Shaping Sound Dance Company first debuted its full-length production That’s Where I’ll Be Waiting in 2013. Two years later, the contemporary show—with explosive energy from co-choreographers Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson, and dancers like Jaimie Goodwin, Chantel Aguirre and Amy Yakima—is still going strong, earning nightly standing ovations. What’s it like touring with one of the most popular dance productions around? Dance Spirit asked longtime company member Kate Harpootlian (whom you’ll recognize from “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 12 Team Stage!) to keep a diary for a week on Shaping Sound’s 2014–15 tour. —Jenny Ouellette
Kate Harpootlian (lower left) on the tour bus with Shaping Sound Dance Company (photo courtesy Harpootlian)
January 23: Last Rehearsal in L.A.
I was really excited to get back into rehearsals for the second half of Shaping Sound’s second tour. Once in L.A., we had four days to regroup, which is usually pretty fun. I’ve known most of the dancers since I was teenager, so getting together is like a big family reunion.
This time, though, the week got serious after our company’s morning ballet class. One of the show’s dancers, Matthew Peacock, found out he’d been booked as the assistant choreographer for Madonna’s Grammy performance. It’s an amazing opportunity for Matthew, but it means one of our understudies, Rory Freeman, will now be taking over his part. Our limited four-day rehearsal period—which we’ve had to do without props, since they’re in Texas already—has been pretty hectic. Rory is a rock star, though, and our last run-through went smoothly.
January 27: Tech in Fort Worth, TX
Today we flew from L.A. to Fort Worth—and we didn’t waste much time before going to the theater for tech. Once we were onstage, with the lights, costumes and props (!), it really sank in that tour was starting. Our set features walls that we climb up and fall off. We move them around ourselves during the show, and remembering to lock or unlock the walls while we’re performing isn’t easy. So a thorough tech is absolutely necessary.
With fellow Shaping Sound dancer Ben Susak (courtesy Harpootlian)
January 28: Opening Night in Fort Worth
Tonight’s performance was electric. My favorite part of the show is the duet I perform with Ben Susak in the “Wild Is the Wind” section. We have a great connection and we both really get into character. We also tend to change little things up each show, which keeps the piece fresh for us, even though we’ve danced it so many times. After each performance, we always do a meet-and-greet in the lobby. I love getting to speak with fans, but tonight was especially magical: My dad was there to give me a big hug!
January 29: Tulsa, OK
The grueling tour schedule has begun! We checked in to our Tulsa hotel around 4:30 am, disoriented and exhausted after our overnight drive. Believe it or not, though, it felt great to be back on the tour bus! Sometimes we’re driving for up to 12 hours at a time, and, for that reason, the bus has become one of our favorite places to hang out. We usually eat dinner and watch our most recent performance while we wait for the crew to load out—and we also love playing Catch Phrase. Our competitive group gets pretty rowdy!
Luckily, we were able to go back to sleep once we arrived at the hotel, and I felt pretty good when I woke up around 10 am. I grabbed a couple of dancers for breakfast and hit the hotel gym with Channing Cooke.
Harpootlian (third from left) during a Shaping Sound curtain call (photo courtesy Shaping Sound)
We had a 4:30 pm call time, but first we had to load all our stuff back on the bus since we’ll be leaving right after the show. Three hours before every show (our call), the company meets for notes, info about our next tour stop and to get our lighting and spacing cues. An hour and 15 minutes before curtain, we take a company ballet class. Then I put my costume on, and five minutes before curtain, we regroup onstage for our company’s pre-show ritual: After some words of encouragement, we take a few deep breaths. Our last exhale—a long “ahhh” sound—turns into a yell. Then we do a shake-off counting down from 8, and when we get to 1, someone shouts out “Shaping Sound” and we do a loud group clap. We like to think the better the clap is, the better the performance will be. It must have worked tonight!
February 1–2: Skokie, IL
After a four-show run in Kansas City, MO, and Minneapolis, MN, we finally have a couple days off. Some of the company stayed in Minneapolis, but the rest of us arrived to a full-on blizzard here in Skokie. It gave us a good reason to stay inside and rest.
