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Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask

Table of Contents

Dedication

Hello!

My Love Affair With Pointe Shoes

What It’s Like to Wear Pointe Shoes

Pointe Shoe History & Tutorial

Hope: Indigo Ballet Series, book #2 (excerpt)

On Tour in Israel: The Perks and the Perils

On Tour with Miami City Ballet in Ecuador

How to be a Dancer or Just Look Like One…

My Most Intense Summer at the School of American Ballet

Debunking Ballet Myths

How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer

The Rules of Ballet

10 Reasons to Study Ballet at Any Age

How to Make a Ballerina

What it Takes to be a Ballet Dancer

Top 10 Swoon-Worthy Ballet Boys

Men in Ballet: The Real Story

Real-Life Love at the Ballet

How Ballet and Football Are Alike…And Different

What Do Dancers Eat?

Classical Music to Rock Your World

Ballet – Every Little Girl’s Dream

Ballet’s Most Loaded Question

What Ballet Life is Really Like

5 Steps to Building Confidence For Audition Success

A Day in The Life of a Professional Ballet Student

How to Move Past Failure

A Dancer’s Guide to Gratitude

Top 10 Things to do in New York City: a WISH Guide

Keep in Touch!

About The Author

This one’s for Dash. Thank you for being my rock.

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My Love Affair With Pointe Shoes

Every young ballerina dreams of the day she will first go up en pointePointe shoes are magic, giving a dancer the illusion of floating or flying. Before pointe shoes were developed, dancers were hoisted into the air on ropes and pulleys -- but [pointe _]shoes made it so much easier to move around the stage instead of just up and down. The pink satin adds elegance to _pointe shoes, conjuring  images of fine ladies strutting about in billowing  gowns of satin and tulle. But in all honesty, wearing pointe shoes takes a lot of getting used to. They hurt like a mother.

I couldn’t wait to get my first pair. However, my teacher was very particular about starting girls when their bodies were ready and not a moment before. She was a stickler about this because starting a dancer en pointe too early can cause real damage. As I got closer and closer to the right time, my anticipation grew to the point (pun intended) of near explosion. Buying your first pair of pointe shoes was a big deal in my ballet studio, you see. It was like a field trip, a festival and a huge family celebration rolled into one.

We all drove as a group on the big day, partly because my teacher wanted to be there to oversee the process and partly because the nearest store to stock them was 45 minutes away. We flocked into the tiny store and sat in a tight little circle. None of us could sit still on the cold metal chairs as we waited for our friends to be fitted. We watched their faces as they rose on toe for the first time while we wiggled anxiously in our seats.

In my teacher’s opinion there was only one brand: Capezio. So that’s what we all got. Size and width were the only things that differed among us. On that day there was nothing more wondrous in my mind than those pink Capezios. At last my feet were happily encased in what felt like pink satin cement blocks. 

My fitter offered me a hand to help me stand and man, even just standing in the things felt awkward. They had absolutely no give and the soles were thicker and taller than those of ballet slippers. It felt like my ankles couldn’t flex enough to stand properly- my weight was being forced back on my heels, making me feel like I could teeter over backwards.  

The fitter continued to hold my hand while I rose en pointe for the first time. The tips of the shoes, called the boxes – the hardest parts of the pointe shoes– dug in to the soft, virgin flesh of my feet. It really hurt! I didn’t know how I would ever get used to wearing them, let alone look graceful.

Still, even the pain did not lessen my love affair with those shoes. Later it would be a different story.

Once everyone was fitted properly -- and to my teacher’s satisfaction--, the shoes were boxed up and we were all given the standard-issue packs of pink satin ribbon to sew onto our shoes. Pointe shoes don’t come with the ribbons attached; it is always a dancer’s job to do that. Imagine how much sewing professionals do when they go through several pairs of shoes each week! We also received a box of lamb’s wool, which was used to cushion and protect the toes inside those super-hard boxes.

I was on a huge high during the entire car ride home. I couldn’t wait to sew those ribbons on my shoes and get dancing -- like a real ballerina. Finally.

Now that I officially owned my first pair of pointe shoes, the steep uphill learning curve began. There was a lot to learn: how to sew on the ribbons, care for the shoes, care for the feet in and out of the shoes and, of course, how to use the things. But during the drive home from the dance store, the shoes remained safely nestled in their box in a mass of tissue paper.

Within moments of getting them home I was ready to sew on the ribbons and give them a test-drive. Proper ribbon placement is essential; one cannot just sew them on haphazardly and hope for the best. To find the right placement, fold down the back of the shoe until it touches the shank on the inside of the shoe. The sites where the satin folds are where the ribbons go. 

My teacher was very particular and very thorough about sewing those ribbons; she made us fold the ends of the ribbon over on themselves twice before sewing them on. By sewing through several layers of ribbon, there was no way those puppies were ever going to rip off in the middle of something important.

At last we were able to try them out in class the following week. The final 10 minutes of class were set aside for the pointe shoe fledglings to spread our wings. We were given careful instructions on how to gently bend the shanks so they would curve under our arches and how to break in the boxes so they felt a little bit less like cement blocks. We ripped off a hunk of lamb’s wool, wrapped it around the toes to cushion them, then tied the ribbons in the trademark criss-cross around the ankles.

The first exercise en pointe was simple [_relevés _]on two legs, and we did only a few. It felt strange and rather anti-climactic. It also hurt. A lot.

Over the next several months we began to build up to doing more and more [en pointe _]and I simultaneously began to have more and more pain in my feet, specifically in the joints of my big toes. Whenever I took my _pointe shoes off, my feet throbbed in protest, the joints angry and red. I began to notice they were becoming enlarged. Needless to say, the pain and disfigurement were alarming. I tried putting ice on the affected area but it didn’t help – my big toe joints kept growing.

I would come to find that nothing would help. Over the course of the many years that followed, my feet would gradually transform into a twisted version of themselves. “The problem is that you need to strengthen the outside muscles of your calves,” said the podiatrist I consulted -- hundreds of exercises later there was no change. “The problem is that your big toes are longer than the others and your foot is warping itself to compensate,” said knowing friends -- not much to be done about that. The problem continued to progress and I developed full-fledged bunions   -- really not pretty.

The real problem was that pointe shoes are actually instruments of torture. Beautiful to look at, but not so fun to get used to.

It took years before the breathtaking pain finally subsided. But for the first few years that I wore pointe shoes, it felt like my feet were being sliced with a hot knife. I’d often have to slip the shoes off for a few moments between exercises to relieve the continual aching pressure. When I finally took them off at the end of class I expected to see steam come pouring out, like in cartoons. Only it was no laughing matter, really. Most of the time I wanted to cry.

I had yet to learn how to dance with open, bloody blisters and to familiarize myself with the wide array of Dr. Scholl’s products that make a dancer’s life just that much more bearable. It wasn’t until years later in New York that I’d learn the tricks of mummifying my toes with medical tape and strategically placing squishy pads around nasty blisters and corns.

Human feet are subjected to a lot but dancers pretty much take the prize for demanding the most of them.

Two summers ago, a fellow dancer and I were walking together. It was a hot day and I was wearing flip-flops. My friend happened to look down at my feet and commented, “Oh, your poor feet. Look at what pointe shoes have done them.” Her feet, by contrast, looked totally normal and pretty. I was envious.

In the overall scope of things, one could argue that I got off easy. Yes, my feet are somewhat deformed, but I never ripped, tweaked or broke anything. While many dancers end up with injuries that never completely go away, I never suffered anything that still lives with me now.

But in the ballet world, such is the price of glory.

When I first began wearing[_ pointe _]shoes, we wore them twice a week for 15 minutes at the end of class, so one pair of shoes would last many months. By the time I was an upper-division dancer at the School of American Ballet I would go through several pairs in a week. At $60 a pop this was prohibitively expensive. Today’s prices are even more so; a recent visit to the Freed of London website showed a price of $94 per pair, and Capezio shoes ranged from $63-79 per pair.

Luckily the School of American Ballet provided a solution: the infamous shoe room. The shoe room was filled with shelf after shelf of New York City Ballet company cast-offs, those shoes deemed unacceptable by various company members for various reasons. Some were obvious, like a lumpy box on a pair of[_ pointe_] shoes, but most were serviceable. School of American Ballet students were able to avail themselves of the shoe room and purchase shoes for the incredibly low price of $15 a pair. It was a bargain that was too good to pass up.

However, using the shoe room came with a different price: an inordinate amount of time spent waiting. The shoe room was open only a few hours per week for two hours at a time and we were only allowed in one person at a time to browse. Why this was so remains an unexplained mystery. However, we never questioned the rules and I learned to wait patiently outside the door until Miss Finn, school secretary and steadfast gatekeeper of the shoe room, announced my turn.

The shoe room was a tiny little room adjacent to the girls’ dressing room. OK, it was a closet -- but a luxuriously large closet as closets go – any janitor would have been overjoyed to call it headquarters. But this humble closet was a hot spot, the stuff of legend to any newcomer who had not yet ventured inside – it was the difference between affording a new pair of pointe shoes or trying to revive an old pair by pouring polyurethane in the boxes and baking them in the oven.

Once inside, a decision had to be made as quickly as possible, since time was always running short and a line of other dancers waited just on the other side of the door. Anyone who took too long was sure to hear about it from the others. One boy took so long choosing his leather, ballet slippers that the entire line of waiting dancers grumbled. “What are you doing in there?” someone finally asked. His muffled reply through door: “Killing the cow.”

Most New York City Ballet dancers wore pointe shoes from Freed of London. The leather soles had special symbols stamped into them, indicating the maker. If you already knew which dancer’s shoes -- and maker--, you preferred, it was easy to grab a few pairs and try them on to see which ones felt best. When the selection(s) were made, you exited and paid Miss Finn and it was the next person’s turn.

It always felt satisfying to leave the shoe room with a pile of shoes. But then again, it also meant a whole lot of sewing since each pair needed ribbons and elastic. Even so, an armload of pink satin is a beautiful thing.

Conjure up an image of ballerinas spinning effortlessly en pointe and you’re not likely to come up with, say blisters, or corns, or bunions. Yet the two go hand-in-hand, or foot so to speak, like peanut butter and jelly. Regardless of the shape of one’s feet, though, the show must go on and every dancer is eventually faced with the unfortunate and painful prospect of having to dance on bloody toes.

There are work-arounds, of course. There have to be. That’s where a dancer’s best friend comes to the rescue: good old Dr. Scholl. No, they don’t just make arch supports and sandals that are the equivalent of wooden flip-flops -- but comfy! Many dancers rely heavily on Dr. Scholl’s Blister Treatment, Corn Cushions, bunion cushions, and Moleskin Padding to protect wounds and sore spots when the going gets tough and the tough must keep going.

Every time I put on my [pointe _]shoes, whether for class, rehearsal or performance, I followed an elaborate ritual  -- nothing to do with the preparation of the [_pointe _]shoes. This was all about the feet. It would be professional suicide to just stick your unprotected feet into a pair of _pointe shoes and dance so long and hard that you give the "Twelve Dancing Princesses" a run for their money. Instead, there is a process. What worked for me was to wrap each toe with medical tape and then use paper towels or gel pads to make the whole experience more comfy. I dealt with the occasional corn -- man, those suckers are painful! -- by dosing it with remover and by using an oval-shaped corn pad to relieve pressure.

I was one of the lucky one who got blisters on very rare occasions. That is, until I moved to Miami to dance with Miami City Ballet.

Miami is tropical by nature and culture. It’s warm year-round, which brings in droves of tourists and older folks and its monsoon season -- typically in July/August-- would rival that of Mumbai, India,   Bali, Indonesia, or anywhere else that gets pelted with driving rains so fierce that even with the windshield wipers on high it would be lunacy to attempt driving.

Miami is also humid as h*ll. This means blisters. Lots of them.

In Miami for the first and only time in my life I had blisters all the time. The tropical climate kept everything perpetually moist and my feet were no exception. Every day brought on new and disgusting terrors and no matter how hard I tried to stay on top of them, I got more and more blisters.

I even had blisters on top of my blisters.

But the winning moment came one night when we were on tour in Palm Beach. I was putting the final touches on makeup and costuming, attempting to delay the inevitable moment when I’d have to put my bloody toes in pointe shoes and dance my part in, “Concerto Barocco.”

For the record, Concerto Barocco is a beautiful Balanchine ballet set to, "Concerto in D minor for Two Violins," by Johann Sebastian Bach-- achingly wonderful music. It is also one of Balanchine’s most taxing ballets for the corps de ballet. During the entire 20 minutes, the corps never leaves the stage. The first movement is brisk and up tempo, followed by a second movement that is quite slow where the dancers are forced to hold static lunge positions for many long minutes at a time.

But the third movement, the end of the ballet is a real killer: fast-paced, technically demanding, relentlessly aerobic and in its final moments, there are a million soutenu turns from side to side and endless hops en pointe.

In essence, it might be the worst possible ballet to perform with a nasty collection of gaping blisters.

When life passes us incredibly painful moments, sometimes there’s no choice but to belly up to the bar(re). Which is what I did. After painstakingly cutting out moleskin pads that were perfectly-sized for each and every blister, I wrapped every toe carefully, cushioned the whole mess with padding and said a silent prayer before heading backstage to psyche myself into the proper mindset to get through the performance.

First I tried some pique arabesques. Those were tolerable. If you’re comfortable with the feeling of having your foot pierced by a red-hot poker. The [soutenu _]turns stepped things up a few notches. The hops _en pointe were worse than natural childbirth (I know from personal experience), so I stopped doing them. After that I stayed off pointe and kept my muscles warm until the final moment of reckoning arrived.

But when the music started, it transported me away from my worldly troubles -- at least for the first two movements. Some music is inspiring enough that it can do that, raise us beyond the things we’d rather forget and let our bodies simply respond to the exquisite sound of a musical masterpiece. Add the theatrical elements of bright light, a company of fellow dancers and an enrapt audience and the pain disappears-- almost.

Except for the third movement and those bloody -- literally--, hops en pointe where I could feel the raw meat of my wounded flesh grinding against the concrete confines that were the boxes of my shoes-- well, that was special.

During final bows I experienced among the most immense periods of relief of my life… I walked off stage- OK, no- I hobbled. When I looked down I noticed blood had seeped through everything, including the pink satin exteriors of my shoes. Now that was serious.

Such is a day in the life of a dancer.

What It’s Like to Wear Pointe Shoes

Most people think that[_ pointe_] shoes are all about pink satin perfection, but never give a thought to what it actually feels like to put them on. I’ve been thinking more about this as I’m working on my novel, Hope, where many scenes take place during ballet classes. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate thing with pointe shoes since my first pair. Honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that pointe shoes are like cement ball gowns; luxuriously beautiful and clunky as hell.

Also, they are very awkward to walk in since the toes are solid blocks. It’s kind of like walking in ski boots. Keeping that in mind, now try to imagine jumping in them. Every time the dancer jumps the landing is supposed to be silent. Like a cat-- but not a cat in ski boots. Not an easy thing to do.

[Pirouettes _]are another story. Let’s talk about turns for a second. Spinning on the tip of a _pointe shoe is like spinning on an area the size of a postage stamp.  Nothing short of miraculous when you think about it.

It’s been many years since I had to wear [pointe _]shoes every day. I’m thankful for that. These days I prefer dancing barefoot and feeling my feet against the smooth wood of a dance floor. However I recently purchased a pair of _pointe shoes to use in photographs. From time to time I put them on and play around. Man, do those suckers hurt! I mean, they really, really hurt. I’m ready to take them off after a few minutes have passed. I’ve had to ask myself how I ever managed to wear them all the time for as long as I did.

But hey, they look good, don’t they?

Conclusion: If you dance en pointe, you are hardcore by definition.

Pointe Shoe History & Tutorial

To many people ballet dancers seem magical; not only can they defy gravity with effortless Herculean jumps, they can balance and twirl on their toes. How do they do it? Are their foot bones made of steel?

           The other day I watched two young girls try to figure out the answers to these questions. There they were, vainly spinning over and over on the tips of their sneakers, completely mystified about why they were having no success. “I could never be a ballerina,” said one to the other. “There’s no way I could stay on my toes.”

           I realized then that many people don’t know much about pointe shoes. But there’s a story to tell –about their history, how they are constructed and how they are used– and once you hear it you’ll see how special these shoes really are and why pirouettes in sneakers are impossible.

           Ballet’s origins are in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries. It was a stately form of dance, created to entertain the aristocrats of the time. Ballet later spread to France, where King Louis XIV went wild over it and ordered the founding of the Académie Royale de [_Danse. _]The first professional theatrical ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet, emerged from here and exists to this day. This also explains why ballet terminology is French.

            Originally women wore heeled shoes to dance. The first non-heeled shoes -- worn in the mid-18 th Century by Marie Camargo of the Paris Opera Ballet -- gave dancers a newfound ability to perform jumps and leaps that would otherwise have been impossible. But the dancers of that day wanted to take things further, to appear weightless and sylph-like. In 1795, Charles Didelot created an invention he called a “flying machine," a sort of rope and pulley system that lifted dancers skyward and allowed them to stand on their toes. The ethereal quality it gave dancers was wildly popular with audiences and choreographers began to look for ways to incorporate more “ pointework” into their pieces.

           Fast forward into the 19th century, where the emphasis on technical skill increased, as did the desire to dance [en pointe _]without the aid of wires.  Marie Taglioni took things to the next level when she first danced, “La Sylphide” (1832), _en pointe, although her shoes were nothing more than modified satin slippers darned at the sides and toes to help the shoes hold their shape. 

           In the late 19th century dancers wore shoes with a sturdy, flat platform at the front of the shoe. These shoes also included a box—made of layers of fabric—for containing the toes, and a stiffer, stronger sole. But the birth of the modern[_ pointe _]shoe is often attributed to the early 20th-century Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who was one of the most famous and influential dancers of her time. Pavlova had particularly high, arched insteps and slender, tapered feet. To compensate for this, she inserted toughened leather soles into her shoes for extra support and flattened and hardened the toe area to form a box, making the shoes much like those worn today.

           The process of making pointe shoes is intricate and involved. Every dancer has unique feet, with variations that include toe length and shape, arch flexibility, and mechanical strength, so no two pairs of pointe shoes are alike. Pointe shoe manufacturers produce more than one model of shoe, as well as custom fitted shoes. But all pointe shoes share two important structural features that enable dancers to dance on the tips of their toes: 

           • A box within the front of the shoe that encases and supports the dancer’s toes. The front of the box is flat, a perfect surface upon which the dancer can balance and [_pirouette. _]

           • A shank, which is a piece of rigid material that serves to stiffen the sole so as to provide support for the arch of the en pointe foot.

