Ballet Stars
Debra Austin and Jeffrey Gribler in Pennsylvania Ballet's production of Balanchine's "Rubies." Copyright Steven Caras, all rights reserved.

Debra Austin has a special place in dance history: In 1971, at age 16, she was the first African American woman George Balanchine hired into New York City Ballet. After nine years with the company and two years with Zurich Ballet, she joined Pennsylvania Ballet as a principal dancer, making her the first female African American principal hired by a major U.S. ballet company outside of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Famous for her buoyant jump, Austin's vast repertoire ranged from classical roles to Balanchine to Hans Van Manen. Since 1997, she's been passing on her knowledge as ballet master at Carolina Ballet, a company led by her former director at PAB, Robert "Ricky" Weiss.

In honor of her achievements, Texas Christian University's School of Classical and Contemporary Dance has named Austin as this year's Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair. She started at TCU this week, where she's been leading master classes and cross-department collaborations, attending cultural events and giving lectures. We caught up with Austin prior to her residency to talk about her extraordinary career.

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Health & Body
via Burst

In December, I had pretty much every illness you can imagine: pneumonia, vertigo, flu, stomach virus. I had to drop out of Nutcracker because I kept fainting. Every time I try to come back, I take steps backwards. I've tried doing as much as I can in class, and I still almost pass out. I've lost so much strength, but dance is my life. What should I do? —Kayla

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Trending
Mearns rehearses Balanchine's Mozartiana, one of her favorite ballets to perform, with ballet master Lisa Jackson. "It's of a higher power," says Mearns. "It's up there with Serenade and 'Diamonds.' " Kyle Froman.

How do principal dancers handle their intense schedules? For New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns, honing her instrument is key. The company's Tuesday-through-Sunday workweeks, lengthy performance seasons and extensive repertoire can make for longs days and late nights. "During performance weeks, I think about what I'm doing that night and make sure I don't have a lot during the day—or if I do, I'm smart about it," says Mearns. "You do one or two things full-out and then take it easy so that you perform your best at night."

To keep her body strong and injury-free, Mearns schedules cross-training sessions with former dancer and personal trainer Joel Prouty. "I've had a few back injuries, so we work a lot on making sure my glutes, back and hamstrings are all working together," she says. "It's really important to my regime—I feel like I can get through a day of rehearsing seven ballets."

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Viral Videos

Today, April 4, marks the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. It's a date heavy with meaning and symbolism for Kevin Thomas and Marcellus Harper, the founding directors of Memphis-based Collage Dance Collective. King's death not only marked a turning point in the civil rights movement, but it inspired Arthur Mitchell to found Dance Theatre of Harlem, a company and school devoted to providing opportunities to dancers of color. Harper and Thomas, a former DTH principal, have helped carry on Mitchell's mission through Collage Dance Collective, a company that showcases black dancers and choreographers.

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News
Newly promoted soloist Lawrence Rines in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker. Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Boston Ballet announced some happy news this morning: seven dancers have been promoted! The company named three to soloist and four to demi-soloist for the 2019-20 season. "I am excited to see how they continue to grow as dancers in the upcoming season with its versatile and challenging repertoire," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen in a statement. So, who are these lucky dancers? Read on to find out.

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Health & Body
Matthew Henry via Burst

I never seem to find the right pointe shoes. I break them in very quickly, even with hard shanks. My teachers think it's because my feet lack strength. Should my shoes be more supportive? Or should my feet be strong enough to pull myself up in my pointe shoes (rather than relying on them to hold me up)? —Anna

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Ballet Training
Getty Images

I'm in my second year as a trainee. I like the company, but it's hard to tell if the director sees a place for me here long-term. I don't want to waste my time hoping for a contract that may never come. Any advice? —Eryn

Don't pin all your hopes on one company. A traineeship is a very vulnerable position, and the director is under no obligation to hire you. Several times I've seen young dancers, even those who've been verbally promised a job, end up empty handed. Budgets change, sometimes causing rosters to shrink, or directors hire an outside dancer instead of promoting from within. I'm not trying to scare you—I just want to encourage you to protect yourself and be proactive about your future.

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News
Louisville Ballet dancers Luke Yee and Xavier Pellin in rehearsal for Human Abstract. Sam English, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

If you follow Louisville Ballet on social media, you may have noticed a statement posted to its channels last week. Titled "An Open Letter Against Hate and Prejudice," it says "we cannot and will not be bystanders to hate and prejudice. As artists we have a duty to challenge preconceptions respectfully and to tell the stories of those individuals and groups who make our city what it is and what it should aspire to become."

The letter was posted after the company received hateful emails and phone calls over their upcoming performances of Human Abstract, an evening-length work by Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies that follows the relationship between two openly gay protagonists.

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