Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Every ballet dancer has a pointe shoe prep process that's akin to a sacred ritual. And while some modifications are meant to make feet look prettier, the most critical tricks help those precious shoes last as long as possible—because at $60 to $100 a pop, they have to. We rounded up some of the best hacks to keep your shoes from dying prematurely.

Keep 'Em Dry

Moisture is the worst enemy of pointe shoes, and your sweaty feet start to break down those boots from the moment you put them on. Richmond Ballet artistic associate and school director Judy Jacob says taking the time to make sure your shoes dry out is the most effective and inexpensive way to make them last.

To get your shoes completely dry, try to rotate between pairs. "Students probably won't have five pairs of shoes, like professionals do," Jacob acknowledges, "but try to keep two pairs going at any given time." She recommends storing your shoes in a mesh bag, which promotes air circulation. If you only have one pair, using a blow dryer on them at the end of the day can help. Jacob has students who put cedar wood blocks in their shoes at the end of the day, too, because cedar draws out moisture. (The pleasant cedar smell is a nice bonus.)

Unless you're required to, don't pancake your shoes—the water on the pancake sponge will make your box and shank break down more quickly. And if you have to color your shoes for a role, use dye sparingly, to avoid overwetting.

Mix 'Em Up

Another cheap way to save your shoes, Jacob says, is to rotate them from one foot to the other after each wearing. That won't work for every dancer—if one of your feet is significantly larger than the other, for example, it's a no-go. But if you can swing it, rotating shoes between feet will keep you from wearing the same pressure points over and over, extending the life of the pair. Jacob recommends marking each shoe with a number or symbol, so you can easily keep track of your rotations.

Glue 'Em Good

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For many years, dancers used wood shellac to harden the boxes and shanks of their shoes. And while some dancers still swear by that old standby, Jet glue has become a newer favorite. Originally created for building model airplanes, Jet glue is fast-drying and leaves shoes harder than shellac does.

But proceed with caution: Once you apply Jet glue, there's no way to remove it, and it can dramatically alter the shape of your shoe and the way it breaks in. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Marisa Grywalski, who's a big fan of Jet glue, is careful to use it only on the insides of her Freeds (castle maker)—if applied to the outside satin, it can create a slippery situation. "I put it inside the shoe at the bottom of the tip, and then around the top like I'm making a little cup in the box," she says. "Then I glue on either side of the shank, until just below the place I like my shoe to break." Grywalski reapplies glue when her shoes start to soften, which can sometimes get her through one more rehearsal or show.

Sew 'Em Up

Marisa Grywalski shows her darning method.

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Always wearing through your box? Give darning a try. Grywalski has come to rely on darning to make her shoes last, because it keeps her from breaking down the platform and box around her big toe too quickly. (Check out her darning skills in the pic above.)

Darning is tricky at first, and it requires a bit of a time commitment, but it gets easier—and quicker—with practice. When Grywalski first started darning, it took her two hours to do both shoes; these days, she can complete a pair in 30 minutes. You can darn your shoes two ways: either by simply whip-stitching around the platform with thick thread, or by stitching your leftover drawstring cord to the crown of the platform. Grywalski likes the drawstring method, because she finds it softens less over time.

It'll take a while to figure out exactly where to position your darning stitches, so be patient. "It's just trial and error," Grywalski says. "If you don't like it at first, it might be because the darning is in a weird spot."

A version of this story appeared in the December 2016 issue of Dance Spirit.

“As a teenager, I auditioned for Spring Awakening, only to realize it was a lot of blonde girls," says Skyler Volpe, a performer with brown, curly hair. This experience taught Volpe to research characters that would best fit not only her voice but also her look—such as her current role as Mimi in the Rent National Tour.

Not fitting certain character types, especially those based on looks or physicality, might feel limiting. But understanding your type makes you a smarter auditionee and helps you pinpoint which natural skills you should continue to home in on.

Ask the Right Questions

Understanding your type requires self-reflection about your look, personality and dance strengths. “The components of an actor's type are age, physicality and skill set," says casting director Benton Whitley. “What age can you read for? Are you serious or comical? Do you look sweet or quirky? Are you a tenor or pop-belting soprano?" Ask your teacher, choreographer or friend to help you identify your type. “My senior year of college, my professor helped me pick out audition outfits, talked about the dance styles that fit my body and gave examples of roles I would fit," says Mallory Nolting, who then landed a gig on the 42nd Street National Tour.

