Ballet Careers
Boston Ballet's Dawn Atkins in Balanchine's "Episodes." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

When Boston Ballet artist Dawn Atkins was a little girl, she set a goal: to be a principal dancer by age 21. More specifically, a principal at New York City Ballet. Atkins was a successful student, joining Boston Ballet School's trainee program in 2011. She moved up to Boston Ballet II the following year and was given a company contract in 2013. But it was after knee surgery in 2015 that Atkins completely changed her approach to dance goals. "I had to set small ones, like being able to plié on one leg," she remembers. "I learned that I had to be kind to myself and celebrate those little goals."

Goal setting can help you advance as a dancer and a person. But it's easy to overly focus on far-off accolades rather than on meaningful advancements that will take you to the next level. "One should aspire to have dreams, of course, but it is important to keep reality in perspective," advises Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School co-director Dennis Marshall. Instead of tethering yourself to a dream that is ultimately out of your control, you can learn to set goals that will feed your dance career and your confidence.

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Summer Intensive Survival
Photo by Natalia Figueredo via Unsplash

The summer I turned 16, my head swirled with "what ifs" as I counted down the days until the start of the Chautauqua intensive. I'd attended the program four years earlier, and the experience had been a harrowing one—my first lesson in the competitive nature of ballet. Leaving the temperate waters of my little pond, I'd found myself a very small, uncoordinated fish in a pool deep with talent. Now, I was going back to test myself again, this time in Chautauqua's top level. Would I be as good as the other dancers? Would the teachers like me? Would I make friends?

Summer intensives are aptly titled. Their extreme demands can cause anxiety, nerves, jealousy and stress. But put down the question marks! Don't let a negative state of mind keep you from soaking up everything your summer has to offer.

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Ballet Training
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By the time Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloist Gabrielle Thurlow reached high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a professional ballet career. But to do so, she had to make the tough decision to leave her local studio in Buffalo, New York, to train at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. "I wanted a school attached to a professional company, where I could train full-time," she says. With her parents' support, she approached her teachers a year in advance to begin talking to them about leaving. "It's a difficult conversation to have," she says. "They trained me, and we had this special relationship. But as former professional dancers, they understood where I was coming from."

Dancers often face this decision as they plan their pre-professional training. They are forever indebted to the teachers who molded them, and broaching the subject of leaving can seem like an impossible conversation. While it's normal to be nervous, there are ways to sensitively navigate the situation, without burning any bridges.

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Trending
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School's Marjorie Grundvig advises dancers who feel ignored to speak out. Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT.

This article originally appeared in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of Pointe.

The stakes couldn't have been higher when Janessa Touchet joined Pacific Northwest Ballet School. It was her final year of training, and she'd moved 2,700 miles out of her comfort zone for an opportunity that, if all went well, could launch her career. But the experience soon turned sour. In a class full of outstanding talent, the teachers quickly found their favorites. Touchet wasn't one of them. Unfamiliar with the nuances of Balanchine style, she received little encouragement, and the competitive environment overwhelmed her. “There were times when I would try to put myself in the front and other dancers would come stand right in front of me when the combination began," she recalls. “I would just push myself to the back. I let it happen." Many times, she wondered whether she should give up.

Favoritism has serious consequences. Especially in the final years of training, when every correction and bit of tailor-made advice is vital, being overlooked can mean being left behind. A teacher's pet pupil gets more than an ego-boost. She gets the crucial support of a mentor. She gets the roles that challenge her technique and let her shine in performance. She gets the calls made on her behalf to company directors. It's easy to resent the dancers who seem to use up all the praise. But instead of getting frustrated, be proactive and get the attention you need.

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