the journey to paid professional performing artist

Posts tagged ‘ballet class’


So, the past few months have not been stellar for me.

I have been dogged by a couple of not-so-fun productions and a series of unsuccessful auditions.  This would get any performer a little down.  There is also now the probability that I will be moving, which means learning a new area and building my theater self again.

But thanks to one Ballet Hispanico master class that I (thankfully!!!) decided to go to at the last minute, I think I’m back!

To be a performer, you have to be stubborn.

You have to go to every class, every audition, practice every day, even if you don’t want to.

The past few months have been a total failure.  And I have learned some things from the stress of the not-so-good times.

I am getting paid to act in a murder mystery dinner theater now.  I guess that means I’ve reached my goal of being a paid performing artist.  Though I’d like to be paid to dance, but this is a start.  It’s very interesting and very different, and I can’t say I’m used to it yet.  Interacting with an audience can be nerve-wracking, and acting improvisation is something I’ve never done.  Dance improvising I could do all day, but make me open my mouth and it’s not so good.  But I think I’m learning.  It’s just not consistent performances so it’s difficult to get into a rhythm like I do with stage shows.

I have learned that I like a more hands-on director.  After experiencing both, I definitely like one that has a clear picture of what they want and doesn’t compromise.  Now I have to learn how to work with the other kind and not be miserable.

Most importantly, I have learned in the past few years what I have to do to get established in an arts community.

1)  Audition for community and professional theaters.

2) Keep taking classes wherever and at as many places as I need to get what I need.

3) Send my materials to all the production companies in the area.  (I know I haven’t done this so far, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I think it would be helpful.  They are always looking for new faces.)

I think it’s imperative to do this as quickly as possible.  The more you get out there, the more you’ll be informed about what’s going on in your new arts world and be able to take advantage of it.

The other thing I’m going to do is find a voice teacher ASAP.  I have a new place full of people who don’t know I’m not a confident singer, so if I can brush up on that aspect of my performance, I should be golden.


how many dance schools can one person attend?

I think I must be starting a record!  This year I’m planning on attending five different schools in order to get the training I need.

Harrisburg Ballet Theater

This school is near and dear to me.  It was created when the board of a long-time Harrisburg school decided to close.  The artistic directors of that school (HDC mentioned below) decided to start their own school.  I help them with their public relations.  I also substitute teach if they need it.  The classes they offer are wonderful.  But since they are just starting out, they are not every day and I feel like I need more than they are offering to improve my dancing.

Pennsylvania Regional Ballet

Over a year ago I started taking a morning professional class they started.  I can only take once a week, but I take it on a day that I otherwise don’t dance in the evening.  It’s taught by Adrienne Dellas-Thornton, who also teaches at HBT.  It’s one of the most challenging ballet classes I take all week.

I have started taking PRB’s adult/open ballet class once in a while the evenings.  I find that I can take what I’ve learned I need to work on during the week and try to really apply it during this class, since it’s not as advanced.  It’s also good for me take from different teachers and styles to keep my adaptability up.  And they also hold class for five weeks in the summer, when other normal classes aren’t going on.

New Movement Dance Center

I was taking classes once a week from Nadine Revene at the New Movement Center.  However, they have moved their class times, so I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to make it anymore during the year.  I really enjoyed the classes because her approach was very different from my teachers in Harrisburg.  I often find I need different teachers sometimes.  If they are good dancers, then they are all getting at the same thing.  But since they all present the ideas in different ways, some will stick better than others.  Now that I am older and know where I’m trying to go, these different perspective help me.  I will probably go back to Nadine in the summer when other regular classes are no longer in session.

E-Dance Center

I have just started taking tap here.  I recently learned about it from another dancer in Crazy for You.  They offer an advanced adult tap class, and that is hard to come by.  It is more the style I grew up with, maybe a little more modern.  It’s not show tap, but not hard-core rhythm either.  I’ve only taken one class, and plan on taking more when my schedule allows, but it seems just like solid tap technique.  Maybe I’ll try to sneak into one of their regular classes if it looks more advanced.

Tap Pups

This is another place I will go in the summer when other regular classes aren’t happening.  I think it is very unique because they have become very successful at only offering classes for adults.  Now, I think tap is the most fun dance style around, but the success of this place shows others think that too.  However, it is Broadway show style, which I already have a handle on.  I’ll take it in the summer when other classes aren’t running, just to keep in practice and again, get a different perspective.

