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."

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Courtesy Schelfhaudt

These Retired Ballroom Dancers Started a Dance-Themed Coffee Company

Like many dancers, when Lauren Schelfhaudt and Jean Paul retired from professional ballroom dancing in 2016, they felt lost. "There was this huge void," says Schelfhaudt.

But after over 20 years of dancing, plus United States and World Championship titles, reality shows, and high-profile choreography gigs (and Paul's special claim to fame, as "the guy who makes Bradley Cooper look bad" in Silver Linings Playbook), teaching just didn't fill the void. "I got to the point where it wasn't giving me that creative outlet," says Paul.

When the pair (who are life and business partners but were never dance partners—they competed against one another) took a post-retirement trip to Costa Rica, they were ready to restart their lives. They found inspiration in an expected place: A visit to a coffee farm.

Though they had no experience in coffee roasting or business, they began building their own coffee company. In 2018, the duo officially launched Dancing Ox Coffee Roasters, where they create dance-inspired blends out of their headquarters in Belmont, North Carolina.

We talked to Schelfhaudt and Paul about how their dance background makes them better coffee roasters, and why coffee is an art form all its own:

GO DEEPER