My first performance was the “ah-ha!” moment if I had to pinpoint it. I was in their 2011 “Mistletoe” performance, and I loved it. Every second of it was exciting. Anytime I would see my dance on the rehearsal board, I would practically squeal with excitement. I’m actually pretty certain that I was more excited for the cast list than Christmas that year! The performances were, and are now, my favorite parts of dance.
As I got older, I joined the ADT company. Even now, the cast list fills me with anticipation and excitement. Sometimes I’m looking for a company list, to see who made it, and other times I’m scanning over the cast list, looking for my name in the sea of dancers. I’ve learned through the years that it doesn’t matter where I am in the company or the cast. I’ve learned to enjoy all the parts that I’ve been given.
Dance is exciting. It leads you places you never thought you would go. Not only have I learned how to turn more than once, how to stand on my toes, or jump 3 feet in the air, but I’ve learned hard work and dedication. For me, that’s the best lesson I could take from dance.
As a dancer, I frequently hear the question "how do you dance on your toes?", an action that seems to knock the socks off of most people. But, what most people don't know, is the amount of preparation that goes into the vital accessory that allows dancers to dance en pointe(on their toes): the pointe shoe. Most, if not all, dancers would agree that the perfect pair of pointe shoes makes or breaks their dancing. That is why finding the best match possible for you personally is so important: the end goal for most dancers is to feel as comfortable dancing in their pointe shoes as they are in their ballet slippers.
So, to say the least, my very first pair of pointe shoes was not the most ideal match. But with time, and some good, old research, you will begin to discover what you need from a shoe and what you like in a shoe. For example, you will figure out whether you prefer a softer, more broken-in shoe versus a harder, stronger shoe. The possibilities are somewhat endless these days with all the different brands available. So, play around, because each brand has different qualities to offer, not to mention all the varieties of styles each brand carries. But most important, never settle for a shoe that doesn't feel quite right. Trust me. I tried what felt like millions of different shoes from multiple brands until I found the right pair. This wasn't until just recently, so it did take time but the hunt was well worth it.
In a way, the perfect fit can also come down to how you prepare your shoes before wearing them in class and on stage. I wasn't really aware of this until I saw older dancers at the studio doing it and from watching videos online. So I put some research into it when I was younger and learned of all these methods for breaking in new shoes, such as cutting, bending, or breaking the shank (insole) of new shoes. At the time, it seemed a waste to butcher brand-new pairs of shoes, but it is now something I do regularly.
Over the past few years I've developed my own pre-break-in routine that I always do before breaking them in, in class. I don't have very high arches or insteps, so it's important that I prepare them in a way that will give me the nicest line and allow me to fully get over the box (tip) of my shoes. Also, I find how I prepare my pointe shoes allows me to predict how they will break-in once I wear them for class, compared to an unprepared shoe in which it is harder for me to get fully over the box and the shoe tends to die (soften) faster. Granted, I do know a few people who can wear their shoes brand-new, straight out of the box, so if you're one of those in that fantastic situation, other than sewing your ribbons and elastics, you're good to go. Basically, just play around with different techniques until you find what works best for you.
Now that some of the basics have been covered, here is exactly how I prepare my pointe shoes.
Essential materials: durable thread, needle, pins, scissors, ribbons, elastics, marker and utility knife (to be used with adult supervision)
Here’s a link to a video with great tips ranging from jet gluing dead pointe shoes, to adding a little extra room to your shoes when your feet are swollen because the shoe itself is too small.
Motivation is one of the key factors to progressing in ballet. When you're not motivated, it can make all the difference in how you perform in class and on stage. Motivation is one of many things that dancers seem to struggle with. So how do we manage to get over these motivational "slumps,” as we call them? The answer is in finding what personally inspires you and makes your desire to dance intrinsic. You have to find your personal way for bridging the gap between lack of drive and full-fledged ambition.
Every day in class you must contemplate your choices and acknowledge that you are in control of your effort. When you train, there's an easier path and a harder path. The easier path involves a mindset of: lowering your leg to 45 degrees, avoiding putting on your pointe shoes as much as possible, or skipping class altogether. Whereas the harder path involves a mindset of: trying to jump higher, doing as many exercises at barre on relevé or taking as many extra classes as possible. To reach your full potential as a dancer, you have to be willing to choose the harder path most of the time, but part of motivation is knowing when, and where, to hold back so that you can channel your energy to where it's most useful. Elsewise, you'll beat yourself down to a pulp over the course of a couple of days.
Going about dance as a game of goal-setting and goal-reaching is another good way of looking at it. Rather than perceiving what you can't do as a failure, perceive it a challenge that you will, in time, overcome.
Another good way of revving up your motivation is watching videos of your favorite dancers on YouTube whenever you get the chance, but especially before class. Analyze them and figure out what it is about them that sets them apart and makes them stand out to you. Try to incorporate that into your own dancing. A piece of advice a teacher gave me over the summer was that whenever you're tired or feel that you've hit a rut, close your eyes and envision how your favorite dancer would execute whatever combination or variation you are doing. Trust me: it definitely elevates your dancing. It's also important to remember that it's not the end of the world if you fall out of a turn or mess up a combination. Every combination is a new combination, so if a previous combination didn't go well, that's okay. What happened in a previous combination doesn't determine how the rest of class will go, only you can. Staying positive is a huge factor. I always like to say that dance is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical.