Harpootlian with Travis Wall (photo courtesy Harpootlian)
Monday in Skokie was bright and sunny, so I went into Chicago to take ballet class at the Lou Conte Dance Studio—home of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Then I headed to the hotel to take a quick rest before teaching a master class with Ben and Channing. I guess it wasn’t much of a day off, but I love teaching. Plus, I got to reward myself afterwards by exploring Chicago one of my favorite ways—through my stomach! A lovely dinner with Travis and Nick was the perfect way to end this first week.
Shaping Sound’s 2015–16 tour kicks off this month in Escondido, CA, and runs through February. Visit shapingsoundco.com/tour for details.
Fueling dancers’ ever-moving bodies can be an artform in and of itself. We had three professional dancers journal everything they ate on a given day, to see how they navigate the complex world of nutrition while juggling classes and rehearsals. Then we asked Rachel Fine, registered dietitian for The School at Steps in NYC and founder of To the Pointe Nutrition, to weigh in on their choices. What she says might surprise you!
Keigwin + Company
Keigwin + Company's Emily Schoen (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Emily Schoen)
8:30 am, breakfast (before
10 am–12 pm ballet class):
• 1 Thomas’ cinnamon-raisin English muffin
• 2–3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s creamy almond butter, salted
• homemade cold-brew coffee with a splash of half-and-half
“If I don’t eat the right breakfast, I crash in class. This combo gives me a balance of fat and protein to keep me satiated, and carbohydrates for an energy kick. Plus, Thomas’ English muffins are easy to find on tour!”
12 pm, snack:
• 1 apple
1 pm, lunch (eaten throughout the afternoon Keigwin + Company rehearsal):
• a serving of honey and harissa farro salad with parsnips, carrots and feta cheese (recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
• 1 hard-boiled egg
“I like to munch on this grain salad throughout rehearsal. It’s fresh and light, so it doesn’t make me too sleepy.”
5 pm, snack:
• 1 dark-chocolate almond-coconut Clif Mojo Trail Mix Bar
8 pm, dinner:
• 1 piece of homemade garlic bread
• 1 serving of spaghetti with 1/2 cup of homemade marinara sauce
• arugula salad with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper
• 1/2 scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream
“I’ve let go of the notion that certain foods are ‘bad,’ and just focus on eating reasonable portions of real food. A small scoop of full-fat ice cream leaves me much more satisfied than the low-fat stuff.”
FINE SAYS: I’m glad to see Emily choosing whole-food sources for her recipes. When using premade items, you should reach for those that are minimally processed. How can you tell? Look at the ingredient list on the box and see how many you recognize—and can pronounce.
To start her day, Emily makes a great choice with almond butter. It has anti-
inflammatory omega-3s, vitamin E to protect her cells, magnesium to facilitate muscle contraction and iron to oxygenate her tissues. Farro, which Emily eats throughout rehearsal, is a nutrient-packed grain, with protein, fiber and even some iron and calcium. Eating little bits of it over time will help provide a steady supply of the sugar she needs for energy—and it'll keep her from feeling too bloated.
While nutrition bars are a great grab-and-go source of fuel, many of the products
advertised as “nutrition” or “energy bars” are really just glorified candy bars, with added sugars. I’d suggest that Emily opt for a brand with more fiber and fewer processed ingredients, like Lärabars or KIND bars. And at dinner, I’d tell Emily to toss in some lean protein, like shrimp or grilled chicken breast, to help rebuild tired muscles.
Dominic “D-trix” Sandoval
Quest Crew's Dominic "D-trix" Sandoval (Photo courtesy MTV)
9 am, breakfast (before 10 am–1 pm wardrobe fittings and camera rehearsals for “America’s Best Dance Crew”):
• 16-ounce (“grande”) Starbucks iced, sugar-free caramel macchiato with soy
• Starbucks reduced-fat turkey-bacon and egg-white sandwich
“I like adding soy to my morning drink because it makes it taste much sweeter—but with less sugar and fat than cream. And turkey bacon and egg whites taste just as good as regular bacon and eggs.”
1 pm, lunch (before 2–5 pm rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• chicken breast with sides of green beans, mac and cheese and corn bread
5 pm (before 5–7 pm rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• 16-ounce Jamba Juice Protein Berry Workout Smoothie
“I like drinking a protein smoothie between workouts, instead of at the end of the day.”
