Time Off To Appreciate

As a ballet dancer, one of the last things you ever want to hear is a doctor or physical therapist tell you to take time off from dancing. You think, “There’s no way I’m doing that. I’ll be so out of shape!” However, sometimes it’s unavoidable. You just can’t dance, and you need to take a break to get better.

A few years ago, I had to take about a month off from dancing. Not only did this dreaded month come just as I was feeling strong and on top of my game, but it was also just in time to count me out of performing at an upcoming dance festival. I was frustrated and worried. I thought I would “lose” my pirouettes, which were always my biggest source of anxiety. Then, I had myself thinking I would basically “lose” everything. I was convinced my feet would get worse, my extension would get lower, my jumps would lose height and that this time off would be a huge setback to my technique.

Throughout my weeks off, I watched some rehearsals and attended the festival in which I was supposed to perform. While this might sound like it would have been depressing, I actually found that this time watching rather than dancing increased my appreciation for ballet. I learned a lot through observation, and watching made me really excited to get back to class in a few weeks.  Towards the end of the month, itching to dance, I started taking barre. I began treating the exercises as discovery processes rather than chances punish myself for my technical imperfections. My fifth position was perhaps slightly less closed than it was before the time off, but I realized that getting back in shape was not the insurmountable goal I had thought it would be.

When I came back to class in full swing, I felt happier and more enthusiastic about dancing. My time outside the studio made me really recognize why I love to dance. The constant self-criticism that used to stream through my head was diluted by time, and I came back with a newfound awareness of how lucky I am to dance. After a week or two, I felt back on top of my game, pirouettes and all, but this time with a more positive energy and appreciation for what I do.

 

 

Ballet Careers
Lenai Alexis Wilkerson. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Lenai Alexis Wilkerson graduated from University of Southern California with a BFA in dance (dance performance concentration) and a political science minor in 2019.

As Lenai Alexis Wilkerson looked at colleges, she wanted a school that would prepare her for two totally different professions: dancing and law. "I knew, pretty much when I was 16, that I wanted to go to law school," she says. "So I wanted the opportunity to have a dual college experience, where I could have a conservatory training style within a university and I could focus equally on my academics." When she auditioned for the inaugural class of University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she knew it was the right fit.

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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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News
Nicolas Pelletier in Carmina Burana. Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Last week, Colorado Ballet interrupted Nutcracker rehearsals for an exciting announcement: Four dancers were being promoted. Though all made the jump from the company's corps de ballet, Nicolas Pelletier ascended directly to the rank of soloist, while Sean Omandam, Emily Speed and Melissa Zoebisch were promoted to demi-soloist. This news comes hot on the heels of last August's promotion of Francisco Estevez to principal.

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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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