Kent State University students performing "Footloose" (photo by Bob Christy, courtesy Kent State)

Do Your Research

Nolting researches choreographers before auditioning to see what type of dancer they usually cast. “I took Randy Skinner's class before the 42nd Street audition to get a feel for his style," Nolting says. “I could picture myself fitting into the show. At the audition, Skinner recognized me from class!" Jo Rowan, dance chair at Oklahoma City University, advises taking as many different Broadway choreographers' classes as possible to figure out whose styles best fit your body and skill set.

Your overall look at an audition will be your first impression, so be sure your appearance

matches your vocal, dance and acting type. For example, Nolting, who sees herself as more of a showgirl, found a 1930s-style outfit for her 42nd Street audition. Terri Kent, the musical theater coordinator at Kent State University, encourages her girls to get makeovers to reflect their type: shorter, edgier hair and dramatic makeup for the powerhouse dancer, or soft curls and brighter makeup for the ingénue. Look at headshots from other Broadway performers to see how they let their personalities and types shine through.

Kent State's "Jane Eyre," directed by Terri Kent (photo by Bob Christy, courtesy Kent State)

Use Professional Help

Acquiring an agent will open up more audition opportunities, and can also help you figure out your specific type. “My agency and I discussed my strengths, then they started broadening my horizons by putting me up for gigs I wouldn't have felt confident enough to try myself," Volpe says. She trusts her agent to find her jobs where she fits in both her looks and her talents. “They know I look right for West Side Story, but I just don't have the voice for it," she says.

A casting director can also be a great tool for helping your audition success. Reach out to casting directors after an audition for feedback. But remember, “we hire people, not performers," Whitley says. “Don't apologize for what type you are, because if you're

honest and authentic, we can figure out where to place you. So do your research about what shows and characters are your type—but also make sure you're sharing you."

A version of this story appeared in the January 2017 issue of Dance Spirit.

Illustration by Lealand Eve

A few years ago, 16-year-old Kayla Gonzalez found herself dancing alongside a mean-spirited girl. “She could be so rude," says Gonzalez, who trains at The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV. “It got worse at competitions. She'd make up lies, saying my teammates and I were doing things we weren't. She was always trying to get ahead." Sound familiar? A competitive environment can bring out the very worst in some dancers' personalities. When put in a stressful situation, students can become bossy, overdramatic or downright mean. Here, DS breaks down four toxic types you might encounter, and offers tips on how to respond.

The Diva

What she does: Pushes to be front-and-center; monopolizes teachers' time and attention; acts like she's the most important member of the team.

How to deal: Try to focus on what you need, in spite of the diva. “I tell my dancers, 'You do you.' Don't take that person's behavior personally," says Noel St. Jean, an instructor at Artistic Dance Conservatory in East Longmeadow, MA. The diva may be acting that way in an effort to make the most of her competition/convention weekend—but you deserve a spectacular experience, too.

Veteran convention teacher Mandy Moore agrees, and adds an extra tip for handling convention class space-hogs: “When someone is being bigger, it might make you feel like you have to take up less space. That's not the case. Use that person's confidence as inspiration."

The Micromanager

What she does: Corrects and nitpicks everyone else.

How to deal: If one of your peers is constantly offering corrections backstage during a competition or while you're trying to focus in convention class, and it's setting your nerves on edge, “Keep in mind that this person might be genuinely trying to help!" Moore says. A micromanager's anxiety about her own performance can manifest as a need to critique others to make sure everything's perfect.

Rehashing choreography as a group can stop nitpickers from taking over. If you're in the wings, St. Jean says, “You're going onstage as a team. In that moment, it doesn't matter if, six months ago, the choreographer said, 'Do it like this.' Take a vote and agree to stick to it." You can ask specific questions at your next rehearsal.

If the micromanager is commenting on your technique in convention class—especially if it's not a correction you're getting from the instructor—it's okay to politely change the subject. “I might say, 'Thanks. Let's go over that when we're back at the studio on Monday,' " Gonzalez says.

The Debbie Downer

What she does: Expects the worst—and shares her fears with anyone who will listen.

How to deal: It can be a real bummer having a Debbie Downer in your group. Unfortunately, some dancers process their stress by dwelling on worst-case scenarios. St. Jean remembers one student who had nightmares about forgetting her competition routine and running offstage: “She'd say, over and over, 'I'm going to mess it up.' " If you're not careful, that doom-and-gloom attitude can infect everyone.