These are schools that I have attended, but no longer do for one reason or another:

Harrisburg Dance Conservatory

This is the place I started dancing and teaching at when I first came to Harrisburg.  Unfortunately, after over 30 years, the board decided to close it.  It had a wonderful array of ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop and tap classes.  Hopefully we can recreate that at HBT.

One Broadway the Dance Center

I took jazz and tap classes here for one year.  However, it is a commercial studio, and in the second half of the year they are working on their end-of-year show.  Sometimes they have master classes that I will go to.  It was a good stop gap while I found other places, but now that I have others places I don’t attend regularly anymore.

And then there is Steps in NYC

This is what I consider the home for dance in NYC.  For over 30 years they have held open classes daily.  Beginner through adult and professional, if you’re a dancer and in NYC, you have to stop and take a class at Steps.  I wish I could get myself going and go into the city once a month to take class here.  But four hours each way is a long journey.  So I go whenever I can, and always have a great time!

What To Do After An Audition @

 I came across this just after I wrote a thank you note for my American Music Theatre audition.  I knew to do this from my education in business school, but was never 100% sure about the practice when it comes to theater.  I’m glad to see that it is recommended.

Unlike the business world, this should be a hand-written note.  I like to include a business card as well, so they don’t have to go searching for who you are.  More on business cards later…

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What To Do After Your Audition

For some of us, the audition itself can seem easy compared to that awful task of waiting to hear back afterwards. I still remember the butterflies in my stomach when, as an elementary school student, I went to check the list of our own little plays. Unfortunately, this act of “wait and see” is one of those things that doesn’t seem to get much easier with age.

  1. Send a thank you note. A brief follow-up reminds them of who you are and your interest in working with them.
  2. Record your reflections, the date the thank you note was sent, and any other important info in your audition log book.
  3. Now, forget about it. If you expect to hear back, you will almost certainly be disappointed or at the very least drive yourself crazy while you wait.

One of the most important things to remember is that auditions are never just about that particular job. They are also about getting your name out there, meeting lots of people and getting a “leg up” on future work. Show continued interest and perserverence:

  1. Go and see a production by the company you auditioned for. Speak to them afterwards (briefly) if it seems appropriate to do so.
  2. Don’t be afraid to audition for the same people again, unless they specify not to audition again if they have already seen you.
  3. Volunteer for box office, ushering, assistant to whoever.
  4. Network. Go to social events and fundraisers and talk to people.

Most importantly: never burn a bridge!

take your ballet class

me as Giselle

It’s like medicine for some, therapy for others.  However you look at it, it is necessary.

You hear of people dancing without it.  To have a long and successful professional career, ballet is the foundation.  There are always exceptions, don’t think they are you!

Ballet aligns the body like no other form of dance.  Because of its very clear framework in which the body must move in order to create the correct poses, it strengthens the core and back muscles like nothing else.   Never mind giving you strong hips, legs and feet, gorgeous port de bras (arms), the list goes on.

You’ve also heard that in order to break the rules, you must know the rules.  Ballet is the rule.  All the jazz and modern styles are breaking those rules, either with positions or weight placement.  In order to be able to do all those crazy moves, you have to know how to get yourself back to stable when you’re done.  It takes strength and knowledge of your body, which is what ballet gives you.

I remember Christopher House teaching a ballet class at Toronto Dance Theatre, a modern company.  He said, “I can’t work with you if you don’t have proper placement.”  That’s pretty strong.

In the two summers that I have been attending the Rockette Summer Intensive, each year the dancers ask what they can do to prepare so that they can get into the Rockettes.  Part of the answer is always daily ballet class.

For me, ballet is medicine.  In Crazy four You we dance so much jazz and tap, and the Follies Girls character is to stick out the chest and butt.  If I didn’t keep up with ballet, I’m sure my back would start to give out.  I need that strength to hold myself straight while dancing.  And the strength to hold the untechnical positions without hurting myself. 

Ballet terminology is used as a universal frame of reference.  Our Crazy for You choreographer uses it to let us know what body directions she wants us in.  If you don’t know ballet terms, you’d have no idea which way to face.  And how many of you have been in a modern or jazz class where you did plies and tendus in the warm up?  Any Luigi or Limon student should be raising their hands right now 🙂

So I am so glad that when I was four and wanted to tap like Shirley Temple, the only dance school in town would only let me take ballet to start.  If I hadn’t had that foundation, who knows where I would be now!

well-rounded dance background

Even if you’re auditioning for a ballet company, you don’t truly know what is going to be asked of you once you get into the studio.

Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris use jazzy and modern movement in their “ballets.”  I’ve been to cruise line auditions where they ask if you dance on pointe.  I’ve heard of Rockettes who perform all the Rockette numbers, and also dance in the ballet Nutcracker section of the show.  To make yourself marketable, so have to know as much as you can.

Any good dance school, even if it is a ballet conservatory, will have strong classes in jazz, tap and modern, and maybe even offer hip hop, ballroom, anything else to supplement your dance study.  Not only does this familiarize the dancer to these forms, it makes a dancer who is more willing to try new things.  We’ve all seen the girl in class who is too self-conscious to try something new.  She looks more the fool for making a big deal out of it than if she had just done it.

Of course, I have an example of where trying new things makes you better, but it’s along thread of experiences.  It begins with me going to a summer dance program that I thought was going to be ballet.  Toronto Dance Theatre is a modern group.  At first I was really nervous.  I had exposure to modern dance, but in the context of a ballet conservatory program.  This was the opposite.  We had ballet class, but in the context of supporting the modern dance.  It was only a two week program, and by the end I wasn’t totally comfortable with what I was doing, but at least I was doing it to the best of my ability and giving it my all.

The story continues with me taking a hip hop style jazz class.  I’m of the age where hip hop wasn’t around when I was young.  The frist time I tried it was after college, and I felt like a ballerina trying to do it.  But the class fit into my schedule, so I kept taking it.  Usually when you’re older you can get more afraid to try to new thing and hurt yourself or look stupid.  But I think I’ve gotten past that point to realize that if I want to make it as a dancer, I have to throw myself into everything 100%.  So I kept on with the hip hop.

That lead to a paying (for a while at least) job on a dance team.  Believe me, I am neither the hip hop or cheerleader type.  A friend of mine was leading the team and she convinced me to try out.  The team was an arena football team in its second season, so not a huge turnout at the audition.  So, for whatever reason, I did get on the team.  More dance that I’m not comfortable with!!!  But it wasn’t difficult at all, so all I had to get over was in my head.  If the pictures and videos have anything to say, I think I got over that.  And probably got better at hip hop sexy style as well.

While I prefer the glamorous Rockette style, they are a rare dance troupe to keep performing that way. 

me dancing badly (on purpose!) as Gloria

After the moves that the dance team had me doing, playing a sexy secretary in Bye Bye Birdie was nothing.  And now I’m a ditzy Follies Girl in Crazy for You.  Although not paying roles, they are paving the way, giving me great experiences and experience, so that hopefully I will be paid for being on stage someday.

The moral is, even if you are concentrating on being a ballerina, please take other forms of dance as well.  They can only help you.  And if you want to be anything other than a ballet dance, please take ballet.  You’ve heard that it is the basis of all dance.  It’s true.  More on that later, I’m sure…

getting back into shape isn’t fun

On Monday I started working out normally for the first time since before Christmas.  I tried to not be too bad during the holidays, and successfully didn’t gain any weight.  But I didn’t lose any either.  So now’s the time to get going again.

Food wise, it should be easier now that the holiday is over.  Food shouldn’t be everywhere at my day job, which is what gets my into the most trouble.  I’ve made another adjustment to the lunch I bring myself as well.  Since my day job is at a desk and I’m not moving around a lot, I having been decreasing the carbs and increasing the produce.  I started eating a whole peanut butter sandwich, then went to half, and now I’m don’t bring one at all.  I’m bringing salad, more carrot sticks, and either a whole fresh fruit, like an apple, or canned fruit, which can be easier to get in the winter.  I might bring a granola bar or some other treat sometimes, but not most of the time.  I’d like to be able to eat more of my calories at night when I’m more active.

I do like buying my produce from local farmers markets when possible.  Living in the north, it can be difficult in the winter, so I just do the best I can.  I do it because I like to support local farmers.  It’s good to know where your food comes from.  It also cuts down on the amount of chemicals on the food since they don’t have to put things on them to preserve them.  There are lots of people who say to go totally organic, which won’t hurt you, that’s for sure (my friend Danyelle has a website showing a lot of the benefits).  But that’s easier to do depending on where you live.  It also can be very expensive.  So what I do instead is try to buy organic when it comes to the “dirty dozen,”  and at least buy local on everything.  It lessens the amount of chemicals, and is cheaper than organic or even grocery store produce.  It’s not always possible, but every bit counts.

