Category Archives: Life Management

Get Amazing Ballet Arms

If you are like most dancers, chances are you have had correction or two about your upper body and arms. Without the muscular strength to properly hold your arms in place, you will fall victim to one of the two most common ballet arm corrections – 1.) drooping elbows or 2.) shoulders. The following is an exercise taken directly from the Ballet Strength DVD that will help you gain the muscular awareness to properly hold your port de bras.

Ballet Strength Awesome Arms

Give this exercise a try at first without using weights, then gradually increase to three pound weights or five pound weights if you are more advanced. This exercise will effectively activate the shoulders, pectoral muscles, deltoids, and lats to create more muscle awareness in first position. Try doing this exercise a few times a week and notice a big difference in your port de bras.

*Exercise a courtesy of The Ballet Strength DVD. For more information and to buy the DVD go to http://www.balletstrength.com.

Ballet Strength Goes Beyond the Barre

Are you looking to advance in your current ballet company? If you are like most dancers, your goal is to rise through the ranks of a ballet company and eventually get the opportunity to dance principal roles. Smart dancers know that the tools necessary to excel in the dance world are not all found in your daily ballet technique class. The following are some areas to explore when it comes to having the advantage over your competition.

1.) Use your resources. Does your ballet company offer massage and chiropractic services? If so, these are resources that you should be utilizing on a weekly basis. Keeping your body fine tuned will keep it performing to it’s full potential.

2.) Eat for fuel. It you are dancing professionally you should be on a performance nutrition plan. Dancers must eat to fuel their bodies to get through intense days of rehearsals, performances and most importantly recovery. If your body is not adequately recovered from the previous day of training, it will not magically reset the next day.

3.) Look beyond the barre. Ballet cross training is a huge part of a dancers performance plan today. It will help you stay injury free, strengthen weaknesses, and improve overall physical conditioning. The old thinking that dancers can’t lift weights is no longer a valid statement as dancers in the top ballet companies like New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet are doing it. Oh, and to answer the question “Will I get bulky?” No, you may actually lean out!

4.) Rehab injuries- Be smart about your injuries. If a prescribed physical therapy plan is not working, look elsewhere. Different rehabilitation techniques work for different injuries and with the many options available these days, there is no excuse to live in pain. Find a treatment plan that works best for you.

5.) Hire a coach. Sometimes you need an outside perspective. You can’t always lean on your friends in the company for help and advice since in essence they are your competition. Professional dancers hire me, for example, to keep them motivated and on track with their goals and to create a performance plan. Without a long-term plan, you will be lost in the corp de ballet.

6.) Rest. Probably the most important part of a dancer’s recovery is rest. This means respecting your body by getting to bed early each night and keeping outside drama to a minimum. It may sound like a good idea to go out with friends on weeknights, but you are only further fatiguing your body.

By exploring these six areas you will put yourself ahead of the game as a dancer. These are just a few of the things that I currently work on with my professional dancer clients. If you are interested in learning more about my coaching services for dancers email me at nikol@balletaudition.com.

Ballet Strength Cross Training

Ballet Cross Training

The school year is almost coming to a close which means it is time to start planning your summer ballet cross training. Whether you have decided to attend a summer dance intensive program or continue to train at your current ballet school, you will need a structured plan with specific goals in mind. What would you like to accomplish over the summer to improve your dancing? The following is a list of choices you have to improve over the summer. Which one is right for you? (feel free to comment at the end!)

Summer Intensive Programs- Summer dance intensives are a great way to improve your technique and gain perspective from different dance instructors. Sometimes hearing the same correction in a different way, or from a different teacher, can make a world of a difference. Being in a different environment is wonderful as well. Dancing in a new studio around different dancers and teachers will almost feel like you are getting a fresh start. Sometimes when we are away from common distractions (like our friends at the studio) we are able to absorb corrections and information better. This is what will help you improve as a dancer.

Injury Rehabilitation- If you have suffered an injury over the school year it is sometimes best to stay home over the summer to rehabilitate that injury. You wouldn’t want to go into a summer intensive program injured and risk further injuring yourself, or worse yet, have to sit out the entire program. It is definitely deflating for your confidence and a big waste of your parents money. On the other hand, you could build-up your confidence at home going through physical therapy, taking it slow in classes at your current studio, and getting well for the coming school year. Injuries that aren’t properly rehabilitated in your teenage years will come back to haunt you in your professional life…trust me…so be smart!

Cross Training- Most professional dancers cross train over the summer. Cross training means targeting the same muscle groups that are used daily in ballet only with different types of exercises to work them in a different way. This helps to develop a well-rounded dancer who is less likely to develop injury. Since professional dancers typically have two to four months off in the summer, this is the ideal type of training for them as it will reduce burn-out, help rehab aches and pains developed during the season, and rule out any potential weaknesses for the upcoming season. (ballet cross training) Since dancers need to stay conditioned year round, this is the healthiest plan for a professional dancer to do over the summer.