Fight back by going overboard with positivity. “Nothing stops negativity better than a wall of positive energy," St. Jean explains. “The more upbeat and excited and encouraging you all are, the less likely it is that you'll see that person start to fade." You may even be able to help her forget her worries and look on the bright side, too.

The Frenemy

What she does: Acts super-sweet and supportive—until you're about to go onstage.

How to deal: Are you getting the competition cold shoulder from someone you consider a friend? This can feel terrible, especially when you value her encouragement and support. Before you decide your friendship is toast, consider how she usually handles pressure. “Some people just shut down," St. Jean says. “They're not trying to be rude." Maybe your friend needs some alone time in order to get in the right headspace to perform. If this is the case, things will probably return to normal once the pressure's off.

“I do think it's okay to say, 'You hurt my feelings,' " Moore says. But ask yourself: Is this something you want to hash out in this high-stakes environment, or can it wait until you're back home? If getting into an argument will ruin your competition experience, it might be a good idea to brush it off.

The Bottom Line

It never hurts to talk to an authority figure when someone's being toxic. “I'm a big advocate of sticking up for yourself," Moore says, “but these situations often benefit from a mediator." A teacher or a chaperone can resolve disagreements and give students individualized strategies to handle their nerves in a healthier way. They can also issue formal behavior warnings, if necessary.

If all else fails, remember that you're in control of how you respond to negativity. “Ask yourself, 'If Person A was gone, how would the competition feel different?' " Gonzalez says. “Once you realize, Wow, I'm letting her take this and this away from me, it's easier to let go of the frustration. Competitive dance is supposed to be fun!"

Headspins are one of the ultimate b-boy and b-girl tricks, and seem to defy the laws of physics. But since dancers don't usually find themselves balancing on top of their skulls, achieving a headspin can feel pretty unattainable. To better understand the best approaches for this advanced move, we asked Alex Welch (aka B-Girl Shorty) and Simrin Player (aka B-Girl Simi) to give us some tips.

Safety First

Even though there are tons of tutorials a YouTube click away, both Player and Welch stress that headspins are an advanced and difficult trick that can't be learned in a week. “Working your way up to a headspin is critical in order to develop the correct technique,"

Simrin Player (courtesy HiHat Productions)

Player says. Always spin on the center of your head—if you're too far forward or back, you could twist your neck. “You want to find the 'sweet' spot right in the middle," Welch says.

Both b-girls insist on wearing a beanie while they spin, and only do it on smooth, even surfaces. The beanie helps you spin faster by reducing friction, and it cushions your head. A stable surface allows you to keep your body straight up and down, protecting your neck.

A beanie also helps prevent hair loss associated with headspins—though your scalp will probably still peel. “Don't freak out! It just looks like dandruff," Welch says. “And your head will burn a little bit, too."

The Fundamentals

Safely executing a headspin requires three essential elements: balance, speed and form. “It's like you're a top," Welch says. “You have to spin fast enough to maintain your balance, and you have to engage your core and legs so you have control over your body."

Spin Away

Like any advanced dance step, the foundation has to be correct for the trick to work. Before you even begin to rotate, you should be comfortable with headstands. “I was told I

Alex Welch (photo by Jordan Abrantes, courtesy Welch)

wasn't allowed to spin until I could hold a headstand for 5 to 10 minutes, and a headstand without hands for one minute," Welch says. Player advises beginners to start and end their spin in a headstand: “It helps you focus on the spin," she says.

From your headstand, split your legs in a wide V-shape. Player suggests pushing your heels out away from you to keep your legs straight and even. Then, begin slow rotations, pushing off from your hands and moving your body as a single unit. This push-off is called a “tap." “It's important to have your hands in contact with the floor throughout these slow rotations," Player says. Eventually, you can advance to quarter-rotations using your hands and on up to “glides": multiple rotations without your hands touching the ground. Player suggests practicing with your legs in a fixed position for maximum stability.

Once you've safely achieved multiple rotations, you can start stylizing your spins with different arm positions, or ways to get up from and down to the floor. But the real joy is in letting loose and spinning. “It's the best feeling in the world," Welch says.

Photo by Erin Baiano

Consistent turns are a must for aspiring professional dancers, but pretty much everyone struggles with pirouettes at some point. Luckily, since we're all beholden to the same rules of physics, there are concrete steps every dancer can take to reach his or her top turning potential. "Three is the new two when it comes to pirouettes, but the secret to turning is technique, not magic," says Bojan Spassoff, president and director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.

