Blog Archives

Summer Ballet Intensives – Adjusting Back to Home Life

Princeton Ballet School's Summer Intensive Program. Photo Credit: Theresa Wood

If you attended a summer ballet intensive program this year, congratulations! It is such an honor and accomplishment to be accepted into a summer ballet school away from home. I remember all too well the 6 weeks of dancing bliss, meeting new friends, being away from my parents, and of course learning a ton from the wonderful ballet teachers that were on staff. Memories like these last a lifetime – I am even still in touch with some of the friends I made at summer intensives long ago.

The hardest thing for me was always adjusting back to home life after the end of a summer intensive program. I remember leaving for American Ballet Theatre, New York at age 15, living in an apartment by myself, and walking to the studios each morning by myself. It was a big responsibility but it made me feel so grown up.  It was always hard for me to leave my family and friends back home, but once I got to the summer intensive, I never wanted to leave! Chances are, you are dealing with the exact same feelings right now after returning home from your summer intensive, and I want to share some pointers with you to help you adjust and get comfortable back at home.

Be Easy on your Parents – Your parents have missed you so much during the duration of the summer intensive. After all, their little one has been away for 6 weeks and they can’t wait to see you and spoil you when you get home. While their overly-affectionate attitude may be annoying, don’t fight it – embrace it. It is often hard to adjust back to the boundaries and rules that your parents have set at home. Sit down with them and explain your new found confidence rather than breaking the rules and getting in trouble. The key to dealing with your parents is working with them, not against them!

Keep in Touch – Do be sure to keep in touch with all of the new friends you met at your summer intensive. Social media like Facebook makes it super easy these days. Not only is it a great way to keep each other updated as to what is going on in your lives, it can also be a great connection for the future – Say if you’re looking for a roommate for next year’s summer intensive.

Respect your Ballet Teachers – You want to show off your new skills and technique, but don’t do it at the cost of making your ballet teacher angry. This is probably one of the hardest things to adjust to. For example: you go to a Balanchine summer intensive but return to a classical school. Your teacher back home definitely will not appreciate your new hands and over-crossed fifths ūüėČ Do your best to honor their corrections and chat with them after class. They will help you understand why they don’t like some of your new habits, but will also tell you which new habits they appreciate in a good way!

Adjusting back to home life can be tough after attending a summer ballet intensive program. Communicate with your loved ones, friends, and ballet teachers and you will be back on track in no time!

* Photo Credit Princeton Ballet School’s Summer Intensive Program. ¬©Theresa Wood

 

 

 

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Tendu Tuesday – Preparation for Turns

Ballet Strength Pirouettes ©Ballet Strength

I have coined the phrase #TenduTuesday in the dance world and every week it makes me think about just how much we use the tendu in dance! The tendu is used in preparation for many of the turns we do in class and on the stage; soutenu turns, pique turns, simple pirouettes.

As you know, the preparation can make or break the step that follows it and the tendu is no exception.  If your tendu before a pique turn or pirouette is out of placement, you turns will definitely suffer. Practice perfect placement this Tendu Tuesday and watch your turns improve tremendously!

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to contact me on Facebook – facebook.com/balletstrength

 

Arabesque Audition Photo Advice

My last ballet audition preparation blog was all about headshot photos. In addition to needing a headshot to audition for most schools and companies, you will also need a photo in arabesque. In this article I am going to guide you through tips to getting the perfect arabesque audition photo.

My Company audition arabesque shot. It helped get me lots of offers!

Tip #1: Presentation is Everything – Choose the leotard that is simple and flatters your body shape the most. Keep in mind that this may not be the latest new leotard from Discount Dance…It could be a simple camisole Mirella or Natalie. Steer clear of custom leotards with anything mesh, criss-cross, or high neck (the auditioner wants to see your body). Also do your best version of a high bun as this will also elongate your neck. Try your bun right at the crown of your head.

Tip #2: Practice – Practice your posing in first arabesque after class or rehearsal in front of the mirror. Practice balancing in this position. You will need lots of balance come photo snap shot time!

