Blog Archives

Getting into a Ballet Company

What does it take to get into a ballet company? Many of you may be asking yourself this very question right now as you embark upon a summer intensive program in hopes of being accepted into the company or trainee program for the 2013/2014 season. Let’s face it, you have competition and while summer intensives are for learning, they are also a great test of your fight – will you stand out and impress or try your hand in the back of the room?

It comes down to two things from what I have seen and experienced – Are you technically sound or are you a one trick pony? Let me explain. While every company is different in terms of style, there are a few truths that you just can’t ignore. There are those who can developé their leg past their ear, those who are barre technicians, those who have feet so arched that they can’t actually stand up in center, and then there are those who are balanced. Where do you want to be?

You know the answer – You want to be a balanced, well rounded dancer. Ballet company’s are not looking for acrobats nor are they looking for feet so arched that they are dangerous. They want dancers who have a strong base, are easy to work with, will not get injured at the first opportunity that comes their way, and who have a good work ethic. They are looking for strong technique and the ability to perform well when it counts.

Directors want to be able to use their dancers in multiple ways and they need versatile dancers to keep up with the demands of contemporary choreography. Chances are, your friend who has gotten this far only because she is good at adagio will be skimmed over for someone with a little more usefulness. The same also goes for the lazy but talented dancer who’s heart just isn’t in it.

Showcase your strengths, but show that you are willing to work hard in all areas of dance, try new things, and do it with an open mind. Afterall, if you are chosen to represent the company as a dancer, apprentice, or trainee the director wants to know that you will be likeable and can take correction and direction well.

This summer “trial run” for a position in the company next year is a test to see what your work ethic is like. Will you work your way to the front of the room and present yourself as the next company dancer?

Upper Body Toning Exercises for Dancers

Want to sculpt a lean, toned ballet upper body without the bulk? While, as dancers, we are great at holding our arms and moving from position to position, there isn’t a whole lot of focus on strengthening the upper body to do all of this! Instead you’ll sometimes find drooping elbows and tense shoulders. Give these three exercises a try. All you need is a light to medium resistance band!

upperbodytoningdancers

Core Conditioning for Dancers

Making sure that your core is strong is an essential part to your performance as a dancer. The following are three exercises that you can do to strengthen your core for turns, jumps, balance, and technique! Click on the photo below for a larger version or to print it out!

balletstrength core conditioning

Ball Crunches- On a balance ball, perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions being careful not to pull on the neck.

Oblique Twists- Sitting on a balance ball, contract the navel to the spine. Twist side to side holding a weight or weighted ball. Perform 15-20 repetitions.

Side Plank- Balancing as pictured above, hold this position for 15-30 seconds.

As always, be sure to use your best judgement when performing these exercises to your personal fitness level.

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 Training Programs

A few weeks ago I launched a brand new method of cross training for dancers. I had been receiving emails from ballet dancers all over the world asking for my help with injury prevention and strengthening weaknesses and I knew that I needed to come up with a solution. Since not everyone can have the one on one access to me in San Diego for my Ballet Strength services, I decided to launch online training programs for dancers.

This method of Ballet Strength training had previously only been available to professional dancers, but is now available to pre-professionals and students as well. Dancers can now be emailed daily workouts that they should be doing in addition to their ballet class schedule in order to maximize their potential and improve on key areas of their dancing from outside of the studio!

An example of a Ballet Strength workout and calendar.

Dancers from companies such as San Francisco Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, and Boston Ballet are using these programs (customized) to stay injury free and rise through the ranks. Pre-professional dancers all over the world are getting hired into ballet companies because of the solid, strong core development that these programs have created.

There are photo and video exercise explanations.

Since the launch of Ballet Strength online workouts for dancers just a few weeks ago, I have already been selling a tremendous amount of plans including: Better Ballet Balance & Turns Program, Beginning Ballet Strength Program, and 6 Weeks to Stronger Jumps Program. There is even a combo that includes the Ballet Strength DVD. Be sure to go to www.balletstrength.com to check out all of the new training programs!