Falling out of your doubles? Aspiring to go revolution for revolution with your class's star turner? No matter where you lie on the turning spectrum, our 360-degree guide to pirouettes will help you improve.

Do Yourself a Solid

The stability of the passé position is the heart of every good pirouette. "I wasn't always great at turning," says 12-year-old Sophia Lucia—showing off her skills in the Instagram post above—who holds the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive pirouettes (55). She's learned to go down the RAFT checklist (rectangle, arch, focus, tightness) before each turn. Her shoulders and hips should be level, so the outline of her torso forms a rectangle. Her arch should push over the second toe of her supporting foot. She should focus her eyes on a specific spot. "And there shouldn't be one loose muscle in my body," Sophia says. "I'm not tense, just compact, which holds the whole position together as I turn."

Assess your own passé position in a simple balance. Are you using your highest possible relevé? "You should feel a stretch through the top of your foot, like someone is lifting under your heel," says Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, co-director of The Rock School. The front of the hips should be flat and level; your core muscles should support your passé; and your back and shoulder muscles should support your arms. Be sure to draw your passé up to its fullest height. "In a good position, you'll feel taller than you've ever felt before," says Darla Hoover, artistic director of the Ballet Academy East Pre-Professional Division in NYC. Once everything's properly placed, you should be able to balance easily.

Whip It Good

Feel your weight in the floor in preparation, and pull up quickly into a solid passé.

Photo by Erin Baiano

Your preparation is what sets that perfect passé in motion—and the key is a deep plié that gives you the force you need to get on top of your leg, according to Denise Wall, artistic director of Denise Wall's Dance Energy in Virginia Beach, VA. "Especially in fast-paced pieces, I see dancers bending their knees in plié without really connecting to the floor," she says. Feel your weight in the plié and push off the floor equally with both feet as you go into your turn. "Then find the quickest, most direct way to get from preparation to passé, and don't let the position lose integrity," Wolf Spassoff says. "There's a tendency for dancers to use a lot of force and go for as many turns as possible, but they literally throw themselves off balance. You have to be controlled and coordinated as you squeeze up to that position."

A strong spot will also help whip you around—but don't let your head go wild. "Your head is the heaviest part of your body, and it should drive down into the supporting leg," Wall says. Otherwise, the weight of your head will pull you off balance, causing you to fall out of the turn. "Your eyes should truly see something right from the moment of takeoff," Hoover adds. "If you have trouble spotting, practice by doing chaîné turns, which are simpler and naturally rhythmic, and put up actual targets to spot."

And don't forget about your arms. "You wouldn't want to be on a plane with a flapping wing," Hoover says. Engage your latissimus dorsi (lats), the large muscles that run down the back. If you're having trouble finding that feeling, start by pirouetting with your hands on your hips, keeping your elbows from moving. But don't let your upper body get stiff. "The arms don't have to be static," Wolf Spassoff says. "They should feel supported and buoyant—almost as if they're floating on water."

Troubleshoot (a Video)

The foundations of a good pirouette may be the same for all, but because everyone's body is different, corrections for one dancer don't necessarily apply to the rest of the class. "I'd love to be able to say, 'Go take your pirouette vitamin,' like the answer is the same for everyone," Spassoff says. "But your body is unique, and you need to find out how to use it most efficiently for your turns." (Some of Spassoff's Rock School students are finding their own unique ways to multiples in the video above.)

Ask a friend to record a video of you doing a series of preparations and turns on both sides, and analyze what you see. Falling sideways? You might be hiking up your working hip as you draw your foot up to passé. Falling backwards? You might be raising your shoulders or throwing your arms behind you. Rewind, rewind and rewind again, looking for the keys that will unlock your perfect pirouette. When in doubt, check in with that passé position, and don't get discouraged. "A turn is a living thing you're molding," Wolf Spassoff says.

Everyone has moments of frustration. "The day before a performance, I ran my solo 10 times and wasn't getting my turns," Sophia remembers. "I had a meltdown. But my mom helped me be confident by reminding me how hard I'd trained." On days when your pirouettes aren't working, remember that you've already got the tools you need to fix them in your turning toolbox: science, strength and awareness.

A version of this story appeared in the October 2015 issue of Dance Spirit.

After spending the summer learning new choreography, cleaning every eight-count and listening to your songs on repeat, it's time to put your effort to work onstage. But as the season progresses—and you keep drilling down those same eight-counts—it's normal for your choreography to start to feel stale. Read on for insight from top teachers and dancers on how to prevent and overcome mid-season burnout.

