Boys Can Do It Too: Interview with Danny Perez and Chris Miller

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        Danny Perez (left), Christopher Miller (right)

These guys can probably jump higher than your favorite basketball player and they can lift you over their head. They’re not afraid to tell you they’re ballet dancers.

Danny and Chris are full-time students at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. They take technique classes every day (on top of their academic classes), and they perform with the Dance Theatre of Santa Fe.

“There are days when we dance more than we sleep,” says Chris. “When we’re rehearsing for a show, it’s like – wake up, dance, eat, dance, sleep, repeat. It’s hard work, but it’s so rewarding.”

They were both recently accepted to the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance program at Florida State University.

So, what do you guys do with dance?

CM: I’ve done a lot of freelance work with companies in Tampa and Gainesville, and I’m always performing with DTSF [Dance Theatre of Sante Fe]. What I’d really like is to become an equity performer, or to have a contract with a company. Right now I’m working on finishing my degree at SF and then moving to Tallahassee to attend FSU.

DP: I have one more semester with Santa Fe before I start working on my BFA. Eventually, I want to do the same thing: company or equity performer. Really, it doesn’t matter to me where I am or who I’m with as long as I get to keep dancing.

How is ballet different for men vs. women?

DP: Men are like a commodity in ballet because there aren’t a lot of us. Teachers usually want to take advantage of the fact that we can partner so we sometimes wind up doing more than the girls.

CM: Our training is also a little different. There are some steps that are traditionally done only by women and some that are done only by men. Men are expected to jump higher, and we definitely need more upper-body strength because we need to be able to lift. Sometimes we get to take special men’s classes just to focus on those areas.

What about the stigma of ballet being for girls?

DP: Honestly, when kids used to tease me for doing ballet, it motivated me. I used it as ammunition to work harder and get stronger. If you’ve ever taken a ballet class then you know it’s not for wimps. Every single class, guys and girls are walking out drenched in sweat, and you’re sore pretty much all the time. It only looks so easy because we work so hard to make it that way.

CM: And think about it, you’re catching and lifting beautiful women over your head. Name something more manly than that.

What is it like being the minority in your field?

CM: It’s awesome. Strong male dancers are always in demand and there’s always an opportunity to partner someone. I love when there are a lot of guys in my class, though. You can make more interesting choreography when there is a big group of guys and girls.

DP: I think more is expected of us because we’re so few. We have to be able to do what girls can do and we also have to be ready for anything. When someone is depending on you to lift them, they’re trusting you with their career. It’s a lot of focus.

What made you decide to make dance your career and not just a hobby?

CM: For me it was when I got to Santa Fe and saw all the different kinds of opportunities that are out there for dancers. I’ve always loved dancing and I knew I wanted to keep doing it as an adult, but I didn’t really become set on finding a career until I met my teachers at SF.

DP: I’ve just always loved it, I don’t know what flipped the switch. I feel good when I’m doing it and I learn about life from dance. I have a tattoo of this quote my brother made me, and it describes how I feel perfectly: “Dancing is the most exciting form of art. The stage is your canvas, your body is your brush, and your heart is your color.”

Do you have any advice for guys who want to start ballet?

DP: Do it! Just find that thing that motivates you and use it to make yourself better. Focus on what you like about dancing and why you do it instead of what people might think of you. Then when you’re doing awesome ballet stuff that most guys can’t do, you know your passion is what got you there. And hey, girls love that drive.

CM: I say definitely try it if you think you’d enjoy it. I started when I was 10, an age where it was so uncool to be a ballet dancer, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. How I felt when I was dancing made me not care about anything outside the studio. Don’t get intimidated by what people might think and you might find something you really like.

Interview with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Dancer Michaela King!

Michaela King(1)This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michaela King, corps de ballet member with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre! At just nineteen years old, Michaela joined the company in 2014 and performed in Swan Lake, Don Quixote, La Bayadere, and George Balanchine’s Serenade. Michaela is thrilled to begin her second year with PBT next month, and she looks forward to the upcoming performances!

Adult Ballerina Project: Tell me about your dance history!  What made you want to become a professional ballerina?

Michaela King: I was five years old when I first started dancing. My mom enrolled me in classes because she thought it would be a fun creative outlet. She never thought in a million years I would fall in love with it! I took ballet, tap, jazz, and I participated in commercial dance competitions. When I was ten years old, I switched to a studio where the main focus was ballet. I realized that if I wanted to continue to dance and make a career, this is what I needed to do. That’s when I began to discover my real passion not only for dance, but specifically ballet.

