Watching the Radio City Rockettes perform a dazzling array of precision dance routines in their annual Christmas Spectacular show is a tradition many New Yorkers use to welcome the winter season. But how do these leggy ladies spend their off-season and what do they do to maintain their pristine technique, strength, and stamina when they're not on stage? We caught up with the Rockettes a few months before the opening night of the Christmas Spectacular to find out exactly what they do to keep those legendary leg kicks year round.
Raechel Sparreo (second from left) and friends outside the Miami City Ballet studios during the school's 2010 summer intensive
You’re about to head to your first summer intensive. Congrats! You’re on your way to a life-changing experience. But right now, you’re probably super-anxious—overanalyzing, as dancers tend to do. “I was excited at first,” 16-year-old Raechel Sparreo remembers of her first away-from-home summer intensive at Miami City Ballet in 2010. “But then I started to think, ‘Will I make friends? Will the teachers like me? Will I be good enough for my level?’” (Raechel’s story has a happy ending: She loved the summer program and is now a full-time student at the MCB School.)
Nerves are natural before any new experience. But your fears don’t have to overtake you. Read on to learn the truth behind your top summer intensive anxieties.
How intense will it be?
If the word “intensive” freaks you out, you’re not alone. “It sounds so intimidating,” says 13-year-old Bella Halek, who dances at Summit Dance Shoppe in Plymouth, MN.
Basically, what makes summer programs “intense” is the amount of time you’ll spend dancing: Anywhere from seven to 10 hours a day, five to six days a week. You’ll work hard, and you’ll have to adjust to new teachers, but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed in every class. The trick is to take the program one class at a time. “It’s a lot of dancing,” Raechel says, “but once you get into it, you just adapt, no problem.” And if you do feel overwhelmed, there will be teachers, counselors or chaperones on hand to help.
Bella in her dorm room at PCDF
My studio takes a summer break. What if I’m out of shape by the time I get to the intensive?
Even if your studio’s not in session, stay active. “It’s when dancers arrive at a summer course hoping to get back in shape that the injuries happen,” says Denise Bolstad, administrative director at Pacific Northwest Ballet School. If you have free weeks before your intensive, try swimming or biking to keep up your stamina. “I did a floor barre Pilates workout almost every day, stretched and did ab exercises,” Raechel says. You’ll probably still be sore the first couple of days at the intensive—that part might not be avoidable—but you’ll be safe.
If you do get injured, nearly every program has physical therapists on site who can keep little pains from turning into big ones. Contact your summer program to see if physical therapy is included in your tuition fee.
What if all the other dancers are better than me?
“When I went to my first intensive, I thought everyone was going to outshine me,” says New York City Dance Alliance Summer Intensive teacher Lauren Adams. First of all, that probably won’t be the case: You wouldn’t have been accepted to the program if you weren’t up to its standards. But Adams also suggests refocusing your approach: Rather than worrying about how you measure up to other dancers, work on developing a positive classroom relationship with your teacher. “Even if you have a rough class, there is some knowledge that you can take with you,” she says. “Put the emphasis on, ‘What am I learning? How can I bring it home with me?’ ”
What if I’m placed in the wrong level?
Raechel (in blue) and friends before the MCB school's 2011 summer intensive performance
The teachers at summer intensives want you to be in the level that will benefit you the most, and if they do happen to place you in the wrong one, they will move you during the first couple of days. Sometimes it can be disappointing to be placed in a lower level than you hoped—especially if you’re in the top level at your home studio—but here’s a secret: Levels don’t matter much in the long run. “At Pacific Northwest Ballet, we place students according to age and physical strength level,” says Bolstad. “The level you’re in doesn’t indicate your potential.”
What if the training contradicts what my teacher at home has taught me?
With a new set of teachers at the intensive, you’ll be sure to hear different ideas about how to approach your technique. Maybe one will want you to think about “pushing down” through the floor instead of “pulling up,” like your teacher at home says. The key is to be open to trying new things. “We tell our students, ‘We don’t want to change you, and what you have learned is not wrong. We just want you to try it this way,” Bolstad says.And one of those new approaches might fix your pirouettes or improve your balance. Once the intensive is over, you can choose which ideas you want to bring back home.
What if I get homesick?
