Founder and Editor

Nichelle Suzanne is the owner and founder of, which provides valuable advice, information, and resources for dance students, teachers, and parents. She is also a dance writer, covering performance and the dance community in Houston, Texas, and a freelance writer and editor, specializing in web and social content.

About Nichelle (owner/editor)

Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world.

Picking The Perfect Summer Dance Program

When you don’t have much experience outside your home studio, figuring out which of many summer dance programs best suits you is difficult. As a young dancer, your worst fear may be to arrive at a dance intensive only to discover that you don’t enjoy the atmosphere of the program and are going to be stuck there for several weeks of your summer.

Dancers in purple at barre

Students of Houston Ballet Academy’s 2015 Summer Intensive Program

Photo: Jamie Lagdameo | Image provided courtesy of Houston Ballet

Sixteen-year-old, Divya Rea from Wheaton, Illinois and Noah Miller, 17 years old, from Lake Forest, California faced the same fears and decisions in their hunt for the right summer dance program. They found the Houston Ballet Academy summer intensive and now attend the school’s year-round program in Texas’s largest city.

Noah began looking out of state for a summer dance program when he was fifteen after receiving a very direct signal that it was time.

“I was approached at YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) and given the offer and knew that people were beginning to look at me and I needed to be seen by more people,” he says.

It was important to Noah that a program’s teachers look at each individual student and care for them. He also took into account his future, considering the types of dancers the companies usually hired.

Noah attended two, much shorter summer intensives before eventually settling on Houston Ballet’s program.

Shelly Power, Houston Ballet Academy Director (who will begin her new role as Artistic Director and CEO of Prix de Lausanne this summer), thinks students should experience a variety of summer programs.

“However,” she adds, “when they are getting close to realizing where they wish to concentrate their future training or time, they should be consistent with one program. This is usually for the older student.”

Divya has been auditioning for summer dance programs since she was 12 but didn’t feel ready to leave home for the summer until she was 13 years old.

“Not only did I feel ready to take care of myself,” she remembers, “the director of my home studio told me he thought I was ready to go.”

Divya reminds younger students that it’s okay to be nervous.

“Going anywhere new can be scary, especially far away from home. It is normal to worry about where you fit in and what might happen, but don’t let those worries override your excitement. Going to a summer dance intensive is an unforgettable experience. You will meet so many people from different places who all have the same passion for dance that you do. I remember before my first summer program, I would stay awake at night thinking about all the uncertainty in the coming weeks. But, by the end of the six weeks I had made so many new friends and I was reluctant to leave them and go back home.”


The Selection Process

Divya chose Houston Ballet’s program as the right one for her from the very beginning. To make that decision she broke the search process into steps, starting with figuring out what she was really looking for in a summer program.

Defining your goals and desires is indeed the first, perhaps most difficult step of the search process and, according to Power, much depends on the level of dedication the student has, the number of years in training, prior attendance, long-term training goals, desire to perform, one’s budget, and more.

As you narrow your choices, these goals must become more specific in order to find the best fit.

So what are the important questions students should ask?

How ready (physically and mentally) am I to commit to the length of the program?

“A lot of younger students have never been away from home for 5 or 6 weeks. Many students are not used to dancing 6 days a week all day long,” says Power. “Coping mechanisms are important when deciding on a summer intensive. Students must be prepared to deal with competition, homesickness, time management, good healthy sleep habits, and injury prevention with maturity and an ability to communicate when one or all of these arrives.”

Houston Ballet offers a three week course in the summer for level 5’s to ease the adjustment for younger students. They also have several resources available to support students, including a nutritionist, athletic/artistic trainers, psychologist, and trained chaperones.

How well have I researched the school and/or company where I plan to spend my summer?

To help summer program students immediately get to know Houston Ballet, they begin with a performance from the company, followed by a performance by the second company, Houston Ballet II. But long before you arrive you should thoroughly research all of or your choices via the web and other resources.

“Students should know something about the company (if the school is attached to a company), the rep of the company, and the teachers of the school,” explains Power, “and ask themselves ‘why are they choosing this school?’”

What is my end goal?

This is the time to have conversations with your home school director in order to “see” yourself more clearly and more clearly define your goals.

Power says to ask yourself these key questions:

  • Am I interested in a year round program in the future with this school I am choosing? Is that important to me?
  • Am I interested in performing and does the program offer a performance opportunity?
  • Do I want a lengthy program where I will see the most change in my technique?
  • Is the training in line with what I am looking for?
  • Will I get a variety of training such as pas de deux, variations, pointe class, strengthening, modern, contemporary?