In conventional [pointe _]shoes, the box is typically made from tightly packed layers of paper and fabric that have been glued together and then shaped into an enclosure. When the glue dries, it becomes hard and provides the required stiffness. In some newer _pointe shoes, the box may be made from plastic and rubber. The exterior is covered with fabric.

           In most pointe shoes, the soles are constructed from single pieces of leather attached to the shoes with adhesive and reinforced by stitching along their edges. Shanks are typically made from leather, plastic, card stock, or layers of glue-hardened burlap. The flexibility of a shank is determined by its thickness and the type of material used.

           While pointe shoes provide dancers with superhuman abilities, they don’t come ready-to-wear. Dancers have to sew ribbons and elastics on every pair by hand, which often means hours of sewing for professional dancers. Then comes the “breaking in” process, where dancers customize the shoes for their particular feet and use. Every dancer has a personal and  -- sometimes --, elaborate process of preparing new [_ pointe _]shoes for use which can include:

• closing them in doors;

• pounding them on walls, floors or other hard surfaces;

• cutting and/or bending the shank;

• sewing ribbons and elastic;

• wetting or heating the box;

• performing relevés or half-relevés.

Then comes readying the feet themselves, because tender toes have to be protected. Dancers use a variety of accessories, such as:

• toe tape;

• toe spacers;

• lamb’s wool;

• gel pads;

• paper towels, the poor man’s version.

            As you can see, it’s a lot of work to prepare just one pair of pointe shoes. The average life span of a pair of these shoes is 10-20 hours. This translates to weeks or months for dance students, but professional dancers may wear out a pair of shoes in one performance. At an average price of about $65-95 a pair, the cost adds up quickly, although most companies provide shoes to their dancers. Students in professional ballet schools are often able to purchase shoes at a discount. 

           But the cost of shoes isn’t the only price. Have you ever seen a dancer’s feet up close? They’re not a pretty picture. Still, it’s a price many dancers are willing to pay. While not all dancers consider pointe shoes to be a successful revolution, they are here to stay. For the rest of us, they remain a beautiful mystery.

Hope: Indigo Ballet Series, book #2 (excerpt)

    Here’s what I’ve realized in the one hundred and fifty-one days since I first arrived at the New York School of Ballet: Every second counts. It isn’t enough to work hard and sweat; there has to be something more. Each moment is a new chance to reach just a little further, move one step closer to perfection. Like now. The piano music crescendos and my body responds, every movement precise and on tempo, even though the joints in my big toes feel like they might explode. My bunions are acting up today. The pain so intense I want to stop what I’m doing for one sweet moment–but I can’t–not until class is over and especially not with Madame Z standing three feet away. Not that I’m looking at her or anything, although she’s a palpable presence just beyond my right shoulder. Instead I count the music inside my head and look straight ahead, keeping my eyes on my friend Vivianna’s perfect French twist. 

    I move with each beat of music and remind myself to breathe. This is my life; it unfolds second by second, packaged in tidy little patterns of eight-count measures of music, each bringing me one step closer to living my dream: To dance with Manhattan Ballet Theater, the best ballet company in the world. Not long ago dancing here in New York City was a wish I never thought would come true. It almost didn’t–I’d only just kept my family from imploding when Mom’s drinking got out of control. It’s still hard, sometimes, to believe I’m here.

    But I am, and that means keeping going. There is no stopping. Not if I want to be a dancer for the company. This means each time I move in unison with the twenty others in the room, I must push myself ever harder to stand out.

    I relevé, _]rising on my toes, and mask a sob as pain shoots through my feet. My bunions (with me practically since I began dancing on [_pointe) are getting worse. Each throb in my foot forces a question: How badly do you want this, Indigo? I dig deep inside for the will to rise above the pain. 

    “It’s just a sensation.” That’s how Anya, my yoga teacher used to put it (on the rare occasions when I made it to a class). I don’t think think she meant it to apply with pain like this. 

    The pianist bangs out the ending notes. I peek at my feet in the mirror for a split second as Madame Z ambles past, her sharp green eyes coolly appraising our every move. She’s wearing her black crepe ensemble today, with pearls. She may be dressed like she’s going to a cocktail party but she’s not here to kick back and socialize. 

    She speaks in a voice hoarse with decades of teaching up-and-coming dancers. “Eendigo. Vhat you make me, dahlink? Make tighter!” It’s not always easy to translate everything she says. I make my steps smaller and tighter by bringing my feet closer together. The pain[* *]in my feet skyrockets and I clench my teeth in agony. But I will myself to rise above it. I have to up my game. Madame Z demands it.

    Madame Z fled the Iron Curtain; she’s one of the old-school, hardcore Russians that Yuri Kraminsky brought to America with him to train the dancers for his company. Madame Z may not say a lot, but she expects the greatest effort from every student.

    Basically, the woman works us like dogs.

    “Five, six, seven, eight… and feeneesh!” The music stops abruptly. Madame Z pivots around, checking final positions. It’s so quiet I can hear the blood rushing through my veins. Sweat drips off the tip of my nose and I smile, keeping my back ramrod straight, feet in a perfect sous-sous, arms extended to the ceiling like birds’ wings.  

        Madame Z mutters something Russian to Ludmilla, the pianist. Each time she speaks in Russian in this way it's like having to decipher a secret code. I never know if she's talking about one of us or just making a casual comment. It's a familiar and perplexing feeling this --   not knowing what’s going on. It’s the problem I’ve had ever since I got accepted here. It’s no fun spending most of my waking moments trying to figure out where I stand. None of the teachers says much. Every time one utters a word we search for hidden meaning. Each word must be taken as a clue. I’m never sure if I’ve unraveled the intended meaning. Like now, as Madame Z corrects my foot placement–is it criticism, meaning, get your act together, your footwork is sloppy, or is it a hidden form of praise because she thinks I’m worth correcting?

    I’m never one hundred percent sure.

[_     Barre_] is now over so we move into the center of the floor and wait for Madame Z to arrange us in groups. I glance at Lila, a skeletal blonde, but she’s busy staring at Madame Z. Lila’s eyes are huge compared to the rest of her tiny bird-like frame. How she survives even one of Madame Z’s classes is anyone’s guess.

    Madame Z cranes her head, looking for someone. “Brianna, dahlink, come to me.” Brianna is always first to be placed. She’s the star of our class and the best dancer I’ve ever seen. It’s not enough that she’s gorgeous, with long auburn hair, perfect skin and legs that go up to her chin. She’s also incredibly nice, which makes it impossible to hate her. 

    Five more dancers are placed, including Nikki, who slinks past me with a knowing smirk. My heart sinks further each time I’m not chosen. I stare at my feet for comfort. Madame Z’s selection process always makes me feel bad. It’s like waiting to be chosen for grade school team sports all over again, misfits and losers last. Only it’s much worse here because my future depends on it.

    “Eendigo.” I snap to attention when I hear my name. “Come to me here.” Madame Z gestures for me to stand in the middle. Of the fourth row.

    I take my spot while she finishes assigning groups and questions erupt in my mind like a flock of irate, clucking hens. Why am I only in the fourth row? And more importantly: What do I have to do to get in the front row?

    I’m still trying to figure out the answers when I realize Madame Z has begun demonstrating the next combination. I shake my head and my brain goes quiet. Luckily I’m a quick learner so I know what I’m doing when it’s time for my row to go. All the other bodies in the room fade into the background as[* *]mine becomes precise machinery, dialed into the tempo. I will my leg higher, push my body to go further. Give more. Give all.

    Madame Z starts jumps at exactly 11:18. Maggie and I lock eyes. She points at the clock and cocks a knowing look at me. We have an ongoing bet about what time Madame Z will start jumps–it’s always somewhere around 45 minutes before class ends, which is about double the time any other teacher makes us jump. I roll my eyes. I’ve lost the bet again today.

    Twenty minutes later we’re on to the best part of class for me. I love big jumps most of all–those huge leaps where we defy gravity and fly across the room. But it’s the moments in between these exercises–when the other group is dancing and my group has to stand[* ]and watch–that my resolve waivers. I[ *]watch Brianna and wonder if I’ll ever be anywhere near the dancer she is. I wonder why we’re even in the same class. Her cabrioles are insanely perfect, delicate yet powerful. She flies across the room when she grand jetés. 

    How can I compare myself to her? I can’t.

    This is why I’m pretty sure that even though I’m putting every fiber of my being into this class, it’s not enough.

    After class[* *]I hunch down on a bench in the dressing room and gulp water. I always sweat so much in Madame Z’s class that I have to swig most of a bottle of water to get rid of the raw, parched feeling in the back of my throat. Between each mouthful of water I think of either crying or throwing up. A ripple of activity intervenes as heads turn to watch JoAnna Darling, resident ex-starlet and over-the-top stage mom who sweeps through the dressing room. She’s wearing one of her famous low-cut filmy blouses, displaying her favorite asset: Her cleavage. It reminds me of peaches slightly past their prime. She plants herself directly in front of my classmate, Eliza, her unfortunate daughter. JoAnna points an accusing finger at Eliza and even though she has her back to me the set of her shoulders tells me that this won’t be a happy conversation. Catching me staring, Eliza narrows her eyes. 

    “I told you to be ready and here you sit, dawdling as usual.” There’s a sharp edge to JoAnna’s reedy, nasal voice.

    Eliza exhales loudly. “Give me a break, JoAnna. You know I just got out of class two minutes ago.” 

    JoAnna stiffens with a huff. “Your audition is in 45 minutes. I don’t have all day–and neither do you. I expect you out front, looking your polished best in exactly ten minutes, or else.”

    “Fine.”

    “And lose the attitude.”

    “What? All I said was fine.”

    “You know what. Don’t pretend you don’t.” JoAnna pivots on her kitten heels. The downy feathers on the edge of her gauzy top sway as she struts away. She flashes a toothy, flesh-eating grin at the group of gawkers. “Carry on, dumplings. Have a fabulous afternoon.”

    Someone chokes on the gust of heavy floral scent that follows JoAnna out the door.

    Eliza screws up her face and rolls her eyes before sagging on the bench, her shoulders slumped, head hanging. I can’t remember another time I’ve ever seen Eliza look anything other than full of herself.

    “Don’t you have anything better to do?” she says catching me staring.

    I divert my eyes and focus on yanking off my sweaty dance clothes. I pull on a lacy camisole and tug at my purple velvet leggings. It’s always a fight to get street clothes back on my clammy body. 

    “You really are a noodle, aren’t you?”

    I whip my head in Eliza’s direction. “Excuse me?”

    She holds up a hand. “Chill. What I meant is, you’re just all legs, you know? You’re long and slender, like a blue heron or something.”

    “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

    “Just an observation. But you’re lucky–you could have legs like–well, you know.” Eliza doesn’t have to say it but I know she’s referring to Margaret Hogue, her arch–rival, who’s a strong jumper, but cursed with large thighs. The two of them cut each other down any chance they get.

    “I guess. But don’t you have about eight minutes to make yourself fabulous?”

    She gives me a look. “Like I need another mother.”

    “Um, no. That you definitely don’t need.”

    She laughs. “Seriously.”

    I spend a moment trying to make myself look fabulous in the tiny mirror inside my locker. My strawberry blonde hair is so dark with sweat it looks almost brown and my pale skin looks flushed. Lovely. I sigh and brush down the flyaway tendrils and add a spot of lip gloss. By the time I’m dressed and packed, Eliza is pulling on her boots. Her hair and makeup are picture-perfect. Damn if she doesn’t look fantastic.

    “I’m not sure how you did it, but you look great,” I say.

    She shakes out her hair one final time and winks at me. “Thanks.” She winds a pink scarf around her neck and shrugs on a glossy black leather coat. My fake fur coat seems sad in comparison, especially now that the lavender silk lining is shredding. Eliza’s stiletto-heeled boots click across the linoleum floor as she walks away. 

    The clicking stops mid-stride. “It doesn’t have to be that way, you know,” she says.

    “Meaning?”

    “Get your ass to Pilates or something.” She doesn’t bother to turn around; just tosses this across her shoulder on her way out. Her final comment: “Maybe then you’ll actually keep up with the rest of us.”

Chapter 2

    “What the flock was that supposed to mean?” Maggie says when I relay my conversation with Eliza. “She’s got the hugest ego ever. It’s annoying.”  

    We’re walking back to school for our afternoon academics even faster than usual, because Maggie’s pissed–ironically she’s more angry about Eliza’s comments than I am. Vivianna and I share a look as we hasten to keep up. It’s not a good time, I decide, to tell Maggie she looks cute. She’s all in stripes: blue and white slouchy top, white shorts layered over white leggings and tube socks with coordinating blue stripes at the top. She’s pulled her hair into two little kinky buns on either side of her head because she can– Maggie does cute like nobody else I’ve ever met. She’s short but she’s also a native New Yorker, so she walks ridiculously fast everywhere she goes, even faster when she’s angry.  

    Then again, we always have to race-walk the seven blocks between ballet classes and school. We have exactly twenty-five minutes to get dressed, scarf down some semblance of lunch and get to math class, followed by biology. Then we get to do the whole thing in reverse and scurry back to afternoon ballet class and rehearsals.

    “I don’t know exactly,” I reply to Maggie as I shuffle my backpack slightly so the straps stop cutting into my shoulders. “I interpreted it as a back-handed compliment at best. But that’s Eliza for you.”

    Vivianna’s eyes widen. She’s lined them as usual in her signature[* *]Cleopatra style, smudged with a smoky charcoal shadow. “I don’t know why she has to always act like she’s all that,” Vivianna says with a shrug. Her soft, breathy voice is hard to hear over the traffic whizzing by on Amsterdam Avenue. Much of Vivianna’s communication is non-verbal, making her the quiet, black-clad antithesis to Maggie. 

“It’s all an act and I’m over it,” Maggie says. “Can we talk about something less annoying?”

Vivianna looks at us, her almond-shaped eyes unblinking. “I heard Sarah Scharpp does Pilates.” 

“Who?” Maggie demands.

“You know, the actress. She was in Heart of Fire?”

Maggie snorts. “Good for her.” 

Vivianna shrinks visibly. “I’m just saying. It’s supposed to make you strong. I read an interview with Ilianna Lopez and she swears by it.”

Ilianna Lopez is[* *]the top female dancer at Manhattan Ballet Theater. Maggie purses her lips and shakes her head, but her silence means she’s backing down.

We pass the trees that line the quad at Frontline University, our favorite spot for a quick picnic when the weather is warm. Without their leaves the trees are colorless, the branches ending in bulbous knobs where they’ve been pruned. A few steps later we round the corner and our[* *]school comes into view. Something inside me dies just a little. The School for Performing Artists is one step shy of an eyesore: Grey, boxy and careworn, it looks more like a failing shoe factory than a school for professional kids.

It’s warmer once we’re inside. We climb the grey cement stairs, worn smooth and glossy after years of kids trudging reluctantly to class. Pallid light from the windows makes the hallway a dim monotone.

[* ]Vivianna and I[ *]follow Maggie to her locker, dodging a couple of rail-thin models in wet-look skinny jeans and a couple of guys lugging cellos. I glance at the clock. We have seven minutes to wolf down lunch. We throw our book bags on the floor and sit in a circle. I savor my strawberry yogurt, appreciating the sweet flavor. Vivianna munches quietly on a banana while Maggie stuffs Kettle Corn in her mouth by the handful, crunching loudly over the din of activity in the hallway. Vivianna stops eating, a faraway look in her eyes. 

“Are you OK?” I say.

She shrugs. “I guess.”

“That’s not a real answer.”

“Yeah,” Maggie agrees, in between crunches. “‘I guess ‘ is basically a non-answer.”

Vivianna sighs. “I’m just freaking out.” Her voice wavers.

“Why?” I say.

She looks at us with watery eyes. “Well, my aunt and uncle are putting all this pressure on me lately. We’ve been fighting a lot. They think ballet isn’t the best career choice and they’re afraid I’m wasting my time. They gave me an ultimatum: I have to get a job by next summer or they’re making me go to college.” A tear rolls down her cheek and drops off her chin.

Maggie’s eyes bulge in surprise. “But that’s like no time at all!”

Vivianna nods and looks at the floor. Her shoulders shake with silent sobs.

I put a hand on her shoulder. “Look, Viv, it’ll be OK. You just need a plan, right? We can help you,” I say, looking to Maggie for assent.

“Yeah, Vivs,” Maggie says. “Forget about your aunt and uncle. We’ll figure this out.”

“We’re a team. We’re not going to let you fail,” I say. “That’s a promise.”

Our eyes meet over Vivianna’s bowed head and despite Maggie’s confident tone I see shadows of worry swirling below the surface. They’re the same fears that keep me up at night. The truth is we are all in the same predicament: Casting for our end-of-year Workshop performance is decided in a few months. We have until then to prove ourselves and nab the best roles. Time is running out.

Henry Starr’s partnering classes on Thursday afternoons are the closest thing I’ll ever get to a high school dance experience. At least, I assume this is exactly how high school works–although it’s all hypothetical since I have no practical experience.

There’s the prerequisite division of the sexes; boys lounging against the [_barres _]on one side of the room, attempting to look casual, while the girls stand around looking nervous, wondering who will ask them to dance. 

We are in studio B, which is a mirror image of all the other studios–white walls, smooth grey floor, glossy black grand piano in the corner–although this studio is the biggest, double the size of the others. Since class hasn’t started, the extra floor space means an even larger chasm between guys and girls. 

Henry Starr strides to the center of the room. Once a star dancer with Manhattan Ballet Theater, he’s a stellar teacher also known for his sense of humor and perfectly manicured mustache.

“OK, folks, gather round. I’ll show the exercise, then we’ll get started. First I need a willing victim…let’s see–” his eyes scan the room. “–Lisa. Yes, you’ll do. Right this way, please.” 

He gallantly presents his hand to Lisa, a tall brunette, who accepts it and steps daintily up into a piqué arabesque on pointe. All eyes are on them as he promenades around her and she spins in place. “Place the feet in sous-sous,” he says. He dips her backwards, her head dangerously close to the floor. Although he is an accomplished partner, Lisa’s eyes snap closed, like she doesn’t want to know her head is only inches from the floor.