So which ballet cross training plan is best for you?

Which Ballet Summer Intensive to Pick

Summer intensive auditions are coming to a close and chances are, you have started to receive some of your acceptance letters in the mail. Most of you audition for tons of different summer ballet programs and will be accepted into multiple intensive programs. So how do you make an educated decision about which summer intensive to attend? Here are a few helpful hints to make sure you end up in the right place.

1.) Cost- If your family is on a budget, the cost of the summer intensive that you choose will definitely be a factor in the decision making process. Did you get a scholarship? If you received a scholarship to a particular program, this means the school has an extremely high interest in you. Choose which program makes sense for your family financially.

2.) Program Length- Three week, four week, or six week? How comfortable are you being away from home for long periods of time? I used to get homesick when I went to summer intensives at age 12 and 13, so I would choose no more than four week programs. Also, will you be missing out on your family vacation?

Photo from Chautauqua Ballet Intensive

3.) Travel- How comfortable do you feel traveling far away from home? For example; since I was from the East Coast, I was hesitant to travel far from my family to attend San Francisco Ballet School’s Summer Intensive. Travel also fits into the cost category as typically you will either need to fly or drive to the program.

4.) Style- Does the school that you choose fit with the style you currently train in? Or is it different? How will your current school director feel about this? Going to a summer intensive like School of American Ballet, for example, might mean a change in technique. If your hope is to be accepted there year round, it is definitely worth it.

5.) Preference- Sometimes the best thing to do is follow a hunch. Where do you want to go most? If money is not an option go to where your heart follows!

Which ever ballet summer intensive program you choose, make sure you go into it with an open mind. This will ensure that you make the most of any situation and remember- write down your corrections!

Ballet Strength Interview with Callye McCollum

Oklahoma City Ballet Dancer Callye McCollum.

Professional ballet dancer, Callye McCollum is catching the eyes of Oklahoma City dance critics and audience members alike. As a member of Oklahoma City Ballet (once Ballet Oklahoma) since 2006, she is rising to the challenges presented to her both on and off the stage. I have had the pleasure of watching her grow and mature as a dancer from her years as an apprentice with the company to today where you can catch her onstage performing principal and soloist roles.  Callye is a true respect to her talent, focusing on Ballet Strength cross-training programs in the off-season to continue her growth as a dancer. Here is an interview with Callye McCollum;

Where are you from and when did you start dancing?
I am a native of Lima, Peru, which I am very proud to say, but I was raised in Luther, Oklahoma, which is located about 45 minutes outside of Oklahoma City. I began dancing as something to do after leaving the world of competitive gymnastics age 10. When I was 12, I started taking ballet more seriously and decided to enroll at the School of Ballet Oklahoma (now The Dance Center of Oklahoma CityBallet).

When did you realize that you wanted to become a professional dancer?
I don’t remember necessarily ever consciously choosing ballet as a career path, I really just loved to perform. There was a principal dancer with the company that I looked up to very much that I loved watching perform and I was determined to be like her when I grew up. It probably wasn’t until my junior year of high school that being a professional dancer started to become a true possibility and something that I began to taking even more seriously. I received an apprenticeship at 17 and was promoted to a company position the following year.

What struggles or injuries did you encounter along the way?
Transitioning from gymnastics to dance, especially ballet, was very hard. Not only did I have to work to reshape my musculature, but I had to learn how to use my turnout which was difficult since I had only ever worked turned in. Aside from minor ankle tweaks and pulled muscles, I have no history of injuries that have hindered my ability to perform. I have been very VERY lucky in that sense.

Callye McCollum in OKC Ballet's Paquita.

How has Ballet Strength helped you as a professional dancer?
I primarily use Ballet Strength during the summer when I am not performing with the company. It is fantastic for keeping my muscles in shape and preparing me for the upcoming season. I have on multiple occasions used Ballet Strength to prepare for demanding roles. Last season, I performed a pas de trois in “Phantom of the Opera.” It was a very high endurance piece with lots of jumps. I decided to incorporate some Ballet Strength leg exercises into my daily routine and soon noticed a difference in my stamina and my ability to make it through the piece without cramping or suffering from extreme fatigue.

How do feel that Ballet Strength could help a young aspiring professional dancer?
We have reached a time in ballet where dancers cannot go with cross-training, or muscle tone for that matter. Contemporary ballet is becoming much more prominent and as dancers we must be physically ready for anything. Ballet Strength will give you an edge, no matter where you are in your career. I personally wish I would have had access to something like Ballet Strength as a student, so those of you that do are very lucky!

