keeping up


Things have been a bit quiet around here lately. Please excuse the lack of communication; this past month was one of the strangest rehearsal periods of my entire career. Even with the company’s financial footing growing sturdier each year, unexpected setbacks inevitably arise. In coping with unpredictable cashflow, the past few weeks have been a cycle of 4 days on, 3 days off. We were forced into a work schedule of rehearse Wednesday-Saturday, rest Sunday-Tuesday, and repeat. Rehearse, rest, repeat. We’ve explored ways to deal with the stress of lengthy layoffs before, but what happens when layoffs creep into your regular routine?

Mid-season layoffs (we’ve also had a full week off after almost every program this season) are frustrating. Studio time is limited, precious rehearsal hours are coveted. I’d even go as far to say (bear with me) that my identity feels compromised. Without the work behind it, the art of dancing is lost. While I’ve learned to survive that loss during the summer months (re: rest and rosé) mid-season layoffs offer another obstacle entirely. It’s this loaded task of keeping in shape with less dancing time, as well as performing at the extraordinary level expected by the audience who- unless they are reading this post- should know no difference in your preparation experience. It’s easy to fall into a monotonous routine of class, gym, sleep- a truly depressing cocktail for any supposed artiste.

Leaving our surprise layoff period behind, we head into 3 consecutive 6-day show weeks. It will be a welcomed but admittedly difficult and abrupt transition. What an interesting thing to have a job wherein the overriding upset of time off is not the lack of income (which stings- don’t get me wrong), but the lack of the work itself. The first step to coping with such a circumstance is recognizing the beauty in that blessing. The next steps (suggestions, really) are slightly more hands on…

  1. Get away. Escape to Maine, road trip to Connecticut, watch the sun set in another state (thank you New England and your mosaic boarders).
  2. Explore. Try a new recipe, a new form of cross-training, a new craft.
  3. Take the long way home. Linger on the ordinary. You’ve got time.
  4. Journal. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed non-journaler, it’s healthy to document these uncomfortable parts of your life. I promise you will learn something.
  5. Trust your instincts. Listen to your body. Know when to experiment and learn when to relax.
  6. Practice patience. For all things, there is a season. This too shall pass.

frustrations & fixes

Ugh, January, man.  Am I right?

The mornings are dark, the days are short, and the nights are cold.  The wind makes up for all that whipping it spared us of in August with a ferocious vengeance.  What did we ever do to you, January?  We tried to pretend this was the start of a new year for you (even though deep down we all know September wears that honor).  We made resolutions and bought healthy ingredients and mixed up a big batch of excellent intentions for you.  We even vowed to go easier on ourselves if you chose to disapprove of our freshly reconstructed goals for betterment.  So what gives?

These days I’m feeling TIRED.  Not just normal sleepy, but the weird, haggard, larthargic kind that leaves you feeling unmotivated to push yourself during the work day, let alone cross training when rehearsals have ended.  My energy seems to have been packed up with the Christmas decorations, dashed away with Dancer and Prancer and the rest of the holiday jazz.  Despite my energy’s lack of participation, though, the days keep rolling on (is it really January 22nd?), and a girl’s gotta get going.  So with the grievances of dreadful January (wait, wasn’t it dreamy just a few weeks ago?) officially aired, it is time for a few fixes in the form of things that are making me smile on these dark and chilly days…

this baby’s breathDSC07341…for allowing me to channel my inner Tatte.

these eggsDSC07493…because they are some of the first from my brother’s chickens and the cuteness of that little blue one makes me feel all gooey.

this monday morningDSC07468…because I moved my bed to a new wall and the morning light is magic.

this roseDSC07462…because I smile every. single. time. I see it.

this homemade granolaDSC07506…because it’s the season of treats so dang it, treat yoself and yo friends.

jitters & rituals

Before an especially nerve-wracking performance, I listen to Eminem’s Lose Yourself.  I’m not proud of it, but when I first began competing at Youth America Grand Prix in 2004, Hailie was 8 years old, 8 Mile was still (sort of) relevant, and the rap anthem’s carpe minutam memorandum wound my nerves into sanction.  What can I say?  Slim Shady did and does provide my chill.  Everyone has their rituals, and today we’re peeking into the pre-show mind of The Joffrey Ballet’s Mahallia Ward to spy on hers…IMG_2950

