Ballet Careers
Miko Fogarty left her corps position at Birmingham Royal Ballet to pursue a college degree. Sonata Dancewear, Courtesy Fogarty.

"I was living my dream, but I wasn't happy," recalls Alexandra Pullen. Since starting ballet at age 5, the Chicago native aspired to join American Ballet Theatre and dance the roles her mother, Ellen Krafft, had performed there a generation before. And she achieved it: Fast-tracked from the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School to the Studio Company, and then to the main company, by 20 she'd performed her mother's parts in Giselle and Don Quixote, toured the world, and attended galas and New York Fashion Week. And she was miserable.

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Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Pullen in Colorado Ballet's production of La Sylphide. Photo Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Upon high school graduation, dancers are often forced to choose between going to college or pursuing a career right away. Since a dancer's professional life is short, many who put school on hold plan to eventually go back. But with more options than ever before—from online degree programs to night classes to college programs developed solely for dancers—it is becoming much easier to pursue a degree while performing professionally. Rather than wait until retirement, many dancers are getting a head start on their education now. Three dedicated professionals explain what they've gained by going back to school, and how they've made it happen.

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