Claudio Munoz teaches Houston Ballet Summer Intensive students

Houston Ballet II Ballet Master, Claudio Munoz instructing Houston Ballet Academy students during the 2015 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program. (Noah is on the far left.)

Photo: Jamie Lagdameo | Image provided courtesy of Houston Ballet

Don’t Make The Decision Alone

Noah Miller and Divya Rea

Headshots of Noah Miller (Photographer: unknown) and Divya Rea (Photographer: Jamie Lagdameo) | Images provided courtesy of Houston Ballet

After Divya and Noah decided what they wanted from a program they researched programs online, talked to their teachers, and talked to students who attended those programs.

“The director of my home studio was the first person to tell me it was time to audition for summer programs,” Divya explains. “He gave me suggestions of which auditions to take and which programs would help me the most. I knew many people from my home studio who had gone to Houston Ballet’s summer program, and they always returned stronger and more artistic.”

Noah, too, turned to his teachers and found their knowledge helpful.

“They gave me really good tips on multiple intensives. Throughout the years they have had many of their students go to many programs, so they know a lot about some intensives.”

Your family’s thoughts must be taken into consideration as well.

“The biggest concern for my family is the cost,” says Noah, “and while I was younger, how far away it was from home, and how long the intensive was.”

Budgeting, according to Shelly Power, is always a concern for students and their families. She advises that students consider, but not base their decisions solely, on scholarships.

“The student should consider where they want to train first and then decide, if possible, on the offers any schools might make,” she explains.

Tip: If you are offered a scholarship, respectfully respond on or before the deadlines to improve a school’s ability to manage enrollment, housing, and wait-lists.


Safety was a concern for Divya’s parents.

“They wanted a program that was well chaperoned. I wanted a program that had world-class training, the potential to attend the year-round program, and an intense dance schedule.”

Most company schools, in addition to providing excellent technical and artistic training and giving students first hand experiences with repertoire that reflects what the company performs, also offer city living. This may be a new experience for many students, therefore, it is natural for students and their parents to want it to be a positive one.

Power suggests learning about the city which is home to the intensive you are considering and to ask yourself how you will handle living there.

“Experiencing how the summer is handled and prepared will give the student an idea of what the year round program will be like,” she reminds.

Your family knows you well and can help you compare programs to find the right one.

“I spent a lot of time looking at sample schedules and thinking about the class offerings,” she says. “I had countless papers with the pros and cons of each of my options. Once I saw it all in writing, my choice was easy.”

Tip: Divya’s father made a spreadsheet to make her search easier. You can try this to keep track of relevant information and deadlines about the summer intensive programs you are interested in, too. (This spreadsheet of 2015 intensives from BalletScoop is a great example.)


Houston Ballet II Ballet Mistress, Sabrina Lenzi instructing Divya during the 2015 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program. Photo: Jamie Lagdameo | Image provided courtesy of Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet II Ballet Mistress, Sabrina Lenzi instructing Divya during the 2015 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program.

Photo: Jamie Lagdameo |
Image provided courtesy of Houston Ballet

Narrowing It Down

If you are struggling to decide between programs, Noah suggests focusing on your goals.

“Choose the one you know you would get the most out of, whether that be the training, or potential job offers,” he says.

On this point, even program staff can be of help to you during your hunt for the right program. Power says she would love to hear more potential attendees ask program staff or administration, “What do I need to do personally to get the most out of the program?”

Divya adds that you should also trust your instincts in the decision process.

“Think back to the style of the audition class and ask yourself which program will make you most excited for the summer and give you a reason to wake up every morning and go to class.”

She remembers loving the Houston Ballet intensive audition class she attended in Chicago. Houston Ballet sends teachers that will be teaching in the summer on audition tour and administrative staff are available for questions on the audition site. In this way, the audition process can provide many clues about what to expect from the program.

The kind or amount of attention you may receive at the audition does not necessarily provide clues about the program’s interest in you, however. Power warns,“The audition is always a fast paced process and students are better served if they don’t make assumptions.”

Tip: During the audition process, keep the lines of communication open. Schools are often willing to communicate and find solutions if there are concerns about overlapping deadlines or program dates.


The Choice Is Made

Once you’ve reached a decision, there’s still work and preparation to do! If you’ve accepted an offer, stand by your commitment and be sure to read carefully and follow the school’s policies before and during attendance.

