- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
A last-minute performance opportunity can be the biggest challenge—and the biggest break—of your career. Five dancers share their stories.
It’s a dancer’s nightmare: You’re thrown into a part last minute and you don’t know what you’re doing. With just a few hours—or minutes—to learn the steps, memorize spacing and grasp the musicality, you have to perform something you’ve barely rehearsed. The situation is high stress with high stakes, but it doesn’t have to be a bad dream. With the right approach, you can use the opportunity to tackle new roles and get noticed for even bigger parts in the future.
Adomaitis only had 30 minutes to learn a new role in Rassemblement. Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB.
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet
On tour, a girl in Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement got injured. I had been learning the ballet, but I thought: There’s no way they’re putting me on for her! It’s not my spot. Just as we were getting changed, they said Peter Boal needed to talk to me. He had seen that I was paying attention in rehearsal, so he had faith I knew what I was doing. It was the most stressful situation I could imagine. I had about 30 minutes.
I was wearing a costume for another ballet, with a French twist and diamond earrings. The first thing I did was breathe. Then I redid my hair into a low bun and got rid of the pointe shoes. Wardrobe cut up another girl’s leotard for me and gave me another dress lying around. I followed the ballet master into the studio to figure out the steps. I tried to focus on the choreography, nothing else, and we did it over and over for 20 minutes.
The biggest challenge was keeping my body calm. The movement is grounded, core-centric and very dropped. I tried not to let the adrenaline make me shake. Usually I don’t worry about the steps and get lost in the movement onstage, but I absolutely could not do that. I had to keep thinking the whole time.
On the next tour, I was the understudy for every role.
Advice: Learn as much as you can, even roles you’re not scheduled to do. Anything can happen!
Pennsylvania Ballet soloist
DiPiazza cut steps to keep the musicality. Here, with Lorin Mathis in Emeralds. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy PAB.
I was scheduled to perform in the corps of Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina and was understudying the lead. But I hadn’t done the principal’s steps full-out since I wasn’t able to take space in rehearsals. Two days before the show, they told me I was going on!
Merrill Ashley rehearsed me and my partner for one and a half hours, since I still had a dress and a performance that night. We had no pianist, just a DVD that was extremely fast. The next day I got a stage rehearsal to go over spacing. My performance was my first real run-through! I had to cut out a step or two because it was so quick and I wasn’t keeping up. But I knew the music, and it was easy to cover. My feet were completely numb by the end. There’s no way I could have had the stamina I needed with such little time to prepare. Being thrown in at the last second, you don’t have the work built up behind it, or the confidence.
Ballo is lyrical, but it has a lot of sharp technical aspects that I hadn’t done a lot of, so it was a rare opportunity for me to show another side of my dancing. The next season I got promoted to soloist.
Advice: Get a lot of rest, even though you don’t want to sleep because you’re so excited!
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago member
Hortin relied on his cast mates. Here, in Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Hubbard Street.
Eight years ago, when I was new to the company, I was a general cover for The Constant Shift of Pulse, by Doug Varone. I learned two or three roles, but never rehearsed them full-out in the studio. Then another dancer got bursitis in his knee.
I found out the night before. After about a half-hour or hour of rehearsal, I went over it by myself in the hotel room, figuring out which parts I knew, which ones I didn’t and the ones I needed clarification on. It was a group piece and I had to fit in. You can know all the steps, but to do them among other people is the only way to understand spacing. Luckily, the show went well. It was a combined effort from everyone, and the other dancers were really supportive. I showed that the company could count on me.
Advice: Intention plays a huge role. If you cover things well, it might not be what the choreographer wanted, but it’s not going to ruin the dance.
Christina Lynch Markham
Paul Taylor Dance Company member
Markham used repetition to memorize Black Tuesday. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy Taylor.
In my first season at Lincoln Center with the main company, someone fractured her foot the weekend before we opened. I had to forget everything I was doing in Black Tuesday and learn the “Big Bad Wolf” solo. What helped me most was repetition. I watched videos over and over, like cramming for a test. I would close my eyes and envision myself doing the movements very slow, to build a connection, and get faster and faster. Sometimes I would do it hyper-speed in my living room. Then I would go early to rehearsal and do it full-out. If I accidentally slipped up, I knew that I would slip up in the Taylor style.
Two hours before the show, I had such dread! I made myself breathe very deeply. The more grounded you are, the more you can shift your weight faster if you accidentally go the wrong way.
Onstage, I had a heightened awareness: I felt all my senses open, and my eyes were probably so wide I didn’t have to put eyeliner on! It was my job to make sure the audience got what they paid for. And for me, I got to dance a role that I probably would have had to wait years to perform. I didn’t want that to leave my grasp.
Advice: If you flub one count of eight, forgive yourself and don’t let it sabotage your entire season.
New York City Ballet soloist
I was getting ready to leave one afternoon when I found out I was going to do Raymonda Variations the next day. I had never seen any of the principal’s steps. I was so shocked! I had rehearsals right away: Joaquin De Luz and I worked for about an hour, then we had an onstage run where I did as much as I knew. Later, I had an hour to learn the rest, and another run the next day.
Pereira hopes her turn in Raymonda Variations leads to bigger opportunities. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
The night before, I sewed shoes and watched the tape over and over. I actually slept really well—my mind was so exhausted, it just shut down. Onstage, I tried to stay calm and do one step at a time, take one entrance at a time. There were no mishaps. I was so happy!
I hope that because I did so well in such a short period of time, they’ll give me bigger opportunities. It would be really awesome if I got to do Raymonda again with more preparation. But I got three more shows of it right away, and tried to bring something new each time. I had a blast! It was like a party onstage.
Advice: Remember, they can’t get mad at you: Even if you mess up, you’re still saving the day.
Former Pennsylvania Ballet principal Julie Diana is the executive director of Juneau Dance Theatre.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?
—Lost Career, Washington, DC
Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.
We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."