Quinn Wharton

If everyone seems a bit obsessed with tidying up right now, blame the trendy Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo. Her uber-popular book-turned-Netflix-show has so many people purging their closets that thrift stores can no longer keep up with the donations. The reason? Fans are falling in love with what Kondo calls "the life-changing magic of tidying up."

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Audition Advice
Dancers prepare before a Ballet West open audition. Jim Lafferty.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Victoria Watford recalls the first time she auditioned for the company: Even though she had attended PBT's summer intensive several times, the Cleveland native felt completely unprepared. "I was treating it like a summer intensive audition," she remembers. "There was an energy in the room of a lot of people who are ready to be professionals and are confident in their dancing. If you're not ready, you will feel it." Watford wasn't offered a job, so she took a place in the school's graduate program. Over the next two years she pursued company auditions until she ultimately landed her spot at PBT.

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Site Network
Rachel Neville

Don't let her sizeable Instagram following or willingness to speak publicity about living with anxiety, depression and autism give you the wrong idea. "My speaking out about it does not mean it's easy or fun," says dancer Sydney Magruder Washington. "It means I'm not ashamed and you shouldn't be either."

And though (thankfully) open conversations about mental health are becoming more common in the dance world, there's still a long way to go. We picked Washington's brain about what it's like to live with mental illness as a dancer, the survival tips she's learned and what the dance world still doesn't seem to understand about mental health:

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Ballet Careers
Knowing your rights can help you steer clear of toxic dance companies. Getty Images

I was applying to audition for this ballet company, and the form asked if I had a history of mental issues (i.e., eating disorders, anxiety, depression) and to give a detailed description of them and steps taken for treatment. Is this something that companies normally take into account during auditions? Moreover, are they allowed to ask this? I felt so strongly about not wanting to give that information that I decided not to apply. —Melanie

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

Last fall, Instagram's dance community blew up when an account titled Biscuit Ballerina started posting videos of an anonymous dancer doing laughably bad ballet. With a look of fierce determination, she would awkwardly make her way through well-known variations, stumbling over her pointe shoes. Comments ranged from hilarity to criticism to confusion: Who was this dancer?

The answer is Shelby Williams, a soloist with Royal Ballet of Flanders. Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Williams didn't become serious about ballet until age 11. At 15 she left home to train year-round at The Washington School of Ballet, and a year later transferred to the Houston Ballet Academy, where she quickly entered Houston Ballet II. As a student, Williams often felt crippled by self-criticism. "I was doing something I was passionate about every day, but I hated it," she says. Eventually she went to a sports psychologist who helped her learn how to enjoy the process and not take herself too seriously. After class, instead of feeling ashamed by the mistakes she'd made, Williams started to overexaggerate what she'd done, making herself and her classmates laugh.

Shelby Williams. Photo by Kensilav Kanev/De-Da Productions, Courtesy Williams.

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

Last fall, Instagram's dance community blew up when an account titled Biscuit Ballerina started posting videos of an anonymous dancer doing laughably bad ballet. With a look of fierce determination, she would awkwardly make her way through well-known variations, stumbling over her pointe shoes. Comments ranged from hilarity to criticism to confusion: Who was this dancer?

The answer is Shelby Williams, a soloist with Royal Ballet of Flanders. Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Williams didn't become serious about ballet until age 11. At 15 she left home to train year-round at The Washington School of Ballet, and a year later transferred to the Houston Ballet Academy, where she quickly entered Houston Ballet II. As a student, Williams often felt crippled by self-criticism. "I was doing something I was passionate about every day, but I hated it," she says. Eventually she went to a sports psychologist who helped her learn how to enjoy the process and not take herself too seriously. After class, instead of feeling ashamed by the mistakes she'd made, Williams started to overexaggerate what she'd done, making herself and her classmates laugh.

Shelby Williams as herself. Photo by Kensilav Kanev/De-Da Productions, Courtesy Williams.

Williams as Biscuit. Photo by Nicha Rodboon, Courtesy Williams.


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Health & Body

Lying awake in her hotel bed in Washington, DC, the night before her audition, Richmond Ballet dancer Valerie Tellmann-Henning was tormented with anxiety. At 31 years old, she was comfortable in her career. So comfortable that she decided to seek new artistic challenges. With the support of her director, she decided to audition for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet with the hope of juggling two contracts. The only thing that stood between her and her goal was a bout of anxiety. "I felt like I was 19 again trying to get my first job," she remembers. "It made me second-guess a lot of things about myself: Is Suzanne going to like my body type? Will my legs be high enough?" The anxious feeling made Tellmann-Henning irritable, and she even found herself holding her breath during the audition class, as a stream of insecurities cycled through her mind.

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Ballet Careers
Marisa Trapani of Ballet Academy East. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

Today, she's a confident Miami City Ballet soloist, but Emily Bromberg wasn't always so self-assured. As a teenager, she withered under the weight of self-doubt. Even being cast as Kitri in her first professional production of Don Quixote, at Festival Ballet Providence, didn't bolster her confidence—instead, she convinced herself she was too immature for the role and nearly melted in tears midway through her debut. “I was constantly double- and triple-checking myself, wondering what other people thought, wondering if I was good enough," she recalls. “It's the nature of the dance world, but there were moments when I was really at the edge of giving up."

These kinds of self-confidence issues, fueled by endless criticism, high pressure to succeed and a flood of intimidating images on social media, can plague dancers for years. It's easy to start questioning your worthiness in comparison to the latest Instagram star, but in the competitive and uncertain dance world, belief in yourself is crucial to reaching your goals—and your full potential.

A Healthy Sense of Self

The basis of innate self-confidence is recognizing that you're a human being with imperfections like anyone else, while understanding that your shortcomings don't define you as a person or as a dancer. “Self-confidence is having an accurate view of yourself and feeling good about it," says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with Atlanta Ballet. But being pleased with yourself does not necessarily mean that you have an overblown ego. “It's not arrogance or narcissism. You know you're not perfect—but you feel good about yourself."

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