A year later, I went on pointe and began to train intensely six days a week. Every summer, I went away from home to train at ballet schools around the country. After graduating from high school, I moved to be a student in the Graduate Program at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. I received my first company contract with PBT at the end of my two years of training there! It was a dream come true. This is what I had been working for my whole life. It is exciting to say that I get to do what I love every day.

ABP: What are your most memorable experiences throughout your career?

Michaela: Last season, I got to be the first shade out on the ramp for La Bayadere. That ballet is so special to me because it’s the first professional ballet I saw. I was 11 years old when I got to watch American Ballet Theatre perform it. It’s crazy to think that years later I got to be one of those girls going down the ramp doing 38 arabesques!

By far, my most memorable moment was being called into PBT director Terrence S. Orr’s office at the end of my second year as a student with the school. He sat me down, we chatted, and he offered me a contract! I couldn’t believe it, it’s a moment I will always remember and treasure.

ABP: Have you experienced any challenges during your dance career?

Michaela: Last year, I sustained multiple injuries to the bones in my feet and I was out for six months and in recovery for another three months. It was by far the hardest and most trying time I’ve had to go through as a dancer, but it made me a stronger person and I learned so much about myself.  I feel like I am more aware of my body and how to take care of it, and more mature as a person. When life throws me curve balls at me I have the confidence now that I can get through anything because it’s just temporary!

ABP: What is your focus for the upcoming season?

Michaela: Ultimately I want to have a long career and be the best possible dancer I can be. It will be my second year in the company so right now my goal is to make the most of every role and opportunity I’m given and put 100 percent into it. I want to prove myself and show my versatility as a dancer. I’m hoping to get cast in some roles out of my comfort zone so that I can push myself and grow in new ways. Ideally, it would be a dream to dance a lead pas de deux on stage.

ABP: What advice would you give to ballet students?

Michaela:

“You may be the ripest, juiciest peach, but there will always be someone who hates peaches.” Stay true to yourself and do not worry or compare yourself to other people. I think that’s what helped me to develop into my own as a dancer technically and artistically. Every dancer is unique in their own way and has their own path. Embrace it!

Image via Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Q & A with Breaking Pointe’s Allison DeBona

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I started taking ballet a few month’s before the first season of Breaking Pointe started airing.  Since it began, it has been one of my favorite shows on TV as well as an inspiration to me. Although there has been a lot of controversy behind the show (ranging from complaints of not enough dance to too much drama)–the show has done a lot to get ballet back into the spotlight. It’s definitely helped foster my appreciation for dance and makes me want to keep doing ballet although sometimes it has been really tough.

Allison DeBona has definitely been one of my inspirations on the show. Even though she was portrayed as the villain in season one, we got to see a different side of her in the second season. I also love the fact that Allison is super active on social media and loves her fans. She even created a stretching video for them:

Here’s my interview with Allison:

Adult Ballerina Project: When and why did you start dancing ballet?

Allison DeBona: I started ballet at the age of three! I remember loving it from the beginning. I loved pretending to be someone other than myself!

ABP: Who or what inspires your dancing?

Allison: Story telling really drives me to dance. I love being able to bring things to life on stage. I also like to make my family proud. They have done so much to help me get this far and its the only way to pay them back.

ABP: What made you want to pursue dancing as a career?

Allison: I’ve always had a thirst to be onstage. I can’t imagine ever having a desk job!

ABP: What made you decide to go to college instead of immediately pursuing a career in ballet?

Allison: I had taken time off of ballet as teen and I was 16 when I went back to ballet. My parents and I thought it would be best to train longer and we felt college was the best route.

ABP: What has been your favorite dance role?

Allison: I honestly love them all and am grateful for any opportunity I have on stage.

ABP: Who has been your favorite choreographer to work with?

Allison: I can’t answer that!!! Every person has something different to offer. You can learn from anyone!

ABP: What are you currently working on?

Allison: We just finished Sleeping Beauty on tour at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago and next we are working on our fall rep. We are performing “Fire Bird,” “Petite Mort” and “Who Cares?.”

ABP: Do you workout outside of ballet?

Allison: I love going to the gym. I usually run on a treadmill and lift weights.

ABP: What are some of your favorite healthy snacks?

Allison: You can always find me drinking a protein shake after class or between rehearsals. They make me feel strong.

ABP: Do you watch any other dance shows? How well do you think ballet is represented on TV?

Allison: I think there is a dance show for everyone out there. They are all different and they all offer a different perspective. Any opportunity dance has to be exposed is good for our art form.

ABP: What changes in Breaking Pointe would you want to see in Season 3?

Allison: That’s a tough question. Maybe if we get Season 3 we can talk more about our journey’s to being professional. That might be interesting to people.

ABP: What’s it like to be a soloist in Ballet West?

Allison: Amazing. That’s all that I can say about it.

