Ballet Training

Thinking About Full-Time Training Programs? 6 Key Discussions to Have First

Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

If you think a full-time pre-professional program might be right for you, it's never too early to start talking about the big transition. Deciding to forgo a "normal" high school experience for the chance to take your training to the next level is life-changing, and it's vital to have in-depth discussions with your family. Here's a checklist of topics to bring up—before the auditions begin.


1. What are my professional goals?

At the very least, you should feel sure that you want a professional dance career. But beyond tutus and dreams, it's important to understand what this means on a day-to-day level: the daily grind of technique classes and physical therapy, all-consuming workdays, and the endless pursuit of artistry and perfection. "I find a lot of students haven't done enough research on what a professional life is about—what it really means," says Denise Bolstad, managing director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School.

In addition, think about what kind of company you want to join and which schools can facilitate that. What's your favorite repertoire? Are you interested in a large company or a smaller one? For instance, Miami City Ballet corps member Ellen Grocki knew she loved Balanchine, so she researched schools where she'd gain extensive training in the style. She eventually left her home in Maryland at 16 to study at MCB School.


Summer intensive students at Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.


But if you're not sure exactly where and what you want to dance yet, it's not the end of the world. "When our students come in at 14, they have dreams of being the next Makarova," says Michael Owen, director of dance at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a boarding arts high school in Natick, Massachusetts. "Then, in the years they're here, a lot changes for them—their eyes open up to other styles of movement."

Valerie Madonia, academy director at Colorado Ballet Academy, agrees: "As you grow and mature, your options will become more apparent, as far as which companies suit you, or whether in the end you decide to go to a college dance program."


2. How do we evaluate a school's quality of training?

A school's prestigious reputation doesn't always mean it will be best for you. Your top priority when researching pre-professional programs, says Bolstad, should be finding the best quality of training that your family can manage, location and budget-wise. Look at schools' curriculums (usually available on the website), and ask peers and teachers for recommendations. Attend summer intensives, if possible—and the sooner, the better. "Your investment in a school needs to start earlier than 17 or 18," says Bolstad. "Audition for at least one summer course, so you have a sense of what an organization is like." An intensive can be a good "trial run" to find what feels right. If going to one isn't possible, consider visiting for a few days during the academic year.

Additionally, ask the school about its track record of placing students in companies and college dance programs—and, specifically, which ones. "Do they only feed into their company, or do they feed into others around the world?" says Madonia. "Do the students come out versatile and ready to apply to many different programs?" It's a strong testament to the quality of the program—and the hire-ability of its graduates—if its dancers succeed in a variety of settings.


Valerie Madonia teaching pre-professional students at the Colorado Ballet Academy. Photo by Francesco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.


3. Should I wait until after high school to train full-time?

This question depends on the quality of your current training. "It's very individual," says Bolstad. In many cases, dancers "have a slight advantage if they've left sooner, before graduating high school."

But if you have solid training at your home studio and choose the normal high school route, it's not too late. Most trainee programs and second companies accept recent high school graduates. "Times have changed in the last 20 years," says Madonia. "We're also seeing more wonderful college programs, and seeing students going from college into second companies, into companies." Owen agrees: "Now, it's not unheard of for dancers who are 21, 22 or 23 to get into companies for the first time."



Photo courtesy Walnut Hill School for the Arts


4. If not, what do I do about my education?

Most dancers who train full-time during high school either continue their education online or through flexible classroom options. At MCB School, Grocki took classes at a high school across the street from the studio each morning before heading into her 10 am technique class. At performing arts high schools like Walnut Hill, academics are built into the daily schedule.

Online programs require a certain personality type for a student to be successful. You'll need to be driven, organized, time-efficient and okay working alone on a computer for hours each day. "I've seen some students excel without a problem and others who struggle with time management," says Madonia.


5. What are the housing options?

There are three basic housing setups in most boarding programs: dormitories, host families or, for the most independent dancers, unsupervised apartments. One of the reasons Grocki chose MCB School was that there were dorms across the street from the studio. She lived there her first year; by her second, her mom felt comfortable letting her move into an unsupervised apartment with fellow dancers.

For those who want more of a family experience, or if dorms aren't available, many programs will house you with a host family who already has a connection to the school and can provide meals, transportation and emotional support. Keep in mind that some schools, like PNB, do not offer supervised housing, in which case dancers rent apartments (usually with roommates).


Photo courtesy Walnut Hill School for the Arts.


6. How will we pay for this?

Ballet tuition, let alone housing and living expenses, is costly, and it's important for dancers to understand how heavily this factor may weigh on their parents. Merit-based scholarships are the most coveted form of financial aid, but also the hardest to come by. For Grocki, a half merit scholarship was a huge factor in making her dream possible. Need-based financial aid is usually more readily available, but be aware that the application deadlines may fall early in the summer, before you receive the invitation to study. Independent scholarships and grants through organizations like the National YoungArts Foundation can help pay tuition costs.

Some schools may offer work-study opportunities, while other times, dancers find outside work to help offset living expenses. At Colorado Ballet Academy, students often pick up babysitting jobs for parents of other students or even their dance teachers.

If your family can make it work, the investment in your training is well worth it. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be accepted and study in a major national school," says Bolstad. "I don't think anyone ever regrets it."