7 pm, dinner (before 9 pm–4 am rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• Chipotle chicken salad with rice, beans, grilled veggies, corn, cheese, sour cream and lettuce
• pineapple-orange-mango Mountain Dew Kickstart
“Because rehearsals go so late, I’m usually hungry before bedtime. But I’ve found that drinking a glass of water—instead of snacking—tends to curb my late-night cravings.”
FINE SAYS: When eating out, it’s easy to consume excessive sugar, unhealthy fats and sodium. At Starbucks, be careful of sugar substitutes, such as those found in sugar-free syrups, as they can cause stomach discomfort. But as far as Starbucks’ breakfasts go, the sandwich D-trix chooses is a good option for maximizing protein and reducing sodium and sugar.
Though a homemade version with fewer added sugars would ultimately be best, D-trix’s smoothie is a solid choice before rehearsal. Protein is critical for muscle recovery, and the carbohydrates in the juice will help replenish his energy.
Overall, I’d make sure D-trix is getting enough water, especially since he’s dancing all day. I’d tell him to forgo the soda—which is loaded with sugar and lacks nutritional value—and opt for seltzer or unsweetened brewed iced tea to sip on throughout rehearsal.
Britney Spears’ Britney: Piece of Me; author of DailyDancerDiet blog (dailydancerdiet.com)
Liana Blackburn (bottom right) in Britney: Piece of Me (Photo by Jonathan Pears, courtesy Liana Blackburn)
9 am, breakfast:
• 1 glass of water
• 2 organic, pasture-raised eggs from Vital Farms, pan-fried
• organic broccoli, zucchini and mushrooms sautéed in coconut oil and tossed with quinoa and a pinch of salt
• 1/4 avocado
“Eating veggies first thing makes me feel fresh and energized for the day. While I don’t have food allergies, I’ve found that my body operates best when I refrain from eating gluten, dairy, refined sugar, caffeine, soy and processed foods.”
11:30 am, snack:
• homemade butternut-squash waffle with 1 tablespoon organic almond butter and organic strawberries
12 pm, snacks (eaten throughout 12–4 pm rehearsal):
• homemade green drink with kale, cucumber, celery, lemon, water and ginger
• Mary’s Gone Crackers (original flavor)
• organic carrots
“If I’m not fueled during rehearsal, it drags me down and I have trouble focusing. I
always bring plenty of snacks so I’m prepared in case rehearsal runs long.”
4:30 pm, lunch:
• homemade organic veggie soup with kidney beans, Swiss chard, celery, zucchini, carrots and sesame seed oil
6 pm, snack:
• 1 Lundberg Family Farms salt-free brown-rice cake topped with hummus, organic cucumbers, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt
8 pm, dinner:
• 3 ounces baked wild-caught Alaskan salmon seasoned with soy sauce and salt
• steamed organic green beans lightly pan-fried with coconut oil and salt
• 1/2 cup wild rice
• 1/4 avocado
45 minutes before bed, dessert:
• 1 handful organic blueberries
• 1 piece of 80-percent cacao dark chocolate
• herbal organic peppermint tea
FINE SAYS: I applaud Liana’s use of wholesome ingredients! She’s getting the most nutritious bang for her buck. Veggies for breakfast may seem like an odd choice, but they’re great any time of day. That said, be careful not to fill up on veggies alone. They don’t have enough protein for optimal muscle building and won’t keep you satiated all day. So it’s great that Liana chooses eggs to help keep her energy levels stable for the long day ahead of her.
The sodium in processed foods can really add up, so opting for low-sodium products, like Liana does, is a great way to keep it in check. But I also love that Liana adds salt back into her diet by sprinkling it on the foods she eats. Dancers need salt to replenish their electrolytes after intense rehearsals, particularly when it’s hot and humid outside.
I’d suggest that Liana add some nut butter to her afternoon snack of plain crackers. While the carbohydrates from the crackers will help supply the glucose (sugar) Liana’s body needs during a long rehearsal, protein will help keep her blood sugar levels stable to avoid spikes—which can cause fatigue and/or dizziness.
The Joffrey Ballet
(Mendoza in The Nutcracker (Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy Joffrey Ballet)
7:30 am, breakfast (before 9:45–11:15 am company ballet class):
1 cup French-press coffee with a splash of cream and 2 sugars
Siggi’s Fig and Lemon Zest yogurt
5 rounded tablespoons of KIND brand coconut granola
“I’m not usually very hungry when I wake up, but eating a little something before class makes all the difference in my energy and mood in the morning.”
