Whether you're training in an elite academy, a wealthy suburban conservatory or a studio in the middle of Rio de Janiero's dirt poor favelas, the path to becoming a professional dancer is never easy.

 

A new ballet documentary, Only When I Dance, presented by Film Movement, follows Isobela and Irlan, two talented teenage ballet dancers from Rio as they sacrifice everything to make it in the ballet world. Much of the drama, such as the pain of injury, being told to lose weight, giving up any semblence of "normal teenage life" and the despair of rejection, is something any ballet dancer can relate to. But for these two students, the stakes are even higher, as joining a company is their only opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.

 

The camera follows them to the Prix de Lausanne and YAGP, capturing the anxiety, the giddiness and the anguish of competitions. The story of the exceptionally talented Irlan contrasts sharply with the story of Isobela, who's very good, but just doesn't have that "wow" factor. There's great backstage and performance footage that shows what goes on behind the scenes and carries you right along on their emotional journey.

 

Only When I Dance will be released in New York on July 2, with a limited national theatrical release to follow. It is in Portugese, with English subtitles, and runs 78 minutes. See http://onlywhenidancemovie.blogspot.com/ or www.filmmovement.com/filmcatalog/index.asp?MerchandiseID=227

Ballet Training
Hortense Millet-Maurin (third from left) and her classmates perform August Bournonville's La Conservatoire. Svetlana Loboff, Courtesy POB.

As a little girl, Hortense Millet-Maurin fell in love with the wide spiral staircase that dominates the center of the Paris Opéra Ballet School. Today, as a focused 15-year-old POB student, she and her classmate Vincent Vivet navigate the school's spacious architecture on a daily basis. In a hallway strewn with foam rollers and tennis balls, their faces are laced with concentration as they prepare alongside their peers for afternoon ballet class. Color-coded uniforms reflect Vivet's and Millet-Maurin's third division; with only two advanced divisions remaining, they are increasingly close to realizing their professional aspirations: joining the Paris Opéra Ballet. Pointe spoke with these two young dancers to see what it's like studying inside the world's oldest ballet academy.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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Ballet Training
Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of The School at Steps.

If you're feeling wobbly in adagio or wish you could hold your piqué attitude a bit longer, there are ways to assess and improve your balance. Try these four exercises, recommended by Heather Southwick, Boston Ballet's director of physical therapy.

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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