In addition to coping skills, Power says that successful intensive students are also physically prepared before coming to the summer program as well as interested in improving their technique. They also keep that perspective throughout, always asking themselves what they need to do to get the most out of the program.

Upon making her decision, Divya felt glad to know that a fellow dance classmate would also be attending and was excited about the myriad of classes on the Houston Ballet Academy’s schedule as well as the intensity of the workload.

“I felt that my dancing could grow the most in Houston’s program,” she recalls. “It’s four years later and Houston Ballet Academy is still the program for me.”


Male dancers at Houston Ballet's Summer Intensive

Students of Houston Ballet Academy’s 2015 Summer Intensive Program

Photo: Jamie Lagdameo | Image provided courtesy of Houston Ballet


Noah appreciates that the Houston Ballet summer intensive’s class offerings are well-rounded.

“We get a curriculum of ballet, modern, jazz, character, body conditioning, and even pantomime,” he says. “Stuff I haven’t seen people do in any other intensive.”

Houston Ballet Academy’s six-week program also provides performance opportunities, events that allows students to get to know the city of Houston, and a great dormitory setting. Lunches are available on site and there is an athletic trainer available for taping, maintenance, and support.

Divya is excited to go to class every day at Houston Ballet Academy but she realizes that one program can’t be right for everyone.

“It is a question of what you want to accomplish and who will help you get there,” she wisely states. “For a dancer, summer is a special time with minimal unwanted commitments. It’s a chance to pursue what you want to pursue without distractions. Whichever program you attend, if you make sure it is exciting and challenging, it will be a summer you never forget.”



Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet Academy has provided the highest quality ballet training to aspiring dancers since 1955. During its summer intensive program students are completely immersed in dance for three or six weeks and obtain training both enriches and complements their previous dance education. Students dance for six to eight hours a day, six days per week, learning from world-class instructors and Houston Ballet company members.

Audition Tour dates and locations can be found on Houston Ballet Academy’s Audition Tour Page.


For more upcoming summer program auditions, search the audition listings at


What Charlotte The Spider Knows About Nurturing Champions


Anyone that’s ever felt a little emotional (or, outright sobbed) during a telling or re-telling of Charlotte’s Web knows it is a heart-warming yet bittersweet story about a little girl’s love of animals and also the friendship between a wise spider and a young pig. But, as Leah Singer writes, “[Charlotte’s Web] is also about words and the difference storytelling can make in people’s lives.”

This is the front cover art for the book Charlotte's Web written by E. B. White. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, HarperCollins, or the cover artist.

This is the front cover art for the book Charlotte’s Web written by E. B. White. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, HarperCollins, or the cover artist.

If you’re not familiar with E.B. White’s classic children’s story, Charlotte’s Web is about a small pig, a runt, in danger of being slaughtered because it is “very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything.” A young girl named Fern convinces her father to spare the pig, who she names Wilbur. Fern loves and nurtures Wilbur but his life is once again in danger when he is sold to her uncle. It is Charlotte, a barn spider, that ultimately saves Wilbur’s life. Charlotte weaves a series of words into her web – “Some pig.” “Terrific.” “Radiant.” “Humble.” – which the farmers take as signs of Wilbur’s greatness. Word spreads of this remarkable pig and he becomes too famous to kill.

Wilbur is entered into the county fair and, though [SPOILERS ahead] he does not win first prize, he wins a special award for being extraordinary. Knowing that Wilbur is now beloved by all and his life is for certain no longer in danger, Charlotte finally gives in to her own death but not before leaving her egg sac in the care of Wilbur who returns with it to the farm, where he welcomes and befriends Charlotte’s children and future generations of spiders for years to come.

Through Charlotte, we learn a lot about coaching young dancers to greatness.


When it comes to nurturing champions, Charlotte knows:


That words matter and that the story you tell can save a life.


In the book, Charlotte makes a choice to re-write Wilbur’s story. At first she’s just tricking the minds of gullible humans on behalf of a little pig who is scared and defenseless but Charlotte does see something special in Wilbur. Maybe it’s just that he is willing to see beyond her “bloodthirsty nature” but helping Wilbur gives Charlotte’s life purpose and makes her feel good.


“…by helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”.