11:15 am, snack (before 11:30 am–2:30 pm rehearsal):
1 Cool Mint Chocolate Clif Bar
“If I’m even slightly hungry, I can’t function! We get a five-minute break every hour of rehearsal, and I often use that time to snack on a Clif Bar, pretzels, cheese or chocolate soy milk.”
2:30 pm, lunch (before 3:30–6:30 pm rehearsal):
a kid’s-size cheesy chicken quesadilla with tomatoes from Freshii (a restaurant in town)
pretzels and cheese
“I like to eat something small at lunch, so I don’t feel like taking a nap during our second rehearsal block.”
7:30 pm, dinner:
1 slice of NYC-style pepperoni pizza from Panino’s Pizzeria
1 arancini ball from Panino’s
1 can of Barq’s root beer
“I’m naturally a pretty healthy person, so I let myself eat what I crave. I try to listen to my body and give what it wants—and in this case it was pizza!”
FINE’S ASSESSMENT: Jeraldine starts her day with a high-protein and high-fiber meal. It’s a great combination that will keep her energy levels sustained throughout the morning. I also like how Jeraldine orders the kid-sized portion of the cheesy chicken quesadilla. It helps lower the overall fat and sodium content of the meal. That said, I’d also advise Jeraldine to include more healthy fats in her daily diet. Adding flaxseeds or chia seeds to her morning yogurt; avocado or guacamole with her lunch; or olive oil to a side salad at dinner are great ways to get these in.
Melanie Mah’s career is basically the commercial-dance dream.
After training as a ballet dancer near her hometown of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Mah earned a spot on Season 2 of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” and made it to the Top 6. She moved to L.A. in 2011, and in the last five years, she’s worked on TV shows (“Glee,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Goldbergs”), with recording artists (Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, Kanye West) and as a teacher (at Millennium Dance Complex in North Hollywood). Late this summer, Mah began the ultimate dream job: performing on Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable World Tour, with creative direction from Gil Duldulao. Want to know more? Read on for The Dirt. —JO
(Photo by Jino Abad, courtesy Melanie Mah)
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A doctor. I've always loved math and science, and I actually completed my first year of university in biomedical sciences.
Who is your dance role model?
Dawn Rappitt—my teacher from my home studio Elite Danceworx. She was the first person to believe in me as a dancer and she pushed me to chase after all my dreams.
Who can always make you laugh?
My dad...even if he's not trying ot. He can be such a goofball.
What’s one food you can’t live without?
NOODLES. Nothing's better than a big bowl of soup noodles! (Thanks mom.)
Do you have any nicknames?
Me. Mel Mah. Melly. Smelly. Kwan. Elly Ma. Mah Mah-ella. Mahy Mahy. Mah-chine...I get a lot of nicknames. It's rare people call me "Melanie!"
What’s your favorite activity—other than dance?
I love yoga. I'm a certified instructor and I've been teaching vinyasa yoga for the past three years.
What’s your favoriteJanet Jackson song?
"All For You"! It's such a fun song and it always brings back good memories. My friends and I would blast the song in the car and sing at the top of our lungs. And the choreography is EPIC!
When you’re a serious dancer, you spend a lot of your time in classes and rehearsals. But you don’t have to stay laser-focused on dance all day to make it as a pro. In fact, having interests outside the dance world can help you grow as an artist! To get you inspired, Dance Spirit spoke to eight dancers about their non-dance hobbies.
(Photo by Xiomara Reyes, courtesy Daniil Simkin)
Daniil Simkin, principal, American Ballet Theatre
Hobbies: Photography and video games
“I have my camera with me 90 percent of the time. My main goal is to document my life for myself, like a diary, but I also like sharing pictures on social media. It’s a challenge to take a good picture—like being on the hunt! When you achieve the shot you want, it’s very satisfying. Gaming, meanwhile, is a great escape. It takes your mind off everything. It’s a pleasure to spend time in another world.”
(Photo courtesy Ching Ching Wong)
Ching Ching Wong, company dancer, Northwest Dance Project
Hobbies: Sewing and knitting
“My grandmother and aunt are wonderful seamstresses, so I was excited when I got a sewing machine in 2010. I’ve taken classes in skirtmaking and dressmaking, sock and sweater knitting and jewelry crocheting. I read in a book that peak performance comes when your mind is quiet, and that’s how I feel when I’m knitting or sewing.”