Leaving home for the first time can be hard, but your life at the intensive will be full of dancing and dorm activities that should make separation from your friends and family easier. “I made tremendous bonds at all my intensives that took the pain of homesickness away,” Adams says. If you do get sad, it’s helpful to talk with someone instead of keeping it to yourself. Bolstad works regularly with homesick students. “You shouldn’t feel bad about it,” she says. “But try to stick it out instead of going home, because you will be really proud of yourself if you do.”
What if I don’t get along with my roommates?
Your roommates are your first built-in relationships of the program. You might become best friends with them, but you might just be acquaintances—if you don’t get along, you
Bella jumping into the pool at PCDF (by Stephanie Crousillat)
don’t have to hang out all the time. If you’re anxious, you might be able to talk with your roommates over Skype or Facebook before the intensive. And if you have a serious roommate problem, the program may be able to change your room.
What should I pack?
The basics—dance clothes, toiletries, etc.—are obvious. But here are a few things you might not have thought of.
- More pointe shoes than usual. At a ballet intensive, you’ll probably go through at least one pair per week.
- Pillows, blankets or photos from home. Never underestimate the value of making your dorm room feel “homey.”
- A dance bag with comfy straps. You’ll be carrying it all over campus!
- A swimsuit and a nice dress. You may think that you’ll be living in dancewear, but plan ahead for the intensive’s fun activities or weekend trips.
It’s no secret that summer intensives are a time to perfect your technique and learn exciting choreography. But they also come with another important takeaway: friendship! Finding the perfect person to tag in studio selfies or split a post-rehearsal snack with can make even the best summer program that much better—and can lead to a long-term career bond. Dance Spirit spoke to six sets of pros who still can’t get enough of their summertime BFFs.
Rinaldi and Grocki before Justin Peck's Year of the Rabbit (courtesy Grocki)
Leanna Rinaldi & Ellen Grocki, Miami City Ballet
Leanna Rinaldi and Ellen Grocki do everything side by side—they live together, dance together, travel together and joke together—and that’s just the way they like it. The two met during Miami City Ballet’s summer intensive in 2012. When Grocki was invited to stay year-round, Rinaldi invited Grocki to live with her and a friend, and their fate was sealed. They both joined the MCB corps in 2014.
“We’re more like sisters than friends,” Rinaldi says. “We can pretty much read each other’s thoughts.” Grocki agrees: “Our jobs are demanding, with lots of emotional highs and lows, so having someone to share that with in the studio and at home has been so helpful.”
Sullivan and Teicher at Jacob's Pillow in 2016 (photo by Hayim Heron, courtesy Jacob's Pillow)
Caleb Teicher & Macy Sullivan, Caleb Teicher & Company
Caleb Teicher and Macy Sullivan met during a two-week tap program at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2010. Sullivan had just finished her sophomore year
at The Juilliard School; Teicher had just finished high school. Teicher remembers admiring Sullivan’s dancing from afar even before they met. “I was intrigued and intimidated by her,” he says. “Being friends with Macy encouraged me to do better myself.”
Since then, the duo have supported each other professionally time and time again: Sullivan suggested Teicher try out for The Chase Brock Experience; they partnered up to swing dance with the Syncopated City Dance Company; and Sullivan now performs with Caleb Teicher & Company. “Dancing together professionally has been really special,” Sullivan says. “There’s a huge amount of trust between us, artistically and as friends, and that comes through onstage.”
Peters and DiPiazza in Wayne McGregor's Chroma (photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy PA Ballet)
Lillian DiPiazza & Alexander Peters, Pennsylvania Ballet
Pennsylvania Ballet principals Lillian DiPiazza and Alexander Peters met at the School of American Ballet’s Summer Course in 2007. Back then, their favorite between-class activity was soaking up the summer sun in Central Park. “We would bring these really gross Starbucks latte things,” Peters remembers.
They’ve been through a lot together in the years since, including graduating to the year-round program at SAB. DiPiazza transitioned to Pennsylvania Ballet one year later, and Peters followed her there after three more years. “Having a friendly face there made the transition much easier,” he says. Side by side, they’ve matured as dancers—and their culinary tastes have come a long way from lattes in the park. “We love to go out to explore Philadelphia’s food scene,” Peters says, “or we’ll just stay in and cook.”
