Tips for Aspiring Ballet Dancers

Cynthia Harvey leads a workshop during Summer Session. (© Chris Hardy)

Guest Faculty Member Cynthia Harvey gave us a glimpse of her life as a ballet instructor, following a long career performing with American Ballet Theatre. Originally from the Bay Area, Cynthia was also the first American to join The Royal Ballet as a principal dancer. Below, she offers her top tips for aspiring students:

1. Do what’s asked of you in class.
Don’t alter the steps to show off your best party trick. While we’re at it, showing off is not attractive at all. Contrived, forced, or artificial movements do not present the real you. Choreographers and directors are more interested in malleable dancers who they can mold to their style. Physicality is important, but not at the expense of what’s taught.

2. Come to class focused and ready to absorb material.
There’s an old saying that the ballet studio is your temple. As a new dancer, apprentice, or young professional, show respect by arriving prepared with your hair and shoes ready—not with a coffee in hand!

3. Listen to the music.
There’s nothing worse than a dancer who dances to their own beat. The pianist or conductor dictates the tempo, so it’s a dancer’s responsibility to listen and perform accordingly. Of course you should play with the phrasing or timing, but it’s crucial to follow the musical cues. It’s about the quality of movement, not quantity.

4. Be brave.
Fall, get up, and try again. Take up space, travel across the floor, and show that you’re hungry. Be ambitious but not aggressive—these are two very different things. There is no room for meek people in ballet.