attend. (Don't worry if you're not there yet—that day is just around the corner.) We asked faculty from The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory what to do in the months leading up to your intensive so you can get the most out of it:

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Competitors in class. Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

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The broadcast started this morning with the junior category girls running through their classical variations onstage for the first time, followed by the senior boys in contemporary class. The full schedule for the week is available here, and streaming can be viewed on ARTE Concert or on the Prix de Lausanne website. (The ARTE Concert site is in French, but don't let that deter you; the stream itself is all in English.)

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James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston. Courtesy In the Lights PR.

"Cindies" fans, this one's for you. February 9-10, American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston are collaborating with pop singer Rozzi to put on a full-length show titled When I Think Of You at The Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum, Idaho. Set to Rozzi's debut album Bad Together, performed live by the singer and her band, the show features choreography by Whiteside, Boylston, ABT's Gemma Bond and commercial dancer Ai Shimatsu with dancing by Whiteside, Boylston and ABT soloist Calvin Royal III.

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Summer is a great time to make new friends, broaden your horizons and get tons of dancing in at a summer intensive. As you get closer to college-age, it can also be a great time to get valuable information and extra training that can come in handy later when you're thinking about college auditions. With 19 summer programs running throughout the U.S. (plus a ballet intensive in Genoa, Italy, and a musical theater intensive in London), Joffrey Ballet School offers a wide variety of experiences that give you both top-notch dance training and a taste of what college life will be like:

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Cirio in English National Ballet's "Manon." Photo by Laurent Liotardo, courtesy English National Ballet.

Jeffrey Cirio's meteoric rise is what dreams are made of. A Pennsylvania native, he joined Boston Ballet in 2009 and quickly rose up the ranks to principal dancer by 2012. While he felt Boston was "home," he left to join American Ballet Theatre as a soloist in 2015, where he was promoted to principal after only one year. Now, after a four-month stint as a guest artist with English National Ballet last season, this all-American boy has joined the company as a full-time lead principal. It's hard to believe he's only 27.

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