SO YOU WANT TO BE A BALLET DANCER?
Making it in the rough & tumble world of professional ballet.
Jennifer Kronenberg has been a principal dancer with Miami City Ballet since 2001, for 10 years, with a ballet career spanning 15 years, and with this book aimed at students, young professionals and their parents she hopes to give practical information, to be a ‘friend’ and ‘big sister’ to young dancers with career questions who are embarking on a ballet career.
Here you have a dancer’s book of answers, and it gives a realistic view of life as a professional ballet dancer. Kronenberg’s experiences have been largely positive, and so is her book, but that’s not to say that a helping hand in difficult situations wouldn’t have been welcome. By offering you that helping hand, Kronenberg lifts the lid on the basics – how to tie your hair, how to behave backstage, how to look after your feet, stage make-up, and importantly, what to expect!
So…. “How to turn inspiration into perspiration?”
Kronenberg was inspired to dance by watching live performances but the magic on stage isn’t all it appears to be and there can be numerous unexpected challenges to overcome. For Kronenberg, the road became much tougher once she was accepted into a professional dance company, with the workload and the self-imposed pressure being more than she ever could have imagined. The transition from ballet student to professional is lightning fast – the contract is offered and accepted and suddenly, you’re in the largely unfamiliar world of a ballet company.
But first, the book is concerned with ballet school, and finding the right teacher. The right choice will depend on your level of commitment at that time, and Kronenberg advises that you observe a few classes, ask the teacher what her performing experience is, what her students have gone on to do and whether or not the school invites professional dancers to lecture/demonstrate. Kronenberg recommends starting at a smaller school where individual attention will be greater, and to enrol in a larger, professional (and more competitive) school later on, where entrance may depend on a successful audition. Kronenberg opted to stay in mainstream education, which was extremely hard on her, necessating longer hours through the night to complete assignments as well as fitting in ballet classes in the evenings, but the flip side was that it gave her parents some reassurance that she would have other options if the ballet career didn’t work out. Kronenberg goes on to advise how to prepare & present yourself for auditions, and her tip here is to arrive early and warm up thoroughly so that you can present yourself at your best as soon as barre begins – since barre is as important as centre work. There is some discussion on the dress code – and Kronenberg’s own dislike of pink tights – though she says that they offer a clearer view of muscle definition in the mirror than darker coloured tights. She is exceptionally honest about the discipline she applies to wearing chunky knits and legwarmers in class to warm up quickly – but not in rehearsal where she finds they encourage laziness when it comes to stretching her feet and knees if they are covered up. Appearance sends out a message about what sort of dancer you are – and it’s very important to consider your outfits; it’s part of the job. For example, if you throw something together and hate it all day, you’re not going to enjoy the process of looking in the mirror to correct yourself – all day. Kronenberg has a fantastic tip about recycling old tights into a homemade top which is perfect for dancers on a budget.
The chapter on pointe shoes beings with Kronenberg relating the story of when she put her pointe shoes in the oven. The on-going trial and error process of finding those Cinderella slippers isn’t easy, but it’s vital to persevere, however frustrating it becomes, because finding a correctly fitting shoe isn’t just cosmetic – they will help prevent injury and if they break down in the right areas because they fit well, they might even last longer. The best shoes are usually the more expensive ones – and the least durable. Kronenberg strongly advises that you should visit an experienced fitter, ideally with your teacher, and this advice is backed up by every professional that I’ve ever spoken to. I can’t over-emphasise its importance. Kronenberg learnt the hard way – through injury – by wearing someone else’s shoes to save money. She also learnt a tip from Elizabeth Platel – to tie the knot of the ribbons on the outside of the ankle (and not the inside, which almost everyone does). The line of the foot in tendu efface is better this way. As a professional, shoe care is critical – they must be performance ready; it’s unacceptable for a shoe to fall off during a show. Kronenberg offers a lot of tips on how to work on your pointe shoes.
Wearing pointe shoes for 6 hours a day means that you have to look after your feet. And men can also experience toe pain so Kronenberg’s advice is equally relevant. There are so many products designed to ease the discomfort of pointe shoes, but Kronenberg reminds you of the two most important things – not to alter the fit of the shoe and to maintain contact with the floor. Corns, blisters and bruised toenails are all covered in this chapter and there is another great tip – the pros use Anbesol (really for teeth) to numb the pain on toes and toenails.
Haircare is something else you’ll need to take on board, and a bun is most definitely not a bun. With photographs to show you the difference, Kronenberg explains the best grips to use and the way to go about taming your hair so that it always looks professional and suited to the rep that you are doing. Once you’ve mastered hair, your next challenge is stage make-up and doing it yourself. Kronenberg has special makeup that she uses for character roles but also goes through general basic technique and kit that will see you through most situations.
You might not be expecting a whole chapter dedicated to food, but there is. Kronenberg favours an “eating plan” as opposed to a “dieting plan” and that helps her to maintain her weight. There are suggestions for mealtimes, and a sample daily diet. The tip at the end of this chapter is to never eat less than 1400 calories/20 grams of fat per day (though boys may need to adjust this) as you’ll simply not have the energy that your body needs to work out at such high intensity. Also, Glutamine is a supplement (an amino acid) that helps to repair and restore muscles and so is useful for dancers.
Kronenberg describes a horrendous injury in time-lapse detail, but the positive message in the story is to look after your body & be smart – think about Pilates, Gyrotonics, yoga, Kettle-bell and any other ways of developing strength in weaker areas.
It’s hard to get to the top, but it’s even harder staying there, and Kronenberg offers some wise words about taking time out, dealing with stress, scrutiny, competition and panic attacks. Find a past-time and gain some perspective, and relax.
Being stage savvy is a given – and Kronenberg gives you the tools of the trade so that your first time on stage isn’t remembered for all the wrong reasons. As you’d expect by now, Kronenberg recalls an embarrassing gaffe in her early years which you now have the benefit of learning from. There is also a great list of backstage basics.
The final chapter is about ballet for boys –so don’t feel that this book isn’t for you unless you are a budding ballerina.
A glossary of terms and the advantages of studying ballet at any level round off this book.
Kronenberg’s book answers so many of the questions that I’m always asked, that I’ll be recommending this as my book of choice in future. It’s entertaining, realistic and practical – that big sister that you’d like to have beside you but for whatever reason, don’t have.
Jennifer’s book is available through Barnes & Noble, and Amazon (below), with more outlets planned.
Read my interivew with Jennifer Kronenberg
About Jennifer Kronenberg
Principal dancer Jennifer Kronenberg was born in Queens, New York where she trained with Teresa Aubel, Nicholas Orloff, Norman Walker, and Barbara Walczack. She continued her studies on scholarship at the School of American Ballet before joining Miami City Ballet as an apprentice in 1994 at the age of 17. She moved steadily through the ranks and was named Principal dancer in 2001. Ms. Kronenberg has danced many leading roles; some of her favorites include Balanchine’s “Rubies“, Who Cares?, Allegro Brillante, Duo Concertante, Sonatine, Swan Lake, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto, as well as the classics – Grand Pas Classique, Coppélia, Don Quixote, Giselle, and John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet . Also in her repertoire are numerous Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp works. She danced at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997, and at the Jacob’s Pillow and Aspen Festivals, Torino Danza Festival in Italy, the Kennedy Center’s International Ballet Festival, and the Vail International Dance Festival, and most recently at the NYC City Center’s Fall for Dance performance series. In March 2011 she will be featured on PBS’s Great Performances “Dance in America: Miami City Ballet Dances Balanchine and Tharp”. She has also been featured on numerous occasions in Pointe Magazine, Dance ViewTimes, and Dance Spirit Magazine, graced the cover of DANCE Magazine’s October 2010 issue and was the subject of its feature article. Most recently, she wrote the “From the Heart: Why I Dance” essay for DANCE Magazine’s April 2011 issue.
Kronenberg has been a regular teacher for the Miami City Ballet Summer Intensive Program for the last several years, and has also been a guest teacher with Ballet Arts of Jackson Tennessee, El Ballet de Monterrey Curso de Verano, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Ballet Chicago, among many others.