Paulos and Harris' first Ailey II reception in Towson, MD (courtesy Paulos)
Jacquelin Harris & Danica Paulos, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
“Our co-workers refer to us as Frick and Frack or The Giggle Twins,” Danica Paulos says
of her friendship with fellow AAADT member Jacquelin Harris. “When someone tells one of us something, it’s assumed that we’ll tell it to the other. And we’re always laughing!”
Though the two first met as students at The Ailey School, they became BFFs during a summer at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2013. Harris remembers one adventure in particular that sealed the deal: “One night we took our blankets, pillows and comforters to Inside/Out [the outdoor stage at Jacob’s Pillow] and slept under the stars. I’m pretty sure that was against the rules, but we stayed up for hours getting to know each other and making memories.”
These troublemakers have stuck together ever since: They joined Ailey II together the week after returning from the Pillow, and have moved up the ranks side by side, entering the main company in 2014. “It’s like our amazing summer never ended,” Paulos says. They’ll be together onstage from coast to coast during Ailey’s 2017 tour Feb. 3–June 18.
Gilliland and Peck in 2012 (courtesy Peck)
Tiler Peck, New York City Ballet, & Kaitlyn Gilliland, freelance ballerina
At the School of American Ballet Summer Course in 2002, Tiler Peck and Kaitlyn Gilliland shared a moment you might not expect from two blossoming ballerinas: “Believe it or not, we first bonded over a Ludacris song,” Gilliland says. “It came on the radio, and we were each surprised to learn the other knew the lyrics.”
“She could rap all the words,” Peck says. “I was so impressed.”
This goofy pair continued to turn to each other for laughter and support throughout that summer. When they were both offered apprenticeships with New York City Ballet two years later, they roomed together in SAB’s dorms and later moved into a shared apartment—and continued to be roomies for the next several years. After four years dancing together at NYCB, Gilliland moved on to explore a freelance career, but their friendship has stayed intact. Peck is “a friend I hope to have for life,” Gilliland says. “I also earn major cool points with other friends when I bring them backstage at NYCB performances to meet her.”
The pair rehearsing in 2009 (courtesy Delgadillo)
Alicia Delgadillo, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, & Derek Ege, freelance dancer
For Alicia Delgadillo and Derek Ege, the perfect friendship grew from the perfect partnership. Both were freshmen in college coming from NYC—Delgadillo from the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program, and Ege from The Juilliard School—when they spent the summer of 2009 together at an intensive at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. There, they were paired together for a duet in Jirˇí Kylián’s 27'52". “It was the craziest partnering I’d ever done,” Ege remembers. “We had to build a lot of trust—and we still have that.”
After three summers together at HSDC, the two went different directions—Delgadillo stayed on in Chicago, joining Hubbard Street 2 and then the main company, and Ege danced with the Trey McIntyre Project for one season, then returned to NYC, where he’s danced with Keigwin + Company, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, ZuiDance and, recently, on the international tour of Shrek: The Musical. But whenever they reconnect, they always pick up right where they left off. “He’s hilarious,” Delgadillo says. “And I know he likes that, to this day, I will always laugh at his jokes.”
Find Your BFF This Summer!
How can you raise your chances of meeting a friend who will turn into a lifelong ally? Here are some tips from those who’ve been there.
1. Ask for support. “Rely on the people around you if you’re feeling homesick, sad
or stressed, because they’re probably going through something similar.” —Alexander Peters
2. Remember: Opposites attract. Friends who are different from you can make for a more interesting summer. “I was very talkative, and Kaitlyn [Gilliland] was the complete opposite; it worked because we balanced each other out.” —Tiler Peck
3. Get out of the studio. “Do things outside of class or rehearsal. It’ll keep you from feeling overwhelmed.” —Lillian DiPiazza
4. Inspire each other. At an intensive, you’ll be surrounded by dancers who inspire and motivate you, so take advantage of that! “I was obsessed with Jacquelin [Harris]’s dancing before we met—I really admired her talent and work ethic.” —Danica Paulos
5. Be a team player, not a competitor. “It’s easier to make friends when you’re not caught up in comparing yourself to other people. The best friends are supportive of each other.” —Ellen Grocki
6. Just be you. “Be yourself. Your friends will find you.” —Kaitlyn Gilliland
There's nothing like the thrill of attending a summer program. Getting to experience new teachers and classes can make a world of difference in your technique. Meeting other students who are as obsessed with dance as you are can lead to lifelong friendships. And sometimes, a summer program can alter the course of your dance career. Just ask pros Evelyn Kocak, Stacy Martorana, Mayumi Enokibara and Stephanie Klemons, who shared their life-changing summer intensive experiences with Dance Spirit.
