Collier (right) with Natalia Romanova, one of her teachers from the Russian Ballet International program at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Courtesy Collier

This Corporate Manager Still Takes Ballet—and She Says It Helps Her Slay Presentations

Working in corporate America can be a grind, so, for many, vacation is a welcome opportunity to relax and unwind. But for Jane Collier, it's a chance to ramp up her ballet training.

Though she's based in Chicago, where she works in global sourcing for Walgreens Boots Alliance, over the last several years she's attended summer intensives at American Ballet Theatre in New York City, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and, most recently, the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen.


Collier is facing the barre, with her left left resting atop it as she does a cambr\u00e9 to the left. She is wearing tights, pointe shoes and black leotard and has her hair in a bun. The barre is against two large windows, through which New York City buildings are visible.

Dancing in ABT's studios. Courtesy Collier

"Intensives offer me the best of both worlds: travel and great training," says Collier, who looks for strong ballet programs in locations she'd like to visit. "I love meeting other students from around the globe. In a time when so many things are polarizing, dance extends beyond language and borders. The shared experience of striving to be your best is a very galvanizing feeling."

And though most summer intensive participants are pre-professionals who haven't yet graduated high school, Collier doesn't let her age deter her. "I ask if they would consider admitting older students and let my audition speak for itself—the worst they can say is no."

"It's extremely important to me that my dedication and desire come across in my audition and in my participation in the intensive. I want to show up every day prepared to work hard, absorb and grow as a dancer. I might be a little older, but I want to demonstrate how happy I am to be there," says Collier. "No one ever has to remind me to look like I'm enjoying myself."

An open plaza in front of the grand Bolshoi Theatre. The sky is blue. Collier is standing at a barre in front of the theater, which features enlarged ballet photos set into glass.

Collier in front of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Courtesy Collier

During the year, she takes technique and pointe regularly, plus CorePower Yoga for cross-training. Natalie Rast, who caters to adult ballet dancers of all levels at Rast Ballet, is a favorite teacher she credits with helping her refine her technique. And when Collier is at her company's downtown offices, she takes class at the Joffrey Academy of Dance.

But no matter how much she prepares, swapping the office for a dance studio at an intensive is still mentally and physically exhausting. "Thank goodness for coffee," she jokes.

Strakhova (left) hugs Collier while Strakhova stands in relev\u00e9. Both women are wearing ballet slippers, pink tights, and black ballet skirts and leotards, while standing in a ballet studio.

Collier with Bolshoi Ballet corps dancer Anastasia Strakhova (left), whom she met while training in Moscow. Courtesy Collier

Collier's love of ballet stems back to childhood. Even when she decided to pursue other career paths, she knew that didn't have to mean leaving ballet behind. "I always intrinsically knew that I didn't have the appropriate physical attributes to be a professional ballet dancer. But I loved training so much it didn't matter." Case in point: She pressed on when she auditioned for an intensive in high school that required a letter of recommendation in which her teacher wrote, "I hope you accept Jane so she realizes the ballet world isn't for her."

When it came time for undergrad, Collier says she even chose her school, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for its dance department. She trained with the dance majors while earning three degrees (economics, international studies and French) and a minor in Chinese (Mandarin)—and she graduated early. "I realized I could still train at a high level and have other career aspirations."

Even with her impressive collection of degrees (she later got her MBA from Duke University), Collier is quick to credit ballet for helping her career. "It has instilled confidence, work ethic and poise," she says. "When I encounter tough meetings or presentations, I consciously remind myself to pull down through my shoulder blades and up through my collar bones. It works wonders!"

"I might not earn my paycheck from dancing," says Collier, "but it can still be a huge part of who I am and what I do."

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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