Take Preventive Measures

• Establish a personal connection to your music. “If you take little parts of the song and relate them to your life, it'll make the piece feel a lot more meaningful to the audience, and to you," says Skylar Smith, a dancer at Boca Dance Studio in Boca Raton, FL.

• Work with your choreographer to craft a routine that's a little difficult for you. Don't rely on the exact same elements you used last year. Hayley Cloud, co-director of New England Dance and Gymnastics Centers in Massachusetts and Connecticut, advises working toward perfection. “You shouldn't have a perfect solo right away. You need elements to go back and work on—that way, you're constantly growing throughout the season."

• Learn everything you can about your chosen style. Understanding the history behind what you're performing will give you a greater sense of purpose onstage. “If you're dancing to jazz music from the 1940s, do your research—go on YouTube and watch a feature," says Melanie Gibbs, co-owner of Boca Dance Studio in Boca Raton, FL, and ProAm Dance Studio in Pompano Beach, FL.

Keep Rehearsals Productive

• Tackle your solo in pieces—for example, run just the second half of the routine when your legs are fresh. “It doesn't need to be a full-length run every single time, because that's a contributor to burnout," says Betsy Carr, artistic director of Company Dance Traverse in Traverse City, MI.

• Practice in a different room, or face a wall instead of the mirror. It helps shake off the “autopilot mode" that results from doing the same thing in the same space repeatedly.

• Try rehearsing without music. “The song becomes a crutch after a while, and we rely on the song to carry us through," Gibbs says. “I'll have students do the dance in silence, and say, 'You need to create these feelings in me, without letting Lorde or Celine Dion do it for you.' "

• Set goals to give yourself purpose and avoid aimless repetition. One rehearsal may be about transitions, another about technical elements and another might focus on musicality and timing.

• Imagine the judges' voices as you rehearse. Once the season has begun, their comments will help you see the piece through a new lens. “Judges' comments can open your eyes to what you can do to push yourself," Smith says.

Find Inspiration Outside of the Steps

“When you're feeling drained, arrange to perform at a senior center or school," Carr says. “These audiences love dancers—and what a great confidence-booster, to know that you've inspired somebody."

If all else fails, what's the best way to break a dance rut? Get completely outside the dance world—and your head. Go see an art exhibit, watch a documentary, read a book or find some other creative endeavor from which you can draw inspiration. “Do anything but dance!" Gibbs says. “That can end up informing your dancing more than just dancing could."

Courtesy Megan Rund

Utah Valley University juniors Megan Rund and Esther Laws share a love of ballroom dance, but they specialize in different styles. Rund competes in International Standard and American Smooth, dancing the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, fox-trot and quickstep.

“Smooth dancing is so emotional," she says. “I love how expressive the movement can be." Meanwhile, Laws competes in the International Latin category, dancing the cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive. “Latin dance is more free," she says. “You get to flirt and have fun. It's a different type of expression than the poised and pretty Standard styles."

While some dancers do compete across the board—they're known in the industry as “10-dancers" for (you guessed it!) doing all 10 dances—many prefer to specialize in one category. Wondering if it's time for you to home in on either Standard or Latin? Here are a few tips.

Consider Your Goals

Do you dream of being a ballroom champion? Specializing can help you level up. “The top dancers in the world are specialized," says Ashleigh Di Lello, a finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance" Season 6 who is now a ballroom coach. “If you're trying to master all 10 dances, but your competitors are giving the same amount of time and attention to five, it can be hard to match them."

But even if your goal is competition dominance, it can't hurt to keep training in both Standard and Latin. On “SYTYCD" and as a performer in the show Burn the Floor, Di Lello danced Standard routines, despite having been a Latin specialist at competition. Versatility can be a long-term career asset.

Analyze Your Strengths

Standard and Latin dances require different skills. Ask yourself: “Am I an aesthetic or kinetic dancer?" The Standard dances are generally formal and shape-oriented. The Latin styles often have a fiery energy. Chances are, you're stronger at either creating beautiful shapes (aesthetic) or moving through them (kinetic).

“Do I have a solid frame?" In the Standard styles, you remain in the same hold for the entire dance. “Some people do well with that containment and discipline. Others struggle to keep the ballroom hold," says Louis van Amstel, a veteran of “Dancing with the Stars" who also coaches young competitive couples. If you're not a fan of the frame, you might lean toward Latin.

