Whoever told Emma Portner not to move to NYC probably feels silly now. Photo by Quinn Wharton

12 Dance Stars Share the Worst Advice They Ever Received

Raise your hand if you've received bad advice from well-meaning friends or family (or strangers, tbh) who don't know anything about what it really takes to be a dancer.

*everyone raises hands*

Sometimes it's even dance insiders whose advice can send you down the wrong path. We've been asking pros about the worst advice they've ever received in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and rounded up some of the best answers:


Miami City Ballet's Nathalia Arja

Her answer: "I've been told, 'be the best' but I completely disagree with that. I believe that the best advice you could give to a dancer is 'be YOUR best and every day try to be a little better than yesterday.' That's my mind set—I think that's a healthy way of thinking for a healthy career!"

B-girl and choreographer Ephrat Asherie

Her answer: "Someone told me to always have another dancer in the corner of my eye to compare myself to 'because that will push you to be better.' I actually believe the opposite to be true. Your inner drive to grow has to far outshine any external stimuli or comparison you may draw with someone else. That will give you longevity and sustenance. As my breaking mentor Richard Santiago (aka Break Easy) once told me, 'The biggest battle you'll have will always be with yourself.' "

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Leta Biasucci

Her answer: "You should straighten your hair more often."

Commercial darling Emma Portner

Photo by Quinn Wharton

Her answer: "That I shouldn't move to New York."

The Washington Ballet's Ashley Murphy

Her answer: "Stay where you are comfortable."

Tap dancer and choreographer Caleb Teicher

His answer: " 'You'll sleep when you're dead!' is a common expression. I disagree—I have to sleep while I'm living, too..."

Former NYCB and freelance star Kaitlyn Gilliland

Her answer: "Don't think too much."

Martha Graham Dance Company's PeiJu Chien-Pott

Her answer: " 'You will never be able to dance again after you have a child.' As a matter of fact, I auditioned for the Martha Graham Dance Company twice, two years apart. The first audition was before I had my daughter, and I was not picked. The second time was right after I had my baby, and I was hired!"

Pennsylvania Ballet's Sterling Baca

His answer: " 'The best thing you could do is just kinda mark the whole thing so you are able to get through it.' I would rather fall on my face giving everything I had."

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Hope Boykin

Her answer: "I will never forget being told that I had learned all I could where I was studying at the time, and that I should go and try something else. Ultimately, that is what I had to do, but I never worked harder to stay on the path I knew was meant for me. I would never speak to a student in such a way, but it didn't deter me. It only pushed me toward my goals."

San Francisco Ballet's Sarah Van Patten

Her answer: "That I'll never be able to do something or that a specific role isn't for me. Anything that makes me feel limited."

International guest artist Joy Womack

Her answer: "That the best thing an artist can be is a blank canvas."

Latest Posts


Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021