Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
The George Mason University dance program waitlists about 15 percent of applicants. Photo by Tim Coburn, Courtesy GMU
When it comes to college admissions, there's perhaps nothing more confusing than being waitlisted. It sends a mixed message, the middle ground between a "yes" and a "no." You may be elated that you still have a shot at your dream program, or discouraged that you weren't a school's first choice. But is it worth sticking it out, or are you better off accepting another school on your list? We asked program directors for candid advice.
If everyone seems a bit obsessed with tidying up right now, blame the trendy Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo. Her uber-popular book-turned-Netflix-show has so many people purging their closets that thrift stores can no longer keep up with the donations. The reason? Fans are falling in love with what Kondo calls "the life-changing magic of tidying up."
The French definition might translate to "shouldering," but épaulement is actually much more than that. "It's not just a superficial turn of the shoulders—it creates energy from the inside out," says Marisa Albee, faculty member at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. It's also what can elevate technically proficient dancing to something nuanced, dynamic and truly exciting. "Think of épaulement as the punctuation at the end of a sentence," says Brooke Moore, a faculty member for BalletMet's trainee program. "The head and the eyes are the exclamation point!"
Ryan Heffington's Seeing You. Photo by Steven Trumon Gray, Courtesy Cantora
The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
Broadway Dance Lab's Choreography Intensive. Photo by Whitney Browne
"Go to your choreographers" is the command, and ten 20-somethings sort themselves into two groups at either side of a studio at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in midtown Manhattan. On one side they become three students gossiping in a schoolroom as another enters alone; on the other, it's a guy sauntering into a club where three women are drinking at a table.
Emma Russo, 25, is in charge there, setting up a romance; across the space, Alexia Acebo, 22, is summoning a popularity contest. Both are working to the same jazzy instrumental version of "Pennies From Heaven."
Bouncing back and forth between the two story lines is Broadway choreographer (and Tony nominee) Josh Prince, asking questions, making suggestions, offering encouragement—half mentor, half mother hen.
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
Angle and Kowroski in Christopher Wheeldon's Liturgy. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
When I joined the New York City Ballet, I had a million questions. How soon before a performance should I get ready? When should I eat dinner—before or after the performance? How long should I wear my false eyelashes before I throw them out? Should I practice hard steps onstage before the curtain goes up or save them for the show? How long should my warm-up be? How do I do well in this career?
Before long, I discovered that the older dancers were willing to help us newbies. Wendy Whelan, for instance, took me under her wing and helped me with everything from my hair and makeup to what to eat for energy before a performance.
I wanted to see what questions NYCB's newest batch of corps members Mira Nadon, Kennard Henson and Gabriella Domini had. To answer their questions, I spoke to two of our most senior dancers, Maria Kowroski (who's been with the company 24 years) and Jared Angle (who's danced here 21 years).
These days, you don't have to be in the circus to learn how to fly. Aerial dance has grown in popularity in recent years, blending modern dance and circus traditions and enlisting the help of trapeze, silks, hammocks, lyra and cube for shows that push both viewers and performers past their comfort zones.
More dancers are learning aerial than ever before. Besides adding new skills to your resumé, becoming an aerialist opens up a new realm of possibilities.
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
Instructor Judine Somerville leads a musical theater class. Photo by Rachel Papo
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
Balanchine technique will challenge your footwork and musicality. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy SAB
Before spending a summer at Los Angeles Ballet School, Lillian Glasscock had never learned a Balanchine variation. "The stylistic differences, like preparing for a pirouette with a straight back leg, were at first very challenging," says Glasscock, 17. "But it soon got easier."
Los Angeles Ballet company members were in class daily, motivating and inspiring her. Trying out a new style and expanding her repertoire gave Glasscock more strength, and a better understanding of the varied demands of ballet companies today. Months later, the Balanchine variations she learned are now personal favorites.
While the early years of training are typically spent diligently working through the syllabus of a single ballet technique, when you start to prepare for a professional career, versatility is key. There isn't just one correct version of each step. And as ballet companies continue to diversify their repertoires, directors need dancers who can move fluidly between an array of styles.
Antioch students and faculty participating in a social justice workshop. Photo by Melinda Garland, courtesy Antioch
You don't need to be a performer to make a positive impact through dance. Dance/movement therapists use movement to approach a patient's health holistically, working with populations as diverse as teenagers dealing with anxiety, veterans suffering from trauma and elderly patients with dementia or Alzheimer's. What makes for a good dance therapist? "They've seen the power of movement in their own life. And they have empathy for other people and for what's going on in the world," says Nancy Beardall, dance/movement therapy coordinator at Lesley University.
A pointe class at Youth America Grand Prix, where performing on pointe before age 11 is now prohibited. Photo by VAM Productions, courtesy YAGP
In 2018, the Youth America Grand Prix added a rule: For participants under age 12, performing on pointe became strongly discouraged. For those under 11, it became prohibited.
The competition organizers made these changes after jury members, teachers and others raised concerns about students being pushed to perform on pointe too early. Larissa Saveliev, YAGP co-founder and director, says, "Ten years ago we didn't have to have these rules because nobody was progressing that fast."
As ballet prodigies get younger and their abilities more extraordinary, many are asking, How young is too young to let their bodies dance on the tips of their toes?
Lauren Sanford teaches contractions to demonstrate the connection between breath and movement. Photo by Jenn Shaw Fleming
If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.
It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.