(Photo courtesy Elisa Clark)
Elisa Clark, company member, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Hobbies: Life coaching, cooking, skydiving and more
“I need other interests and hobbies to keep from feeling like I’m living in a dance bubble. I read a lot of personal-growth books, and they inspired me to go to life-coaching school. I also love cooking in my own kitchen when I’m home from touring. And I’ve gone skydiving twice and can’t wait to go again—I’ve always been a daredevil! Skydiving gives you a feeling of freedom and exhilaration that’s like nothing you’ve experienced.”
(Photo courtesy Scout Forsythe)
Scout Forsythe, corps de ballet, American Ballet Theatre
“I grew up in a beach town in California and started surfing before I started dancing. When ABT has a week off and I get to come home, I’m always in the water. Paddling and getting up on the board are great for strengthening my arms, which benefits my dancing. And in general, I think it’s good for dancers to have something else they love doing, without the pressure to perform. It keeps you whole.”
(Photo courtesy Lindsey McGil)
Lindsey McGill, company dancer, Northwest Dance Project
Hobby: Playing the cello
“I take a weekly group cello class, and practice for an additional four to five hours a week. I’ve always loved the cello: the sound of it, as well as the way you hold it when you play it, resting on your chest so you’re almost embracing it. I think it’s so beautiful. I’ve enjoyed having an opportunity to learn something out of pure joy and expression, without having to be really good at it.”
Lauren Lovette in
Hallelujah Junction (photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB)
Lauren Lovette, principal, New York City Ballet
Hobbies: Sketching, crocheting and other arts
“I’m taking drawing classes, and I used to make greeting cards and repurpose items I found on the street—I’m a crafty person. It’s relaxing to have an artistic outlet that’s just for me. I don’t have to sell what I make, or even show it to anyone. I also love learning new things, because it keeps my brain working. I believe that if you cultivate yourself as a person, you’ll have more to offer onstage.”
(Courtesy Andrew Silks)
Andrew Silks, corps de ballet, Tulsa Ballet
Hobby: Fostering and rescuing dogs
“There hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t had a dog, and they’ve all been rescues. I currently foster dogs through the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in Tulsa. They take dogs out of kill shelters and give them a better living situation until they’re adopted. I’ve probably fostered 15 dogs over the years. I also have three dogs of my own. They’re great to come home to after a day of dancing!”
(Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company)
Michelle Fleet, company member, Paul Taylor Dance Company
Hobby: Fiber art
“When I joined Taylor 2, I realized I needed something to do during my downtime on tour. So one day, I got a knitting kit and taught myself how to knit. Now, I always have projects with me. I’m into knitting, crocheting and felting—my mom sends me fiber from her alpaca farm, and I make felted dolls. It’s a great creative outlet. You can’t think about dance 24/7; you have to let your mind rest.”
Karen Chuang was a freshman at University of California, Los Angeles, when she was
given the opportunity to dance in a K-pop music video being filmed in L.A. “I took all my books with me and studied during any downtime I could find,” says Chuang. She went on to book jobs with Brian Friedman and “Glee,” and to lead UCLA’s hip-hop team, NSU Modern, before graduating summa cum laude with a degree in business economics.
The whole point of getting strong dance training is to work toward a dance career—but sometimes, jobs come along before you’re done with college, or even high school. While balancing homework and dance commitments with an apprenticeship or auditions can be challenging, it’s not impossible. “The lifestyle isn’t for everyone,” Chuang says. “But if you get an opportunity you can’t pass up, take the leap.” Here’s how to make it work.
Karen Chuang (top, far left) on a music video set for K-pop star Ava in 2009 (photo courtesy Karen Chuang)
Communicate respectfully, early and often.
Since scheduling conflicts are inevitable, talk with your teachers and directors as soon as you’re presented with an outside opportunity. “Be humble and as detailed as possible about upcoming conflicts with classes or rehearsals,” says Joseph Giordano, who was offered a contract with Liz Gerring Dance Company during his final semester at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Be sure to follow up with your teachers over the course of the job. “Professors will be so much more lenient if you keep them in the loop,” Chuang says. And if you speak with them early enough, your outside work can be even more beneficial: Some directors, like Cathy Young at The Boston Conservatory, make it possible for dancers to receive credit for professional projects that take them away from school for a semester or more.
