Career Advice
Quinn Wharton

What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.

So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.

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Photo by Brooke Lark via Unsplash

Happy New Year! Whether or not resolutions are your thing, I always find that a bit of wisdom from the people I admire is a great way to start the year. Here are some favorite nuggets from eight dancers, choreographers and directors who have appeared in our pages over the last year.

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Paloma Herrera in the studio with Colón's dancers. Photo by La Nación/Maximiliano Amena, Courtesy La Nación

Paloma Herrera's final performance of Giselle in 2015, like the rest of her 24-year career with American Ballet Theatre, was impeccable. The New York Times described her as "wonderfully musical, unexaggerated and unmannered," words that more or less encapsulate the quality of her dancing in a vast array of classical and contemporary works.

Now, just two years after her retirement and subsequent return to her native Argentina, she has a new role: director of her country's largest and most celebrated ballet company, the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón. The company, founded in 1925, has around 100 dancers and a storied past—as well as a gorgeous home theater—but has been hobbled in recent years by meager seasons, labor strife and a crisis of confidence in its leadership.

Herrera's directorship was announced in a surprise press conference in February and she got to work right away. As she says, she has barely left the theater since.

So, what happened to the freedom you were looking forward to after your retirement?

I know! Where did it go? I'm in rehearsals and then, during my breaks, I'm in the office, and afterwards I stay late answering emails. I have no life! But I'm happy.

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What happens to companies when their stars retire?

Paloma Herrera will dance her final performance with ABT on May 27. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.

Shouts of “Brava!” will accompany a number of ballerinas when they take their final bows this summer. American Ballet Theatre’s Paloma Herrera, Xiomara Reyes and Julie Kent will soon dance their final performances with the company: Herrera in the May 27 matinee performance of Giselle; Reyes in the same ballet that evening; and Kent in Romeo and Juliet on June 20. Carla Körbes will also retire, from Pacific Northwest Ballet, on June 7 (in a program to be announced).

Körbes, 33, has been a dynamic presence at PNB. “With Carla it’s not about the pirouettes, jumps, feet, extension—though that’s all there,” says artistic director Peter Boal. “It’s about these higher levels of humanity, a graciousness, a generosity—the rapport she develops with a corps de ballet around her and the partner she’s dancing with.”

When ballerinas retire, it has an impact on a company. Corps members emulate them. Choreographers tailor roles for them. They sell tickets. They create an esthetic and often mentor younger dancers. But as physics states, nature abhors a vacuum, and younger dancers rise to the occasion. “I think you’ll see a shift,” says Boal. “There are other PNB dancers with a fan base. There are choreographers who were very excited to create for Carla. When they got here, they discovered somebody else as well.” Boal has also hired back Noelani Pantastico, who will return as a principal this November.

At ABT, Herrera has established her own commanding charisma since joining as a brilliant 15-year-old prodigy in 1991, then later as a fully blossomed ballerina. Several reasons led to her decision to retire: a desire to leave the stage while still dancing with full-tilt energy; her enjoyment in teaching and coaching younger dancers; and “feeling kind of like a dinosaur” regarding the social media frenzy that now shapes ballet careers. In recalling former ABT stars who retired, she says: “It was a huge thing when Alessandra Ferri retired. I cried more when she retired than when I told Kevin McKenzie I was retiring. For me she’s always been a huge role model.”

Boal recognizes that although ballet companies try to delegate roles equitably among dancers, stars do emerge and those retirements can be heartbreaking. “But it can’t be a one-ballerina company, even though people gravitate to that.” Körbes assumed a sort of stardom that former PNB ballerina Patricia Barker had before. “Somebody does emerge in the public’s eye and the public appoints them prima ballerina,” he adds. “We certainly don’t.”

Herrera has no regrets about her 24-year career at ABT. After doing a farewell tour this fall in Argentina, she will turn 40 in December. “And then it will be a whole new life,” she says. “I’ve been part of an era—an incredible era. I enjoyed it. Now it’s a new generation.” —Joseph Carman


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