Tag Archives: ballet student

How to Move Past Failure

During the time I was a ballet student at the School of American Ballet falling in class was one of my greatest fears. While the fear wasn’t necessarily rational (I never did fall in class) it lurked like a shadowy predator that I couldn’t shake off. The irony was that class was the place I should have been experimenting, pushing the boundaries, trying new things; if there was ever an ideal place to make mistakes, ballet class was it. Since then I’ve realized that fear of failure is more common than most people would like to admit, but it’s not just the failure itself that worries people. The idea of looking bad or foolish can be enough to keep us from even trying something in the first place.

No one wants to be the star of their own ballet blooper…. but everybody’s doing it–even the pros!

Recently I came across this quote and it was a game-changer:

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  ~Winston Churchill

Success never happens all at once–it’s a process–and failures are part of that process. No one whips off a triple pirouette the first time they try to turn, nor is a dancer given a starring role the first day they join a ballet company (except for Claire in the new ballet drama Flesh and Bone). Yet each time we try, whether we’re successful or not, it’s a step forward. Churchill’s quote reminds us to use our failures as stepping-stones, to move from one to the next without losing enthusiasm.

SteppingStones

Better yet, move from one to the next…and keep on keeping on. There’s always a next step.

 

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A Day in The Life of Professional Ballet Student

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a student at one of the top ballet schools in the world? To put it simply, days begin early and end late with a lot in between. Indigo Stevens, the main character in WISH, my new young adult novel, wants this life more than anything. If she gets her wish, her days will be filled with ballet classes, rehearsals, and other add-ons like Pilates or yoga class. But she’s also a high school student, with all the same school requirements as anyone else. Add all of these things together and you can see how challenging it is to manage everything.

There’s some good news: the ballet studio and Indigo’s potential home and school are all within walking distance so she won’t have to factor in (or deal with) public transportation (which is often unreliable at best). However, life still gets complicated with all the back and forth between NYSB and her school. She has to change back and forth from street clothes to ballet clothes each time, which adds to the complication (plus it’s not easy yanking off sweaty tights quickly).

Finding time to eat is also a challenge, but Indigo will learn to carry light snacks she can munch on the fly. Some of her favorites include energy bars (only if they are low in sugar and have a short list of ingredients), mixed nuts, dried fruit, and yogurt.

It will only possible for her to attend school for two periods each day due to her heavy ballet schedule, but her school offers a work-around: home study courses. While this may seem like a great solution it means hours of homework at night after a long day at the ballet studio.

It’s a good thing she loves what she does, otherwise she might not be able to keep up with her life. On her toughest days she turns to her favorite guilty pleasure: a frozen yogurt topped with carob chips and coconut.

Here is what a typical day will look like for Indigo:

6am: wake up. Sew ribbons on multiple pairs of pointe shoes while munching on health-conscious breakfast.

6:30am: contrast bath right foot to help heal tendonitis flare-up.

6:45am: pack dance bag, make sure to bring snacks, multiple sets of practice clothes, Tiger Balm to put on sore muscles.

6:55 am: finish English essay, half-written before falling asleep mid-sentence.

7:30 am: get dressed

7:40 am: put hair up in bun

8:10 am: load school back pack, walk ½ mile to school.

8:30-9:30 am: attend first period, hand in English essay.

9:35 am: walk ½ mile to NYSB.

10-11:30 am: morning class, studio A.

11:35 am: change back to street clothes

11:40 am: lunch on the fly while walking ½ mile back to school.

12:10-1:15 pm: Pre-Calculus with Dr. Phelps. Struggle to keep eyes open.

1:20 pm: walk ½ mile back to NYSB.

2:30-4 pm: Variations class with Madame Glinka

4:15-5:15pm: Pilates strength training

5:15pm: power snack

5:30-6:30 pm: Serenade rehearsal

6:35pm: change back to street clothes

6:45pm: walk ½ mile home

7:15-9:15pm: eat deli sushi while reading & completing assignment for History correspondence course

9:15-10:45pm: complete homework for pre-calculus, biology, French

10:45pm: bath

11:05pm: bed

Final stats:

total hours danced: 5 hours

total hours of school: 5 1/2 hours

total miles walked: 2 miles

As you can see, each day is jam-packed. Keep in mind dance classes are mandatory six days per week, with Sundays as the only day off, so there’s not much free time. But when this is the life you’ve chosen it’s a tough but thrilling ride. If everything goes well, you move up to the professional level.

How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer

WISH follows the career path of Indigo Stevens, a young ballet dancer who wants to become a professional dancer with the top New York City ballet company. One of the first questions I’m often asked is how does one become a professional ballet dancer? Whether you’re just starting out or in your early teens and serious about a career it’s important to have a clear idea of the steps involved. Although no two dancers are alike, there is a solid path that every dancer takes, beginning with ballet classes at a local studio and ending (hopefully) with the ballet company of choice.

Although many dancers begin taking ballet classes when they are quite young, there are exceptions to this rule, like Misty Copeland, (principal dancer with American Ballet Theater) who began dancing when she was thirteen and quickly rose to stardom. Wherever you start taking ballet class, choose a studio you like and a teacher who has had professional dance experience. Work hard in class and practice, practice, practice.

When a dancer reaches age eleven or twelve it’s time to decide if a career in ballet is something you really want. This is also the time where most girls begin dancing en pointe and the commitment level for dance classes increases dramatically from two classes every week to four or five days per week (or more). It’s a critical juncture where girls decide whether they want to keep going with ballet.

Once you decide that you want to be a professional ballet dancer it’s time to take the next step and attend a summer intensive at a professional ballet school. Many ballet companies across the country also run ballet schools where they train up-and-coming dancers. School of American Ballet in New York and San Francisco Ballet School are two of the top ballet schools and the most popular choices for summer intensives but there are many others scattered across the country. Research your options, identify the schools of your choice and audition for their summer intensive. Most schools hold auditions around the country during the winter months.

Generally after completing 1-2 summer intensives a dancer may be invited to stay on as permanent student. This step on a dancer’s path is of the most exciting! Not only do you get the chance to study with top ballet teachers and live and breathe ballet, you may also be living the Big City life in a place like New York or Philadelphia.

Once a dancer is an advanced level student at a professional ballet school, they often get the chance to perform in the end-of-year performance showcase. These are important opportunities for dancers to be seen and hired by ballet companies. Most dancers are offered apprenticeships first–performing with the company for a year before being hired on as a full-fledged member of the corps de ballet.

Those who don’t find work this way need to begin the process of auditioning for companies. There are two ways to do this: 1) research and attend open auditions or 2) contact a company and ask to take company class. Either scenario can work, provided the company has job openings and the dancer is what the company needs at that time. If the audition is successful a company will offer either an apprenticeship or a full contract.

Although the path to becoming a professional dancer isn’t complicated it requires lots of work and incredible amounts of willpower and the ability to handle rejection. It may take dozens of auditions before you land a job. The important thing is to believe in yourself and never give up.

May you dance like the wind and may luck be on your side.