Ballet Strength Visits The Olympics

In front of the Basketball Stadium.

I was very fortunate this year to be able to attend the London Olympic games. My fiance, who was the coach of two BMX medalist in Beijing in 2008, had another BMX athlete competing in London so I definitely did not want to miss out. Afterall, I had witnessed first hand the hard work and dedication of a coach and his athletes, often feeling that their dreams had also become my own. It reminded me of what it took, when I was a ballet dancer, to prepare for an upcoming show. So I decided to book my flight for the big show…the Olympics!

View of the Olympic Stadium from the train.

I wasn’t going to London to be a tourist. I was going to support my fiance and his athletes which meant I had to have a job…photographer! (You know us dancers can’t just sit around on our butts!) The first few days that we were there were practice days and I was fortunate enough to be one of the few permitted into the venue to watch. It was like one big dress rehearsal with the athletes in their uniforms, performing at their best. It was so great to see all of the different countries, their athletes and staff come together for this larger than life event.

At home among other athletes in the cafeteria.

After practice we were able to check out a little more of the Olympic Park and even Athlete Village. Athlete Village reminded me of the ballet summer intensive programs that I used to attend so of course I felt right at home. Just a bunch of the best athletes living together in dorms. It was so awesome to see all of the different athletes body types and try to guess which sport they competed in. I even had a chance to check out the cafeteria which had food selections from all over the world.

At the entrance to Olympic Park.

Since athleticism was the theme being that it was the Olympics, it was only right that there were miles of walking to be done. Olympic Park covered a very large area so the walk around the park really gave me the chance to take everything in. Luckily the weather was hot with no rain showers for the three days of BMX events.

In front of Tower Bridge.

From our gorgeous hotel overlooking Tower Bridge to a fun filled time at the games, my trip to the London Olympics was an experience that I will never forget!

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?

Ballet Auditions – What to Wear

When it comes to auditioning for summer ballet intensives or ballet companies, the first impression is everything. Artistic Directors and ballet instructors are looking for dancers who look cleanly and neatly put together. They look for someone who catches their eye, but not in an “in your face” way. That’s why you want to make sure you look your best. Here are a few tips to help you look your best in summer intensive and ballet company auditions.

1.) Ditch the warm-ups. Unless you are injured, or want the director to think that you are injured, do not wear warm-ups in an audition. Even worse, you could give them the impression that you are hiding something. If you arrive early enough to the audition registration, you should have plenty of time to warm-up while you are waiting for your audition to begin. As soon as you enter the audition room, all warm-up attire should be off.

What not to wear- Are you going to a ballet audition or the gym?

2.) Wear an appropriate leotard. You are better off to pick a simple leotard in a style and color that flatter your body and show it in the best possible light. Many custom leotards from companies such as Yumiko may be beautiful but come off as too complicated and will distract the Artistic Director or teacher from your dancing. Also stay away from strappy back leotards or anything that cuts your back in half. School and company directors are looking for lines and I’m not talking about the ones sewn onto your leotard!

3.) Make sure it fits. The last thing you want to be worried about in an audition is your leotard falling off or riding up in the wrong places. Test out the leotard you plan on wearing to your next audition in class to make sure it is comfortable. Fidgeting will also distract both the director and yourself from the dancing.

A classic Mirella leotard in a flattering color is always best.

4.) Steer clear of bright colors but don’t wear black. Nothing will drive a director crazy like a fluorescent, striped or patterned leotard. Stick with solid colors that flatter your hair and skin tone. The only illusions being created should be through your dancing, not your outfit 😉

5.) Confidence. Nothing looks better than confidence. Wear it proudly and you will succeed!

I hope that these tips help you out in your upcoming summer intensive and ballet company auditions. If you need more advice about what to wear, how to fix your hair, and what is the best makeup, I have dedicated an eBook called The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide to answering these questions and tons more.

 

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.