Emily Carrico in Stanton Welch's Tu Tu, Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Doctors Doubted She'd Be Able to Run Again. Now She's Dancing Principal Roles at Atlanta Ballet

In just two seasons with Atlanta Ballet, Emily Carrico has emerged as a lead dancer with depth and dimension beyond her years. Her Sugar Plum Fairy sparkled. Her Black Swan was cunning and treacherous. In a recent rehearsal, her Sylph appeared effortless as she darted along the floor, evoking a fairy here, a dragonfly there. Watching her excel, you'd never know that Carrico has had a partially fused spine since childhood.


In costume for Bournonville's La Sylphide

Rachel Neville, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Companies: Kentucky Ballet Theatre, Columbia City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet

Age: 23

Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky

Training: Kentucky Ballet Theatre Academy, The Harid Conservatory, Magaly Suarez's The Art of Classical Ballet School

Defying diagnosis: At age 3, Carrico was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, or slippage of the vertebrae. Doctors surgically fused her two lowest lumbar vertebrae with her sacrum, and she was immobilized in a full-body cast for three months. After more than a year of rehabilitation, Carrico began studying ballet. "I've been back to the surgeons and they said, 'We did not anticipate you'd be able to run again, let alone do what you're doing.' "

Finding what works: Because her fused lower vertebrae were shaped to simulate a natural lumbar curve, Carrico has to work extra-hard to keep her pelvis properly placed. For arching movements, she thinks of lengthening the spaces in between her vertebrae, and she works with an open hip line in arabesque.

What Gennadi Nedvigin is saying: "Courage, determination and an almost fanatic drive are some of the significant qualities needed to become the kind of dancer that Emily is," says Atlanta Ballet's artistic director, who chose Carrico as one of his first new hires. "Her ecstatic joy for ballet radiates as she performs, which gives her a special ability to connect with an audience."

In Don Quixote

Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Mind over matter: Carrico has learned to discipline her mind, so thoughts about pain or fatigue don't overwhelm her during a full-length ballet. Silent words of encouragement, like "Yes, you can. Keep going," help push her to her max. "The mind is very powerful," she says, "especially onstage."

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Our 8 Best Pointe Shoe Hacks

It turns out that TikTok is good for more than just viral dance challenges. Case in point: We recently stumbled across this genius pointe shoe hack for dancers with narrow heels.

Dancers are full of all kinds of crafty tricks to make their pointe shoes work for them. But don't fear: You don't need to spend hours scrolling TikTok to find the best pro tips. We rounded up a few of our favorites published in Dance Magazine over the years.

If your vamp isn't long enough, sew an elastic on top of your metatarsals.

Last year, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Elizabeth Murphy admitted to us that her toes used to flop all the way out of her shoes when she rose up onto pointe(!). "I have really long toes and stock shoes never had a vamp long enough," she says.

Her fix? Sewing a piece of elastic (close to the drawstring but without going through it) at the top of the vamp for more support...and also special-ordering higher vamps.

Solve corns with toe socks

Nashville Ballet's Sarah Cordia told us in 2017 that toe socks are her secret weapon: "I get soft corns in between my toes because I have sweaty feet. Wearing toe socks helps keep that area dry. I found a half-toe sock called 'five-toe heelless half-boat socks' that I now wear in my pointe shoes."

(For other padding game-changers, check out these six ideas.)

Save time by recycling ribbons and elastics.

Don't waste time measuring new ribbons and elastics for every pair. Washington Ballet dancer Ashley Murphy-Wilson told us that she keeps and cycles through about 10 sets of ribbons and crisscross elastics. "It makes sewing new pairs easier because the ribbons and elastic are already at the correct length," she says. Bonus: This also makes your pointe shoe habit more environmentally friendly.

Close-up of hands sewing a pointe shoe.

Murphy-Wilson sewing her shoes

xmbphotography, by Mena Brunette, courtesy The Washington Ballet

Tie your drawstring on demi-pointe.

In 2007, New York City Ballet's Megan Fairchild gave us this tip for making sure her drawstring stays tight: "I always tie it in demi-pointe because that is when there's the biggest gap and where there's the most bagginess on the side."

Find a stronger thread.

When it comes to keeping your ribbons on, function trumps form—audiences won't be able to see your stitches from the stage. Many dancers use floss as a stronger, more secure alternative to thread. Fairchild told us she uses thick crochet thread. "Before I go onstage I sew a couple of stitches in the knot of the ribbon to tack the ends," she says. "I do a big 'X.' I have to make sure it's perfect because I'm in it for the show. It's always the very last thing I do."

Don't simply reorder your shoes on autopilot.

Even as adults, our feet keep growing and spreading as we age. Atlanta podiatrist Frank Sinkoe suggests going to a professional pointe shoe fitter at least once a year to make sure you're in the right shoe.

You might even need different sizes at different times of the year, says New York City Ballet podiatric consultant Thomas Novella. During busy periods and in warm weather, your feet might be bigger than during slow periods in the winter. Have different pairs ready for what your feet need now.

Fit *both* feet.

Don't forget that your feet might even be two different sizes. "If you're getting toenail bruises, blood blisters or other signs of compression, but only on one foot, have someone check each foot's size," Novella says. The solution? Buy two pairs at a time—one for the right foot and one for the left.

Wash off the sweat.

Blisters thrive in a sweaty pointe shoe. Whenever you can, take your feet out of your shoes between rehearsals and give them a quick rinse off in the sink. "If feet sweat, they should be washed periodically during the day with soap and water and dried well, especially between the toes," says Sinkoe.