It's also important to try and find time for yourself doing the things that you enjoy, which can be difficult when you're busy. But if you can find time to take a break from everything hectic and just relax for a little while, you'll find that even simple things, like going outdoors or taking a warm bath, can do wonders at leaving you feeling rejuvenated.
I also know that staying motivated, focused, and positive is easier said than done, especially during the school year. There are many days where I'm so sore that I feel like I couldn't do a tendu if I tried, or I'm too distracted during class by things irrelevant to dance and don't perform to my fullest capabilities. But every time you push through days like these, it will help make the next days like them a little easier.
What all this really boils down to is that you have to do this for you. Whatever your end goal is with dance, it needs to be coming from you internally and not from anyone or anything else. It's too hard, and it takes too much effort and time, if you're truly not enjoying it. There are plenty of ways to draw inspiration to aid in your motivation, but if this is what you love doing for the time being, or possibly for a career, the strongest sense of motivation will most likely come from within yourself.
Playing the role of one of Dracula's brides has most definitely been my favorite role yet. It's a role, where acting-wise, you have to go all-out or go home. For me personally, I love to perform, so this was an amazing role to take on and challenge myself to see how far I could dive into character.
I've never really played a dark or sinister character before, so this was a fun, new experience for me. Getting to show a dark and gritty side onstage was quite thrilling. There's something very riveting about dancing and portraying an evil character. Every time I took the stage, I had to find and go to this place where I wasn't me anymore. It was a place where I was someone malicious, someone inhuman.
But evil wasn't the only disposition this role was composed of. The brides are also enchanting and ethereal, though still in a dark manner. They have this strong ability to lure people in, such as seen with Jonathan in Castle Dracula. However, there's also a vulnerability to the brides through their relationship with Dracula. They are bound to him and forever under his command. So there is this fearful, submissive side as well. Although these are all ruthless, cold-hearted characters, there is this empathy that the brides share with one another and with Dracula. So to me it's kind of an interesting contrast that these characters, who are cold and unfeeling to others, somehow have this fragment of compassion for one another.
Probably my favorite part about this production was performing for the audiences. It was really cool to hear their reactions, especially the school shows. It was very interesting to see what they found humorous because this isn't exactly a humorous ballet, but it was funny that they could find humor in the darkest of scenes. The audiences were also completely enthralled with the story. You could just feel their attentiveness, and their energy was magnetic, which I loved feeding off of.
I also felt that the show was comprised of multiple layers, and that with each show, a new layer took place. Whether it was through people's dancing as they grew more comfortable with the stage, or through people delving deeper into their roles; throughout theater week, the show was developing a richness that could only keep growing. For many of us it was bittersweet when it all ended. All of us involved had truly had a blast putting on this production.
Being a part of the “Dracula” production was an experience we all will cherish for a long time. We all look forward to the opportunity to bring to life such multi-faceted and complex roles in future productions.
My very first show with Alabama Dance Theatre was the production of "Dracula." I was in Junior Company at the time. One thing that I particularly enjoyed about being a part of the show was getting to watch the older dancers take on and perform their roles. My favorites were the brides of Dracula. The brides were elegant, evil, and haunting; characters that often aren't portrayed in ballet.
The brides' story is that they were once young women who, like Lucy Westenra, have fallen under Dracula's spell. They find themselves cursed with life that is eternal and soulless.
When I learned that I had gotten the role of a bride, I was very excited to take it on myself. Each of the three brides has a different personality, which I find interesting because they have similarities and, in a sense are a whole, but there are also differences among them. The bride I'm portraying is extremely arrogant and the most jealous of Lucy, Dracula's newest addition. Malice, envy, and pride are major components of a bride's embodiment,
While portraying this bride is challenging, I am looking forward to the actual performances when we are in front of an audience. Becoming a bride is my favorite role yet.
Alabama Dance Theatre production of Dracula (2014)
At that point in time, I did not. I researched Misty Copeland quite thoroughly and after watching multiple videos of her online, I was enraptured by her movement. I decided I wanted to give it a shot.
That summer I enrolled in ballet classes at Alabama Dance Theatre. Ballet was not what I expected it to be. It was so much more complex and difficult than I had anticipated. I had played sports and I had played instruments, but this was the hardest endeavor I had ever attempted.
I told myself I would take ballet for a year and if I was not feeling more competent then I would quit. At the end of the year, I wasn’t worried whether I was better because dance had become so much fun. The other genres, like jazz and modern, were especially fun, but for me ballet was the most alluring, because it is so mentally and physically challenging.
I can’t explain enough how dance has impacted me in other aspects of life. It has taught me dedication and perseverance. I am grateful dance was brought into my life.
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Photography Credits: Richard Calmes, David Robertson Jr.
Videographer Credits: Charles Sanford, Jared Johnson