The demonstration ends and we herd into the rear of the studio, conversations buzzing as partners are selected. It’s only then my attention is drawn to someone new. Although he wears the same uniform as the rest of the boys–white T-shirt with black tights–he couldn’t be more glaringly distinctive. For one, he towers above the others by a good six inches. But that’s not the thing that most sets him apart. It’s his jaw-dropping good looks: Huge green eyes, a face with just the right angles and contours, buttery-smooth skin.

I can’t stop looking at him.

Judging from the frequent and furtive looks from the girls in my corner I seem to not be the only one having these thoughts.

His head turns my way and I stand paralyzed. He raises an eyebrow and I turn away, acting like I’m searching for a partner. Behind me Maggie titters like a hyena; she tends to laugh as dramatically as possible when she’s trying to get attention. 

Someone grabs my elbow firmly and I turn to find the new guy leading me to a spot in line. I scowl at him and then at my elbow. “Um…hi,” I say. “That’s my elbow.”

“You do not wish to dance?” he says, eyes wide. His accent is silvery, melodic. Also hot.

“Um, no–I mean yes–I mean, you’re grabbing my elbow a little too tightly.”

He drops it like he’s been scalded, holding up both palms in defense. A stray lock of brown hair curls along his temple. “My apologies, he says. “Sometimes I forget myself.”

I look at him as I appraise whether or not he’s making fun of me, but his face is unreadable. Also I can’t look at it for long or I might get hypnotized. “Right,” I say.

We wait in silence, watching the other dancers ahead. When it’s our turn to dance I see our two reflections–dark and light–in the mirrors that run along the entire front wall of the studio. They are complementary. At least it’s nice to have a tall partner for a change; I have limited opportunities to dance with someone my size because I dwarf several of the other boys in the room.

I start to move and feel my new partner’s hands firmly on my hips. His breath warms the back of my neck and I feel myself flush. Normally I’d take a glimpse in the mirror to check my alignment, but I don’t dare. For reasons I don’t want to admit to myself, I feel nervous and jittery. We face each other and he offers his hand as I come into arabesque. He starts the slow promenade and I chance a quick glimpse at his face. He smiles and I catch my breath. I switch my gaze over to his shoulder and notice that my palm is slick with sweat. I’m so embarrassed I feel heat in the tips of my ears. I pray my face isn’t bright red. 

He slides a hand around my waist for the dip and I close my eyes. “Relax,” he says into my ear. “I’ve got you.” The feeling of swaying towards the floor reminds me of how much I loved swinging with eyes closed as a kid. When he swoops me back up I feel giddy enough to fight the urge to laugh. I blink against the unsettled, light-headed feeling. It stays with me into the supported pirouettes; I’m more than a little off but his hands shift me into balance as I spin around multiple times.

We finish the exercise and he guides me off the floor and away from the couple behind us. My hands still tingle from his touch. My head feels funny, like it’s floating. No fewer than eight other pairs of eyes watch our progress as we rejoin the dancers in the back of the room.

I rub my tingly fingers together and take a few deep breaths but when I turn to thank him, he’s gone. I spot him a few feet away, wiping his face with a towel. Three other girls are vying for his attention, but he’s blissfully oblivious.

He moves to the far side of the room, followed by his entourage. Two of them bend their heads together, whispering behind his back. The third openly stares at him like he’s a member of some rare, exotic species.

“Shall we?” a voice interrupts. Jefferson is tall and a little gawky but a decent partner. I nod and swing my attention back to business. I notice the difference in partnering skill right away; Jefferson’s arm wavers during the promenade, making it tough for me to balance. The dip is so slight I barely register it happening. 

We finish and head to the back of the room. I watch Maggie turning like a top with her partner. Vivianna looks nervous, her neck tight with fear. There’s a scuffle in the corner behind me and I turn to see what’s going on.

A crowd of bodies backs away from two girls arguing, hands on hips, eyes blazing, heads jerking as they spit angry words. The new guy stands between them looking confused, but he’s obviously the center of the issue.

“People!” Henry Starr shouts, clapping his hands for attention. He gestures to the pianist and the music abruptly stops. His gaze flickers over the eye of the storm. “Does someone want to tell me what’s going on here?” he says.

He gets fidgeting, nervous glances and blank looks in response. 

“I didn’t think so.” He scans the crowd. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that this is a professional school. Let’s act accordingly.”

I look at the new guy and his groupies to see if this has registered. His eyes flick my way for a millisecond before he shrugs and shakes his head. I decide to stop looking.

The energy after class in the girls’ dressing room is as thick as a wet wool blanket. Eliza and her frenemy Nikki argue the new guy’s merits at full volume over the excited chatter of no fewer than six other similar conversations. It’s verbal ping-pong.

“Saucy,” Eliza says, licking her lips.

“Smoldering,” Nikki retorts, her eyelids at half-mast.

“Tasty.”

“Delectable.”

A peal of laughter.

“Scorching, sizzling, sultry.”

“Hot,” Nikki sings in an exaggerated falsetto.

“His name is Felipe,” a voice pipes above the fray. “And it shouldn’t be legal to be that good-looking.”

“Oooh, Felipe. Me likey Felipe,” Nikki sings. 

“Sexy.”

“Spicy.”

“Kissable.”

“Oh reaaaaalllllyyyy,” Eliza says suggestively.

“Racy.”

“Enticing.”

“Hot.”

“You already said that.” Eliza says, laughing. “How many ways are there to say hot, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Who cares?” Nikki replies. “How do you say, I love you in Brazilian?”

“You don’t. They speak Portuguese in Brazil.” Eliza says slowly.

“You always have to be right, don’t you?” Nikki whines.

“Sometimes.”

“No. Always. Anyway, you’re the salacious one.”

“Ooh–pulling out the five-dollar words–I’m impressed.”

“Yes, but will it shut you up?”

“Never.”

I pull on my street clothes and grab my stuff. I don’t even bother to let my hair down and brush it out like I normally do. I can’t stand listening to these two any longer.

I pull open the heavy door, happy to be escaping from the chatter, but then I practically collide with someone in the lounge. “Oh God! Sorry…” My voice dies mid-sentence. It’s Felipe. I feel like a bumbling misfit. 

He emits a slow, resonant chuckle. “So, we are dancing again.” 

“Sort of,” I reply.

He laughs. “Hmm. I think I like dancing with you,” he says, raising his eyebrows for effect.

Heads turn. We appear to have the attention of everyone lounging on the couches. 

I laugh nervously. “OKaaay. Great. It was nice to meet you, but I’ve got to go.” I hike my backpack up.

“But I didn’t meet you. What is your name?”

“Indigo.”

“Eeendigo,” he says, like he’s tasting it on his tongue. He grins. “OK, then.” His eyes rove down my body. “You are a tall girl. I like to dance with tall girls. I think we dance well together, no?” He touches my hand and my insides turn to jello. “Maybe we should practice together more.” 

“Maybe,” I murmur.

He releases my hand. 

“Felipe, how do you say I love you in Portuguese?” says a bold redhead. Several other girls erupt into laughter. Felipe turns to his adoring audience. His voice rumbles a response, but I can’t hear what he says over the gushing sighs. I don’t have to; his actions say it all. He caresses one girl’s cheek then moves on to grab another girl’s hand and lay a smacking kiss on it. Her face turns pink with pleasure while the others titter. I turn on my heel without a word and escape down the hall.

Chapter 3

Downstairs in the lobby I pass a group of younger dancers. Their hair is up in buns, some an awkward mess of bobby pins, thrown together by parents who haven’t quite gotten the hang of the ballet hairdo yet. They stare at me with serious eyes that are out of place in such tiny bodies. I beam at them, remembering the days when I was that small. 

“How many turns can you do on pointe shoes?” says an adventurous brunette. 

I squat down to her level and smile at her. “Three or four on a good day.”  

“Is that all?”  

The others giggle. 

“Jenny!” says a woman who’s probably her mother. She gives me an exasperated look. “Please forgive her rudeness.” 

She grabs Jenny’s hand and leads the group to the elevators.

I head straight home but by the time I reach my dorm room I’m not really sure I want to go in. It’s highly likely that Kimmy, my roommate, will be there, which is good enough reason not to set foot inside. Ever. Besides, there’s no way I’m going to be able to focus on U.S. History with my mind looping every second over my interactions with Felipe in crystal detail. 

When I open the door an impulse to make a quick exit dials up a few notches. Kimmy’s home. 

But then, Kimmy is always home. Right now there’s no hope of her leaving anytime soon–she’s already in a flowered flannel nightgown and pink fuzzy slippers and it’s not even 5:00 p.m. yet. In exactly thirty minutes she will call her mother, just like she does every night and I will have to listen to her ramble on for at least an hour. She has zero social life besides her mother; probably because most people steer clear of someone who insists on using a nickname that’s suitable for a three-year-old. 

“Are you going to let that draft in all night?” she says, looking up from the sock she’s knitting. She scowls at me until I dutifully close the door. “I don’t want to catch a cold,” she says with a sniff.

I grit my teeth, stomp over to my side of the room and turn my back. Each side of the room has a standard issue twin bed, bookshelf and tiny desk, but her side is floor-to-ceiling shelves of perfectly-arranged stuffed animals, and tiny glass and ceramic figures, while my side is sparsely decorated. I did break down earlier when I bought a few dance posters to make the room look more balanced. 

“Also, you keep forgetting to leave your shoes by the door. You may not realize it but every time you walk in wearing shoes you track dirt and grit across the floor.”

“Got it,” I say. 

Kimmy is also a neat freak. She’s perfectly comfortable insisting that I adhere to her standards. I’d rather tell her to back off and leave me alone. Who died and made her the room warden, anyway? However, I’ve learned after living with her for the past few months that it’s useless to try to reason with her so our conversations are usually limited to one-liners.

I throw my stuff down and take a few minutes to clear this morning’s reject outfits off my bed. I pull out my textbooks and set them on the bed, but decide to make some space on my shelves to store them when I’m not using them; anything to delay doing homework for a few more minutes. I grab the carved wooden box that holds my most precious memories. I consider looking inside it before I start my homework but a glance at my bedside clock shows it’s time to get serious. I shove the box under the bed and toss my textbooks on the shelf in its place.

Kimmy stops knitting to rearrange her collection of leotards. She grabs two leotards from a cardboard box spewing crumpled-up newspaper into the middle of the floor. She must have gotten another shipment from her mom. After I turn to my homework hearing her slippers scuffing back and forth across the floor fifty times makes me want to slap her, so I head to the shower. 

The hot water feels exquisite as it hits my neck and shoulders. I close my eyes and turn my face toward the jet to rinse off the sweat. The conversation with Eliza looms in my mind. I still can’t believe she had the nerve to insinuate that I can’t keep up. Of course it’s only now that I think of a million witty retorts. Why do they always pop into my brain when they are no use? 

I look down at my mangled feet, all raw skin and blisters and think about how my dad used to tell me I needed to grow a thicker skin. Maybe he was right. I worked my butt off to get accepted to the most professional ballet school in New York and here I am letting people like Eliza get under my skin.

It’s not like she has any reason to act superior. Or does she?

When I return to the bustling activity in my room I still don’t have any answers. Instead I watch Kimmy at work and wonder why she’s still at the school when it’s obvious she has no future here. She’s in level D, which is where all dancers who aren’t chosen for the company end up. Everyone knows D stands for dumped; it’s time to start looking into other options. In Kimmy’s case, her short legs and inflexible feet mean she should probably focus on companies in smaller towns. All of this is so clear to me but I wonder if she understands. It’s sad to think she may not.

If only I could be as clear about my future. But there’s no real way of knowing who will be chosen for the company until the casting sheet goes up for Workshop, our big end-of-year performance. It’s the key to solving the puzzle of your ballet future. The best roles go to the best dancers. They are the only people with a prayer of getting into the company.

A sinking feeling swirls around in my belly, physical proof that it’s not helpful for me to think this way.  And as arresting as Kimmy’s pointy ski jump nose is in profile, if I have to sit here and listen to her talk to her mom for an hour I’m going to lose my mind. 

“How ya holding up?” Maggie says from her spot on the couch. I love this couch. The leather is glossy and smooth, and the view of the city below is spectacular.

“Fine, I guess.” I sink into fluffy pillows behind me, glad to have escaped Kimmy and the narrow confines of my room. Maggie lives only six blocks from my dorm but it feels like a separate galaxy. The lights of the city glitter below through huge picture windows. Everything is always clean and quiet. Her mom is a lawyer so she’s almost never home.  

“I’m just feeling wiped,” I dig in to the dinner I brought and order myself not to talk about Kimmy again. I’ve already vented to Maggie more than once about my roommate. 

“I don’t know how you survive on deli sushi and salad bars. You’ve gotta eat more or you’re gonna expire,” says Maggie. 

“Says the girl who ate a gallon of ice cream the other night after polishing off an entire family-sized bucket of popcorn.” I respond. Maggie’s epic appetite is a running joke in our group. How she stays thin is a mystery. 

She laughs. “Seriously. It won’t kill you to eat a real meal once in a while. Or have a piece of cake.”

“Not everyone has your metabolism–or your hollow leg–whichever it is.”

“Fine. What about sleep? You have to get enough sleep.”

“Sure. But it’s not like breakfast is waiting for me when I get up in the morning. I don’t get the luxury of lounging in bed like some people.” A small burst of envy flares. Not only does Maggie get a cooked breakfast every morning, she has a cushy bed.

Oh yeah, and no roommate.

“Speaking of lounging in bed, how’s it going with Kimmy?”

“Fine–except I can’t turn on any lights when I get dressed in the morning. Getting dressed in the TV glow sucks. I can’t even tell if my outfit matches before I leave the house.”

“Yeah, you pulled the lame roommate card, all right. Who sleeps ten hours a night, anyway?”

“People who can.” I shake my head. “I go to bed in the dark–and get up in the dark–all because Kimmy needs her beauty rest.”

Maggie snorts. “It’s not even working. Maybe she should shoot for twelve hours.” 

“I wish I had my own room. The funny thing is I never appreciated it when I lived at home.” Thinking about home makes me miss it. Just a tiny bit. This makes me feel lost again. “I don’t know,” I say uncertainly. “I guess I’m just having doubts about my dancing. Sometimes I feel like no matter how hard I try I’m just not getting anywhere, you know?” 

“This is because of what Eliza said, isn’t it?” Maggie says frowning. “Don’t listen to her. She’s full of it.”

“But what if she’s right?”

“Please.” Maggie says getting up and heading to the kitchen. “I know just what you need.”

I sigh and dig my feet into the crevice between the cushions on the couch. If only the solution were that easy. “Are they your mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies?” I call. “The ones with the ginormous chips?”

“What do you think?” comes the muffled reply. She’s back a minute later with an entire plate of them. “You hit the right night. Mom just baked them.”

I take a bite and groan in pleasure. They’re exactly the way I like them–soft and chewy–and they’re still warm. “Oh my God. Delicious.”

“I know, right?” Maggie says with a grin. “Speaking of delicious…how about the new hottie in partnering class? Could you believe the talent?” Maggie’s always going on about guys. She labels anyone cute as talented.

“Oh, him,” I say, as I’m thinking, you mean the big flirt who makes my extremities tingle? Reflexively, I grab another cookie. Squelch those feelings with chocolate. Works every time.

“Yeah, him. What’s with you? He’s fine.”

Yes, I tell myself, but I’m ignoring his hotness. “If you say so.” 

“Absolutely I say so.”

“You and half the school,” I agree. I reach for another cookie but Maggie has somehow consumed the rest. There’s not even a crumb in sight.

“Which proves he’s hot,” she insists.

“Who’s hot?” Maggie’s mom says. 

Maggie looks up, surprised. “I didn’t know you were standing there.” 

“How else am I supposed to keep up with what’s going on?” her mom says, arching a brow. “But speaking of hot, who’s up for some tea? I just bought this amazingly tasty lemon lavender. It’s easily my new favorite.” 

Maggie and I raise our hands. 

“Coming right up.” 

I watch Maggie’s mom walk away and wonder what it’s like to have a mom–or anyone–around to make you tea. For that split second I feel a pull of longing for my family and all of the people I left back home. For Jesse. Sometimes I still have to remind myself that breaking up with him was the right thing to do. For both of us.

But Maggie’s still talking about Felipe. “You never know, he might be sexy and sweet.”

I think about Jesse’s parting words: I’ll always be there for you. That’s what sweet looks like. Compare that to Felipe’s behavior today.

“Questionable at best,” I say. “Look, the guy may not be everything he seems.” 

“You’re right!” Maggie says firmly. “Plus there’s the whole Nikki conundrum. You shouldn’t speak to him. We are not speaking to him.”

I’m sure she’ll stick to this resolution. At least until the next time she sees him.

Chapter 4

Even though I hate to admit it, I’m a creature of habit. Every morning I prove this when I grab my usual spot at the barre, just inside the door along the front wall. This morning the sky outside is the monotone grey of winter, a perfect match for the grey floors in the studio. The wan light coming through the windows does nothing to add cheer. It’s also bitterly cold in here, like the heat can’t begin to fill this room with its high ceilings. I shiver and shove my dance bag against the wall underneath the barres.

Fridays are generally not my favorite day, not just because they begin with French, although that’s reason enough. When Monsieur Renard returned my essay it was so full of red edit marks it looked like the victim of a brutal stabbing. 

Peering down at my feet now they don’t appear a whole lot better. This one exercise we did yesterday morning had about a million hops on pointe and the skin on my middle toes still looks like raw red meat. I cut a couple of corn cushions in half and carefully place them around the outside edges of my blisters to protect the raw skin from further abuse. Then I mummify all of my toes with medical tape. 

Otherwise it’s a morning just like any other. I move through my usual series of stretches: Forward bends, lunges, splits, one-legged stretches on my back. Other dancers start to arrive in clusters. Most of them talk while they stretch, their animated chattering filling the room. 

Maggie plunks her bag down in the spot next to me. “Ten minutes ‘til the fun begins,” she says. She glances around furtively before adding, “Who knows what torture she’ll dish out today. But inquiring minds want to know: Will she reach new levels of cattiness or will we be left sorely disappointed?” She grins wickedly as she finishes tying a ribbon on her pointe shoe.

Neither of us fares well when Alexa Damore teaches class. She’s known for her snide comments and keen ability to pick people apart. “I’ll take disappointment over outright humiliation any day,” I say grimly. “But who knows. Maybe one of these days she’ll be miraculously transformed.” 