Where would an “unlikely ballerina” like Misty Copeland be without her first supporters and mentors who chose to see beyond the obstacles of not only her early life but the color of her skin and instead speak of Misty’s potential to rewrite what could have been her story? Not all dancers are as famous as Misty but I’d guarantee that, if asked, every single person in the dance world could give you the names of teachers whose words changed their lives.


"Barn Spider" by Dave Fletcher is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

“Barn Spider” by Dave Fletcher is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0


That ordinary dancers become extraordinary the same way gifted ones do.


Wilbur blushed. “But I’m not terrific, Charlotte. I’m just about average for a pig.”
“You’re terrific as far as I’m concerned,” replied Charlotte, sweetly, “and that’s what counts.


Wilbur doesn’t start out as anything special. He is a common runt and even he doesn’t believe he is anything more. It takes time, hard work, and Charlotte’s steadfast belief in him but, by the end, he is truly a magnificent, “completely out of the ordinary” specimen of a pig. Wilbur can barely handle all the praise he receives.

I don’t think Charlotte foresees all that Wilbur eventually accomplishes but that doesn’t matter. She always plans her messages one word at a time. Who can truly predict which students will go on in dance, and which won’t? Who knows what the result of your influence will be? A perfectly average dance student becomes exceptional the same way a gifted student does… one step at a time.

That the way a student feels is as important as their skill.


Charlotte loves Wilbur but she’s not always overflowing with praise. She sees his limitations clearly. While searching for her next word, Charlotte asks Wilbur to run, and jump, and flip. He exhausts himself doing everything she asks. When he’s finished, Charlotte concludes…


“I’m not sure Wilbur’s action is exactly radiant, but it’s interesting.”
“Actually,” said Wilbur, “I feel radiant.”
“Do you?” said Charlotte, looking at him with affection. “Well, you’re a good little pig, and radiant you shall be.


Charlotte acknowledges that Wilbur is eager and willing and realizes that a pig’s natural abilities aren’t everything. Not to mention, they are completely different from her own abilities. She sees that the way Wilbur feels about himself is absolutely essential in helping him become all that he can be. Later, people take notice of the “interesting” things about Wilbur.

Your students are their own kind of dancer. They need you to guide them and challenge them even though eventually they will go their own way. Positive praise when your students show enthusiasm and effort builds their confidence but so does validating them – show them that their feelings and thoughts (who they are on the inside) matter.


That people (and pigs) live up to their descriptions.


“When Charlotte’s web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte’s web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow.”


Over time Wilbur transforms into the pig that Charlotte says he is. He’s always been a sweet little pig but “good food and regular hours were showing results.” Wilbur goes from a weak, lonely, uncertain runt that no one wanted to a healthy, strong, and confident pig that “any man would be proud of.”

“Say what you want to see” works for work ethic as well as pointed toes. It’s not that you need to make things up about your dancers that aren’t true. When you have a seed, you water it because you know the potential for growth is there if you do. As you work with your students, regularly sprinkle them with recognition of the growing potential you see in them.


"Piglet" by Jim Champion is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

“Piglet” by Jim Champion is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0


That encouraging humility brings handsome results.


“Wilbur was modest; fame did not spoil him.”


The other animals worry that all the attention might go to Wilbur’s head but it doesn’t. In the back of his mind, he knows the fate he’s escaped  – it haunts his dreams a little – and he knows he would not have gotten far without Charlotte. “During the day he is happy and confident” but, when faced with his biggest challenge, he still wants Charlotte with him.

When they attend the county fair, Wilbur’s owner has a special crate that says “Zuckerman’s Famous Pig” in gold letters and his wife fusses to make Wilbur look good with a buttermilk bath and clean straw. They believe his fame and looks will win him the prize. But Charlotte sizes up the competition and though there’s a bigger pig, she knows exactly what Wilbur’s got that that pig doesn’t… she writes HUMBLE above Wilbur’s pen. Charlotte’s word is true and it serves Wilbur well — everyone has something nice to say about it him.

As a mentor to your students, you can help them see their best qualities. The rest of the world tells your students that being a winner means you must be “Instafamous” or look and perform better than everyone else. But when you let dancers know with your words and actions that humility matters, they win.

That the work you do every day is a miracle!