MW: Before my first performance of the season, as I was reacquainting myself with pre-show rituals and jitters, I became highly aware of the annoying and almost comical amount of nervous chatter occupying my mind. I alternated between fruitless attempts at calm, and moments of amused observation:

“It’ll feel so good to be on stage again. Dress rehearsal was bad so…that’s good right? Whatever, don’t think about it…What to eat…? Just relax, you got this. You’re a pro…yeah right…no you are. Shut up.

“Ugh! Adrenaline my old friend, I don’t like you. What use are my legs in a fight or flight situation if they have melted into puddles of jelly??! C’mon, strength, energy…Just breathe…ahh yes…oh this would make a cool blog post! This is what you love. This is the fun part! Enjoy it! Just rip up the stage! But take it easy. No stress. But it’s normal to stress, everyone’s stressing inside. So don’t worry. You should probably reinforce the ribbons on your shoes one more time though, just to be sure…

Ok these shoes only have to last one. more. show. Crap they’re buckling. Grrr. Time to plank…60, 59, 58, 57… Nice. Remember just breathe…this is no. big. deal. Just pretend you do this all the time, like you have something way harder to do tomorrow. This is nothing. A breeze! A breezy breeze. Should I pee one more time?

And on and on…
IMG_2915IMG_2947The nerves come with the gig, but I find performing much more enjoyable when I am able to relax and quieten this high strung inner dialogue. 

Here are some ideas to help de-stress and prepare mentally for the stage.

1) Take a nap. During the break between rehearsals and show time, one can find a number of Joffrey’s dancers sprawled out beneath their dressing tables, zipped to the chin in warmups, refueling with some zzz’s.

2) Get out of the building. After rehearsing in a dark theater all day, a dose of fresh air and natural light help me clear my mind and feel energized.

3) Pull out your favorite mindless craft. During our run of The Nutcracker one can find dancers sitting on the pt room floor, make-up half finished, surrounded by crayons and Nutcracker themed coloring pages. Sometimes it helps to focus on staying within the lines rather than worry about (enter favorite performance nightmare here). Crocheting also does the trick. And these coloring books are awesome.

4. Take a shower. A hot shower before a show is like magic. It’s warming, relaxing and makes hair easier to twist. It’s a great way to “reset” and freshen up before going on stage.

5) Give yourself lots of makeup time. For me, putting on my stage makeup is like a meditation. Doing a clean job helps me feel prepared and beautiful and centered in my character. Allowing lots of time minimizes smudges and spills and the stress of sticky eyelash situations.


For more tips and tricks, head over here.

all photos by Mahallia Ward.

life in motion


Recently, my days have been a bit freer than I’d like them.

Our first program is beautiful, but small, and my roles rather brief.  Though productive to a fault and never one to complain about free time (hello, homework!), I’ve been fighting to keep this light rehearsal schedule from affecting me emotionally.  I don’t like to admit it, but my relatively dance-less days have been getting me down.

Fortunately, as if sent by the gods of interweb revelations, this blog post made its way to my browser in the peak of last week’s pity party.  One  paragraph and a few sips of chamomile later, something remarkable had happened; Through the shared struggle of someone a thousand miles away, my spirits were lifted.  I felt a strong connection to a dancer whom I’ve never actually met (thanks for that, technology) and the emotional slump we were experiencing together, but apart, suddenly seemed a whole lot more manageable.  Mahallia’s grace, in both words and dancing, reminded me just how strongly the prosperity of my mental health relies on expression through physical movement.  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in ballet’s brain game that I forget to simply enjoy the inherent therapy in motion.


I found the above quote taped into my new locker at the start of this season.  An excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet left behind by an over-thinking dancer of the past, these ten lines felt wholly uniting.  They seem to be speaking directly to us- those who move to live, those completed by their career, those who find themselves making a living which makes them right back.

