Nisian Hughes (courtesy Michele Wiles)

Michele Wiles Writes a Letter to Her Teenage Self

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,

Grown-up M

Wiles as a teen (Dominic Episcopo, courtesy Primadonna)

Latest Posts

Alex Wong (Collette Mruk, courtesy Alex Wong)

6 AAPI Dancers Share Their Stories

Last year, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 150 percent in many of America's largest cities. And last month, a mass shooting in the Atlanta area took the lives of eight people, six of them Asian women. Since then, the attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have continued, sparking a national movement to stop AAPI hate.

In light of this, Dance Spirit wanted to help amplify the voices of AAPI dancers. We asked six to share their thoughts about anti-Asian racism and how it appears in the dance world. Here's what they had to say.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
William Zinser works with a dancer at The Joyce Theater (Kristin Stevens, courtesy William Zinser)

How to Beat 5 Common Cheats Dancers Commit

Y'all, we get it. Dance is really, really hard. So what's the harm in taking the easy way out on a technical correction? Answer: an increased chance of injury, and a whole slew of new technique problems that could take a loooooooong time to fix.

Lucky for you, Dance Spirit has enlisted the expert help of Dale Lam, artistic director of CCJ Conservatory in South Carolina, and William Zinser, certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in NYC, so you can start leveling up your technique the honest way.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
What happens if you are passed over for the opportunity when it feels like your time? (Getty Images/kf4851)

What to Do When Your Dance Teacher Says You're Not Pointe Ready

Since the day you pulled on your first leotard, you have no doubt been dreaming of the day you would attend your first pointe shoe fitting. Going on pointe is a rite of passage as a ballet dancer, and the result of years of hard work.

But what happens if you are passed over for the opportunity when it feels like your time? It's totally understandable to be disappointed and frustrated if your teacher doesn't move you on pointe, but don't lose faith in yourself. "I've seen a lot of dancers go on pointe over the years," says Josephine Lee, professional pointe shoe fitter and founder of The Pointe Shop. "I don't think I have ever seen a dancer who was held back from pointework feel like they were behind in the long run."

Ideally, your teacher has laid out clear guidelines for what makes a dancer pointe-ready. But if they haven't, there are some milestones that ballet professionals are looking for to give the green light for your first pair of shoes. Factors like your age, technique level, range of motion and strength all come into play. And the good news is that if going on pointe is a goal for you, there are proactive ways that you can get there.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search