Oregon Ballet Theatre's Jacquline Straughan (with Brian Simcoe) showing off her beautiful epaulment in Swan Lake (photo by Jingzi, courtesy Oregon Ballet Theatre)

It's in Odette's gracefully arched neck, the Lilac Fairy's regal bearing, even a contemporary dancer's extreme lines. The "it" in question? Épaulement—the nuanced positioning of the head, shoulders, and neck. Using your épaulement (which translates, literally, as "shouldering") does more than make your dancing prettier: It makes it better, richer, and more artistic. But achieving effortless épaulement is easier said than done, especially since technique classes tend to focus on the legs and feet.

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Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Kenneth B. Edwards

Editor's Note: Madi Hicks has since graduated Juilliard and is now dancing with L.A. Dance Project!

Spend one day observing the dance program at The Juilliard School, and it's obvious how hard the dancers have worked to get there. But even in a studio filled with insane talent, Madi Hicks stands out. A former title-winning comp kid (and 2013 Dance Spirit Cover Model Search finalist!), she dances 24/7, and packs as many dance composition classes into her schedule as possible. “I love, love, love to choreograph," she says. “I really want to have my own company some day." In the meantime, she's soaking up all that her elite school and NYC have to offer. So what's it like to attend one of the most prestigious conservatories in the nation? We followed Hicks for a day in spring 2016 to find out.

“The teachers really care about our futures and invest in us," says Hicks. “I get so much one-on-one help because the Juilliard dance program is so small. I wouldn't get that in a larger program."

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