If ever you catch yourself toiling in the unsolved answers, I invite you to stop.  Stop looking ahead.  Stop searching for solutions.  So curiosity may drive an exciting ambition, but why not experiment with that potent thirst?  Direct it towards the questions themselves, and dedicate some time to examining what it is you’re asking.  Relish in the observance of negative space, of blank pages, and empty hours.  Experience the unraveling.  Live the questions.

End rant.  Happy Monday!

first photo by Michael Collins.

striking a balance


Earlier this summer, I hopped a bus to NYC to visit a friend temporarily in town from the Royal Danish Ballet. Seven years had passed since our bonding at Jacob’s Pillow but! thanks to the joys of social media, there was a strong sense of uninterrupted connection between us.  If not in a multi-paragraph message framed in Facebook Blue, than through the remarkably vivid  612×612-pixel window of good old Instagram, over the years we shared in our adventuring.  We watched each other grow.  Separate, but together.

At long last on a rooftop above Brooklyn, pocketed by twinkle lights, we reunited.  The alfresco table was beset with blondes, some faces familiar and some new.  Among those whose acquaintance I’d only just made was the delightful Miss Shelby Elsbree.


As the sun slipped away, we loaded up on fresh mussels, al dente pasta, and July-ripened artichokes.  Basketballs abounded, flirtatious chefs offered shots and the rosé seemed to reappear endlessly.  We discussed Copenhagen, Boston, Providence, Bournonville, Forsythe and Balanchine.  Collectively reliving old romances, mulling over the merits of dating apps and fantasizing future travels we filled the gaps between our cities with easy communication and the breaking of bread.

The notoriously small nature of the ballet world felt tangible on that breezy New York evening and again this past weekend, when Jessica Spinner of The Whole Dancer reached out to me about her webinar on eating and injury prevention for dancers.  The internet seminar, live on August 27th at 8 pm (or whenever it hits your inbox- all who register will receive a copy of the discussion via email) is completely free and features none other than, that’s right, Boston Ballet Corps Member, Shelby Elsbree.


Balancing strength and artistry seems a fitting topic for Miss Elsbree, a spirited pint of a person whose energy supersedes her.  The collection of “culinary curiosities” and bits of ballerina life comprising her blog, Tutus & Tea, showcases her unique ability to maintain a harmony between the two.  Here, in her lovely little corner of the web, Shelby proves she has as much grace and power in the kitchen as she does in the studio.


Avoiding injury as a professional dancer is hard.  Cultivating a healthy relationship with food can be, too.  That essential, deeply personal balance between dance and life often alludes us.  To steal Shelby’s secrets, register for the free webinar (live one week from tonight), and join as she and holistic health coach, Jessica Spinner, navigate the twisting road towards a protective and empowering dancer diet.  Learn how to decipher primary and secondary foods, choose superfoods when recovering from an injury, and experiment with an eating plan to reach your ideal dancer’s body.  Nourish your body and mind.  Your tastebuds (and injury-free bod!) will thank you.

photos by Kenneth B. Edwards.

how to: beat the monday blues


Happy Monday, all!  A few fun reads from around the web to get you through the world’s most dreaded weekday…

Ballet is Boring. (ha.)

The truth about ballet dancers. (amen)

The best kinda bread-bread ever. (looks so strange, and so yummy)

A love letter to my strained left hamstring. (made me laugh)

Ballet 422 is on Netflix. (what are you waiting for?)

Julie Kent just retired to a 30-minute standing ovation. (#endofanera)

Why I photograph dancers. (so much love for Kenneth, his photography, and his mission)




photo 3

It seems my last post (the one where we discussed negativity) was relatable for more of you than I had anticipated.  Since so many were able to identify with the struggle of controlling interloping thoughts that are anything but happy, I thought it would be nice to share some tricks to keeping yourself balanced outside of the studio.

For the first installation of this balancing-act how-to, I’d like to focus on creating a zen space.  Having an area to yourself designated purely to relaxation and restoration is key to maintaining a healthy mind and body.  Much like a mom-to-be nesting in preparation of her baby’s arrival, I find immense satisfaction in building a nest of my own.  I’ve shared just a few photos of my new apartment previously (which I regularly refer to as the coziest place on earth), but my favorite spot therein has slowly become my bedroom.  I’ve been taking my time putting it together, adding special elements to up its relaxation factor.  A few things that are currently making it extra-snug…

A new mattress from Santa.  One word: plush.  And new sheets, too, because comfort is an extravagance I do not play around with.