Though it is remarkable that Charlotte is able to understand and weave human words into her web, Fern’s uncle fails to see it as anything special. Fern’s aunt hints at the idea that perhaps it is the spider that is extraordinary and not the pig but Charlotte’s role is soon forgotten in all the excitement over Wilbur. That’s okay by Charlotte. She cares only that her plan works and that Wilbur is saved. When Fern’s mother becomes concerned her daughter is spending too much time talking to animals, she consults the family doctor. They end up chatting about the writing in Charlotte’s web and he has this to say:


“When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
“What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle – it’s just a web.”
“Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian.


Like a spider’s web, not everyone appreciates everything that goes into teaching dancers and the “ordinary miracles” you perform every day. Your reward isn’t the point or the purpose for doing what you do but when they do come, the rare moments of recognition are all the sweeter.


"spider web" by Alan Reeves is licensed CC BY 2.0

“spider web” by Alan Reeves is licensed CC BY 2.0


That you are never too small to leave a legacy.


Though she is small, Charlotte works extra hard to do her very best on Wilbur’s behalf and Wilbur never forgets her work and sacrifice. No matter the lengths you’ve gone to support your dancers, no matter how intricate the web you’ve woven, like Charlotte, you probably fade into the background. But your students remember and, just as Wilbur carries Charlotte’s egg sac back to the farm, your students carry forward the things you’ve taught them. They spread them, share them, and often pass them to future generations.

Your students may not become famous or win in every competition but if you help them as Charlotte helped Wilbur, they become winners – ordinary dancers who succeed, who go on to live lives that are remarkable in their own way and, in the process, create your legacy as a teacher and dance educator.


Dance Bloggers Share Their Best Of 2015


Kicking off a new year at Dance Advantage isn’t always easy.

“Where to begin?”   “What’s that first post of the new year going to be about?”

In the past I’ve hosted a Top Dance Blog contest between one year’s end a new year’s beginning and enjoyed its success. The contest itself got a little too big for my time budget but my favorite part was simply being able to share and support the work of other dance writers and bloggers.

So, in that spirit, our January Dance Circle roundup (we’ll do these monthly with different topics) features the posts or articles that these writers consider their best of 2015. Go ahead and click away. I hope you find something new. We’ll be here when you get back.


10 Essentials For The Adult Beginner’s Dance Bag — The Classical Girl

Dancers love “what’s in your dance bag?” posts – we can’t help but take a peek. The Classical Girl, Terez (who is an author and a favorite guest at Dance Advantage), shares the essentials. They work for any ballet dancer, really, but adult beginners will love this and the other posts at The Classical Girl website.


What Not To Do In Ballet! End Game. — The Accidental Artist

Inspired by a video from Wayne Byar, The Accidental Artist‘s post is a pitch to dancers to be more mindful of their approach to how they work. She encourages you to put intention into the process, rather than work to the “end game” of getting the highest leg, the highest jump, the most turns, the best turnout. Getting noticed by cheating your technique is not the end game… so what is the end game?


The Dancer with Cancer — CABARRET

Nicole is a dancer, a creator, an inspiration and in this post she reveals her diagnosis and some of the things she’s learned so far in her journey and fight against cancer. She writes, “Being diagnosed with cancer has not made me suddenly wise. If anything, it has shown me how much I don’t know. Not just about the world, but about myself and my body, subjects with which I thought myself to be intimately acquainted.”


An Interview With Monica Wellington (Creator of My Ballet Journal) — Picture Books & Pirouettes

As a teacher and parent, when I’m looking for insight and recommendations for children’s literature about dance and movement, I visit Kerry’s site, Picture Books & Pirouettes. Read her interview with author/illustrator Monica Wellington to find out more about MY BALLET JOURNAL, a journal and coloring book for young dancers she created with her daughter, Lydia (a professional ballerina with NYCB). The book is a perfect keepsake for school-age dancers who want to record their dance memories throughout the year!


Bowling Dance — Maria’s Movers

As usual, the year’s best at Maria’s Movers is a great idea for your dance classes for little danccers. Turn the dance studio into a bowling alley and do a bowling dance!


Joffrey’s ‘Sylvia’ breaks from tradition, just like it used to (Review) — Art Intercepts

What do YOU know about Sylvia? Chicago dance writer, Lauren Warnecke of Art Intercepts writes, “Throughout its history, critics have felt that Sylvia‘s one redeeming value is its magnificent score, and indeed, it’s hard not to love Leo Delibes’ splendid music. John Neumeier’s version, performed last fall by the Joffrey Ballet, has so much more than that going for it. Honestly, Sylvia‘s only problem is that nobody has ever heard of it.”


