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The author with Sarasota Ballet corpyhée Weslley Carvalho. Photo Courtesy Madeleine Purcell

When you graduate from student to professional dancer, you still need to take daily class. But while the structure of class is the same, I've found the mindset to be drastically different. My first job post-graduation was with the Sarasota Ballet, and the last thing I wanted to do was look like a student. I knew wearing a black leotard and pink tights without warm-ups could be a dead giveaway, but all another new company member had to say was "Why are you wearing your tights under your leotard? You look like a kid," and I hurried to the dressing room to change! Beyond the way I dress as a professional, my class philosophy also changed. Here are four things I've noticed:

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Ballet Careers
Natalia Magnicaballi in Swan Lake. Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Ballet Arizona.

At the beginning of your professional career, everything feels like a mystery. If only our older, wiser selves could divulge what mistakes and mentalities to avoid. Here, five seasoned, leading dancers share what they wish they had known at the start of their careers, and offer sage advice for those on the threshold of their professional lives.

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Ballet Training
Grace Haskins in a PNB School performance of Balanchine's Serenade

At a certain point, you need to take your training to the next level. But with so many options available, how do you know what type of pre-professional program is right for you? For instance, would you rather receive detailed, one-on-one instruction from a private coach or work at the school affiliated with your favorite ballet company? Ramping up your training often requires moving far away from family, or tough financial sacrifices from your parents. Plus, there's that little thing called high school to worry about.

Keep in mind that each option comes with pluses and minuses. For instance, a boarding school may provide supervised housing but lack company exposure. Meanwhile, a company program may offer exciting performance opportunities, but no academic or housing component. To give you an insider's perspective, Pointe took a look at three students enrolled in three different, but fairly typical, training programs. We then broke down their dance schedule, academic life, costs and living situation into chart form to let you see what each approach entails.

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I could spend days at a time watching old videos of Gelsey Kirkland. That lyricism! That lightness! She moves the way I dream of dancing in my most fantastical fantasies.

 

Good news for serious pre-professional students: Kirkland's New York school is holding two auditions this summer. Dancers can try out for the academy's all-day program, or a less intense division that only takes up the afternoons. Either way, students get the opportunity to train directly under the ballet icon herself.

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