Show Comments ()
Ballet Training
Anna Greenberg of ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

All dancers have their go-to tension area: shoulders that creep up towards the ears, a hand that becomes a claw, or feet and ankles that grip. Yet "Just relax" can be the hardest correction to apply. We spoke with four teachers for their tips on releasing tension throughout the body—and how it's all connected.

The Face

A dancer's face is a frequent tension trouble spot, as eyebrows lift or furrow, jaws clench and tongues peek out. Hilary Cartwright, international guest teacher and creator of Yoga Narada, notices that, for many students, "all the tension goes into the face in their effort to achieve and please their teacher." Similarly, Seattle-based ballet instructor Stephanie Saland observes that dancers "demonstrate" their focus with their face instead of actually being attentive. "Does 'focus' mean bug your eyes and shove your chin forward to show interest, enthusiasm, volition?" she asks. "Or can you just be present and take the information in?"

Cartwright recommends taking a moment to "turn it around" and find your inner smile. "When you're feeling tense, think of something—a smiley face, your dog or cat—that brings back reality a little bit. Remember the good things in the rest of your life." If your inner smile turns into an outward one, even better. Smiling is a simple way to alleviate tension in your face and convey your joy of dancing.

Saland suggests visualizing a mask that's painted onto your face dripping off "almost in puddles down the front of your body." This relaxes facial tension and sends your focus inward. Remember that in class, sometimes, you can just make the effort without feeling that you have to project out.

News
Ballet Austin's Aara Krumpe in The Firebird. After 20 years, this is Krumpe's final season with the company. Photo by Tony Spielberg, Courtesy Ballet Austin.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has helped spotlight sexual harassment, as well as verbal and emotional abuse, in the ballet industry. Most recently, a lawsuit filed by Alexandra Waterbury against New York City Ballet and principal dancer Chase Finlay, who has since resigned, revealed particularly chilling behavior. Earlier this week, we posted an article that struck a nerve with our audience. We've received some heated responses about the story's prompt and tone. We hear you, and we want to take this opportunity to give you a voice to address concerns and ask questions about recent claims of abuse in the ballet world.

Dancers, students and dance parents: how have these revelations shaped your view of the dance industry, and what worries you most? What changes do you want to see from leadership to address them? Professional dancers, what advice or insight would you give students and those in their early career about what to expect in the professional world?

We want to hear from you. Please feel free to comment or to send your thoughts to abrandt@dancemedia.com.

News
Ramasar and Catazaro, via Instagram

New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Nevada Ballet Theatre. Still Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's first stop: Nevada Ballet Theatre. She touches base with company dancer Caroline MacDonald, and academy director Anna Lantz. Stay tuned for more!

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods

Longer ballet skirts are having a major moment. We've seen them popping up in the Instagram studio clips of dance fashionistas around the world—from American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston to The Royal Ballet's Beatriz Stix-Brunell to Berlin State Ballet's Iana Salenko. And with cooler weather on the way, we have a feeling we'll be seeing even more calf-length skirts.

Beyond being trendy, long ballet skirts give any studio ensemble a sophisticated prima ballerina vibe (hi, Natalia Makarova). Try out one of these long skirt options.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Tricia Albertson kisses Didier Bramaz after finding the perfect hat in The Concert. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

Tricia Albertson, as told to Gavin Larsen.

I like to make people laugh, so I was excited to be cast as the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert. But the character herself didn't feel like me. She's so bubbly and excited, and I'm a bit more pensive (when it comes to ballet, at least). I didn't want her to come across as stupid—she's still thoughtful. I guess you could say she's flighty, but it's just that she's so excited about the music at the concert that everything else is a blur to her.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
A portrait of Fanny Elssler, Courtesy Olga Smoak.

This Thursday, we're throwing it all the way back to Fanny Elssler, one of the most famous ballerinas of the Romantic period. Elssler may have graced stages far before the age of reality TV and Instagram, but her story is anything but dry. Last week, the Historic New Orleans Collection put on a symposium on the history of dance in New Orleans, of which Elssler played a pivotal role. We spoke with dance historian Olga Smoak to find out more about why this ballerina is still so exciting... nearly 200 years later.

But first, watch a recreation of Elssler's famous "La Cachucha," which she performed in New Orleans in 1841, danced by Rebecca Allen at the HNOC last week. Note the extreme tilts of the torso; they're part of what made Elssler such a captivating dancer in her day.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Thinkstock

I've noticed that my progress has plateaued. Class starts out pretty well, but once we get to center, it seems like I am not improving whatsoever. Help! —Sade

Keep reading... Show less
Yuli looks like the ballet biopic of our dreams. Screenshot via YouTube

We admit it. We're picky about dance movies. They don't always represent our beloved art form accurately, or use real dancers to play the main roles.

But we just watched the first trailer for the new Carlos Acosta biopic, Yuli, and we're kinda speechless:

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Katherine Williams as Myrtha. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.

"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."

While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Misty Copeland models her fall collection for Under Armour. Photo courtesy of Under Armour.

Fall is fast approaching, and American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland has your back-to-dance wardrobe (and beyond) covered. The Under Armour spokesmodel debuted her Fall 2018 Misty Copeland Signature Collection earlier this week, playing off her first collection with another set of looks that work just as well in the studio as they do hanging out with friends.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!