All Shadows Whisper of the Sun — Setting The Barre

On a chilly February morning, Kirsten of Setting The Barre explores the connection between light and darkness and its prevalence in the ballet world.  From sweat, toil, and callus comes one of the world’s most ethereal art forms.  Featuring photos by Jenay Evans and the custom Setting The Barre leotard, designed especially for the blog by Miss Jones Dance.


{artist} challenge — Tutus&Tea

Throwing back to 2015’s ‘Artist Challenge’ that decorated Facebook, Instagram and various realms of social media, Shelby of Tutus&Tea reflects on ballet’s relevancy beyond the stage, the luxury of savoring our favorite moments performing as live artists, and the joy of shedding light on the fellow dancers that inspire us to keep aspiring for more.


Super Ballet Ads — Clara’s Coffee Break

What makes a memorable video promo for a ballet? Rachel shares her thoughts on ballet trailers at Clara’s Coffee Break



Dancers: Let’s Talk Core Control — 4dancers

4Dancers Dance Wellness Editor, Jann Dunn has written a thorough and thoroughly awesome piece on core control, otherwise known as back stabilization, that breaks it down so that students and teachers might really understand the concepts. Seriously, if you read no other article on core control in 2016, make it this one.


Improving the Dancer’s Arch: Do Foot Stretchers Really Work? — The Healthy Dancer

Dancers spend a lot of time trying to improve the arches of their feet. Using a foot stretcher seems like it would be a great idea – but do they really work and is using one a healthy way to improve a dancer’s foot? Find out at The Healthy Dancer.

At Ballet to the People the post that seemed to rile readers the most this year, to blogger, Carla Escoda’s surprise, was not her assessment of Milwaukee Ballet’s Giselle set in a Nazi concentration camp, nor her intensely personal reaction to Ai Weiwei’s political art installation on Alcatraz. It was her proposal to ditch the 32 fouettés! Read her post to find out why she wants to kiss them goodbye…


Sara Esty – A True American in Paris — A Dancer’s Days

Blogger Rhiannon Pelletier of A Dancer’s Days takes the opportunity to talk to Sara Esty, “Lise” alternate in the new Broadway hit An American in Paris, about her experience with the show, what made her transition from the world of classical ballet to the big world of Broadway, and how her training aided that change (along with a few other juicy details!).


OffDayThe Off Day Ballet Dictionary — Adult Ballerina Project

Messy classes are unavoidable, despite our best efforts. So, perhaps we should make lemonade and think of “off days” as a unique subset of ballet with its own rules and definitions. Rachel Hellwig explains further in her contribution at Adult Ballerina Project.


3 Mindset Changes You Must Adopt to Succeed in Dance — The Dance Training Project

To train the body without taking the mind into consideration will not allow a dancer to succeed. Physically, we encounter the challenges of technical plateaus, becoming over-trained, and injured, but mentally we start to doubt ourselves, our chosen path, and our ability to be great dancers, which can be even more detrimental, as before we can do something, we must first believe we can do it. These three mindsets are crucial to tapping into your true potential as a dancer. Read more at The Dance Training Project.


How to Cope with Loss – Part 1: Mourning the Untimely Death of My Future Self — The Girl With The Tree Tattoo

The Girl with the Tree Tattoo‘s best post of 2015?  The complete upheaval of her ballroom dance journey.


25. Crystallized : Contemporary — Jessica Maria MacFarlane

“Contemporary dance hitches a ride on the fame and fortune of classical ballet, while classical ballet tugs at contemporary dance for an awakening,” writes Jessica Maria MacFarlane (J.M.M.). “I’m swayed between the two, and this image of pointe-wearing improv pieces haunt me. They don’t really work together in the very strict sense. I’ll continue to eat it up nonetheless and welcome contemporary dance choreographers to classical ballet companies, but I know we must try to not just crystallize or blur the lines of both dance forms for the sake of blending. We must keep dance at the forefront with separate education and awareness on all genres of dance that interact and collaborate together…” Read more of Jessica’s musings as she writes about the past, present, and future of dance at her self-titled site.


Rules Of The Game — Enforced Arch

Enforced Arch founder, James Koroni shares the exciting news that he has been invited by Jonah Bokaer, media artist and choreographer to participate in Rules Of The Game, a multidisciplinary work featuring visuals by Daniel Arsham and music by Pharrell Williams. Learn more about the work in this recent post.