Make a schedule—and follow it.
“I map out my complete Monday-through-Friday schedule on Mac Pages and set it as the background image on my phone,” Giordano says. Chuang had a similarly detailed plan. “My days were completely structured, with slots for commuting, exercising and homework,” she says. But no matter how organized you are, Young adds, “someone completely overextended isn’t valuable to a choreographer.” Make sure you have the time before you commit to a gig.
Get your Z’s.
With the strain of additional hours of dancing, part of your agenda should be devoted to rest, says Giordano. “I try to get at least six hours of sleep, stay hydrated and monitor aches and pains,” he says. Irineo Cabreros, who apprenticed with Gallim Dance in NYC during his first semester in a PhD program at Princeton University, advises prioritizing sleep. “The few times I went into rehearsal dead tired, I realized I was getting the short end of both sticks—I wasn’t performing well and I wasn’t getting the most out of my education, either,” he says.
Learn to say “no.”
Doing it all comes with tough choices. “I often had to sacrifice my social life to
balance it all,” Chuang says. Other times, you might have to pass up a job. Don’t get discouraged, though: Sometimes opportunities will resurface at more convenient times. “Once, I couldn’t audition for Lady Gaga because I had a final exam,” Chuang remembers. “I was bummed, but the opportunity came around again.”
You only have a few years to immerse yourself in your education, so if it comes down to missing too much school for a job, Young advises dancers to choose school. “Sometimes you have to jump when those opportunities come along, but the idea that your career clock is ticking is a dated one. The more info you get in school, the more likely you’ll be working into your 60s.”
(Clockwise from left: Peshkova/Thinkstock; Fotofermer/Thinkstock; Comstock/Thinkstock)
It’s the City That Never Sleeps, the Concrete Jungle—and a total dance mecca. While there’s no place quite like it, NYC is also overwhelming and expensive, two qualities that can make visiting or moving here pretty intimidating. Check out tips from four pro dancers—Kristine Covillo, Tamisha Guy, Daniel Harder and Kristen Segin—for living like a true New Yorker.
(Clockwise from left: Tamisha Guy in Kyle Abraham's The Watershed, photo by Steven Schreiber, courtesy Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion; Daniel Harder, photo by Richard Calmes, courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Kristien Covillo in On the Town with Stephen Hanna, photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy On the Town; Kristen Segin in Christopher Wheeldon's Soiree Musicale, photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet)
Your NYC Experts
Kristine Covillo: A former member of Ballet Hispanico and the Radio City Rockettes, Covillo has also performed on Broadway in West Side Story, Evita and On the Town.
Tamisha Guy: After moving to NYC from Trinidad and Tobago, Guy graduated from SUNY Purchase and performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company. She currently dances with Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion.
Daniel Harder: After graduating from NYC’s Ailey/Fordham BFA program, Harder joined Ailey II in 2009. He was promoted to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater a year later.
Kristen Segin: A New York City Ballet corps member since 2009, Segin moved to NYC in 2005 to study at the School of American Ballet.
1. Download the HopStop app. “It helps you figure out which subways are closest to particular locations,” Harder says. “I tend to use it when I’m going to an unfamiliar area of Brooklyn.”
2. Visit the MTA website (mta.info), Segin advises, to make sure the trains you need are running without delays or service changes.
NYC subway (photo by Starflamedia/Thinkstock)
3. Leave early. It takes Guy roughly 45 minutes to get from her Brooklyn apartment to class in downtown Manhattan, “though I’ll always leave about two hours early,” she says. “The rains are reliable, but it’s good to leave some wiggle room. You never know if there’ll be a delay.”
4. Know where to stand in the station. If it’s crowded, head to either end of the platform. “That’s where the emptiest subway cars will likely be,” Segin says.
5. Be a considerate passenger. Move to the middle of the subway car—away from the doors—and be mindful of your bags. “Dancers always have so much gear,” Covillo says. “If you have a big bag, take it off and keep it at your feet or hold it in your lap. You’ll stand out as a tourist if your stuff is all over the place, hitting other people.”
6. Take a bus to go across town. “When I first moved here, I used to be terrified by the bus system,” Covillo says. “But the crosstown buses stop at every major avenue. Just ask the driver if you’re worried about missing your stop.”