Here’s a recipe for a delicious dance movie mash-up: Gather a gaggle of gorgeous ballerinas and a few top-notch hip-hop crews. Mix in a bunch of talented classical musicians. Add killer choreography by Dave Scott. Shake well.
What’s this magical cinematic concoction called? High Strung—and it’s coming to theaters this summer.
(From left) Rik (Ian Eastwood) and Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzine) break it down in High Strung (photo courtesy Riviera Films)
The film’s story goes like this: Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzine) is a brilliant violinist fresh off the boat from Britain who’s desperate to get a green card. In the meantime, he’s making ends meet by busking in the NYC subways. Luckily, his new friend Ruby (Mariinsky Ballet alum Keenan Kampa), a ballet student at a prestigious performing arts school, has the inside scoop on a strings-and-dance competition that could land him $25,000 and a student visa to stay in the U.S. To wow the judges, Johnnie’s going to need not only Ruby’s help, but also an assist from his neighbors: the SwitchSteps hip-hop crew.
Per the usual dance movie formula, romance, drama and awesome dancing ensue. But this one just feels different from other dance films. “Having the classical music component really adds a lot,” Kampa says. “And the diversity of the dancing makes the movie special, too. It’s got everything from ballet dancers to b-boys to tango pros to tappers.”
Ruby performing her ballet solo (photo courtesy Riviera Films)
To find all of those accomplished artists, director Michael Damian, writer/producer Janeen Damian (Michael’s wife and a former dancer herself) and Scott had to cast a wide net. They held open auditions in L.A., NYC, Paris, London and Bucharest, Romania, and Scott personally recruited many of the dancers, including “So You Think You Can Dance” standout Comfort Fedoke and “America’s Best Dance Crew” alum Ian Eastwood.
The High Strung shoot, which took place in both NYC and Bucharest, was full of long, grueling days. But the stream of photos and videos on the film’s social media pages prove it definitely wasn’t all work and no play. “Imagine taking 60 great dancers to work every day and letting them loose,” Scott says. “It was just fun from
beginning to end.”
Johnnie romancing Ruby (Keenan Kampa) in NYC (photo courtesy Riviera Films)
High Strung’s Best Dance Scenes
The subway showdown: Two underground hip-hop crews throw down in this high-octane, in-your-face dance sequence filmed in a Romanian train station—
a stand-in for NYC’s subway. (Look for a cameo from Mr. Dave Scott himself!)
The ballet solo: Keenan Kampa gets the spotlight all to herself in a solo so extraordinary, you’ll end up applauding in the movie theater.
The gala: Dueling violins set the soundtrack as the SwitchSteps crew wreaks playful havoc on a formal fundraiser.
The finale: A creative combo of hip hop and classical ballet pulls out all the stops in an over-the-top grand finish.
High Strung's Stars
In a cast packed with dance talent, Keenan Kampa and Ian Eastwood shine especially bright.
Ian Eastwood (photo by Erin Baiano)
America’s Mos Wanted
Maybe you know him from Mos Wanted Crew, which snagged third place on “America’s Best Dance Crew” Season 7. Maybe you’ve watched some of his virtuosic dance videos on YouTube. Or maybe you’ve caught one of his always-packed classes at The PULSE. Basically, Ian Eastwood is everywhere—including, these days, in movie theaters.
Eastwood’s leap into the acting world started with a call from Dave Scott, whom Eastwood has known since the age of 11, when they met at a Monsters of Hip Hop convention in Chicago. “He said he’d gotten an audition for me, and really wanted me to come,” Eastwood says. “I love Dave and was starting to get into film on the directing end, so I was open to the idea of doing some acting.”
Eastwood landed the role of Rik, the freestyling king of the SwitchSteps crew. It was familiar territory for the innovative hip-hop dancer, who’s trained in a variety of styles. “I drew on real-life experiences I’ve had being in a crew,” he says. “The character felt like a fun, hyped-up version of myself.”
Even though the acting came naturally, Eastwood put a lot of pressure on himself to deliver dance-wise—especially in the intense finale. “I knew this was going to live on camera forever,” he says, “so I had to make it dope for every take.”
