There are a few major milestones in a dancer’s training, including: receiving your first pair of point shoes is one (which can mark the beginning of taking ballet seriously), going away to a summer intensive is another, and of course, landing a contract with a company bookmarks the end of the training phase. Three different dancers (all who are training, or who have trained with me in the past) share their experience below as they passed these milestones THIS YEAR! I hope their thoughts help you navigate your own journey!
First, Paige shares hers: of getting her first pair of pointe shoes!
BA: How was your first pointe shoe fitting the same as you expected, and how was it different?
Paige: It was a lot the same as I expected. I watched a few videos on what to expect. I know my mom thought we would try on about three pairs of shoes and find the right pair. However, I tried on about 8, until I found the perfect one. I also did not know how little of things go in your shoes with your foot to help keep it padded.
BA: What is something you learned from the process you didn’t know before?
Paige: I learned that all the shoes are made by hand, so you need to try on the shoes you end up getting on each foot so you can tell which one will be best for each foot. Also, I didn’t know that the ribbons need to be tied on your ankle bone, not up higher on your leg as the movies show.
BA: Was there anything that surprised you about getting your first pair of pointe shoes?
Paige: One thing that did surprise me was that they are quite expensive, about $100. Also, it surprised me that we had to drive 1.5 hrs to the closest store with a large selection to get them. The biggest surprise was that they are only going to last 15 hours on your feet.
BA: Do pointe shoes hurt?
Paige: Pointe shoes pinch your toes. Your teachers will start you off slowly, so the amount of time I have worn them so far has simply been uncomfortable, but when you wear them for longer periods, your feet will hurt.
BA: What advice do you have for someone preparing to get their first pair?
Paige: Strengthen your ankles. Do plenty of eleves, releves, and other exercises. Also, ask your teachers what you could do at home to get to pointe shoes faster.
BA: Now you have your first pair of shoes, what are you most excited about NEXT?
Paige: I am most excited to try pirouettes, tour jetes, and arabesques. I want a cool picture of me doing an arabesque.
Hannah moved on this year from Ballet Aligned to the professional division of a ballet school connected to a major company. But she took a few moments to share with us about her first year leaving the state to participate in TWO Summer Intensives!
BA: You trained at San Francisco Ballet AND at Pacific Northwest Ballet this summer. Why did you do both?
Hannah: I did both because I wanted to really work hard and improve a lot over the summer. Also because I wanted to have more companies see me and be taught from so many different teachers and styles of teaching. I also went to both because they are both very different styles of ballet and it was such an amazing experience learning both. I spent 3 ½ weeks at the San Francisco Ballet Summer Intensive and then 4 ½ weeks at the Pacific Northwest Ballet Summer Intensive. I was so happy they did not overlap so I could attend both!
BA: How were those experiences similar and how were they different?
Hannah: They were similar because they were both very hard and they both gave amazing corrections and feedback, and helped me grow as a dancer. They were different because SFB is classical ballet, and PNB is Balanchine, so they both have different ways of doing many steps. This was great for me to learn all different types of ballet so I can be a more versatile dancer.
BA: What is the biggest impact your summer training has had on your dancing? Any impact on your mindset or vision for your future?
Hannah: I feel like the biggest impact it had on me is making it more versatile. I had never done Balanchine prior to Pacific Northwest so it was a great experience to learn how to do all of the same steps so differently. It also showed me that if you really train hard and work hard that maybe someday I could be in a company, also seeing so many company dancers really made me see how amazing it would be to be able to do what they do.
BA: What has been the most fun part of the journey to a professional career so far?
Hannah: Getting to learn from many different teachers and always being challenged. I also love getting to look back and see all the progress I have made with my dancing throughout my life.
Finally, our regular blog contributor, Kai, recently landed a 12 week contract with his dream company, Ballet West! We were excited to hear what he had to say about that!
BA: What makes Ballet West your dream company?
Kai: Ballet West is my dream company because I have grown up watching them both from the audience and backstage. I have watched the dancers grow up ahead of me. I’ve seen what qualities they adopted into their technique that make them such excellent dancers. Watching the Ballet West dancers inspires me to find qualities that I can adopt. Ballet West is also close to home, and when I’ve tried to live too far away from home it hasn’t worked out so well.
BA: What has your experience being a company member been like so far? How is it similar, and how is it different from being a student at Ballet West Academy?
Kai: Unlike being a student, being part of a company means that everything is geared towards performing. As a student, training is the main focus; all classes are geared towards improving technique. Company class, however, is a warm up (technique is even optional) for rehearsals and performances. This makes a dancer’s improvement almost entirely up to him or her.
BA: Has there been anything awkward or uncomfortable about this transition? And if so, how did you handle it?
Kai: A transition that was somewhat difficult was the difference in the “technique hierarchy.” Before I got hired, I was the top male in the best level of the academy. I was getting all the lead roles, and in class I felt like one of the best dancers. After my promotion, I was suddenly in the lowest rank of the company surrounded by dancers with better technique and more experience. At first this took a small toll on my self confidence, but over the past two weeks I changed my attitude to healthy competitiveness. I look for things dancers I admire are doing that seem to work, and I figure out how to adopt them. I also try and show off as much as I can in class. Like I said in the last section, a dancers improvement is entirely up to them when they are in a company, so I have been treating myself like a student, always looking for ways I can be better.
BA: What has been the best part about dancing as a PRO?
Kai: One of my favorite parts so far is the fact that I can see the performance come together. Right now, Ballet West is performing Onegin. So I was able to see all the corps parts come together in the studio, then the principals did the pas de deuxs and solos in the first studio run through. After that everyone became familiar with their characters, so they started immersing themselves in the roles. The best was the first dress rehearsal, when everything came together as a full production.
BA: What advice would you give to a young dancer wondering if pursuing a professional career is the right choice?
Kai: If you are thinking of becoming a professional, there are a couple things to keep in mind. It is insanely difficult on your body. Dancers have to eat the best foods, and overall keep their bodies in top shape, establishing healthy eating and exercise habits as soon as possible. It also requires a strong will and self-discipline. Before you become a professional you have to go through years of intense training. Many talented dancers quit before getting jobs because training is so harsh. You need to learn to love all of it. Class, rehearsals, teachers, ballet productions, ballet steps. If you lack determination, you cannot survive in the ballet world. Also remember that you should be having fun while doing all of this; if you hate it you don’t have to keep doing it. 🙂