“What's my performance personality?" Are you elegant and proper on the dance floor? You'll excel in Standard. Are you filled with sass and flair? Latin's showmanship will let you connect with your partner and wow the audience.

“Do I have the right body type?" “You tend to see taller couples in Standard and shorter couples in Latin," says Di Lello. Why does body type matter? “Standard is about shaping and traveling, and height assists in that," she says. “Latin is about speed and control, so it can help to have a low center of gravity."

In addition to doing a self-evaluation, ask your coach or teacher for an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. They can guide you forward.

Follow Your Heart

“The most important thing is to have a true passion for your style," van Amstel says. He advises waiting until your late teens to discuss specializing, to make sure it's not a hasty or premature decision and to allow you to build up a solid technical foundation. But, he adds, “If I look in a dancer's eyes and see that they're really choosing from their heart, it's a valid choice."

“It takes a lot of time and effort to become extremely proficient in ballroom," Rund says. “You have to love it enough to work for it." Her UVU classmate Laws puts it simply: “You should specialize in the style that brings you joy." If you think about your talents, your preferences and your goals—and get input from your teachers, coaches and parents—you can find the right path.

Photo courtesy New York City Dance Alliance

From the excitement of travel to rubbing shoulders with your dance idols, the life of a convention assistant is a whirlwind—and an exciting goal for lots of young dancers. The position has its glamorous moments, but it's also a ton of hard work. Curious about what it takes to earn one of these coveted spots, and what's involved once you do? Dance Spirit spoke with choreographers and assistants to find out what it takes to make it to the stage.

Assistant Aspirations

Technical excellence is just the starting point. Convention assistants work with every teacher, so they must be skilled in a variety of disciplines. “As a convention assistant, you're required to adapt to each choreographer because you're demonstrating for them," explains former New York City Dance Alliance assistant and current faculty member Cindy Salgado.

Beyond being outstanding technicians and stylistic chameleons, dancers must also be able to pick up choreography quickly, be able to assist fellow dancers and be generally friendly and helpful. “Personality is a huge part of becoming an assistant. All the Artists Simply Human assistants are down-to-earth and generous, and they'd help you in a heartbeat," says former ASH assistant Shannon Currie. Before you audition for a position, focus on helping fellow dancers work through tricky steps during breaks, befriend dancers from fellow studios, always perform full-out and take classes outside of your comfort zone.

Earning Your Place

To become an assistant, most conventions require dancers to attend a regional convention during the season and earn special recognition in the form of a title—like ASH Apprentice or Apprentice Runner-Up; Protégé (The Pulse); or Regional Outstanding Dancer or Runner-Up (NYCDA). A more formal audition or competition then occurs at Nationals. At events like NYCDA, the assistant role is earned as part of the National Outstanding Dancer title. In all cases, the final selection process may include in-class observation, learning and performing combinations in different styles in front of a judging panel or performing a solo. “The dancers are the best of the best from every city we've gone to. They all push each other to excel," says choreographer Cris Judd of auditions for The Pulse's assistants, who are called Elite Protégés.

You Got the Spot! What Should You Expect?

Assistants named at Nationals are required to assist at a minimum number of convention cities during the following season. Depending on the assistant's age, this can be a commitment ranging from 6 to 12 weekends, or more. On convention weekends, assistants arrive Thursday night or Friday morning and rehearse opening or closing shows performed by the convention staff, and have to be prepared to learn new roles and choreography each weekend. They may help with logistics, such as student check-in, and help backstage during the performance showcase or competition. But the bulk of an assistant's duties involve assisting in classes. They lead warm-ups, demonstrate choreography, clarify tricky steps and dance full-out at all times. “Being an assistant can be very trying and difficult. There's a lot of responsibility. Their job is super-important—we instill trust in them because we've chosen them to be there with us," Judd says.

Over the course of the weekend, it can add up to as much as 30 hours of dancing and convention-related duties, so living up to differing expectations from the variety of choreographers and learning steps on the spot (not to mention getting enough sleep!) can be a challenge. But all the hours and sacrifice are often worth it—convention assistants frequently go on to work in the professional dance world, where the networks they've built serve them well. Six months after finishing her season as an Elite Protégé, Theresa Stone started touring as a dancer with Lady Gaga, and has since choreographed for artists including Todrick Hall and A Great Big World. She credits The Pulse with setting her on this trajectory: “Assisting is a huge growing experience for anybody who is considering a professional dance career. It's the ultimate stairway to success in the industry."

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