SoundsOfATaplifeSounds of a #TapLife

Whether we are willing to accept it or not, the universe works in mysterious ways. Seen or unseen, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes of life. Over time, Anthony Lo Cascio has discovered the universe will try to teach the same lesson over and over again until one is willing to respect it, recognize it, or learn it. Sounds of a #Taplife premiered in early December in NYC and is a reflection of some of the greatest lessons Anthony has learned and a connecting of those dots. See the performance in this recently released video.



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Christmas Tree Ideas For Your Dance Studio

Is there anything more fun than decorating for the holidays?

Twinkling lights, snow-dusted windowsills, and evergreen branches are staples of the season. Tutus and nutcrackers make decorating dance studios almost tutu easy! But, there are also ways to stay true to your school and your branding if you get a little creative.

Inspired by the variety of festive ways we’ve seen dance studio owners and management decorating trees for their lobbies at Christmastime, here’s a collection of ideas we think you’ll love.


A Tree With Heart

Dance Du Coeur in Sugar Land, Texas (near Houston) strives to inspire students to “Dance From the Heart” and to connect to their audience through the emotion of their art. So, even though it might be a little non-traditional, their studio tree is decorated with heart ornaments.


Dance from the heart - Christmas Tree


This Tree Won’t Expire

You may have seen an image of the English National Ballet’s pointe shoe tree floating around on Facebook. It’s being displayed at the London Coliseum and it even has its own hashtag, #ENBTree!

Well, Misty‘s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, WI, doesn’t feature quite that many pointe shoes on their studio tree but we think it’s equally dazzling. The studio’s ballet director got the idea because their store had 18 pairs of shoes that had expired and couldn’t be sold (yes, pointe shoes expire — the glue and other construction materials break down over time). So, armed with matching tulle and poinsettias, a bit of glue, and fishing wire, she created a pointe shoe tree for the studio that everyone loves. “I think I may keep it up all year,” says Misty Lown, who is the owner of Misty’s Dance Unlimited, More Than Just Great Dancing Affiliated Studios, and More Than Dancers, an online lifestyle magazine for dancers.

Pointe shoe christmas tree


Say Yes To The Dress

Dress form trees are a terrific twist on the classic Christmas tree. Typically a dress bodice is created with fabrics and branches of greenery are added to the dress form or mannequin to form a skirt. Here’s a video if you need some guidance:

Of course a tutu of pine needles is even better for a dance studio. Our favorite is this romantic silver and pink dress form creation from My Thrift Store Addiction – perfectly dreamy.



If you’re not feeling crafty, you might take this rotating ballerina tree for a spin. She’d look great in a window display, don’t you think?



Hands Down

Your studio is filled with lots of little hands (and feet). You could have each dance student in your studio lend their hands to make your studio’s hand print tree something really special.


Tutu Much

Tulle Christmas trees in a dance studio just make sense. If you need some help, here’s a tututorial:


Space-Saving Holiday Trees

No room for a giant Christmas tree in your studio lobby? Not a problem. These tree ideas will make your season bright without taking over your dance space.

Photographs (framed or unframed) can be placed in the shape of a tree on your wall. You might even try taking one photograph (a photo of students in action, or your school logo perhaps), splitting it into multiple posters, and hanging them in a triangular tree design. Use the free web app at to split your image and then print the individual panels yourself, or take it to a local print shop for help.



How about using old dance recital programs or posters to create a tree collage? Photos of your students would work too.



Strings of lights are a surefire solution. Place a strand of lights in a zig-zag pattern and you’ve got yourself a minimalist tree. A tree outlined with lights requires a little more precision but looks great on a wall.


And if you want something a little more intricate (but still super easy), try this version:


Chalkboard wall paint is a popular canvas for all kinds of creations, including Christmas trees. Though your studio may not be equipped with a chalkboard wall, mirrors are usually a given. Use dry erase markers instead of chalk to sketch a holiday scene or Christmas tree.


Speaking of mirrors… wouldn’t a Post-it note tree make a statement?



Does your dance studio have  a Christmas tree that spreads the joy of the season within your studio family?

Tell us what makes your tree special in the comments!


What The Nutcracker Is A Mirliton, Anyway?

In The Nutcracker’s second-act calorie bomb, The Kingdom of Sweets, we’re introduced to a parade of characters. Not all of whom seem to make much sense when you think about it – an assortment of hot drinks, Russian dancers (they’re only sometimes listed as candy canes), and a bouquet of flowers? And right in the middle, Tchaikovsky throws in a tune about… mirlitons?