Tip# 3: Hire a Professional Photographer – Although Mom & Dad can also capture some fabulous arabesque snap shots on a budget, your best bet for a professional looking audition photo is to hire a photographer. In fact, auditioners tend to overlook candid audition photos, especially those done without a backdrop.

If only we were all fortunate enough to have this arabesque!

Tip #4 – Use the Barre – A great way to train your lower back to hold a high arabesque is to practice with the barre. Place your leg in arabesque on the barre, go onto pointe, lift your leg off of the barre, then let go and put your arms in first arabesque! See how long you can hold this position. You’ve got to train that muscle memory if you want to capture a perfectly balanced arabesque photo!

Tip # 5 – Smile – A mistake that a lot of dancers do is have a serious or stern look in their photos. Smile, don’t look tense. I know that holding that perfectly placed arabesque is a lot of work, but make it look effortless. Remember ballet is all about illusions and the auditioner will be able to tell if you are tensing or if arabesque is an unnatural position for you.

Tip # 6 – Relax your Shoulders – Nothing says uncomfortable like tense shoulders, neck and fingers. Try to breathe and relax your upper body to release any tension that may convert into your photo.

Tip #7 – 90 Degrees, Please – Auditioners are going to be looking for at least a ninety degree arabesque so be sure to be thinking about your arabesque height in class to maximize your audition potential. Try the leg on the barre stretch or the exercise that I describe in Tip # 2 if you feel like your arabesque needs to improve. Back flexibility will help the height of your leg.

I hope that these tips will help you be on your way to a gorgeous arabesque audition photo. Also, if you’re nervous about auditions or simply looking for some advice you can read my Ballet Audition Preparation Guide. This will help you not only prepare for auditions, but also let you know what to expect inside the audition room. Merde!

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!

Ankle Strengthening Exercises for Ballet

Hello Dancers! I have been getting a ton of questions from my Facebook Fan Page from those of you who are just starting pointe work and are looking for ways to improve quickly. Today I want to post a ballet video that I filmed about ballet ankle strengthening exercises for pointe. Enjoy!

Nutcracker Ballet Partnerning Advice

Question: Hi Nikol! Love your facebook page and hoping to purchase your ebooks soon. I had a question regarding some acting difficulties in Nutcracker. I am Clara and my directors really want a strong “connection” between her and the nephew/nutcracker prince. There are times where I have to really look at him with “affection” and mean it! Its hard! Do you have any advice for connecting with your partner? Thanks! ~ Colleen

Partnering isn't one sided. It takes two!

Answer: Hello Colleen. First off, I would like to say congratulations to you on landing the part of Clara in The Nutcracker. As a young dancer, performing the role of Clara was one of those times that I remember the most vividly and had the most fun dancing on stage. Now we all know the story of The Nutcracker, but I want you to find the book (if you don’t already have it) and really read the story. While you are reading the story, I want you to take careful note of the emotions that Clara is feeling. She is delighted by the gift that Drosselmeyer gives her, overwhelmed at this magical land that she didn’t know existed, enchanted by the prince who so bravely battled the Mouse King, etc. Write down a list of these different emotions. Now, think of the different instances in the ballet where you have to convey these emotions through choreography.

If you can immerse yourself completely in the role of Clara and focus on the story you are trying to convey, you shouldn’t have any awkward moments with the Prince. What I used to do is imagine the Prince to be a boy that I had a crush on. I know it sounds silly, but it works. So whether it’s Justin Bieber or Taylor Lautner, pretend like the “Prince” standing in front of you is him and feel what an honor it is to be led through the Kingdom of the Sweets by such a “superstar.” (Just don’t tell the prince that you are doing this! lol)

The other thing that can make you feel more comfortable around your partner is getting to know him a little better. If you two can become friends and have an awesome open communication that will also transfer well on stage.

Most of all, don’t be shy. Just as you should feel honored to be dancing with the Nutcracker Prince, you should feel even more honored to have been chosen to dance the role of Clara! Cherish the next two months in your “reign” as Clara and most importantly, have fun! Oh, and don’t forget to email me (nikol@balletaudition.com) to let me know how it goes!

Committed to Your Dancing,

Nikol Klein
www.balletaudition.com
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.”