Maggie arches an eyebrow. 

“What?” I say. “It’s not too much to hope for. A little prayer can’t hurt. Pray with me.” 

I fold my hands together and duck my head down. Maggie smacks me. I stick my tongue out at her while I finish tying my shoes. I refuse to climb on the negativity train with her. It’s never a good way to start class. 

The studio door glides open and a sudden hush falls in the room, as if the oxygen has been sucked out. Alexa Damore has arrived–but she’s wearing street clothes–and she’s not alone.

Benjamin Stafford, Artistic Director of Manhattan Ballet Theater, also known as the man who holds our future in his hands, strides into the center of the room. From where I am, the ambient light behind him illuminates the outline of his body, as if he’s a living embodiment of a god. Then again, he is a god in the world of ballet. The silence is deafening as he slowly circles the room, gazing at each of us in turn. He flashes a brilliant smile and it’s all I can do to even look at him. He’s larger in life than onstage, with broad shoulders, chiseled features, dark, tousled hair, and blazing blue eyes. On any given day he’s arresting to look at, but the glowing light emphasizes the glaring difference between him and everyone else in the room.

His eyes fall on me and my heart flutters. I immediately stand a little bit taller and suck in my gut. My breath gets shallower and tighter. I close my eyes and force myself to breath normally. Passing out in class is not the way I want to make an impression.

I may not survive this class.

“Don’t let me interrupt anything,” he says to Alexa. He smiles again and he’s even more handsome. If that’s possible. He folds himself into one of the black metal chairs by the front door, reserved for the visitors we never have. 

The nervous energy in the room is palpable. There’s a flurry of sidelong glances, dancers primping, adjusting leotards, removing extra warm up layers. 

Alexa takes her place in the center of the room and gestures to the pianist to begin. [_Pliés _]are always the same in her class, which means less work for her. She may be the newest teacher at the New York School of Ballet but she’s already got it all dialed in.

Alexa demonstrates each exercise with precision. Until a few years ago she was performing with Manhattan Ballet Theater and she still executes the flawless footwork for which she was known. I watch her tiny feet, the delicate curves of her ankles, everything placed so carefully, and remember seeing her perform on TV when I was a kid. She looked like a fairy; sweet and full of light. I’d been ecstatic when I found out I would get the chance to study with her.

All that changed the first class I took with her.

Today, she strolls by and I sigh with relief as she passes. I come into the final balance on the right, rising on[_ pointe_] with one foot in coupé. Just as she turns I feel my balance wavering. She comes close. Leans in. “Don’t fall,” she says. She spins on her heel and returns to the center of the room without another word.

My face burns with shame. This is why Fridays suck. Alexa Damore is either bitchy or brutal. There is no in-between. Several years ago she received a decree from Yuri Kraminsky: It was time for her to stop performing and start teaching at the school. She fought him–and lost–and even now she continues to take her frustrations out on her students. Which is why I privately call her The Shrew. I study her red hair and the pale dusting of freckles across her face and torso and wonder why I idolized her. 

We move on and my mind pounds out orders: Dégagé, carry to the side, pull up taller, raise the leg higher. Out of the corner of my eye I see Benjamin lean forward in his seat, craning his head in our direction. I work so hard I can’t breathe. Or maybe I just forget to breathe. I use every ounce of my strength for every move. The room around me goes blurry. The music reaches a crescendo as I carry my leg back around to the front, my muscles straining with effort. 

I lift my leg three millimeters higher. Lower my shoulder. Raise my chin. 

“Indigo, your working foot looks like a blob of clay,” The Shrew snarls. “Like some hastily attached afterthought. Put some life in those limbs.”

I close my eyes in defense. A drop of sweat rolls down my temple to my chin. When I open my eyes again she’s gone on. 

By the time we move to center floor I’ve racked up four more insults and I’m fuming. It’s one thing on a regular day but this is no regular day.

The Shrew calls for Brianna to demonstrate an [_échappé _]exercise. Moments into the demonstration The Shrew shakes her head, holds up an imperious palm like a traffic cop, obviously unsatisfied. “More delicate,” she tells Brianna. “We need a deft touch each time we roll through the feet.” The Shrew demonstrates what she means, moving her feet gingerly in a hyper-exaggerated manner. “Like cat’s feet,” she says. “Understood?” 

We nod. Brianna looks pale and ashamed.

“Are you OK?” Vivianna stage whispers to me. “She’s been extra hard on you today.”

“At least it’s not just me this time,” I whisper back. “Even the perfect people are under fire today.”

When the first group goes I stand in back and watch. I tell myself to avoid looking at Benjamin. But I can’t help myself. Not only is he directly responsible for all our futures, the futures of everyone in the whole school–he’s an alluring masterpiece. Even after leaving his chair and leaning casually against the [_barre _]in front of the studio he exudes charisma.

He catches me looking and quirks an eyebrow. I turn my head and step away, practically colliding with Yaeko. She ducks her head and edges away from me before I can apologize. I cover my blunder by quickly practicing a few moves, trying to replicate The Shrew’s cat steps. 

When it’s my group’s turn I’m placed all the way to the far left side, which works in my favor, for once. I am directly in line with Benjamin. Go all out, I hear a voice in my head. This is your chance. I plaster a smile on my face and ignore the flames of heat licking through my big toes.

By the time we move on to turns I’m already exhausted. A quick peek at the clock tells me there are twenty minutes left. I psych myself up: You can do this. 

Halfway through the second side I feel my resolve falter. My legs are getting tired. Even though I’m spotting I feel dizzy. I try to refocus, find my eyes in the mirror. I push myself to finish. Échappé and turn. Land in fifth. Again. My fingers feel cramped with tension. Sweat flies with each revolution. Each time I land in fifth position my feet feel like they’re made of cement. 

Crash! My next landing echoes loudly. I root down through my supporting leg and shoulder. Will myself to grow taller. Keep going. 

The last turn. I whip my body around and land. I let out a sigh of relief. I did it. I walk off the floor to make room for the first group again.

“What was that, Indigo?” The Shrew’s voice comes like a knife in my back.

I turn around to face her.

“Really. What was that?” she repeats. “You are all over the place. Your mid-section is loose, you have no control.” Her lips curl in disgust. “Did you hear anything I said earlier? Or am I just talking to myself?”

I stand paralyzed as she rambles on. All eyes in the room --including Benjamin's -- are turned my way. I shrink about a foot. I want to fall through a trapdoor in the floor. Or run away. Anything to make her stop talking.  

Instead I stand and wait for her to finish cutting me into ribbons. My eyes sting with squelched tears. I remind myself to breathe. In. Out. Keep going.

“Do I make myself clear?”

I nod mutely.

“Good.” She dismisses me with a flick of her hand. “First group. We’ll go again.” 

The music begins and she goes to stand next to Benjamin. They bow their heads together and speak confidentially. He points to Brianna and The Shrew nods. They return to their discussion, glancing up briefly a couple of times as Benjamin motions towards other dancers. His eye falls on me. His brow furrows for a moment before he turns back to The Shrew.

From across the room, Maggie gives me a blazing look–the one she saves for defining moments, like cute guy sightings. Or emergencies. Since there are no guys around I’m guessing this qualifies as the latter. I shrug and roll my eyes.

But it’s obvious we are both thinking the same thing: I am screwed.

When class ends I grab my stuff and walk out without looking back. I feel so twisted up inside I have to force myself to put one foot in front of the other until I get to the locker room. I don’t know why but all I can think about is washing my hands, like maybe that simple act will cleanse away some of the bleakness clinging to my skin.

The bathroom looks too bright. All that white. White sinks, white stalls, glaring fluorescents overhead. The white honeycomb tiles on the floor are slick with grime. Lila exits one of the stalls as I’m on my way into the bathroom. She smells pretty awful–a strange mixture of sweet and vinegar. I wrinkle my nose. Her eyes pop out and she takes a step back from me before tucking her chin down and scurrying away. I watch her go and shake my head. It’s not like I’m contagious or anything.

The warm water soothes my icy fingertips. Whenever I get really upset my hands get cold. Even though I know it’s wasteful I let myself linger, relishing how good it feels to have warm fingers. If I didn’t have a math test in thirty minutes I’d take a shower, let the water run over my shoulders and wash away my sweat and gloom.

The thought of the math test jars me back into reality. I have to get going or I’ll be late. I shut off the water and dry my hands. Then I hear:

“So sad,” someone says.

“I know,” someone else says. 

“She’s just so tall. It must be hard to control,” a brassy voice cuts in. It can only belong to Eliza. “But God, I don’t know what I’d do if Alexa said those things to me.”

I realize they’re talking about me. I stop to listen. 

“Seriously,” one of the speakers says.

“What is she even doing here?” someone else says.

“Well, she won’t be for long with the way things are going,” the first voice says.

When I round the corner a moment later, none of the speakers looks me in the eye. I dress quickly in silence and feel the prickle of their stares along my back. I feel like screaming. They have no idea how much it’s cost me to get even this far.

But I’m still here.

A blistering rage sweeps through me. I’m so angry my hands are shaking. They’re judging me! It must be so easy when you get to go to a cozy home and cooked meals with your family every night. 

I slam my locker door closed and whip around to face them. “No one knows who will get chosen or how this ends.” I glare at Eliza. “Even if you pretend you do.” 

I jab a finger at them. My voice trembles with anger. “I get that you all think you’re better than me. But if you think I’m going to give up you’re dead wrong.”

Collective shock shows. Eyebrows rise in surprise, jaws drop, Eliza displays a tight-lipped O of distaste.

“Now get out of my way,” I say and push past them.

My legs feel wooden and quivery as I stomp down the hall. Doubts nibble at my heels as I go. Do they see me as I see Kimmy? Am I just blind to the truth? My boots pound the floor, glittery specks spark in the black tiles under my feet, like some dark, distorted version of the Yellow Brick Road. I keep my eyes level and my chin up as I march to the elevator.  

Keep going! I shake my head at the random thought.

There’s a crowd at the elevator. Other people fill in around me as I wait. The elevator always takes forever, even though there are only four floors to serve. I keep my eyes lowered. I can’t handle any more comments or pitying looks. 

The brisk sound of approaching heels makes me want to curl in on myself. The Shrew rounds the corner and everyone steps back. She steps close to me. Her vague smile is more of a sneer. 

I wonder what she sees when she looks at me. I sneak a peek at my reflection in the elevator doors. I look pale and frazzled. I smooth my hair into place and stare at the floor.

When the elevator doors finally open I find a place as far away from The Shrew as possible.

On Tour in Israel: The Perks and the Perils

One of the coolest perks of being a dancer with a professional ballet company is the chance to go on tour. Who wouldn’t want an all-expenses-paid trip to exotic places like Israel and Ecuador? Twist my arm, right?

That’s what I was thinking when they announced a tour to Israel. For one thing, it was on the other side of the world, which to my mind was always a bonus. Plus, there was the chance to swim in the Dead Sea, world-famous for its health and beauty benefits. OK, and let’s not forget the history. Landmarks galore! Bethlehem – the setting for the entire story of Christmas – was on our list of stops. Israel was oozing with antiquity.

That, and lots of desert.

There was much to be excited about.  It was my first tour with Miami City Ballet -- OK, it was my first tour ever. It was our first international tour, too, so a lot was riding on this trip. No pressure or anything.

The plan was to fly from Miami to Paris to Tel Aviv. Simple and straightforward enough. But moments after the plane took off in Miami it was announced that some sort of hydraulic failure had occurred.

All I could think was, Um that’s bad, right?

Our simple and straightforward journey quickly turned into a nightmare. Luckily, the plane landed in one piece in New York. After that everything got dicey. Our biggest problem was that we had left in the middle of Shabat (Jewish Sabbath), which meant that all other planes headed to the Jewish motherland were full. 

Which meant we were screwed.

We were at last rerouted to London and eventually made our way to Tel Aviv. But, after losing so many sleepless hours in various airports across the globe, we arrived with only a few hours to spare before we were expected in rehearsals. To say we were not quite ourselves would be a gross understatement.

I quickly learned how to sleep anywhere on that trip. I even managed a power nap in full makeup, costume and pointe shoes on a bench in a busy hallway.

Our first day of sightseeing included a trip to Masada National Park, a citadel perched high on a plateau that overlooks the Dead Sea. In AD 73, more than 900 Jewish rebels famously committed suicide there rather than surrender to the Romans. The view was breathtaking; visibility extended to infinity and beyond. But as I gazed at the lands down below I couldn’t help but feel saddened, thinking about all of the people who had died by throwing themselves off that same cliff. I wasn’t sure I would be brave enough to do the same in their position.

But these thoughts were interrupted by the numerous explosions that were taking place an uncomfortably close distance away. I wondered what they could be, and a frightening thought came to mind: bombs. I’d never seen bombs in action before, but the size and amplitude of what we were witnessing made me want to run for cover. Our guide assured us it was common to see such things, “nothing to worry about.” But as he led us away, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. We would later find out that the First Intifada had begun, sparking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would last for years. 

The next morning at breakfast my intuition was proven correct. As I watched many of my fellow dancers sampling the luxurious breakfast spread that stretched across several tables I couldn’t help but notice that the opulent meal did nothing to camouflage the fact that bombs were going off in the near distance. Repeatedly.

As the windows shook with every blast, I filled my plate with breakfast items while my fellow dancers sat calmly chugging coffee. It was now plainly evident why no one had chosen a window seat. But everyone chose to keep silent and avoid eye contact rather than discuss the elephant in the room.

I took a seat as far from the windows as possible and stared at the eggs on my plate, wondering if a bomb was going to come through the huge picture windows and blow us to smithereens. As I tried to keep down what little I was able to force myself to eat for breakfast,   heart pounding, I couldn’t help but wonder-- was ballet now fatal?

When you are touring with a ballet company there isn’t a lot of time to go exploring, so you learn to make every little bit count. Even a full performing schedule has a few openings to squeeze in a walk before or after breakfast or grab a snack or coffee in between shows or rehearsals. After all, if you’ve already flown halfway around the world -- and hey, someone else even paid for it!--, you owe it to yourself to go see something.

A group of us decided to explore on foot between breakfast and morning class. A few minutes into the walk we came across a farmers’ market. The sights and smells were so different from home: fried bread, twisted and dusted with powdered sugar, hunks of marbled halvah, a decadent treat made from sesame seeds that managed to be oily and flaky.

And oh, yes, let’s not forget the uniformed men with guns.

Correction. Not just any guns. AK-47s. Not a sight I’d ever seen in a farmers’ market.

“Those men have guns,” said one of the girls in a shocked voice. “Are we safe? Should we even be here?”

We all looked over nervously, assessing. The men were obviously military of some sort. They wore mirrored sunglasses so it was impossible to tell if they were watching us. They held their rifles stiffly, fingers resting beside the triggers. There was nothing casual about their demeanor.

“We’ll be fine,” said our token male dancer. “They aren’t interested in us. They’re just standing guard.”

The girls tittered nervously. “It creeps me out,” said one.

There was something unnerving about a bunch of guys with assault rifles standing within arms’ reach -- pun intended. We took it as our cue to exit stage left.

Walking back along cobblestone streets that I assumed were thousands of years old heightened our sober mood. Moments later we were walking along Via Dolorosa, The Way of Sorrows. Here we were, in Jerusalem, walking the same path where Jesus carried the cross. Our feet, retracing this ancient, Biblical event. Maybe occasionally breathing in a few stray atoms that were remnants from that time.

For a moment I wondered if God might be watching.

Just then a flock of birds soared past, the fwap-fwapping of their wings dispelling the thought. I tracked them, watching them wind around a tower nearby, spiraling up into the blue before breaking formation to come to rest on a distant rooftop.

We continued back to our hotel. I decided not to mention the dead cat staring lifelessly from a pile of garbage. Instead I wondered about how it ended up like that, which did nothing to ease my sense of security.

The Dome of the Rock came into view. It was a breathtaking sight, the colors and textures of azure blue and blazing gold so rich we ran the last bit of the way to it, laughing. Once there, we took photographs of one another, pretending we were shooting mock Gap ads.

And then we saw them. Although maybe they saw us first. A bunch of young soldiers in uniform, armed with rifles came running our way. They appeared to be our age or younger, many of them barely more than children. The sight of them with rifles was incongruous and made me feel queasy.

One of them was disarmingly handsome -- sorry about the arms puns, my subconscious just keeps tossing them out, making me laugh as I type them. Truly, he was good looking. He approached us, lowering his rifle as he introduced himself.

We were speechless. The combination of so many guns and the hot guy was too much to handle at once. Plus we were terrified. Should we talk to them? Who knew what they would do, what they wanted. Yes, they were being friendly, but they had guns. We were a bunch of skinny dancers, hardly more than teens ourselves. This was not our country and there were no rules.

But moments later we were taking photos with them. The international language of chemistry traverses all borders. So, hell. Why not seize the moment and take a picture with the hot guy? You only live once.

The next day, it was time to move on.

The Dead Sea has[_ _]incredibly high salt and mineral content unparalleled on the globe, that is used for products like Dead Sea salts, mud and scrubs. But as we rode on the tour bus headed that way, watching the endless desert sands go by, none of was thinking about that kind of stuff.

It was all about the swimming.

Rumor had it that the water was so heavy that floating was a breeze. For dancers this was an important consideration. We all had virtually non-existent body fat and lots of muscle, so for most of us, floating was basically impossible anywhere else.

Yes. We were a bunch of sinkers.

After the bus parked and the Dead Sea spread before us in all of its sparkling glory there was a collective intake of breath. Then, the first person made a break for the changing area and the rest scurried along right behind her.

Moments later we stood at the shoreline, taking a few tentative steps. The braver ones plunged in and shouted wildly, floating at last. In fact, it was much easier to float than it was to stand. It was like the opposite of gravity; our feet kept wanting to pop out from under us, rising to the surface against our will.

We soon realized we could float in any position at all. We tried a repertory of the most bizarre we could think of: both legs up behind in a double-legged attitude, a huge crowd of us linking arms to form a chain. You could even float in a seated forward bend.

This was nothing short of miraculous.

One of the guys made a new, cool discovery: an underwater bridge made entirely of crystallized salt. We all took turns walking along its narrow expanse like negotiating a balance beam, no easy feat.

We regressed to being children. No one was left standing -- they were all too busy trying new and interesting ways to float.

All too soon it was time to move on to the next stop: Bethlehem. We grudgingly changed and boarded the bus. Bethlehem trumped all arguments, at least historically speaking.