7. Save taxi rides for when you’re in a pinch. Fares start at $2.50 and add up quickly.
8. Set up an Uber account for late-night trips or if you have too many grocery bags to carry on the subway. “You don’t have to exchange money since it’s all done through the app,” Covillo says. “That really came in handy one morning when I grabbed the wrong bag and didn’t have my wallet—or my subway card. Luckily, though, I had my phone, so I hailed an Uber.”
9. Remember that it’s OK to ask for directions. “There’s definitely a misconception that because NYC is so fast-paced, you can’t stop someone and ask for help,” Harder says. “But New Yorkers are very friendly, and I’ve learned to speak up.”
Finding A Place To Stay
10. If you’re staying for a week or less, ask friends if you can couch surf. Not an option? Harder, Covillo and Segin recommend checking out Airbnb for short-term rentals. It tends to be much cheaper than a hotel, and you can view pictures of the space and read reviews beforehand.
11. Do some research before subletting (renting a room from another renter, who may be out of town for a short time). “Subletting is great since you move into a space that’s already furnished,” Guy says. “But try to visit the space, so you know what you’re getting into.” And ask if it’s been cleared with the landlord.
Brownstones in Brooklyn Heights, NYC (photo by StockSnapper/Thinkstock)
12. Check dance-studio bulletin boards for apartment listings. “In the student lounge at The Ailey School, there are always fliers from people looking to sublet their apartments for the summer or even the full year,” Harder says.
13. If you’re moving, watch out for realtor/broker fees, which can often be several times more than a month’s rent. Both Covillo and Segin recommend StreetEasy (streeteasy.com)—not Craigslist, which is full of false advertising—to hunt for apartments. “You can search by location, amenities and number of bedrooms,” Covillo says.
14. Avoid prime real estate areas. Apartments on the Upper West Side (home to Steps on Broadway) and in midtown (home to Broadway Dance Center) tend to have higher rents, which is frustrating since those neighborhoods are major dance hubs. “A lot of artists live in Astoria, Queens, which has an easy commute to midtown,” Covillo says. Segin lives in East Harlem. “It’s definitely an up-and-coming area,” she says. “Lots of NYCB dancers have been moving up here. The rent is reasonable, and there are a ton of restaurants.”
Dancing For Less
15. Find out how much open classes cost before signing up. At some of the major studios, classes can run upwards of $20 a pop. Consider mixing up your training schedule by adding a few classes at smaller studios (like Ballet Arts or The Playground at Gibney Dance Center) that charge less. And if you’re in NYC for the long haul, apply for work-study programs at studios like BDC, Steps or Peridance Capezio Center. “They’re great for dancers new to the city,” Guy says. “You’ll get to know teachers and choreographers, and you’ll meet other dancers, too.”
Kristine Covillo (center) teaching at Broadway Dance Center (photo courtesy Covillo)
16. Purchase class cards. Not only can they save you money per class, they can also help you stick to a budget. “If you buy a class card, you’re setting aside a certain amount of money for classes you can’t spend anywhere else,” Guy says.
17. Make your apartment your gym. Gym memberships and fitness classes can be expensive. “I picked up a few yoga DVDs I can do at home on my own,” Covillo says. “You can also check out qinetic.com. It offers free live-streamed fitness classes, and it has a video archive of past classes, too.”
18. Keep your dance clothes clean—on the cheap. Many buildings don’t have a washer and dryer on the premises, so finding a laundromat in your neighborhood is key. But keep in mind that frequent mini loads of laundry add up. “Hand-wash your tights, leotards and smaller items in the sink,” Guy says. “And if you can, wait until you have huge loads of laundry to go to the laundromat.”
Living on a Budget
19. Cook as much as possible. “Making your own food is always cheaper,” Segin says. “There are lots of healthy, dancer-friendly restaurants near Lincoln Center, but they’re expensive. I pack my lunch as much as I can—and I always throw an extra energy bar, yogurt or sandwich in my bag.”
20. Shop for foods that won’t spoil easily. “Trader Joe’s is great if you’re staying here a short time,” Guy says. “You can stock up on healthy snacks that won’t go bad,” like trail mix or granola bars.
21. Scout for cheap eats. “In college, I’d always look for restaurants with lunch specials,” Harder says. “For example, there was an inexpensive Thai place that gave huge portions I could snack on throughout the day.”