As Clara in OKC Ballet's The Nutcracker.

What has been your favorite role to perform and why?
This past December, I had the opportunity to perform as “Clara” in Robert Mills’ “The Nutcracker.” There were two pas de deux that were both different in dynamic but equally as enjoyable to perform. What made it extra special is that I had performed Clara when it was a student role and I was able to recall the pure joy that I felt at the age of 13. I was also cast in Robert Mills’ “Touchstones” which premiered in April 2010. There is a section in the ballet that represents maturity and being in love, in which I performed a short pas de deux with my boyfriend and fellow company dancer, Josh Crespo. To be able to share with the audience such an intense emotion, one that I already felt so naturally, was a very memorable moment in my career.

Any last words of inspiration or encouragement for young dancers?
NEVER take yourself too seriously. We’re human, we make mistakes. That’s something we sometimes forget as ballet dancers. Most importantly, know your own body and be good to it.

Choosing the Right Ballet Auditions

Now that Nutcracker season is over and it’s the New Year, chances are, you are gearing up for your ballet summer intensive auditions. With summer intensive auditions, there can be hundreds of different schools to choose from. How do you know which schools are right for you?

Make sure you start doing the research before the audition to make sure you don’t waste your time, energy, and your parent’s money. If you live in a city such as New York or San Francisco, where pretty much every Summer Intensive holds an audition, I recommend going to as many auditions as possible for experience. If you don’t live in a city where schools typically hold auditions, you will have to travel, which is something you and your family may need to discuss and take into consideration.

What style are you trained in? While it is always fun to attend a school that trains dancers in a different style than you, you want to make sure that style suits you. School of American Ballet, for example, typically looks for dancers who are trained in the Balanchine technique whereas a school like the Kirov looks for a Russian trained dancer.

Remember, your ultimate goal is to be accepted into a professional company, right? So this means you want to choose which summer intensive you attend wisely once you are accepted.

Also consider your family’s budget should you get accepted into the school. Does the summer intensive offer scholarships?

For your first summer intensive program, I recommend going to a school that isn’t too far away from home. When I went to my first summer school, Chautauqua, at age 11, I was very homesick. Luckily my family was only a few hours drive away and came up to visit me on the weekends.

As you get older, you want to look for summer intensives that have schools which feed into a professional company. The last summer program that I attended, for example, was Ballet Austin where I was offered a professional contract prior to the programs end.

Be a smart auditioner and you have the potential to get in to the summer intensive of your dreams…and possibly the professional ballet company in the future!

For more audition tips be sure to check out Nikol’s book, The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide at www.balletaudition.com.

Nutcracker Rehearsal Tips

If you are like most ballet dancers right now, you are preparing for December Nutcracker shows. Nutcracker is my favorite time of year because it helps you to gauge where you have made improvements from the previous year. Whether you are performing new or the same roles in your school’s or company’s Nutcracker the following tips will help prevent you from getting burned out and allow for successful Nutcracker shows.

Tip #1: Perform Every Day: To keep a role from getting stale whether you are new to it or are repeating it from previous years, you must become the best actor/actress possible. I know you have heard this time and time again but you must pretend like you are on stage every time that you rehearse your role. If you approach each role as just going through the motions this may show come stage time. If you approach the role with the energy and enthusiasm that you would use in a performance it will be easier to do so on stage (and even help with nervousness!!).

Tip #2: Set Goals: Approach each rehearsal with a goal. Think something like “I will really focus on pointing my feet at the point where I usually get tired” or “I will hold my arabesque balance longer today” or “I will work on musicality.” In one of the ballet companies that I danced with, I performed the role of Sugar Plum Fairy three years in a row. If I hadn’t set goals for myself each year, I would have been so bored with the role. Each year I approached the role differently so that it would still feel new and fresh.

Tip #3: Visualize: Sometimes the most productive rehearsal for dancers can be one that involves no physical movement at all! Try this exercise- Play the music from your Nutcracker dance on your ipod. Lay down with your eyes closed and listen to the music, envisioning each step. Now envision yourself performing each step perfectly and seamlessly, the way that you want. This will help tremendously in rehearsals when it comes time to perform tricky dance sequences. I used to practice this before bed each night.

Tip #4: Don’t Stress: Nutcracker is all about having fun, right? So don’t sweat the small stuff. If you make a mistake on stage don’t let it show on your face. The audience will never know.

I wish you all a successful Nutcracker time whether you are performing with your school or company. Stay focused but keep it fun and you will be on your way to your best Nutcracker ballet performance yet!

Nutrition for Dancers

This weeks question comes from a professional dancer on the verge of being promoted to a principal dancer.

Question: What foods can I eat to give me energy throughout the dancing day that will fill me up without making me feel lethargic?