However, we soon realized a short while into the ride that our skin still felt incredibly oily and salty. Our hair wasn’t drying. My friend grimly informed us that it wasn’t going to; the world-famous mineral content had leached into every one of our follicles and pores and intended to tag along for the rest of the day until we could hit the showers.

Yes, we were destined to spend the rest of the day looking like bedraggled, oily messes. In Bethlehem. Make way for the slimy Americans. This was doing nothing to improve our reputations abroad.

Hopefully Jesus wouldn’t mind.

It isn’t every day that you get to see the birthplace of Christ. Some people go an entire lifetime and never do. But here we were, in Bethlehem. Yes, we looked like drowned rats, but paying proper homage to the importance of the moment, we overcame our scummy appearances and put on humble demeanors.

I was prepared to be wowed.

Physically the setting was underwhelming. As the guide led us, I couldn’t help noticing the ways the building showed its age: cracks here and there, an overall dingy quality throughout, like looking at everything through a smoky window. I wondered, was it like this when Jesus was born?

We reached “the spot”; the place where Jesus was born. This room was lovely: a collection of ornate lanterns hung above the metal star -- the proverbial “x” to mark the spot embedded in the marble floor. Watching the reflections of the glowing candlelight flickering on the metal of that star, everything else around me fell away.

How many times I had heard the story of Christmas: year after year in church as a child and many other times besides. Regardless of religious status – staunch believer or complete agnostic – there was something there for each of us – a feeling, hovering between breathless and breezy; a final punctuation.

Call it history, myth, the first coming or legend. It didn’t matter. The hushed silence in the room verified that there was meaning of some sort for each one of us.

During a lifetime we collect those precious moments when conscious thought is suspended and something larger takes hold; the purity of awe that is unfettered by words and descriptions. We simply drink it all in until we move on, filled with a bliss that radiates through our entire being.

This was one of those moments. It eclipsed multiple sunsets and roaring bouts of laughter. It definitely won out over my first kiss  -- which was actually quite terrible.

We got back on the bus, subtly yet palpably altered. The quiet persisted as we drove back to the hotel.The gentle rocking of the bus put many of the dancers to sleep, including my friend, E. She fell asleep with her mouth hanging wide open, snoring loudly enough to make a few people titter.

I looked back at her and the others dozing around her; a greasy bunch of sleeping puppies. I thought about how the day had held a (salty sort of) baptism and a birth.

No wonder they were tired.

We were on our way to Haifa, the final leg of our tour, to perform at a kibbutz, although none of us knew what a kibbutz was-- nor was it ever explained. I know now that it's a communal farming settlement. Haifa is the largest city in northern Israel, the third largest in the country – perhaps the population density was the reason for our stop there.

In its early days (third century), Haifa was a dye-making center. Today the city is all about oil. Haifa was formerly the western terminus of an oil pipeline from Iraq via Jordan and Haifa Bay is a center of petroleum refining and chemical processing. Supposedly it also had its charm: the city is considered to be the Israeli equivalent of San Francisco because of its sloping steep streets, proximity to a bay, and liberal atmosphere.

The weather had turned foul; so had our moods. The novelty of being so far from home had worn off after being endlessly shuttled from town to town-- and looking down the barrel of one too many guns hadn’t helped. We had lived through some marathon days that began early in the morning and ended with obligatory attendance at post-performance after-parties for patrons that had us crawling into bed during the wee hours.

Basically, we were cooked.

But the thought that this was our last stop offered some comfort. Soon enough we would board the plane for home, to our own beds and a normal schedule. In the meantime, there was the final challenge of the kibbutz. 

Rain poured down incessantly as we unloaded from the bus and filed into the theater. Inside everything was dark and damp. A quick peek at the stage told us that while it wasn’t the finest we’d danced on, it also wasn’t the worst. Although there were the things lying on the floor. At second glance we realized that they were pots, strategically placed around the stage, collecting water that dripped from the ceiling.

It was a leaky kibbutz. Wonderful.

Several people gulped audibly, probably imagining the worst: flailing around onstage while skidding through puddles. This was definitely not part of the job description in our contracts.

We mustered on, going through the motions of getting ready: makeup and fake eyelashes, check. Warm up clothes, check. Team spirit, um, no.

I can say with certainty that our performance that night was not our best. But the knowledge that home lurked just around the corner gave it an extra zing it would not have otherwise had.

And hey, no one got hurt.

When the evening was over I fell into a coma-like sleep only to have the phone ring hours later. The glowing red numbers on the bedside clock announced it was four a.m. I couldn’t imagine who the hell would call us – or better yet, who even knew how to reach us – but I assumed it must be important so I answered it.

My mother’s panicked voice sounded like she was on a different planet speaking through a tube. “Thank God I got a hold of you. I have been going out of my mind with worry. Are you all right? What the hell is going on over there? All I see on the news is guns, bombs and explosions. Are you going to get out of there OK?”

I knew better than to mention anything about hot guys with machine guns or bombs at breakfast. The woman already had enough trouble sleeping at night. So I put on the best happy voice I could manage at that hour. “Sure, Mom. We’re fine.”

Even as I said this I knew it may or may not be true. This tour had taught me well: nothing is guaranteed. Shit happens. Carry snacks.

On Tour with Miami City Ballet in Ecuador

The pre-travel pep talk they gave us before we left for Ecuador was full of warnings: don’t brush your teeth with tap water -- use bottled-- don’t eat any uncooked fruits or vegetables and for God’s sake keep your mouth closed when you take a shower. This was the first visit to a third world country for many of us and the company needed us to stay healthy.

Still, who wouldn’t want an all-expenses-paid trip to Ecuador? That’s what I thought until they informed us that we were going to have to take malaria pills to prepare for our trip. Oh, yes, there was malaria in Ecuador… and the company had neglected to start us on the anti-malaria regimen when they were supposed to—weeks ahead of schedule. Instead, they hastily shoved a few pills in our hands the day before we were due to leave and told us it would have to do. As I gulped down the first pill I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.

I soon forgot all about it. Nothing beats the excitement of going on tour carrying your very own shiny, new tour case with your name boldly emblazoned on its pristine surface-- it’s the dancer’s equivalent of having your name in lights -- off-off-off Broadway, of course.

But Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet --far above the sea level we were used to in Miami -- presented an entirely new challenge. The higher altitude and, therefore, less oxygen spelled trouble, and we were to perform " Concerto Barocco,” one of George Balanchine’s most strenuous and aerobic ballets. Oh yes. During this ballet the corps dancers never once leave the stage.

In the spirit of proactive thinking, oxygen tanks were installed in the wings on either side of the stage. Even though they told us not to worry, knowing that there were oxygen tanks waiting in the wings did little to reassure anyone. Nor was it ever explained how we were supposed to get oxygen if we really did need it. Instead they remained a troubling reminder of all that could go wrong.

Though we all did our best to be careful, many dancers ended up with digestive problems – and all those desperate runs to the bathroom made performing logistically complicated and frequently interrupted rehearsals. Some dancers were forced to sit them out altogether, waiting until the stomach cramps passed.

The night of our first performance finally arrived-- along with heightened anxiety. We did what dancers always do – went through the motions as if it were any other night: warm up, put on makeup and costumes, warm up again backstage, practice tricky moves onstage until final curtain call, breathe, pray. Somehow things always work out once the music starts. Some primal part of the brain takes over and you begin. One count at a time. This move and then the next.  

The music for Concerto Barocco -- J.S. Bach’s "Concerto in D minor for Two Violins"-- is particularly beautiful and inspires full-out dancing with abandon. I’ve always felt like it brings out any dancer’s beauty.

Except once in my case.

Halfway through the first movement, the corps dancers move in patterns around the stage, striking bold piqué arabesques as they circle one another. Music mimics movement, reaching to a crescendo with each arabesque. It is our one moment during the ballet to shine, to really stand out.

A flurry of notes announced my moment had arrived. My feet swept me into my place, front and center. I struck out into a bold arabesque. There I was, launched into stardom at center stage.

Apparently the universe had other plans. In the middle of my bold strike, my supporting foot slipped. It was if I had [_piquéd _]onto a banana peel. In a split second I was on my hands and knees. Front and center.

My shining moment.

The heat of shame and humiliation flooded my body as I quickly picked myself up. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I swept back into place and continued dancing, my limbs shaky from shock, willing myself to finish while stifling the urge to cry.

The second movement was my chance to recover a little; in this section the corps creates a series of tableaux, each dancer striking a pose and holding it for long periods. I caught my breath enough to calm down completely before the third and final movement, an all-out no-holds-barred aerobic section with a seeming million hops en pointe, jumps and turns. And it’s fast – so fast it’s almost hard to whip your body around quickly enough to keep up.

But keep up we did and finished with a flourish, drenched in sweat to the point that our white leotards were transparent in multiple places. My chest felt cold, so cold. I am sure this was due to oxygen depletion. It was the only time I ever wished the audience would stop clapping, for Pete’s sake.

Immediately after the curtain went down, Edward Villella, our artistic director, came backstage to talk to me. He gently reminded me that falling happens, even to the best dancers, which I found heartening. His support meant a lot in that very humbling moment.

I am happy to report that my love for Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins was not in any way diminished.

How to be a Dancer or Just Look Like One…

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to pick a dancer out of a crowd? You know what I mean: dancers seem to float through the crowd because they have key traits like grace and poise, and that certain je ne sais crois that separates them from everyone else[. _]If you’ve ever felt envious about this, you’re in luck.[ _]Whether you’re a ballet dancer-in-training or simply wish you were a dancer, here’s how to get the look.

The posture: Imagine you have a metal rod running through the core of your body that keeps the spine ramrod-straight. Reach the crown of the head towards the sky to create length in the spine while keeping the chin high. Pay special attention to the area around the neck and shoulders: press the shoulders down away from the ears to create the illusion of a long, swan-like neck.

[
The walk]: focus on maintaining an outward rotation in the hips, which will cause the feet to splay at a 45 degree angle in the classic dancer duckwalk. Suck in the gut, tuck the buttocks under and cinch the shoulder blades together, broadening the chest. Swing the arms gracefully and move quickly—like there’s no time to waste as you hurry off to your next rehearsal.

The hairdo: Slick the hair back into a high ponytail, taking special care to tame any and all stray flyaway strands. It is imperative that every hair lies flat against the skull so use gel, mousse or pomade if necessary. Separate the ponytail into two sections and tug firmly to ratchet the ponytail into a high and tight position. Twist the ponytail until it begins to curl around itself; continue twisting as you coil the hair into a bun. Wrap the tail end under the bun and secure in place with bobby pins. To complete the look a hairnet is mandatory! Be sure to choose the shade that most closely matches your hair color. Cover bun and pin in place. Shellac the whole hairdo with a liberal shower of hairspray.

The outfit: All clothing must be chosen with movement in mind. Shoot for a cotton lycra blend or go for something feminine and flowing. Choose pants or leggings with a fit that accentuates those leg muscles. Tops should be gauzy, filmy, or ruffled, A-line, clingy, silky, or stretchy. Extra points for cut-outs, off-the-shoulder, elaborate embroidery, and yummy textures.

The bag: Find the largest bag you own. A tote or duffel bag is preferred if you are going for authenticity. Stuff the bag liberally with enough long-sleeve shirts, t-shirts, leotards and tights to last for several days. Additional mandatory items include: warm-up clothes, protein bars, water bottle, medical tape, BandAids, ACE bandage(s), gel toe pads, hairbrush, hairspray, stray bobby pins, make up bag, mp3 player with headphones, sewing kit, emergency feminine hygiene kit, deodorant, [_pointe _]shoes, ballet slippers, TheraBand, wooden foot roller, tennis balls or other massage tool, Tiger Balm, lip balm, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Extra points if you have pink toe-shoe ribbons dangling over the edge of your bag.

The accessories: This is your chance to go wild and add a bit of your unique personality to the look. Remember that sparkle and glitz is always better. Hair accessories with fake flowers, feathers, and rhinestones add flair; be certain they are secured firmly so they don’t fly out during turns. Earrings are another way to add some sparkle; choose a pair that won’t catch on hair or clothing. During the colder months, add fingerless gloves or wrist warmers to bring color and texture to what you are wearing.

Whether you want to be a ballet dancer (or just look like one), follow these simple rules and you are on your way to looking like a true bunhead.

My Most Intense Summer at the School of American Ballet

Like most young dancers who wish to make the jump to the professional level, I took my first big step by auditioning for, and attending, a summer intensive at the School of American Ballet. It was a big stretch for me in many ways; I religiously rode the train each morning --with Rebecca, another young dancer and a car full of newspaper-toting suits-- an hour each way from Connecticut to Manhattan then a bus uptown to the school.

I was 13 years old.

New York held the promise of a potential new and exciting life, a life I’d dreamed of for a long time. The chance to study at the School of American Ballet meant I was one step closer to that life and becoming a full-time student-- perhaps one day a member of New York City Ballet.

Although it sounds glamorous, I assure you it was not. Particularly that first summer. We spent our days sweating it out, both literally and figuratively, vying to stand out from a crowded room of dancers -- many of whom had made a cross-country trek for this privilege. In between morning and afternoon classes we had a brief recess for lunch.

Every lunch break brought up the serious question of whether or not we would survive crossing the stupendously large and busy intersections of Broadway and Columbus Avenues to get to the local deli. This was a thought-provoking question for two distinct yet equally important reasons: 1) Crossing any intersection in New York often meant taking your life in your hands because motorists-- especially taxi drivers -- tended to speed up when they had potential victims lined up in their sights, and 2) a freak heat wave -- temperatures hovered around 104 degrees for weeks--, made the streets so hot that you could fry an egg on them in seconds. You had to seriously consider whether or not a trip to the deli was really worth it-- and whether or not your shoes would melt on the asphalt.

Although we were climatically challenged,  our enthusiasm was not dampened. It was one of those character-building experiences, the first of many that any dancer goes through.

Little did we know: this was the easy part.

Then there was the return trip to Grand Central to think about. Classes let out around four p.m. each day – at the height of the day’s heat – and most of the busses weren’t air-conditioned. We’d exit the temperature-controlled halls of the School of American Ballet and step out into a wall of heat. It felt like breathing hot bathwater. As the minutes ticked by while we waited at the bus stop we’d stare off into the wavy-lined, heat-soaked distance to see if the bus was even visible yet, wondering if we might expire before it arrived. A few days into the summer, Rebecca and I bought some groovy handheld fans at a little Asian shop, and I am pretty sure they saved our lives -- lots of people died that summer--seriously.

The School of American Ballet’s Summer Intensive is one the most major events of the summer for young ballet dancers, and it drastically changed the course of my life.

My first ballet teacher took me to audition at the school one February morning and I began my first Summer Intensive a few months later. At the time I had no idea how difficult it was to be accepted—SAB’s National Audition Tour covers two dozen audition locations around the country at the start of each calendar year. Recently they have begun accepting video applications from students outside the continental U.S. 

Out of the thousands who audition, only 200 students, aged 12 to 18, are chosen to train at the school with the renowned faculty (many of them danced with New York City Ballet). There is always the hope to be invited to stay on as a permanent student and continue training year-round.

Many dancers come from out of state, some on their own, and some with family -- most often their mothers. At the time I attended the school it wasn’t always easy to find an affordable place to sublet for the summer. Many students ended up couch-surfing or squeezing into tiny apartments with a flock of other dancers.

Today the school operates a seven-floor, 191-bed residence hall located in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building, the same building that houses the school’s teaching studios, dining hall, administrative offices and physical therapy room. For today’s students the commute is now a simple ride on the elevator. 

From the outside, the School of  American Ballet didn’t look particularly impressive. Back then it was housed on the third floor of The Juilliard School, a nondescript building at 66th and Broadway. The front lobby was even less appealing: the dark floors and feeble overhead lighting felt oppressive, but it was air-conditioned and a security guard monitored everyone’s comings and goings.

Once you entered the glass doors, everything changed. The studios were impeccably clean and bright, with incredibly high ceilings and large windows that flooded the studios with natural light. A glossy black grand piano sat in the corner—a live pianist played for every class. Even the smallest of the four dance studios was several times the size of my ballet studio back home, and the floors were smooth and even-- no more hair-raising [_pirouettes _]on slippery linoleum marked up with paint spatters (my ballet studio at home hosted artists and painters a couple of nights per week during off hours).

Every morning during that time, a few blocks before we reached the school, when the bus passed Lincoln Center—home of the Metropolitan Opera House -- where American Ballet Theatre performs, the David Koch Theater -- where New York City Ballet performs--, and the famous spraying fountain, my heart grew wings thinking about the future.

While every day at the School of American Ballet held all the promise of my ballet future, I often felt one step behind, unsure of where I stood or whether I was even noticed. There were some days when the white walls of the studio felt like they were closing in on me. Other days it felt cavernous, full of so many other people I felt like I might be swallowed up. Every day I tried as hard as I could to be perfect.

Regardless of the cloud of uncertainty hanging over my head, I loved ballet, performing, and dancing (as I had dreamt for years), at the School of American Ballet.

So I continued taking the overly-refrigerated train every day with men in suits, and riding the bus in a severely contrasting environment without air-conditioning, to and from SAB in blisteringly hot temperatures that hovered above 100 degrees, and I did everything my teachers asked of me. I was lucky to have the ability to learn choreography quickly, which differentiated me from some of the others, because I always knew what the next step was.

The teaching style at the School of American Ballet was very different from what I was used to: we were shown each exercise -- either an actual demonstration by the teacher or told verbally with a series of hand gestures to illustrate --, and we repeated what was given. Days and weeks passed this way, often with no comments from teachers.

We had technique class every morning, variations en pointe two afternoons per week, and character class. I hadn’t been dancing en pointe for long, but my feet were already giving me problems. The bunions on my big toes continued to grow and in every class I felt excruciating pain—it felt like being stabbed with skewers or hot daggers. Some days I was close to tears. Most days I surreptitiously took off my shoes for a split second while the other group of dancers were in the center. A few blessed moments to relieve the pressure was the only way to get through each class.

One class at a time. One day at a time. That was the only way to keep moving ahead and I was determined to do exactly that.

During the final week of a Summer Intensive, every dancer wonders the same thing: will I be asked to stay on as a permanent student? While it’s an incredible experience spending the summer in a place like New York City while studying with the top ballet faculty in the country, the invitation to stay on is what really matters. This marks a dancer as having enough promise to have a ballet career, perhaps one day with New York City Ballet.

