Former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles, a picture-perfect ballerina, has had a career packed with accolades and critical successes. At age 10, the Baltimore, MD, native moved to Washington, DC, to train at the Kirov Academy of Ballet on full scholarship. She won a gold medal at the 18th International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria; received the 1999–2000 Dance Fellowship from the Princess Grace Foundation–U.S.A.; and earned the Erik Bruhn prize in 2002. After joining ABT's Studio Company in 1997, Wiles quickly rose through the ranks—she was promoted to the corps in 1998 and earned principal status in 2005. She danced with ABT for six more years before deciding to venture out on her own. Currently, Wiles serves as artistic director, dancer and choreographer at BalletNext, the NYC-based company she founded in 2011. Catch her performing in the company's shows next month. —Courtney Bowers
Dear 16-year-old M,
Life comes in phases. Be prepared for things to be turned upside down sometimes, but remember that those will be the times you grow the most.
Phase 1: Work hard on developing your technique. That work ethic and discipline will carry you through. To become a true professional, there are no shortcuts to putting in hard time. They say it takes 10,000 hours of work to become really knowledgeable about your craft!
Phase 2: Once it's time to join a company, remember it's not easy to transition from being the best in your class to being in a group of 80 dancers who are all amazing. You're now a little fish in a big pond. There are a lot of distractions that will blow in, especially once you've settled into NYC; stick to your strengths and keep focused on your dream. You'll move through the ranks quickly, but be prepared to hit a few roadblocks along the way.
Phase 3: With success comes adversity, and you'll discover that you're no longer the young prodigy. You must also grow personally and artistically. You'll find your mind, body and soul aren't operating in harmony, and that you need to do some questioning about the future. That will result in the decision to begin your own journey with BalletNext. The system didn't prepare you for this leap—there will be no manual to help. You'll have to dig deeper and find a strength you haven't depended upon before.
In life, you have to listen to yourself. You have to make the bold decision to forge your own path. Follow your heart—it's your greatest guide. Embrace it!
All my love,
Wiles as a teen (Dominic Episcopo, courtesy Primadonna)