Breaking out of my niche

When a dancer spends a longer period of time with a company, they tend to get typecast. One dancer may be considered a Balanchine specialist, while other dancers may only get to perform classical roles. Very few dancers are offered the opportunity to expand their reach into every possible role and style that is in a company's repertoire. For this reason, I have found that very capable dancers start to believe that they are only valuable in the roles that their artistic director chooses to place them in. One of the best things about freelancing is that it can offer dancers the opportunity to grow in areas of their dancing that they may not be offered to explore in their current or previous company.

After dancing in a large neo-classical company for 7 years, I found that I started to view my dancing based on the niche that my artistic director had placed me in. My training was based deeply in the Vaganova method. This is what I was taught at home and at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, even though I spent my last year branching out of that style at the School of American Ballet. I also spent my teenage years as a competition kid, training in every style from ballet to jazz to tap. I had a very varied upbringing. The first few years in this large company, I wasnt offered many opportunities to dance outside of the corps. But once I finally started to dance leading and featured roles, I was often only cast to dance in contemporary pieces (which I LOVE to perform). As time passed by and these were the only pieces that I was cast in, I would sit down with my boss and request to learn a role like "Bluebird" or "Peasant Pas de Deux." Usually these requests were overlooked or I was given an answer like "your lines are just not classical enough for this role." I would often think to myself, "I have more classical training than a lot of dancers in this Balanchine company." Alas, I never really got to perform any leading roles when the classical ballets came around. By the time that I had left the company, I had sworn off dancing classical ballets and was convinced that if I were given a variation to perform, I would slaughter every ounce of the piece.

I feel that one of the downsides of dancing in a full-time company is that people start to believe what the person in power believes about each dancer. I remember when I first joined PNB, there was one newer dancer that was often overlooked and considered one of the weaker dancers in the company. I would watch this dancer in class and thought to myself, they are actually very talented. I didn't understand why they were viewed by others in this light. When the artistic leadership transitioned and our new director came in, he offered this dancer one leading role. Within months, this dancer was dancing leading roles often. Other dancers started to voice that this dancer was extremely talented and, before they suddenly left the company to pursue another passion, they were probably on the verge of being promoted to soloist.

I look at this example and I try to apply it to myself often. Although every dancer wishes that they could be in control of their feelings and their confidence, often your confidence is only based on one person, with one opinion, in one company. This is what happened with me. I believed I was a contemporary dancer that also excelled in Balanchine ballets, but was completely incapable in the classics. After I left the place that created this image, I wasn't willing to push myself outside of this identity.

Once I began to freelance, I found that I was being offered work to perform classical pas de deux as often as I was being offered work in the contemporary field. I was very reluctant to accept an offer to perform a classical pas de deux, even with students. I just didn't have the confidence, nor the want to re-explore the land of classical ballet. Finally, I was offered an opportunity to perform that I just couldn't refuse. Nonetheless, I showed up to rehearse for this gig reluctant and quite nervous that the director was going to be upset that I was not of a professional caliber as a classical dancer. Luckily, she was very kind to me and gave me the liberty to choose my own variation and to tweek the pas de deux to my needs. Now that I felt more comfortable with my environment, it was time for me to follow through with my job and perform as best as I could. You can see how it went below:

Getting the chance to dance a classical role after spending so many years being denied the opportunity was actually quite gratifying in the end. Performing a role like this as a guest artist with a school was a great platform to reestablish the fact that I CAN dance classical ballets. There was a little less pressure on me than there would be performing on the stage of an opera house. But I feel that dancers often put a similar amount of pressure on themselves to perform well in any setting. After having this experience and a few more performing classical dances, I am fully confident now that I am capable of performing these works. It is hard to break the emotional pattern of being placed in a niche, when everybody around you starts to believe that you belong there. Through freelance dancing opportunities, I am able to challenge specific boundaries that others have placed upon me and that I have placed upon myself.


  1. This was very insightful and something that every dancer should read.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. This is a topic that I feel any dancer can really relate to, as we are often defined by opinion instead of fact. Please feel free to share and keep on reading!