The School of American Ballet website states that Peter Martins, Chairman of Faculty at SAB and Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet, observes every student in class. Mr. Martins and the faculty assess each summer student’s interest and technical accomplishment but only a select few are asked to stay on. Many students attend two or three SAB summers before they’re ready for the Winter Term.

I was asked to stay on for Winter Term after my second summer at SAB. At that time George Balanchine was  alive and running New York City Ballet, but he rarely came to the school --and never during the Summer Intensive. Instead, Antonina Tumkovsky, one of the most influential teachers at SAB, who taught there from 1949-2003, conducted student evaluations, with help from Nathalie Gleboff, the school’s Executive Director. Although I understood nothing that was said the day my class was evaluated, it was nerve-wracking -- and obvious -- when I was being discussed. Days later, when my ballet teacher gave me the good news that I had been asked to stay, my life was irrevocably changed: I was going to study full-time at the top ballet school in the country, leave my family behind, and move to New York City on my own.

I was 14.

As crazy as this sounds, it’s a common scenario for young dancers, although I left home earlier than most. Since ballet dancers begin dancing professionally in their late teens, training has to happen even earlier.

My thoughts are often with today’s hopeful, young dancers who travel so far and work hard to follow their dreams. This may be one of the most stressful experiences they’ve ever had, but I hope they remember to soak it all in, enjoy the magic of New York, and learn everything they can.

Debunking Ballet Myths

While many people admire ballet as an exquisite art form, it’s also often criticized. Some complain that ballet promotes an unhealthy body image. Ballet is too elitist, others argue. But are these criticisms based on reality or myth? With the recent surge in movies and TV shows set in the ballet world, it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction. Let’s examine some of the most common ballet myths and see what’s real:

1. All ballet dancers are anorexic. 

On average, professional ballet dancers spend from five to eight hours each day dancing their butts off; imagine how slim you would be if you exercised so much! Ballet also naturally creates longer, leaner lines in the body, unlike other athletic pursuits such as running, which create bulkier muscles. Although they are slender, most dancers are health-conscious—they have to be in order to have enough energy to get through their long, active days--although their busy schedules mean they snack throughout the day as opposed to eating huge meals -- it's hard to be light on your feet with a full belly!

2. If you want to be a professional ballet dancer you have to start taking ballet classes early, like when you are still in the womb

Ballet superstar Misty Copeland defies that myth. Copeland was 13 when she began  taking ballet classes, and rose rapidly in 2007 to make dance history by becoming only the third African American female soloist -- and the first in two decades--, at American Ballet Theater. She was named principal dancer in 2015. Another classmate of mine at the School of American Ballet began ballet at age 12, and later went on to dance with New York City Ballet.

3. All male ballet dancers are gay.

There are certainly a lot of good-looking men in ballet but just because they put on tights doesn’t mean hot-blooded heterosexuals aren’t in the mix. The real-life partnership between New York City Ballet principal dancers Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck is not just one of the most romantic love stories in ballet history  -- teen sweethearts, drama, breakup(s) and a happy ending -- when Fairchild proposed in Paris, it is one of the most prominent ballet marriages today. Other well-known married couples include San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancers Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, Boston Ballet principals Carlos Molina and Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal and Lorna Feijoo, Ballet West soloists Easton Smith and Haley Henderson. Still not convinced? Rent “The Turning Point" -- a classic ballet film and watch Baryshnikov make his moves with Leslie Browne.

4. You have to be a twig to be a ballet dancer.

While this was true during the Balanchine era, perspectives on dancers’ bodies are changing dramatically and today’s dancers are more muscular and feminine. Take a look at the lineup of dancers from companies like LINES Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Ballet Black. English National Ballet Artistic Director, Tamara Rojo said recently she’s not interested in employing underweight ballerinas. Ballet dancers such as Kathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, St. Paul Ballet dancer, Brittany Adams and New York City Ballet veteran Jenifer Ringer are becoming more vocal about promoting a healthy body image. If you want to delve deeper into the issue, check out “Strength and Beauty,” a documentary about ballerinas’ personal accounts of dealing with issues like weight. 

5. Ballet dancers are weak, timid girlie girls who love anything pink. 

Many football players signing up for ballet would beg to differ Pittsburgh Steelers’ nose tackle, Steve McLendon  says, “Ballet is harder than anything else I do.” Ballet dancers are not delicate little flowers, nor is ballet for the weak. It’s actually enormously difficult both physically and mentally. A dancer has to remember several ballets’ worth of choreography at any given time  plus be strong enough to leap, turn, grande battement, and[_ relevé _]for (sometimes) hours on end. 

6. Pointe hurts. Stretching hurts.

It doesn’t hurt if you’re doing it right! Well, OK, pointe shoes sometimes hurt when you wear them day after day for hours. But dancers build up their flexibility and foot strength over time. It’s a process where things progress slowly. Beginning pointe classes, for instance, are very brief. If things hurt, it’s time to slow down or back off and if you experience pain when you’re stretching it’s actually a clear indication that you’re pushing things too far. 

7. Ballet dancers naturally dance well at parties and nightclubs

Just because one is a ballet dancer does not mean they’ll be a hit on the dance floor at your next party. Trust me; these are two very different types of dancing. In fact, ballet is so regimented and precise that it’s difficult for ballet dancers to cut loose. It’s much more likely they’ll resemble an electrocuted chicken on the dance floor.

8. All female ballet dancers are ballerinas

Typical cocktail party conversation: “Oh, I didn’t know that you were a ballerina!” “Um, I’m not. I’m a ballet dancer.” Only the highest-ranking female dancers in a ballet company are ranked as ballerinas. The corps and soloist dancers in the company are dancers until, if or when, they become ballerinas. 

9. Since ballet terms are French all ballet dancers speak fluent French

Sadly, no ( je suis desolée ). Just because ballet terms are in French does not mean that we speak French fluently, nor is there any guarantee that our pronunciation is credible -- or even correct.

10. Ballet dancers are not the brightest bulbs in the pack

Refer to number 5 above, for how much dancers have to remember -- a lot.   A good memory also serves dancers well in school, since more dancers are choosing to take college courses while they dance, with the blessings of top ballet companies including American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet (who offer scholarship money to their dancers). Boston Ballet recently teamed up with Northeastern University to offer a program to help dancers earn their degrees while they are dancing. The university’s flexible schedule accommodates dancers’ routines and the company’s scholarship fund covers up to 80 percent of tuition…which means there are a lot of brainiacs [_en pointe _]out there.

As you can see, most myths don’t stand up to investigation. Whether your attitude towards ballet is “love it” or “leave it,” you can now make an educated choice.

How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how does one become a professional ballet dancer? Whether you’re just starting out or in your early teens and serious about a career it’s important to have a clear idea of the steps involved. Although no two dancers are alike, there is a solid path that every dancer takes, beginning with ballet classes at a local studio and ending -- hopefully -- with the ballet company of choice.

Although many dancers begin taking ballet classes when they are quite young, there are exceptions to this rule, like Misty Copeland, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, who began dancing when she was 13 and quickly rose to stardom. Wherever you start taking ballet class, choose a studio you like and a teacher with professional dance experience. Work hard in class and practice, practice, practice.

When a dancer reaches age 11 or 12 it’s time to decide if a career in ballet is something you really want. This is also the time when most girls begin dancing en pointe and the commitment level for dance classes increases dramatically from two classes every week to four or five days per week -- or more. It’s a critical juncture where girls decide whether they want to keep going with ballet.

Once you decide that you want to be a professional ballet dancer it’s time to take the next step and attend a summer intensive at a professional ballet school. Many ballet companies across the country also run ballet schools where they train new dancers. The School of American Ballet in New York and the San Francisco Ballet School are top ballet schools and the most popular choices for summer intensives but many others are scattered across the country. Research your options, identify the schools of your choice and audition for their summer intensive. Most schools hold auditions around the country during the winter months.

Generally after completing one or two summer intensives a dancer may be invited to stay on as permanent student. This step on a dancer’s path is the most exciting! Not only do you get the chance to study with top ballet teachers and live and breathe ballet, you may also be living the big city life in a place like New York or Philadelphia.

Once dancers are advanced level students at a professional ballet school, they often get the chance to perform in the end-of-year performance showcase. These are important opportunities for dancers to be seen and hired by ballet companies. Those dancers who are offered apprenticeships with a company perform with the company for a year before being hired on as a full-fledged member of the corps de ballet.

Those who don’t find work this way need to begin the process of auditioning for companies. There are two ways to do this: 1) research and attend open auditions or, 2) contact a company and ask to take a company class. Either scenario can work, provided the company has job openings and the dancer is what the company needs at that time. If the audition is successful a company will offer either an apprenticeship or a full contract.

Although the path to becoming a professional dancer isn’t complicated it requires lots of work and incredible amounts of willpower and the ability to handle rejection. It may take dozens of auditions before you land a job. The important thing is to believe in yourself and never give up.

May you dance like the wind and may luck be on your side.

The Rules of Ballet

There are rules in ballet; every dancer knows this. They aren’t written anywhere, but they absolutely exist… and they are ironclad. Miss Roberta, the ballet teacher in my novel, “WISH,” book #1 of the Indigo Ballet Series, is very outspoken about what dancers should and shouldn’t do outside ballet classes (she’s also comfortable discussing touchy subjects like personal hygiene). Since she was a professional ballet dancer herself, she knows what it takes and how hard it is to make it. Heres is the manifesto she shares with all of her ballet students to help guide them:

RULE #1: Humans are naturally lazy and dancers have to work hard to overcome this tendency.

Take a moment to look at the average person’s posture and you’ll see the truth to this. Most of us shuffle through life in the default setting:  our shoulders hunched and our heads down.

RULE #2: There is always room for improvement. If you think you are a good enough dancer, you’re wrong!

Ballet is all about reaching perfection–your own version of perfection. There is always something to fine-tune or something new to learn.

RULE #3: There will always be someone who is a better dancer than you.

This is a difficult reality to face but sooner or later this is true for all dancers, whether it’s due to skill or age. My first ballet teacher used to tell us to never get comfortable or cocky because there would always be better dancers out there. You have to stay sharp and constantly push yourself if you want to reach the top. The good news is hard work and persistence pay off. Work to the best of your abilities and you will forge forward.

RULE #4: It takes hard work and discipline to get ahead.

It also takes unrelenting willpower and persistence, indestructible courage and ridiculous levels of confidence. But hey, no one ever said it was going to be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

RULE #5: If you can’t take constructive criticism, you are in the wrong place.

By the time you reach the professional level of ballet, you are not only able to handle criticism, you live for it. Ballet dancers eat up corrections like most kids chow on candy because they know if someone takes time to make a comment, they think you’re worth it.

RULE #6: If you are too tall, too fat or too lazy, pick a different career.

This is not a career for anyone not prepared to work off their butts. Although the physical ideal in ballet is slowly changing it’s still a much tougher road if your body type doesn’t match what ballet companies are looking for.

RULE #7: The love of dance brought you here and it will carry you through your career.

Every dancer you see on stage today started with love of ballet in their heart and the dream to become part of the magic onstage. That love is what keeps dancers going day after day, sometimes working through pain in various forms. But ask any dancer if they love what they do and you’ll get the same answer: yes.

RULE #8: Ballet is equal parts dedication, inspiration, and perspiration.

It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, either. Nor for anyone who minds getting sweaty.

RULE #9: The human body is a dancer’s most important tool and our biggest challenge (see Rule #1).

As mentioned above, the human body is naturally lazy. Dancers have to fight hard to overcome this tendency. Since top fitness is part of the job description, most ballet dancers spend every waking minute keeping their tools in prime shape, either taking classes, doing supplemental training like Pilates, stretching or being massaged -- although this last activity is far less likely.

RULE #10: [_ Ballet involves sacrifice -- _]among the activities considered dangerous you should include boys..

If you do the math you’ll see why this is true. If x, the dancer, spends almost every waking moment in a ballet studio that leaves y hours left to do anything else. In this case y=0. But all kidding aside, there are certain activities most dancers don’t do because of the risk of injury or because they will develop the wrong muscles: skiing, horseback riding, and circus arts, just to name a few.

Whether you are a ballet dancer or not, you probably have your own manifesto for life. May it guide you well. Even if you don’t resonate with Miss Roberta’s manifesto, do take her advice and wear deodorant.

10 Reasons to Study Ballet at Any Age

Every holiday season, after seeing The Nutcracker , millions of little girls go to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads -- sugarplum fairies, that is. But five-year-olds haven't cornered the market on the desire to learn ballet; there are just as many young adults, mothers and grandmothers with the same dream. It's never too late to follow your heart, slither into a leotard and tights and join in a ballet class… and the benefits are huge.

1. Discipline. There is something to be said for the fine art of mental control. While the lack of it is usually glaringly apparent in five-year-olds, it’s also sometimes buried in the deep recesses of the minds of adults. We’ve just gotten better about camouflaging it. Learning to put mind over matter and stick with something day after day is a huge skill that can be used in every facet of life for the rest of your days.

2. Grace, strength and control. It’s easy to identify a ballerina in a crowd, and grace, strength and control is a good part of the reason why. Ballerinas move differently than the rest of their human counterparts, because they have spent a great deal of time and energy cultivating these assets. Precision of movement is fundamental  to ballet, and the good news is that it’s transferable to other athletic endeavors. It’s this that brings  many football players, gymnasts and other athletes to spend time at the ballet barre.

3. Flexibility. More flexibility means greater range of movement and less potential for injury. Who wouldn’t want this? Ready to sign up yet?

4. Great exercise.  Bodies were made to move, as often as possible, every day. Why else would we have all these moving parts? Since exercise is absolutely necessary for health and longevity, we may as well pick an activity we enjoy. This will probably sound biased, but dance is a whole lot more fun than the gym. Or consider this simple equation: Joy of movement= laying the groundwork for a life time of good exercise habits.

5. Better posture. One of the first things you will learn in ballet class is how to stand up straight.  And to reiterate an earlier point, this is another reason why it is easy to identify ballerinas in a crowd.

6. Outlet for personal expression. For some of us, it’s hitting a pillow. For others, it’s yelling from a mountaintop or scribbling away in a journal. But it can’t hurt to add another option to your list.

7. Listening. There’s an awful lot to learn during  a ballet class, and complicating it is that the terminology is all in French -- difficult if you're not a French speaker. The way to stay ahead   is to pay very close attention to what is being said and demonstrated, and then do your earthly best to remember when to do what. This is fantastic for keeping your brain lively.

8. Body awareness. You’re probably aware enough of some parts you would like to change, erase or give away. That’s not the type of body awareness that’s being addressed. Instead, you will grow aware of how to move all the different parts of the body, and what is attached to what. And hey, your balance will improve. Dramatically.

9. Spatial awareness. Ballet classes begin at the barre but end in the center of the room, with lots of jumping and twirling. Not only will you learn to move in certain ways in the desired direction, you will also learn how to do all this without crashing into anyone else. Works really well in crowds.

10. Fun. This pretty much goes without saying, but is one of the very best possible reasons to sign up for ballet, which is why I saved it for last. Who couldn’t use a little more fun in their life?

No matter how old you are, you'll enjoy the benefits of ballet class. How many other hobbies can boast fitness, posture, balance and fun? It's never too late -- or too early -- to pursue the dream of dance.

How to Make a Ballerina

Note: This recipe will yield one premium quality ballerina.

[++]

Ingredients:

Take one part raw, unfiltered talent

Add:

• 3 cups technical skill;

• 3 cups artistic flair;

• 2 pinches dedication and tenacity.

Combine ingredients and beat at high speed for 10-15 years. Spoon into proper container, cover loosely,  and store in a warm, dry place until volume of talent has doubled. Cook under hot lights until rock hard to the touch and beautiful to behold.

Deposit center stage. Garnish liberally with glitter, satin, and tulle. Serve as often as possible.

What it Takes to be a Ballet Dancer

A lot of people ask what it takes to be a ballet dancer. Here’s what famed New York City Ballet founder and choreographer George Balanchine said about it: “Someone once said that dancers work just as hard as policemen, always alert, always tense. But I don’t agree with that because policemen don’t have to look beautiful at the same time.”

Mr. Balanchine was right. It isn’t easy to be a ballet dancer. These days ballet is in the spotlight, with films like “Black Swan”, and TV shows like “Bunheads” and, “Breaking Pointe” creating a national obsession. It’s almost every little girl’s dream to become a ballerina. However, for most people, this dream will never come true. Why? Because ballet is one of the most demanding and competitive fields in existence. Only a small percentage of people have what it takes to make it.

Here are the three things that all dancers must have in order to succeed:

• internal characteristics

• external characteristics

• an action plan

We’ll start with the most obvious first: the external. A dancer must have the proper physical build. Dancers are slender and swan-like, with long, lean limbs and perfect proportions. They can’t be too tall-- or too short. Basically, they are physically perfect.

There are other, not-so-obvious physical traits that ballet demands: flexibility -- for those high kicks and gravity-defying leaps --, turnout, or outward rotation of the hips, and supple, beautifully arched feet-- every dancer knows how important it is to have “good feet.” The wrong kind of foot looks like an unsightly ham hock while the right kind of foot completes the line beautifully.

Equally important is what’s going on inside. Obviously there is a burning desire to dance. That is true for all dancers. The desire lights the fire, but there’s got to be a whole lot more than that to keep the flame burning when the going gets tough. Key among these things are what I like to call the three D’s of dance: determination, dedication and discipline.

 

Determination eliminates the word defeat from your vocabulary. You know deep in your core that you will never give up. Trust me, all dancers come up against plenty of discouragement. With determination you keep going no matter what.

Dedication is commitment to a task or purpose. Practice, practice, practice because it must be perfect, perfect, perfect. But dancers take dedication to a much higher level than most people realize: to be a dancer, dance comes first, often to the exclusion of many other things. Most days are devoted to classes, rehearsals, strength building and even private coaching, if necessary. More importantly, dedication means sacrifice: sacrifice of time and activities like skiing and horseback riding -- two things forbidden for dancers. In fact, the forbidden list is   pretty long.

Discipline means applying yourself, training by regular instruction and exercise-- or to bring about a state of order and control. Both are true for ballet dancers.