Answer: Nutrition for dancers is a touchy subject on the online message boards and forums, but I am not afraid to tackle this one head on. If you are a professional dancer dancing sometimes up to 8 hours a day, you want to make sure that you are eating to stay fueled up for rehearsals. I always drank an electrolyte beverage such as Gatorade during class and rehearsals to replace all of the carbohydrates lost while sweating. In case you haven’t noticed already, water alone will not satisfy your need for hydration during class and rehearsals. If you are a pre-professional dancer, hydration is just as important so these tips go for you as well.

As far as fueling your body with foods, you want to make sure that you are eating a healthy, carbohydrate rich snack every 2 hours during the dancing day. This is the nutrition schedule that I give to my ballet strength nutrition clients. Finding time to include the snacks in your day can sometimes be a struggle, but is imperative to your dancing when it comes to making improvements and progress in your technique. Not only will your body suffer if it is lacking essential nutrients, but your mind will also have a hard time remembering choreography.

So what should you eat? Here is a list of some great healthy snacks that you can add into your day to stay energized and eager to dance;

  • Granola Bars (not protein bars!)
  • Yogurt
  • Trail Mix
  • Fruit
  • Whole Wheat Crackers
  • Cereal

These snacks will replenish the stored carbohydrates that you lost during class, rehearsal, or both. Remember, don’t go hungry, eat for energy and your dancing will improve tremendously!

Committed to Your Dancing,
Nikol Klein
www.balletstrength.com

Getting Hired by a Ballet Company

After putting in years of hard work and training, you have decided that you want to be a professional ballet dancer. Sounds like every little girls dream, right?

It definitely is everyone’s dream to do what they love for a living and to be able to get paid for it, but with so many companies only offering unpaid trainee and apprentice positions dancing can sometimes turn into a dreaded job. With the economy going into a recession a few years ago, funding for the arts definitely suffered more than it was already suffering…and it obviously isn’t going to bounce back as quickly as the rest of the working world.

So what can you do?

This is where the young dancer needs to be economically smart. Dancing is still a job no matter how much we love the self-fulfillment that we get from artistic expression. And when you do a job, especially on a long-term or contractual basis, you should receive payment.

A lot of these unpaid offers that you may get from companies may sound very attractive. They may give you pointe shoes and free chiropractic/ massage therapy visits, but make sure that this is the right deal for you. It may sound like an awesome idea to move away from home and go live out your dream, but please consider how you will be able to fund your passion. Will Mom and Dad help out? How much money are they willing to contribute? Will you have to get another part-time job? Will you have to get two other part-time jobs? Even more importantly- Will you have time to work a part time job?

The other thing that you need to consider is whether or not you will actually get time dancing with the company. A lot of apprentice programs these days sell you on the fact that you are joining the apprentice or trainee group of a company, however there is very little interaction with the actual company. (company class, rehearsals, etc) A lot of apprentice and trainee programs have their own seperate classes, rehearsals, and sometimes don’t even get a chance to perform with the company. You can look at it as an extra year of schooling.

I don’t want to tell you not to take an unpaid apprenticeship, as there is definitely a value to the learning experience, but be very picky as to which program you choose. Companies are able to “try it before they buy it” so to speak with these ever growing second companies and apprentice programs. I have been fortunate enough in my career to always have secure paid ballet employment, but it pains me to see young dancers who aren’t being paid struggle. When I say struggling I mean working 2 part time jobs in addition to dancing to pay the bills or put food on the table.

My advice to you is to be smart. Listen to your parents. Make wise choices or you may find yourself in a position where you’ll really find out what it is to be a “starving artist.”

Ballerina or Professional Ballet Dancer?

My favorite fairy tale Ballerina

When it comes to job titles, it can get a bit tricky with Dancers.

Every once in a while I will run into someone who introduces me as a Ballerina. I immediately correct them and say you mean, “Professional Ballet Dancer.” My natural instinct is to get offended. Why do I get offended, you ask? To put it bluntly, doesn’t the word “Ballerina” sound a bit juvenile? Let me explain.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Ballerina as a Woman who is a Ballet Dancer. The general public does not understand that Ballet Dancers can become professional like sports athletes. They also do not understand that Professional Ballet Dancers get paid. The word “Ballerina” is most often associated with a young Ballet student or the music box dancer with her hands touching the crown of her head like an ape. I don’t want to be thought of as that, do you?

In reality, Professional Ballet Dancers are not recognized for the true athleticism that they embody. Instead they are thought of as the fluff and fairy tales that we learned about in our childhood. (Let’s face it, this lifestyle is far from a fairy tale.)

This is something that isn’t going to change anytime soon, just an observation I made last week while visiting with family.

What are your thoughts?

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer/ Author