What in the world is a mirliton?

Google the word mirlitons and your first hits are all about a squash native to Mexico and popular in New Orleans cuisine. Hmm, somehow I don’t think our beloved Russian composer spent much time in The Big Easy.

Mirliton instrument
Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that a mirliton is also a simple tube-shaped instrument, sometimes known as a eunuch flute or onion flute. Humming through the tube causes a thin membrane (of animal skin or onion or paper) to vibrate. These little “flutes” have been popular children’s toys for centuries. In America we call them kazoos. Take one listen to the flute-based melody of Danse de Mirlitons (which is of course sometimes called Dance of the Reed or Pipe Flutes) and, eureka, things are coming together in The Land of Sweets. Except what does a toy instrument have to do with candy?


A child playing a mirliton

By Anonymous (Carte-postale ancienne) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | (Sketch by F. Marin Mersenne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


cigaretterussesIt turns out that Tchaikovsky (or Petipa and Ivanov) may have been employing a double-meaning within Dance of the Mirlitons. Mirliton du Pont-Audemer is a French pastry that is rolled into a tube, filled with chocolate praline mousse, and dipped in chocolate, not unlike Cigarettes Russes cookies (see recipe), or the mirliton flute. Clever.

Interestingly, there are other kinds of mirlitons, too. Mirlitons de Rouen are almond-topped puff pastries, tarts, or cakes. Maybe all this almond and praline business is how we’ve made the gargouiallade leap to marzipan, which is an almond paste that can be formed into just about anything and is also a popular Christmastime treat.

Now, why are the Mirlitons/Marzipan dancers sometimes costumed as shepherds or shepherdesses? Well, maybe it’s because shepherds are often depicted in folklore playing a flute to herd their flock!

Paulus Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Paulus Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


How The Other Comfiture Fit In The Kingdom of Sweets

In this day and age, hot chocolate, coffee and tea may not qualify as exotic confections but in 19th century these imports were increasingly in demand in Europe. Sugarplums, which are simply candy-coated nuts or seeds, probably filled the sweetmeat dishes at gatherings. And the story on Mother Ginger is that a Russian confection company sold a metal tin shaped like a woman with a large skirt. Lift her “skirt” (the lid) and there were bonbons inside!



The Trepak dance was titled Danse des Bouffons in the Imperial Ballet’s 1892 Nutcracker program. That’s Dance of the Buffoons… jesters, clowns. It was common for court jesters to perform Russian folk dances for czars but in regards to the choreography, in Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition in the New World, author Jennifer Fisher writes,

“Petipa’s written instructions called for: ‘”Trepak, for the end of the dance, turning on the floor,’ referring to the athletic feats of Russian character dance. But evidently Ivanov didn’t like the variation he came up with in rehearsal, and when someone suggested a hoop dance instead, the dancer Alexandre Shiryaev choreographed his own solo.”

Balanchine carried on the tradition of the hoop dance for his New York City production but “sweetened” the deal by calling his jesters Candy Canes. (See Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet)

Then, we get to… Waltz of the Flowers? Flowers and dew drops seem more at home in an enchanted wood than in Candyland.

In The Life and Ballets of Lev Ivanov: Choreographer of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, a review of the first performance of The Nutcracker reveals that “The grand ballabile of the gilded sweetmeats is not bad as regards groupings, but the excellent soloists are completely lost in the mass.” (Yeah, the first reviews weren’t so great). Interestingly, the book notes that this line about gilded sweetmeats refers to The Waltz of the Flowers, in which the dancers were costumed in gold, not the pinks, purples, oranges, or blues that we often see onstage today.

Sweetmeats is just a word for any sweet delicacy of the confectionery or candy kind – candied fruit, sugar-covered nuts, sugarplums, bonsbons, etc. Gilded sweetmeats are something of a mystery – the term is used elsewhere in literature and prose but it’s never fully explained. It could be a term that describes any particularly decadent candy but if you know for sure, share it in the comments.

Maybe the original waltzing dancers represent sugared flowers, which are edible flowers dusted in sugar. Perhaps they mimicked the gold floral designs that delicately intertwine along the edges of ornate candy dishes. Or maybe they’ve nothing to do with flowers at all and just depicted gold-wrapped candy.

Whatever the original intent, maybe the mirlitons, flowers, and other inhabitants aren’t so out of place in The Nutcracker’s Kingdom of Sweets after all.