The final piece for success is an action plan. Once a dancer decides to pursue a career --usually during the early teens-- it’s time to map that plan. Of course, the plan can change over time and often does. First, choose a professional ballet school. Many ballet companies run professional ballet schools to train new generations of dancers. These schools accept students by audition only and the competition is fierce. Many dancers start by taking summer intensives at these professional schools. If all goes well, they are invited to stay on as permanent students.

When a student reaches the advanced levels in a professional school -- usually between 15-18 years old-- it’s time for more decisions. Sometimes the parent ballet company will invite students to apprentice with the company. Apprenticeships last about a year and are stepping stones to becoming a full-fledged company member.

More often dancers attend open call auditions to get work. Make a list of the companies that interest you and find out when they are holding auditions. Most dancers have a love/hate relationship with auditions because they are nerve-wracking and crowded. But they also represent opportunity and you never know which one will pan out.

Some dancers call companies directly to see if they are hiring. If so, they can arrange to take a class with the company as a sort of informal audition.

Either way, dancers have to make choices. You aim, you shoot-- and hopefully you’re hired. If not, you keep trying until you are.

As you can see becoming a ballet dancer is not simple-- or easy. But if a dancer has what it takes: the proper internal and external characteristics and an action plan, they have the best chance for success.

Top 10 Swoon-Worthy Ballet Boys

One of the most burning questions people have about ballet is: what’s up with the men? There are those who assume that if a man puts on tights he must be gay. Regardless of the choices they make for their private lives, ballet men are some of the strongest, most athletic and graceful beings on the planet. To quote a recent tweet from the Ballet Boyz (obvious Jane Austen fans): “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that real men wear tights.” Check out this list of  “Top 10 Swoon-Worthy Ballet Boys” and see for yourself.

Chehon Wespi-Tschopp. Chehon began ballet at age 13 and at 14 he was offered a spot to train at The Royal Ballet School in London. An alum of the Los Angeles Ballet, Chehon won the ninth season of, “So You Think You Can Dance” and was the first winner who was classified on the show as primarily a ballet dancer.

Desmond Richardson. Desmond is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Richardson’s talent was first recognized as a student at New York High School for the Performing Arts during which time he received a merit scholarship from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. He was formerly a principal at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theater.

Cory Stearns. Cory has been at American Ballet Theater since 2004, when began dancing with the studio company. In 2009 he won the Erik Bruhn Prize (a highly competitive and coveted award)for best male dancer. He became a principal  with American Ballet Theater in 2011. He’s also an occasional runway model.

Alex Wong. Alex danced briefly with American Ballet Theatre before joining Miami City Ballet, where he was a principal dancer. He left Miami City Ballet to compete on, “So You Think You Can Dance” but then dropped out after injury while remaining a crowd favorite. During recovery he focused on singing and acting and has since released his first dance single, “Crave” on iTunes and Amazon.

Robert Fairchild. Robert and his sister, Megan Fairchild, are principal dancers with New York City Ballet. The real-life romance between Robert and fellow NYCB principal dancer, Tiler Peck rivals most popular big-screen love stories. 

Chase Finlay. Chase is a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. In 2011, while part of the corps de ballet , he danced the title role in George Balanchine’s, "Apollo," one of the most sought-after male roles -- that shows the male form in a particularly enticing way.

Chris Rodgers-Wilson. Chris is originally from Australia, but studied at The Royal Ballet School before joining the Australian Ballet. Rumor has it he’s dating Andrew Killian — both dance at the Australian Ballet and each is painfully gorgeous.

Ivan Vasiliev. Ivan trained in Russia and was a principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet until he left in 2012 to join ABT as a principal dancer.

Billy Bell. After competing on “So You Think You Can Dance,” Billy joined Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in 2012. Most recently he founded the Lunge Dance Collective, a project-based dance company for young artists.

Roberto Bolle. Roberto is a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre and has been featured in Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo fashion ad campaigns.

Men in Ballet: The Real Story

Male dancers are a bit of a mystery to most people. After all, ballet men spend fair amount of time in the shadows making their female partners look good. This means people are left with an unanswered question: what’s up with the men? There are those who assume that if a man puts on tights he must be gay. Droves of football players signing up for ballet would likely differ. Pittsburgh Steeler, Steve McLendon says, “Ballet is harder than anything else I do.” 

There are certainly enough off-stage ballet romances out there to prove this point. The real-life romance between New York City Ballet principal dancers, Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck rivals most popular big-screen love stories. San Francisco Ballet principal dancers, Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, made ballet history when he proposed onstage after the couple finished performing, “Romeo and Juliet.” Other prominent married ballet couples include Boston Ballet principals, Carlos Molina and Erica Cornejo, Nelson Madrigal and Lorna Feijoo, and Ballet West soloists, Easton Smith and Haley Henderson.

As an aside, male ballet dancers are extremely pleasing to look at. However, looks are beside the point. It’s all about artistry (right?). The role of men in ballet is changing dramatically, and today’s male dancers are artists in their own right, enjoying equal footing and equal time center stage with their female counterparts. Who doesn’t love watching those gravity-defying leaps and insanely difficult turns? Male soloists such as David Hallberg, Carlos Acosta and Benjamin Millepied are now household names and companies like Ballet Boyz,  formed by former lead dancers of The Royal Ballet are re-branding  ballet from a male perspective.

Call them what you will. Artists. Dancers. Athletes. Regardless of the choices they make for their private lives, ballet men are some of the strongest, most athletic and graceful beings on the planet. 

Underneath it all, they are guys. Still not convinced? Rent “The Turning Point” -- a classic ballet film-- and watch Baryshnikov make his moves with Leslie Browne.

Real-Life Love at the Ballet

"Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty", "Swan Lake", "Giselle" -- these are some of the most romantic ballets in history. They are stories of love come to life on stage in sweeping pas de deux, full of grand gestures…of love lost or found. While the dancers who strive mightily with these roles might look like the perfect couple onstage, do they carry this on once the curtain goes down?

It’s a good question.

Lately an epidemic of real-life love stories has rolled through the ballet world. On-stage engagements, spectacular weddings, and magazine write-ups have been the rage. Here’s a snapshot of some of my favorites:

The marriage of San Francisco Ballet principal dancers Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan has been coined the “royal wedding” for many reasons. Karapetyan got down on one knee to propose on stage when the couple took their curtain call after performing “Romeo and Juliet.” Does it get more romantic than that? On their wedding day the bride wore a cream colored strapless gown by Lazarro studded with delicate appliquéd rosettes and crystals. The couple danced a passionate tango they choreographed themselves to the Pussycat Dolls’ recording of  “Sway”.

New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild are a couple onstage and off, married after Fairchild dropped to his knee at Sacré-Coeur, in Paris. You may have seen them at Lincoln Center or on ABC’s  “Dancing with the Stars.” Either way, they have no boundaries on what they can accomplish. They’re dubbed the premier dancers of today.

Jenna Lavin-Crabtree describes falling in love while working with her then soon-to-be-husband: “My husband (Cornell Crabtree) and I fell in love while doing freelance work in New York City with a small pickup company who had hired Stanton Welch (now Artistic Director of Houston Ballet), to choreograph a new ballet. Cornell and I were partnered together and having that ballet created on us was really a magical experience. Stanton is incredibly talented and every one of the performances was a journey for us. I think some of my most enjoyable moments on stage were spent happily in my soon to be husband’s arms!”

Everyone loves a good love story; even more so when it's the real thing. The next time you're in the audience, you may find yourself wondering if those ballet couples are truly in love or just seem that way -- because dancers are such great actors. You just never know!

How Ballet and Football Are Alike…And Different

With all the talk about football players diving into ballet it seemed fitting to look at ways in which football and ballet compare. Recently, I went to my first football game ever (the Oakland Raiders… Raider Nation!) and experienced a very different vibe to ballet -- even though you still get dressed up and need a ticket to get in. Unlike the ballet, you need to submit to a thorough bag check and pass through metal detectors, plus you can’t bring your purse if it’s larger than 4 ½ inches x 6 inches and not transparent. Still, watching athletes in action is always inspiring, whether they are swanlike wraiths or built more like tanks. Let’s look a little more closely at ballet versus football, beginning with the similarities:

1. Inhuman strength. Dancers and football players spend much of their waking hours training, cross-training and sweating. This automatically elevates them to superhero status.

2. Great butts. Hey, it’s true, whether or not you’re willing to admit you noticed. 

3. Respect. Mostly because of items one and two above. How can you not respect a person with inhuman strength and a great butt? Plus they put on a good show.

4. Injuries. Even though both types of athletes are capable of superhuman feats they are still human underneath it all.

5. Career length. Dancers and football players usually retire in their thirties, meaning both careers are very short.

The differences are a little more apparent:

1.[* Audience participation*]. You will never hear anyone yelling in the middle of at a ballet performance “Man, that was terrible! What are you doing!”(obscenities edited out). If you do, the person will be swiftly removed, I assure you.

2. Pay Scale. The average salary for an NFL player is $1.9 million. Let’s not forget the celebrity endorsements and other perks. The average ballet dancer’s salary is a tiny $15,080 – $26,419. Midlevel dancers, often soloists, could earn as much as $50,000-$58,000 a year and celebrated principal dancers can earn a couple of thousand dollars per performance. The comparison is just sad.

3. Audience size. Michigan Stadium, home of the Michigan Wolverines, has a seating capacity of 109, 901, while Old City Stadium  -- home of the Green Bay Packers -- holds a mere 25,000. The David Koch Theater, home of New York City Ballet, holds 2,586, San Francisco Ballet’s War Memorial Opera House holds 3,200, and Devos Performance Hall -- home of Grand Rapids Ballet--holds 2,400.

4. Arrests. The fans of the Oakland Raiders have long been associated with rowdy, and sometimes violent, behavior, but a review of recent police records reveals that 49ers fans currently hold the San Francisco Bay Area title for lawbreaking on game day.

[
49ers data (2015):]
Aug. 17, 18 arrests
Aug. 24, 38 arrests
Sept: 14, 31 arrests

Sept. 18, 17 arrests

Oct. 5, 22 arrests

Raiders data (2015):

Aug. 15, 10 arrests

Aug. 28, six arrests

Sept. 14, 21 arrests

Arrests at the ballet:  none.

Whether you are a diehard football fan or ballet fan or both, that concludes our exercise in comparisons. To quote Colin Quinn as he wrapped up the Weekend Update skit on Saturday Night Live:  “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

What Do Dancers Eat?

Many people would love to know what dancers eat; after all, it’s their job to stay strong and slender while burning insane amounts of calories -- who wouldn’t want to know their secrets? Dancers must watch their weight since ballet costumes and leotards reveal more than they cover up. A further complication is the fact that dancers eat most meals on the fly in between classes and rehearsals. So what is a dancer to do?

The answer is learn about quick, healthy snacks that pack protein punch and long-burning fuel for those relentless hours in the studio and on stage. Dancers have it all figured out…and so can you.

Seeds, nuts and nut butters:  they’re finger foods from nature. Easily portable, very edible and packed with nutrition, there are many nuts to choose from: in addition to peanuts, almonds, and cashews, the classic standbys, there are many other flavorful choices, including macadamias, pistachios, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. It is possible now to find any kind of nut enhanced by flavors such as tamari or cinnamon. Nut butters can be spread on apples, celery, rice cakes, or whole grain bread for a nutritious sandwich.

Kefir.  A sort of drinkable yogurt,  also contains beneficial yeast and healthy probiotic cultures like those in yogurt. Essentially, drinking kefir adds protein to the diet and provides nutrients that keep your digestive tract happy and healthy. Kefir is found in supermarket dairy sections in flavors such as vanilla, strawberry, and cherry.

Smoothies-a healthy alternative to milkshakes. And who doesn’t like a milkshake? Pull out the blender and start with a potassium-rich banana and other favorite fruits  -- fresh or frozen -- add juice or milk, and protein powder; either whey-based, or soy-based, depending on your level of dairy tolerance. You can also toss in other powdered supplements, such as probiotics or brewer’s yeast   -- high in vitamin B -- for added benefit. Blend well until smooth.

Cheese, glorious cheese. Slip slices into sandwiches, cut into cubes and slabs, spread soft cheese on whole-grain bread or crackers, or pair with sliced apple or pear. Choose from hard cheeses like cheddar, soft cheeses like goat cheese and non-dairy options like soy cheese.

Tofu. The beauty of tofu is that it soaks up any flavor it touches. Cut it into chunks and add your favorite dipping sauce, like teriyaki or soy or ranch dressing. Tofu  also comes  in a variety of flavors.

Flavored milk. Try adding a few drops of vanilla extract into a glass of milk. This adds delicious flavor without unhealthy sugar and preservatives. Check the baking aisle for other extract flavors you might enjoy.

Beef Jerky. Many stores carry organic and nitrate-free beef jerky. Since it is cured, it keeps well over time. 

Hard-boiled eggs. Easy to eat, fun to peel, no mess, no fuss, very little bother. Plus, they come in their own package. What could be easier?

[*Protein energy bar. *]These are not all created equal, so be sure to read the label. Look for bars with a low glycemic index and high quality ingredients. Be sure to avoid bars with high fructose corn syrup! Kind bars are a personal favorite; delicious, high in protein and many have less than five grams of sugar.

*Quinoa * -- pronounced Keen-wah. Quinoa comes from South America, where it has been a food staple for thousands of years. It is actually the seed from the Goosefoot plant, but is cooked, eaten and used just like any other grain. However, quinoa has twice the amount of protein found in rice, and eight essential amino acids, making it a worthy substitute.

By adopting any of these easy and healthy snack ideas, you’ll get enough protein to go all day while you build a healthy, strong body. Having this list of ideas to draw from offers quick alternatives that you can easily incorporate into the morning rush or anytime throughout the day. Even if you’re short on time, it’s nice to know you’ll still be eating well.

Classical Music to Rock Your World

The playlist for WISH, book #1 of the Indigo Ballet Series, doesn’t read like a typical playlist for a young adult novel. But Indigo, the main character of WISH, grew up submerged in classical music – it spoke to her heart. Indigo listens to this music a lot, not just because she needs to know what she’s dancing to intimately but because the music is achingly beautiful. It may not get any airtime on MTV or go viral on YouTube, but classical music has been around for centuries. Why? Because it rocks. No one knew this better than George Balanchine, founder of New York City Ballet, and one of the world’s most famous choreographers. Balanchine had a knack for choosing exquisite music for his ballets. Listen to them. You might just find this music will change your tune.

Ballet: Serenade

Music: “Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48”

Composer: Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

Premiere: Balanchine used this music when he choreographed “Serenade”. The first performance was on June 10, 1934, by students of the School of American Ballet, at Felix Warburg’s estate, White Plains, New York.

Serenade is an innovation and a milestone in the history dance. It is the first original ballet Balanchine created in America and is one of the signature works of New York City Ballet’s repertory. Balanchine had a special affinity for Tchaikovsky, and told an interviewer, “In everything that I did to Tchaikovsky’s music, I sensed his help. It wasn’t real conversation. But when I was working and saw that something was coming of it, I felt that it was Tchaikovsky who had helped me.”

Ballet: Concerto Barocco

Music: “Concerto in D minor for Two Violins,” B.W.V.

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

Premiere 1941

Balanchine said of this work: “If the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores.” This work began as an exercise by Balanchine for the School of American Ballet. The dancers are dressed in practice clothes, probably the first appearance of what has come to be regarded as a signature Balanchine costume for contemporary works. On October 11, 1948, “Concerto Barocco” was one of three ballets on the program at New York City Ballet’s first performance.

Ballet: Chaconne

Music: Ballet music from the opera, “Orfeo ed Euridice”

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck

Premiere: 1976

A chaconne is a dance, built on a short phrase in the bass, that was often used by composers of the 17th and 18th centuries to end an opera in a festive mood. This choreography, first performed in the 1963 Hamburg State Opera production of “Orfeo ed Euridice,” was somewhat altered for presentation as the ballet, “chaconne,” particularly in the sections for the principal dancers.

Chaconne is one of a handful of ballets in which dancers wear their hair down, adding to the ethereal quality of the piece. I was lucky enough to perform this ballet with Pacific Northwest Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City.

Ballet: Square Dance

Music: “Concerto Grosso in B minor,” Op. 3 no. 10; “Concerto Grosso in E major”, Op. 3, no. 12 (first movement),“Sarabanda, Badinerie e Giga” (second and third movements)

Composer(s): Antonio Vivaldi / Arcangelo Corelli

Premiere: 1957

In “Square Dance,” Balanchine joined the traditions of American folk dance with classical ballet. He felt the two types of dance, though widely different in style, had common roots and a similar regard for order. He wrote: “The American style of classical dancing, its supple sharpness and richness of metrical invention, its superb preparation for risks, and its high spirits were some of the things I was trying to show in this ballet.” This ballet is known to be one of the most demanding for the corps, both in the complexity of the steps and the amount of stamina required to perform it.

Ballet: Robert Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze

Music: “Davidsbündlertänze”, Op. 6

Composer: Robert Schumann

Premiere: 1976

Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze” was one of Balanchine’s last major works. Against a setting inspired, in part, by the works of the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, a series of dances unfolds for four couples. While not literally a biographical narrative, the ballet draws on the life of Schumann, its alternating moods suggesting the episodes of joy and depression that marked the composer’s short career and difficult romance with Clara Wieck. Original dancers were Suzanne Farrell, Kay Mazzo, Heather Watts, Karin von Aroldingen, Jacques d’Amboise, Ib Andersen, Peter Martins and Adam Lüders.

Ballet – Every Little Girl’s Dream

Every year during the holiday season, millions of little girls go to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Why? They’ve just seen the most well-attended ballet in existence–you guessed it, The Nutcracker.[_ _]This ballet features a young girl, Clara, who travels with the Nutcracker prince to the Land of Sweets and meets dancing snowflakes and fairies. Who wouldn’t want to get in on that action? However, even though ballet is a sparkly dream for countless young girls, those dreams may not come true for everyone. 

There are plenty of great reasons to pursue ballet, such as developing strength, grace,  flexibility, and incredible posture, as well as other, less obvious reasons, such as learning the benefits of rigorous discipline and a strong work ethic. But choosing a career in ballet–which is, in fact, choosing a life in ballet  -- because you have one day off per week, leaving no time for anything else is not for everyone -- and it's definitely not for the faint of heart.  

Here’s why:

It's hard being perfect. Just ask any dancer. But perfection -- or the closest thing to it -- is the ultimate goal in ballet. That's why you'll find dancers in ballet class all day, every day, practicing the same moves until the steps become engrained in their muscles and brains, down to the cellular level. It has to be that way, because once you're on stage, there's no time to think; the choreography lives and breathes in your body, one measure of music at a time.  