String lights in leu of a headboard.  The soft glow of these warm lights makes me feel like I’m wrapped up in a warm blanket- perfect for lazy Sunday mornings spent blogging from my bed.  More fun lighting options here.

Heavenly scented candles. There’s something so comforting about the flicker of a candle.  I once told a friend that when I’m alone, I like to keep a candle burning because it’s subtle movement serves the same “white noise” purpose as a soft radio playing in the background of an empty house;  Its delicate dance creates a buffer between the apartment and me, filling the air with just a bit of motion produced by some source other than myself, and strangely enough, I feel less alone.  My friend looked at me like I was 100% crazy and we moved on, but I’m sticking to my story.  My favorite scents are this (whose sexy smell has earned it the nickname “man candle” amongst my friends and me) and this classic.

Artwork with personal meaning.  When I arrived home after opening night of Peter Pan last spring, there was a package for me at the door.  A very dear friend of mine who lives out of state had thoughtfully sent over a beautiful print depicting one of my favorite quotes from J.M. Barrie’s timeless story- “Just always be waiting for me”.  It’s deep hue and night sky theme make it perfect for hanging just above my bed, and every time I see it I am reminded not only of that magical performance weekend, but also of my lovely friend and her sweet gesture.  I also have a print from Viktor Plotnikov’s Orchis hanging near my bed to remind me of another favorite show.

Something uniquely “me”.  It’s obvious by now, I’m sure, how much Peter Pan means to me.  When I first saw the Haptic Lab “Wendy Darling” kite at the Catbird boutique in Brooklyn, my eyes turned into animated red hearts a la this infamous emoji.  It’s so light and ethereal, and with it hanging right above my bed, I am tugged back to a time where innocence prevailed and I imagined my dreams being carried from Neverland to my bedroom in an enchanted floating ship.  It’s eclectic, it’s strange, it’s a kite hanging in my home- but it’s me and I love it.

So, I’d love to know, do any of you nest like me?

PS- check out my new “Muse” status on the gwenythbrand website ;)

on negative thoughts


“Live through consciousness, not through emotion.”  -my Yogi tea this evening

Everyone has bad days.  You know, those days where you sleep through your alarm, you spill your coffee, and you search for your keys for 15 minutes before realizing they have been in your pocket all along.

For dancers, though, a bad day extends far beyond the typical coffee stain.  When a dancer is having a bad day (and believe me, we have plenty!), it usually means we are hyper focused on our flaws, tearing our technique apart, and subsequently hating what we see in the mirror…ultimately, as you can imagine, this is completely crippling.  But not surprising, considering we spend our days and nights striving for perfection, fighting physics and forcing our bodies to move, balance, hold, turn, twist, and stretch in ways that seem impossible upon first attempt.  Popular belief states that dancers possess a superior mental and emotional strength which permits tolerance of this extreme discipline, and I agree, but even within the confines of these “thick skins”, weak moments do exist.  There are times when we feel that all of these efforts are in vain and negative thoughts swirl around like angry wasps, stinging at our pride.  My feet are too flat, I’ll never have her extension, my boobs are too big, I can’t land a triple…these wasps are vicious and completely detrimental to any possibility of improvement.  So what’s a dancer to do when they come swarming?  Here’s my advice…

1.)  Stop comparing yourself to others.  I recently received an email from a student wondering how to boost her self-confidence in the studio.  One situation in which she feels especially negative, she noted, is when she watches older students in her class, attempts to replicate their movements, fails, and ends up in a downward spiral of self-hatred.  If this sounds familiar to any of you, please remember this: ballet is not a “team sport”.  It is a highly individual practice, and your training is a constantly evolving journey that you are on.  Sure, your teachers, parents, peers and muses are there influencing you along the way, but your dancing concerns you and you alone.  We tend to see the best of talents in others and the worst aspects of ourselves, so comparing yourself to other dancers (especially older, more experienced ones) will only serve to hurt your ego.  So stop that!

