(photo by Jayme Thornton)
I have good technique, but I carry a lot of tension in my wrists and hands—they look like claws! How can I fix them?
This is such a common problem. At the School of American Ballet, we were taught to separate all five fingers, so we didn’t look like mannequins. To achieve that look without getting into claw territory, pretend you’re gently cradling a golf ball in the palm of your hand. If you imagine holding anything bigger (a softball, an orange), your fingers will tense up. Aim for a subtle, soft roundness—which will help with wrist tension, too.
Also, make sure your hand always follows your arm, rather than the other way around. For example, when moving from second position to bras bas, the elbow should lead the way, followed by the wrist and hand. That prevents stiff “Barbie arms.” Maintaining a sense of resistance in your port de bras—as though your arms are moving through water—will help those transitions happen naturally.
I love dancing, but it’s such a huge time commitment, and I’m always canceling on my non-dance friends. Is it worth missing things like prom for dance? Am I going to have regrets?
Sacrificing “normal” high school experiences is a problem every serious dancer faces. And we all react differently when asked to choose between our dance lives and our non-dance lives.
If you’re feeling bad about missing football games and dances, that’s OK! In fact, evaluating those feelings can help you figure out if you want to pursue dance professionally. As a professional, you’ll constantly be expected to give up “normal” experiences for your job. Your life will revolve around dance; your social life will center on rehearsals and performances with your colleagues.
If you decide that’s not what you want, you’ve learned something valuable about yourself. And if you decide that is what you want, you’ve learned something just as valuable. The most important thing is that you’re happy and fulfilled in the path you ultimately take.
For what it’s worth, I don’t regret any of it. I always wanted to be in class or rehearsal—I’d have been far more worried if I’d had to miss class to attend prom! Most of my best friends were dancers, so I didn’t feel like I was missing all that much. Whenever I’d get a little pang of doubt, I’d work on reframing my thinking. For example, I may not have gone to “official” prom, but my version of prom was wearing a tutu onstage with New York City Ballet. Not too shabby!
I’m almost six feet tall (6' 6" on pointe)! I’m frustrated—I’m put in the back of every group, and none of the guys are tall enough to partner me. Do I have a future in ballet?
Oh, what many dancers wouldn’t give for an extra few inches of leg! I’m sure you look stunning onstage. But I know this is a “grass is always greener” situation, and I understand that being a tall dancer can pose problems, too.
I definitely think you have a future in ballet. Companies tend to look at technique and artistry first, and then worry about height. My advice would be to seek out companies that already have taller dancers—companies you know will have no qualms about taking a beautiful Amazon. Many European groups have very tall women, and Pacific Northwest Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet have lots of leggy dancers, too.
The most important thing you can do right now is “dance your height.” Don’t try to shrink yourself; slouching and slumping are never pretty. If you stand tall, the audience will be drawn to you—and company directors will be, too. Be proud of those legs!