Finally, ballet requires incredible strength. Ballet dancers may look like wispy sylphs but they perform choreography so physically demanding it would bring most football players to their knees. Dancers rehearse all day long  -- and sometimes in their sleep. But here's what's not immediately apparent: emotional strength is far more important than physical strength for ballet. Why? Dancers must be comfortable having every move scrutinized -- and be able to take constructive criticism -- without melting. This isn't easy even for most adults; but dancers get serious about ballet in their teens. They have to find a way to dig deep, keep up their resolve, and maintain a positive, professional attitude in the face of sometimes scathing criticism from teachers   -- or even worse, complete indifference. That's a pretty tall order.

Is ballet the right dream for little girls everywhere? Yes, and no. Learning ballet is worthwhile for anyone at any age but dreaming of a career in ballet may not be realistic. The fact that so many young girls fall in love with ballet is no great surprise, and studying ballet will only work to serve them in the long run. Time in the ballet studio is never time wasted–it pays off with huge benefits. Ballet is an incredibly beautiful and refined art form; it also lays the foundation for many other physical pursuits -- here's a reason why those previously-mentioned football players are heading to ballet class-- and lifelong benefits such as body awareness, musicality, and enhanced listening and memory skills. Also, leaping across the floor and doing multiple pirouettes is incredibly fun! 

If ballet is your dream, then [jeté _]over to your nearest ballet studio, step up to the _barre, live that dream and enjoy.

Ballet’s Most Loaded Question

As a professional ballet dancer I often experienced the ultimate irony: although I was chosen from among thousands to dance with Miami City Ballet, I often found myself questioning whether or not I was really any good. I was also one of a handful of students chosen to study full-time at the School of American Ballet, arguably one of the top ballet schools in the world. But none of it mattered–at the end of the day I never could tell myself I was an exceptional dancer because I never quite knew–not with the kind of certainty that lives in your bones.

Ballet dancers learn not to expect praise or compliments, or even the occasional pat on the back. Ballet is about the quest for perfection through constant repetition, with the result being the reward of a successful performance. When teachers and directors offer feedback they don’t give it like making a sandwich, with one layer of  praise, followed by a meaty slice of criticism, and then another layer of praise. Ballet directives are straight meaty criticism, no bread -- think of your figure. Yet dancers yearn for attention–even if it’s critical–because it’s often the only indication of a dancer’s worth.

Once our performing careers are over we spend the rest of our lives criticizing ourselves.

Even after I stopped dancing professionally I still wondered if I had really been any good. That good old conundrum wouldn’t let go. There never was an answer, really. Only questions. Thinking about it was a fruitless exercise. The past was over.

Although my career was done, I found a whole range of new ways to keep dance alive in my life: college dance companies, alternative nightclub performances, Sunday night World Beat Night with friends, African dance class in a jewel-box church with stained-glass windows. After a while I stopped worrying about whether I was good or not and learned to just enjoy these experiences.

Until a recent weekend.

I was headed into a Saturday morning dance class when I realized I had a shadow–a pig-tailed little girl in a polka dot dress. I smiled at her. “I like your pants,” she said. They are one of the groovier pairs I own. I thanked her and she continued escorting me down the hall. 

“Are you good?” she said, out of nowhere.

Oh, kid, loaded question, was my first thought. How to explain all of this stuff to her? But then I had to laugh because it didn’t matter anymore. So here’s what I said: “Maybe.”

Now I dance because I love it–for no other reason–and that is a huge relief.

What Ballet Life is Really Like

Whenever I tell someone I was a professional dancer, they often ask, “What was it like?” Lately it seems like everyone wants to know! Ballet is in the public eye like never before, yet movies like, “Black Swan”, and TV shows like “Breaking Pointe” tend to focus on the gritty side of dance, and are at times extreme. It’s difficult to explain ballet to someone who’s never personally experienced it, but I can sum it up with one line:

Ballet is hard.

No other job I know requires so much time and energy with so little pay -- and it’s one of the most competitive fields in existence. Of the 2,000 dancers who audition each year for the School of American Ballet’s Summer Intensive, only a handful are chosen to become permanent students. Then, of the 200 permanent students just 20 are hired for professional ballet companies around the world.   “The one percent” is a phrase ballet dancers could apply to themselves

Although ballet is a difficult life it’s not without its perks. Fellow dancers feel like family -- maybe slightly dysfunctional, but show me a family that isn’t--, there’s often the opportunity to travel -- and someone else pays, and the experience of working towards perfecting your art is satisfying on an entirely different level than most jobs.

Lastly, choosing a life in dance pays off for the rest of your life in unexpected ways, from living fully in your body and treating it respectfully to understanding and applying the principles of hard work and dedication to everything you do.

So yes, ballet life is hard, but so is everything that’s worth doing.

5 Steps to Building Confidence For Audition Success

When the first blooms of spring burst open a whole lot of dancers get stressed out; it’s  audition season, the most nerve-wracking time of year. However much you may not like auditions, they are a fact of life for dancers, and even though they can be incredibly stressful, they also offer marvelous opportunities. So why not prepare yourself to shine and take advantage of those opportunities? But first prepare yourself mentally by building your confidence.

So how do you “get” confidence? I mean, it’s an intangible thing, right? It’s not like you can hop in the car and pick up a little extra whenever you’re running low. Actually, confidence is the gift we give  to ourselves. How? By changing our minds. 

1. Rewrite your story.

Oh sure, you say, if it were that easy I would have already done it. But what if it was that easy? Think about it: we all wander around with an internal tape about our lives playing in our minds. Every waking minute we are telling ourselves a story. Have you ever stopped long enough to tune in and see what kind of story you are telling yourself? It’s usually not pretty. For most of us, the inner story sounds something along the lines of, “I’m not good enough,” or “I could never do that”.

But if you are telling yourself a story all the time anyway, why not make it a good one?

It’s time to write a new story. A good story. An empowering story. And once we get that story straight, guess what will follow? Yes, you guessed it. Confidence.

So, take a moment to get clear about what you want. It may come to you as a vision or a feeling. Then begin to write your new story  -- also called an affirmation. There are only two rules: your story must be written in the present tense   -- as if it is already happening -- and must be simple, short and easy to remember, so it will stick. Let’s say you want an apprenticeship. Your new story might go something like this:  “I am clearly and easily guided to take steps that move me ahead in my career.”

Once you’ve re-written your story it’s time to glue it in your brain. Repetition is key. Write your story on a piece of paper ten times every day. Repeat it to yourself throughout the day. Sing it in the shower. Wash, rinse, repeat. Over time it will become your new story.

2. Dress sharp.

When you take the time to look your best you will naturally feel your best. Make no mistake – first impressions are hugely important during auditions – and may be your only shot at avoiding the cut. So gear up to impress from the get-go.

3. Gratitude.

It’s very easy for the mind to get caught up in a vortex of worry about the things you don’t yet have. Allowing the mind to live there keeps us feeling that we don’t have enough, which leads to further insecurity and, yes, lack of confidence. Practice gratitude daily, even if it’s just by silently considering the blessings you already have. If you catch your mind slipping into that dark “not-enough” hole, pull it out by reminding yourself how much you do have.

4. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s.

Just knowing you’ve assembled your paperwork and followed directions carefully is an immense relief – and an important part of being prepared. If you don’t like paperwork, think of it as a necessary evil; it’s another one of those first impression things, so do it early in the game, and do it right.

5. Bring your best you.

Your next audition may just be the most important of your life, so do everything you can to be at your best. This includes the obvious, such as sleeping and eating well, arriving ahead of time and warming up thoroughly. It also includes more subtle actions like keeping focused on your process -- by not comparing yourself to others-- and reminding yourself to smile and enjoy.

Confidence is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Not only is it empowering – it’s also incredibly alluring. It may even be contagious. Take these steps to give your confidence a boost and let it fly.

A Day in The Life of a Professional Ballet Student

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a student at one of the top ballet schools in the world? To put it simply, days begin early and end late with a lot in between. Indigo Stevens, (the main character in Wish, book #1 of the Indigo Ballet Series) finds her days filled with ballet classes, rehearsals, and other add-ons like Pilates and yoga class. But she’s also a high school student, with all the same school requirements as anyone else. Add all of these things together and you can see how challenging it is to manage everything.

There's some good news: the ballet studio and Indigo's home and high school are all within walking distance so she won't have to factor in -- or deal with -- public transportation. However, life still gets complicated with all the back and forth between the New York School of Ballet and her high school. She has to change back and forth from street clothes to ballet clothes each time, which adds to the complication -- it's not easy yanking off sweaty tights quickly.

Finding time to eat is also a challenge, but Indigo carries light snacks she can munch on the fly. Some of her favorites include energy bars -- only if they are low in sugar and have a short list of ingredients -- beef jerky, mixed nuts, dried fruit, and yogurt.

It’s only possible for her to attend school for two periods each day due to her heavy ballet schedule, but her school offers a work-around: home study courses. While this may seem like a great solution it means hours of homework at night after a long day at the ballet studio.

It’s a good thing she loves what she does, otherwise she might not be able to keep up with her life. On her toughest days she turns to her favorite guilty pleasure: a frozen yogurt topped with carob chips and coconut.

Here is what a typical day looks like for Indigo:

6:00 a.m.: wake up: sew ribbons on multiple pairs of pointe shoes while munching on health-conscious breakfast

6:30: contrast bath right foot to help heal tendonitis flare-up

6:45: pack dance bag, make sure to bring snacks, multiple sets of practice clothes, Tiger Balm to put on sore muscles

6:55: finish English essay, half-written before falling asleep mid-sentence

7:30: get dressed

7:40: put hair up in bun

8:10: load school back pack, walk half mile to school

8:30-9:30: attend first period, hand in English essay

9:35: walk half mile to NYSB

10-11:30: morning class, studio A

11:35: change back to street clothes

11:40: lunch on the fly while walking ½ mile back to school

12:10-1:15 pm: pre-Calculus with Dr. Phelps. Struggle to keep eyes open

1:20: walk half mile back to NYSB

2:30-4:00: variations class with Madame Glinka

4:15-5:15: Pilates

5:15: power snack

5:30-6:30: “Serenade” rehearsal

6:35: change back to street clothes

6:45: walk half mile home

7:15-9:15: eat deli sushi while reading and completing assignment for history correspondence course

9:15-10:45: complete homework for pre-calculus, biology, French

10:45: bath

11:05: bed

Final stats:

total hours danced: 5

total hours of school: 5 1/2

total miles walked: 2 1/2

As you can see, each day is jam-packed. Keep in mind dance classes are mandatory six days per week, with Sundays as the only day off, so there’s not much free time. But when this is the life you’ve chosen it’s a tough but thrilling ride, all the more so when you get a contract with a professional company.

How to Move Past Failure

When I was studying at the School of American Ballet falling in class was one of my greatest fears. This wasn’t necessarily rational -- I never did fall in class--, but it lurked like a shadowy predator I couldn’t shake off. The irony is that class was exactly where I should have been experimenting, pushing the boundaries, trying new things; if there was ever an ideal place to make mistakes, ballet class was it. Since then I’ve realized that fear of failure is more common than most people admit, but it’s not just the failure itself that worries people. The idea of looking bad or foolish can be enough to keep us from even trying in the first place.

No one wants to be the star of their own ballet blooper -- but everybody does it–even the pros!

Recently I came across this quote and it was a game-changer: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  ~Sir Winston Churchill.

Success never happens all at once–it’s a process–and failures are part of that process. No one whips off a triple pirouette the first time they try to turn, nor is a dancer given a starring role the first day with a ballet company -- except Claire in the new TV ballet drama, "Flesh and Bone.” Yet each time we try, whether we’re successful or not, it’s a step forward. Churchill reminds us to use our failures as stepping-stones, to move from one to the next without losing enthusiasm.

Better yet, move from one to the next -- and keep on keeping on. There’s always a next step.

A Dancer’s Guide to Gratitude

Where people across the country take time to express gratitude for the blessings in their lives, ballet dancers have a very different list than most. Maybe you’re grateful for that perfectly-broken-in pair of pointe shoes or the uplifting comment you received in class the other day…there’s always something to be grateful for. 

Barre _]exercises, the solid foundation upon which everything else is built, take one step at a time, with [_brisés and ballonnés, they lead to all those shining moments where we defy gravity and fly.

Adoring ballet fans are everywhere. Without them everything we do would lose context and meaning.

Lyrical music that speaks to your soul, sinks into your marrow and urges you to move your body in pleasing ways.

Lifelong gifts of ballet: respect for the body and innate understanding of the benefits of discipline and dedication. And there’s the added benefit of a stellar posture.

Every musician, composer and conductor add their own special ingredient to the melodious sounds that prompt us to dance.

Teachers and all people who have cared enough to nurture, guide and shape us add to who we are today.

Dancers who came before us. We dance on the shoulders of dancers who came before us, who led by example, who inspired us to dare to dream of following in their footsteps.

All theaters– whether humble or swimmingly opulent–for being places where magic happens for everyone who enters.

New ideas and the people who take the time to contemplate and act on them. Without them we would never have had pancake tutus, pointe shoes, or ballet academies.

Choreographic geniuses, those masters who continually reinvent the dance landscape, guiding dancers to take quantum leaps into unexplored territory and keeping audiences inspired.

Experts who make our bodies strong and put us back together when we tear ourselves apart, from podiatrists and surgeons, to massage therapists, Pilates instructors and yoga teachers.

Reverence for dance as an art form, one of the highest human pursuits, and deepest gratitude for those who recognize and support the arts to make it all possible.

[_Top 10 Things to do in New York City: a WISH Guide _]

New York City: they call it the city that never sleeps. It’s a place where you can order sushi and have it delivered to your front door– anytime, day or night– or find a breakfast spot while the rest of the world is sleeping. New York City has long been associated with glamour and all of the perks that come with a big city lifestyle; it’s the home of fashion and one of the most major hubs in the world for the arts… which means anyone who’s serious about a dance career knows they need to be there.

Ballet hopeful Indigo Stevens, the heroine of Wish, (book #1 of the Indigo Ballet Series), wants nothing more than to get accepted into the New York School of Ballet and start her real life, studying at the top ballet school in the country and living in one of the most dynamic and exciting cities on the planet. Here’s a list of the top ten things Indigo would love to do in New York, and if you get the chance to visit, you should too:

*The Beast. * Circle Line's speedboat tour promises thrills and spills while you view the skyline in a New York minute. Never mind those boring slow sightseeing cruises–this speedboat is the fastest jet-powered speedboat operating in the city. Take in skyline panoramas and up-close views of the Statue of Liberty while listening to the high-energy music onboard. Be prepared to get drenched—if the splash from New York Harbor doesn't get you -- the playful yet unmerciful onboard guides, equipped with water guns, surely will.  

Tour the Empire State Building at night. The views from the Empire State are among the best in the city, but they’re truly more magical at night. There’s nothing like a twinkling skyline from the highest heights. 

Window shop at Bloomingdales followed by lunch at Serendipity3. The window displays at Bloomingdales are world-famous, as is the frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity3. Every dancer likes an occasional over-the-top treat. 

[*Tour Lincoln Center. *]Any dancer or dance fan on the planet knows a trip to New York isn’t complete without seeing Lincoln Center, the home of New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and the Joffrey Ballet. The gorgeous glass buildings look like crystal palaces at night, particularly and lights dance through the spray of the central fountain. 

Take in some shows. Indigo wants to see any and every ballet company she can while she’s in New York, but her top pick is New York City Ballet, where she hopes to dance one day. New York is also the home of top notch musical theater, so she’ll be sure to catch a Broadway show or two as well. 

Brunch at the Boathouse, followed by exploring Central Park. The Loeb Boathouse, with its sweeping lakeside views, is one of the most picturesque places to have brunch. After a delicious meal it’s time to play and explore: from horse-drawn carriage rides, to a carousel, ice skating in the winter months, row boating in the warmer months, and model boat sailing–even a zoo. This 843-acre, iconic park promises a plethora of fun. 

[*See art classics at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. *]On floor five of the Museum of Modern Art, there’s a stellar lineup, starting with Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”,[_ ]Henri Rousseau’s “Sleeping Gypsy” _ and works by Picasso, Chagall, Magritte, Klimt, and more. There’s more to see at the world-famous Metropolitan Museum, where you’ll find another must see: the Temple of Dendur, an ancient, 15 BC- Egyptian temple dedicated to Isis and Osiris, housed in a giant glass hall.  

Tour a TV station. Rockefeller Center is home to Radio City Music Hall and NBC Studios, both of which offer tours. The NBC Studio Tour is especially appealing because of popular TV shows such as “Saturday Night Live.” Also in the running is watching a taping of “Good Morning America” or the “Today Show.” 

Visit the free Fashion Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Anyone who loves fashion knows that this school is where many top designers get their start. View cutting–edge fashion–for free? Yes, please! 

Take in a Philharmonic concert. If you’re a classical music fan like Indigo then this is a must because classical music doesn’t get better than this. Here you’ll hear the crème de la crème, world-famous musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and the acoustics are superb. 

Ride the subway downtown; explore the East Village and Soho . Everyone knows the subway is the best -- and fastest--, way to get around town. It's easy to spend an entire day poking along cobblestone streets, grabbing something tasty at a funky cafe, and checking out the fancy galleries and boutiques. 

No matter where you go in New York it’s hard to go wrong, and the city is ready to share its secrets with you 24/7. In the “city that never sleeps,” you might be so busy having fun that you miss out on some sleep yourself.

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About The Author

Grier Cooper left home at age fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet and has performed on three out of seven continents with companies such as San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, totaling more than thirty years of experience as a dancer, teacher and performer. She blogs about dance and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection of dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims and Jessica Sutta. Her work has been published in numerous publications including Discovery Girls, Skipping Stones and Conscious Dancer.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask

Your burning ballet questions answered... • How do I become a professional ballet dancer? • What do ballerinas eat?or do they eat at all? • Are all men who wear tights gay? These are just a few of the questions you'll find answered here. Feel the pain of what it's like to wear pointe shoes, experience the terror of meeting hot, gun-toting guys while on tour with ballet companies in exotic, distant lands... discover an insider's secrets about what ballet life is really like.

  • ISBN: 9780990773573
  • Author: Grier Cooper
  • Published: 2016-03-24 22:45:13
  • Words: 31694
Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask