Ballet Breakaway

By McNamara, Maggie | Dance Spirit, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Ballet Breakaway


McNamara, Maggie, Dance Spirit


For dancers who've spent their lives in pink tights, signing a big ballet company contract can seem like the be-all-end-all goal. But ballet-trained dancers aren't one-trick ponies, and many end up leading successful dance careers outside the ballet world. Before you say "ballet or no way," get inspired by dancers who traded in their pointe shoes for something a little different.

Makeda Crayton

Soloist in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity

I trained under former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal Homer Hans Bryant, and always dreamed of following in his footsteps. But when DTH went on hiatus in 2004,1 decided to look for other jobs, and I ended up finding my dance home at Cirque du Soleil.

I love Cirque's storytelling aspect. It reminds me of performing story ballets, but you're given a lot more freedom to develop your character. Right now, I play the African Queen in Zumanity-I have a solo that opens the whole show. It's up to me to pull the audience into our world, and I'm constantly reinventing my character to find new ways to connect.

I still do a floor barre before every performance, and I'm thankful for my ballet training. The show's acrobats are always shocked at how quickly I can pick up movement. Before DTH reopened in 2013, I was invited to take class with its traveling repertory ensemble. While it reminded me how much I missed ballet, I realized my path as a dancer had changed. I love what I do.

Brandon Leffler

Dancer in Trip of Love, off-Broadway

1 was on The Performing Arts Center in L.A.'s commercial track when I first fell in love with ballet. The school's director helped me switch around my schedule so I could do a classical concentration, and I ended up booking a job with Ballet Austin II after attending the company's summer program.

I spent a year there, and it was an amazing experience. Ballet Austin is a small company, so we got to dance in the corps for larger ballets. Once I got used to the day-to-day rigor of ballet company life, though, I realized I needed a bit more freedom. That's when 1 set my sights on Broadway. I moved to NYC to take a job with Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, and began auditioning for musical theater jobs. About a year later, I booked a national tour of Cats, and haven't looked back since.

The greatest gift ballet gave me is my solid technical base. In musical theater, you're doing the same movement eight times a week. Unless you're using your body properly-and ballet teaches you how to do that-you're going to get injured.

Madison Wada Sidra Bell Dance New York

Growing up in the small town of Uncaster, CA, I studied many styles at a local studio, but I fell in love with ballet. I looked up to ballerinas like princesses. When I decided ballet was my dream, my mom started driving me an hour each way every day to train at Los Angeles Ballet Academy. It was a rigorous school, with graded exams at every level.

But after spending a summer at Alonzo King LINES Ballet post-graduation, I decided 1 wanted to go in a more contemporary direction. As much as I loved classical dance, I knew even if I gave 125 percent, I still probably wouldn't make it-I just don't have the feet or the stature. When I started to explore contemporary dance, first at LINES and then with Sidra, I began to appreciate the value of my movement quality, beyond the height of my leg or the number of pirouettes I could do.

Georgia U/borne

Gallim Dance

My second-year ballet teacher at Central School of Ballet in London told me I didn't have the facility to join a company- and that I needed to learn to maximize what I had. …

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