Now that the movie has wrapped, Eastwood’s setting his sights on his next ambitious project: a “dance mix-tape” he hopes to debut this summer. “It’s like a fusion of a dance short film and a music mix-tape,” he says of the 25-minute movie, which features a 10-song soundtrack. As the writer, choreographer, director and editor, Eastwood’s the main creative force behind the project, and he credits a lot of his newfound moviemaking skills to his High Strung experience. “I learned a ton about the technical side of things on the film,” he says. “Now I’m taking that knowledge and using it to make something else great.”
From the Mariinsky to the Movies
Ballerina Keenan Kampa was feeling pretty low in January 2014. Though she’d been the first American to join Russia’s prestigious Mariinsky Ballet two years earlier, her stellar career with the company was cut short by injury. She’d returned to the U.S. to undergo surgery to repair several labral tears in her left hip. But shortly after her operation, she received a tweet from High Strung director Michael Damian. “He’d seen me in a story NBC did on the 2014 Olympic ceremonies in Russia, which featured the Mariinsky,” Kampa says. “I wrote back and said that I’d always wanted to act—and was definitely interested in hearing more details.”
Keenan Kampa (photo by Erin Baiano)
Before Kampa could audition, she had to get well. She spent two months at a rehabilitation center in Vail, reclaiming her ballerina body. “I accelerated my recovery as much as I could,” she says. It was hard work, but it paid off: She read for the lead role of Ruby and nailed it, partly because she could relate to the character. “She reminded me of myself when I first started dancing,” Kampa says. “There’s a maturity and seriousness that comes with time, but Ruby’s still in the phase where she’s very wide-eyed and optimistic.”
Though—unlike Ruby—Kampa is a seasoned professional, she still had a thing or two to learn on set. Dancing for the camera rather than a live audience was an adjustment, as was working with a hip-hop choreographer. “I was a little nervous going in, because Dave and I come from such different backgrounds. But he couldn’t have been more fun to work with,” Kampa says. “He’d tell me, ‘I want this feeling,’ and then he’d show me a hip-hop move and ask how I’d translate it to ballet.”
Kampa also picked up a few things from the SwitchSteps dancers, who taught her everything from popping and locking to headspins. “It was like a party,” she says, laughing. “As ballet dancers, we tend to get lost in aesthetics and the quest for perfection. It was really eye-opening for me to see how much they just loved moving.”
Kampa’s acting career is now in full force: She recently signed with the company that manages Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller. Her original plan of returning to Russia after healing is now on hold, and she’s totally OK with that. “I’m going to take a break from the ballet company and see what happens with acting,” she says. “I’m in a very happy place right now!”
You guys. I think award-winning Scottish singer/songwriter Kathryn Joseph read my mind the last time I was daydreaming about my perfect summer. Her new video "The Bird," directed by Eve McConnachie, the Scottish Ballet's in-house filmmaker and designer, is basically a dancer's version of bliss.
Gorgeous location? Um, I think an empty Scottish beach at sunset meets that criteria.
Beautiful music? Just listen to Joseph's haunting voice.
Stunning costume? If I could wear that sheer red number every day, I would.
Oh, and the dancing? Scottish Ballet coryphée Sophie Laplane (who also choreographed the video!) nails it.
You guys know I'm a huge fan of ballet and balletic movement in music videos, so I'm always thrilled when a new artistic collaboration between musicians, dancers and filmmakers emerges. Check it out below!
Way back in 1949, Sadler's Wells Ballet (which later became The Royal) had its first North American tour. A ballerina named Margot Fonteyn was introduced to America, became an international star and changed the face of dance. Fortunately for us, there are photos and mementos from those early touring days to show us what it was like.
Thanks to a recent donation from Robert Dunn, a former musician in the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the archivists at the ROH were able to show some ephemera from that tour. There are also items from the company's third North American tour in 1953. Nothing like calf liver on a brunch menu to really make you thankful for healthy dancer food nowadays, amirite?
Just look at these cool cats. (Photo via ROH archives, donated by Robert Dunn)
Btw, The Royal Ballet is touring the U.S. RIGHT NOW! The company hasn't graced us with its presence since 2009, so this summer tour is long-overdue. Indulge in some #throwback nostalgia, and then, if you can, get your tickets! The Royal has already hit Washington D.C., but Chicago and NYC audiences still have a chance to see the company.