Now to my fitness.  Monday I took the morning ballet class I like to take, and was able to do Pilates at night.  I walk 15 minutes to Pilates both ways.  However, this is probably the only Pilates class I’ll be able to take in January, as I’m rehearsing six days a week for Crazy for You.  So I think my schedule will look like this for January:

Monday: morning ballet (2 1/2 hours), evening rehearsal (3 1/2 hours)

Tuesday: only day without rehearsal, so my day off of dancing.  elliptical at lunch (20 minutes),  areobics (1 hour)

Wednesday: elliptical at lunch (20 minutes), evening rehearsal (3 1/2 hours)

Thursday: elliptical at lunch (20 minutes), evening rehearsal (3 1/2 hours)

Friday: elliptical at lunch (20 minutes), evening rehearsal (3 1/2 hours)

Saturday: rehearsal (3 to 8 hours)

Sunday: rehearsal (3 to 6 hours)

For me, I don’t know if this is enough activity to lose weight.  Sometimes rehearsing can be a lot of standing around.  I’m going to try to fit in some strength training in there somewhere, but I don’t think it will be consistent.  The show is in February, so I might be able to get to a better routine.  This would be where I like to be in order to gain technique and lose weight:

Monday: morning ballet (2 1/2 hours), walking to Pilates (30 minutes), evening Pilates (50 minutes)

Tuesday: elliptical or walking at lunch (20 minutes/30 minutes), evening ballet and jazz (3 1/2 hours), strength training (1/2 hour)

Wednesday: elliptical or walking at lunch (20 minutes/30 minutes), evening ballet (2 hours), jogging/walking (20-30 minutes)

Thursday: elliptical or walking at lunch (20 minutes/30 minutes), evening aerobics (1 hour), strength training (1/2 hour)

Friday: elliptical or walking at lunch (20 minutes/30 minutes), evening ballet (1 1/2 hours), evening walk (1/2 hour)

Saturday: morning aerobics (1 hour), afternoon ballet (1 1/2 hours)

Sunday: jogging/walking (20-30 minutes), strength training (1/2 hour)

staying in dance shape while rehearsing

Yea!! You’re in a show!  You’re rehearsing six days a week.  You’re so busy.  You’re so happy!  You let your regular stay fit routine slide.  You stress about starting class, getting back to running and strength training.

Well, I’m already stressing about ballet class.  I have been rehearsing so much for Crazy for You that I haven’t had time to go to class.  Big mistake.  I went to ballet class Monday for the first time in a while, and it was hard!  I had the opportunity to take another class just two days later, and that was even harder!

Most dancers have heard the “ballet is the basis of all dance” lecture.  I’ve even heard it from tappers and the Rockettes, everyone believes it.  And it is so true!  You may not love ballet; I happen to enjoy it very much.  Within the confines of the technique there is a freedom that can be achieved.  It’s that feeling that keeps me dancing.  And it can only be truly achieved with the proper technique.

More practically, ballet is the dancer’s medicine, therapy.  It aligns the body and reminds you of how you’re supposed to move.  For me, staying in touch with my core is always a challenge.  Ballet helps me focus on that.  Especially now, when I’m playing a showgirl.  You’re supposed to stick your butt out and look cute.  However, you can’t successfully accomplish the harder dance moves with that posture.  So I have to go back to my ballet basics to pull off the dance routines.

After my Monday class, my teacher, Adrienne Dellas Thornton, suggested that I go to rehearsal a half hour early and give myself a ballet barre.  She always has the best suggestions!  We do warm-up for rehearsal, but it’s more of a jazz warm-up, and I don’t think it was doing the trick for me.  So the next day I did just that.  I was sore from class the previous day, but I felt great for rehearsal.  The next day was that super hard second class of the week.  I’m glad it was that difficult.  That means I did something positive in giving myself barre before rehearsal, and am gaining my turnout and core strength back.

Moral of this experience; never leave your training just because you’re in a show.  Being in a show is the ultimate goal.  However, if you can’t keep yourself up while in it, how are you going to be good enough to get the next show?  So find the time to do what you need to do.  Even if your fellow actors and dancers think you’re nuts 🙂