ABP: How has your fame on Breaking Pointe affected your dance career?

Allison: I don’t feel any different in the studio. I do, however, feel a little more nerves dancing live knowing that everyone knows who I am. It’s a bit more pressure.

ABP: What advice would you give to adults (or anyone) who wants to start ballet?

Allison: Ballet is mind over matter. Stay focused and determined and you can accomplish anything!

Find Allison on Twitter and Facebook. Subscribe to her YouTube account for more stretching videos!

Interview with Cassandra Yasko of Cloud 9 Supplements

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A few weeks ago, Cassandra Yasko approached me about sharing her Indiegogo Campaign about her new supplements, Cloud 9 Supplements, for dancers. As someone who is constantly trying to find supplements and vitamins that work well with my body, I decided to ask her a few questions about her future supplement line (releasing in September) made specifically for dancers:

What is your background as a dancer?

Cassandra Yasko: I began dancing as a child in a small town dance studio in Maine where I grew up. By high school I was traveling over three hours daily to dance after school in both private and group classes at the Portland School of Ballet. Afterwards I went to college out in Montana to study dance further, where I was exposed to several different aspects of dance that my mind had been sheltered from for many years (such as jazz, African, modern, performance with spoken words, and so forth). Soon after I transferred to the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC, joining the trainee program of Classical Ballet. I stayed on with the Joffrey as part of their Jazz and Contemporary program and then finished my schooling at Dean College, partnered with Alvin Ailey, where I received my associates degree in Dance Performance. Other dance experiences include summer intensives at ABT, Boston Conservatory, and Boston Ballet among others.

Where did the idea for Cloud 9 come from?

Cassandra Yasko: The idea for Cloud Nine came about when I realized many of my friends and fellow dancers weren’t aware of the benefits of natural supplementation. My mother is a doctor and has a holistic healthcare practice, so ever since I was a child I was aware of the importance of proper supplementation. Through my schooling as a dancer I realized my peers didn’t benefit from the same knowledge and, in fact, there was a lot of confusion about vitamins. I also struggled to find the right vitamins to support my lifestyle and the physical demands of my practice. As a result, I started mixing and matching supplements for my own needs. I founded Cloud Nine so that fellow dancers could benefit from supplements tailored to their needs and to raise awareness on the importance of proper supplementation and health throughout the dance community.

What products do you hope to offer, and how do these specifically help dancers?

Cassandra Yasko: We use vegan OXYlock capsules and have formulated unique compounded supplements that are designed to support a dancers lifestyle; for example, our line includes products such as ‘Centered Mood’, to help promote healthy serotonin levels if you’re feeling stressed about a big performance, or ‘Revive’, which supports a healthy balance of memory and focus to get you through rehearsal. We have four products offered through our Indiegogo campaign, but have over 30 currently in formulation. These include vitamins that support bone integrity, help to limit bruising, aid in muscle strength and flexibility, as well as help to prevent muscle fatigue. Our goal is to help dancers’ bodies reach their maximum potential but also mitigate against common injuries.

What are some of the perks for donating to your campaign?

Cassandra Yasko: We have several great perks for those who donate to the campaign! Of course we are offering the very first of our supplements to our contributors, we also have other items to help support a healthy lifestyle such as Cloud Nine Nalgene bottles and custom Cloud Nine GAIA yoga mats. We’re also offering packs at an extremely discounted rate for small studio owners and dancer supply stores who want to help in fostering Cloud Nine’s mission to create a better standard in health and wellness amongst dancers.

When will the products be released?

Cassandra Yasko: The products will be released in September, and we are hoping to have the full e-commerce site launching in September as well!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Cassandra Yasko: Just a thank you to all those who are interested in Cloud Nine and support our mission! It’s an extremely competitive and difficult lifestyle for those who dance professionally, but I hope that Cloud Nine will help maintain health and positivity for those who do.

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Follow Cloud 9 on Facebook and Pinterest for updates, and don’t forget to support their Indiegogo Campaign!

Q & A with Julia and Aaron, the creators of Barre: A Real Food Bar.

From Realfoodbarre.com

Julia from Realfoodbarre.com

Julia and Aaron of Barre, a real food bar designed both for ballerinas and all sorts of athletes, were kind enough to do an interview with me for the site. Both are professional dancers and agreed to talk both about their product and their experience with ballet, They even gave us a few tips for adult beginner ballerinas!

To find more about their product, you can check out their site here. In addition, they’re also running a Facebook competition for a giveaway of barres and another gift by submitting your interpretation of “Barre, A real food bar.” and “Art”. Check out their Facebook page here.

I’ll have my review of their product (and a giveaway!) up Adult Ballerina Project later this week!

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