(Brighton and Coney Island Beach at sunset, photo by Demerzel21/Thinkstock)
22. Skip Starbucks. “Go to your neighborhood bodega for your coffee fix,” Covillo says. “There’s one on just about every corner”—and their coffees are frequently $1.
23. Use Yelp. “After a long week of work, I love to pamper myself with a manicure,” Segin says. “There are a ton of nail salons on the Upper West Side, but I always look at a salon’s review and price point on Yelp.”
24. Take advantage of your student ID. “There are so many deals for students,” Segin says. “I go to Fordham University part-time, and I use my ID to get discounts on museum admissions and Broadway or American Ballet Theatre tickets. You can even use a student ID from a summer course.”
25. Explore the city—for the price of a subway fare. “It’s easy to get stuck within a 5- to 10-block radius, but it doesn’t cost a lot to have great adventures all over NYC,” Covillo says. “Each neighborhood has a different flavor, whether you’re in Chinatown, Little Italy or Union Square, all accessible via the subway. There are even beaches right off the subway—like Brighton Beach in Brooklyn—or you can take the Long Island Railroad and go to Long Beach.”
(Photo by Nathan Sayers)
This is my first year wearing pointe shoes, and I’m finding it difficult to jump—or even walk—without making loud noises. What do I need to do to dance without sound effects? —Jennah
I completely understand what you’re dealing with! At NYCB, we would get a “talking to” if our shoes were too loud—or they would tell us we sounded like a herd of elephants.
To combat noise, I like to bang my shoes against the wall. I’m serious! Find either a brick wall or a piece of wood and (gently) beat the shoe against it—right on the underside of the box, where the pleats are. Make sure you’re hitting the back part of the shoe, which touches the floor when you’re dancing, and not the front of the shoe. It doesn’t take much—5 to 10 hits should do it—and it helps the sound like you would not believe. You can also achieve a similar effect using a hammer.
I’m 16, and I feel like everyone I dance with is moving past me technically. I want to dance professionally, but I don’t want to get my heart broken in a few years if that’s not realistic.
Is there a point at which you can tell whether you’ll make it as a professional? —Samantha
Feeling like you’re behind can be so hard. The first thing I’d suggest is to talk to your teacher. Have him or her give an honest assessment of where you stand relative to your classmates. Sometimes, we feel far worse about our abilities than we need to; your teacher can see the situation more clearly. And if you’re genuinely behind, he or she can let you know exactly what you need to do to catch up and give you specific exercises to work on. Another suggestion would be to try cross-training. Pilates, yoga and cardio workouts can really give your dancing a boost—you’ll feel stronger almost immediately.
Remember that every dancer struggles. Some of today’s biggest stars had serious slumps or periods of self-doubt. If you really love to dance, keep training and pushing yourself. You’ll never know how far you’ll get unless you try. And if, a year or two down the road, you’re still feeling stuck, consider a college with a strong dance program. Many dancers have gone that route, grown immensely while in school and joined professional companies in their 20s. Just because you’re not ready to go pro at the end of high school doesn’t mean you’ll never have a dance career. There are many different paths to the job of your dreams!
I’m completely flat-footed. What can I do to make my feet look better? Is there any hope of me becoming a professional dancer? —Katelyn
I’m sorry you’ve been struggling with your feet—but not to worry. There are many ways to make them look better. First and foremost, be sure your shoes fit properly. A shoe that is too small will make your foot look sickled, while one that is too big will end up swallowing your foot instead of accentuating your arch. Head to a dance store where you can try out different brands of shoes. While you’re there, have a professional fitter help you. An objective eye can really help you figure out which styles are most flattering to your feet.
It’s also important to make sure your arches are nice and loose so your feet are limber enough to point fully. Get a little ball (one from a pet store, for example) and roll out your feet every day before class. It’s a trick I swear by.
Finally, to show your feet to their best advantage, you need to have a thorough understanding of how they look from all angles. Spend some time figuring out how to create a nice line from your leg through your ankle and toes in various positions. A slight wing can improve the look of the foot in croisé, for example.
I definitely think you can still be a professional. Not every ballerina has feet like Alessandra Ferri. Don’t give up!
Bonus video! Having trouble getting your eyeliner “wings” just right? Click here to watch Katie’s liquid eyeliner tutorial.