2.)  Try changing up your look.  The easiest way to trick your mind into cheering up?  Give your eyes something you know they’ll enjoy seeing in the mirror- maybe a new leotard or a pretty headband– to turn turn those pesky wasps into butterflies.  A few days ago I was having the worst class I’ve had in a while.  Before rehearsal began, I took down my hair from its usual high bun and slicked it into a deeply side-parted one and instantly felt like a new person.  Try it.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

3.)  Give yourself a break.  As I mentioned earlier, technically speaking, ballet is outside the human body’s natural parameters.  If you don’t get it right away, don’t stress.  Some things will come easily, others will require hours of focus, stretching, practice, and yes, repetition before they feel remotely doable.  Be patient, and don’t beat yourself up.

4.)  Make small goals.  I learned this trick in my kickboxing class.  Instead of deciding you simply must nail 32 fouettés by the end of the week, start with 8.  Then 16.  Then 24…by breaking down the process, your goal won’t seem so frustratingly unattainable, and each checkpoint will feel like a major accomplishment.  The small successes will bolster your spirits, providing you with the fuel to reach higher and work harder.

5.)  Practice affirmations.  I have a very good friend who swears by self-affirmations, also known as sweet nothings whispered (or better yet, spoken loudly with conviction) to one’s self each day in the mirror.  It may feel strange at first, but studies show that sending your brain these positive reinforcements triggers a growth in confidence and an improvement in overall mental health.  You is kind, you is smart, you is important…

A dancer’s most important relationship is that between the dancer’s mind and body.  Maintaining a healthy balance of love and support between the two is vital.  I’d love to know, how do you stay positive when things aren’t going your way?

on drowsy dancers


Recently, I received an email from a young ballet student seeking advice and thought it might be constructive to share my response with all of you here.  See, Caitlin’s inquiries on combatting exhaustion around performance times and pesky interloping negative thoughts about her dancing may feel completely isolating, but they are actually shared by almost all dancers- even professionals!

Today, let’s  focus on how we’re spending our time outside of rehearsal, and more specifically, the time we spend with our feet up and our eyes closed.  Let me start by saying this: feeling drowsy during a performance weekend is completely normal.  Although the hours are often shorter and an adjusted schedule might allow you to sleep in a bit, this slight change to your daily routine may be the real culprit contributing to your sluggish state.

Performance weeks are full of long rehearsals, nerves, excitement, anxiety, preparation…the list of sleep-stifling obstructions goes on.  Even if you fell asleep the minute your just de-blushed cheek hits the pillow, you still wake up the next day feeling super groggy, and guess what?  There’s a scientific reason for that.  When we feel our bodies need extra rest and our work schedules finally shift to allow it, oversleeping seems like the obvious choice, but catching too many zzz’s throws off a group of cells in our brains that are responsible for internal rhythms.  These cells are the same ones tasked in controlling hunger, thirst, and sweat, and their pacemaker-like-system is what keeps the body’s energy levels steady throughout the day.  Since they rely on a natural rhythm, changing this schedule can break the whole cycle, leaving you feeling less rested, despite the extra shut eye.

Furthermore, the sleep we engage in during performance time may not be as restful as we think.  If you’re anything like me, performance time means late nights in the theater, returning home past my bedtime for a zombie-like shower and a night of less-than-stellar sleep.  Also- and I’m going to try this in the least corny way possible- after leaving the stage, I have a complete buzz: an electricity running through my entire body that doesn’t seem to have a simple on/off switch.  It can be extremely difficult to transition from using your body’s full physical potential to letting it be still for 8 uninterrupted hours.  To aid in this shift of energy, I have taken to decompressing a bit before jumping straight into bed: I’ll soak my sore feet in epsom salts, sip a cup of calming chamomile tea, and reflect on the past day and tomorrow’s tasks, so that when it does come time to crawl into bed, I can let my mind be free.

Whew- that was a lot of information- but what to do about it?  Well, in my (unofficial) opinion, the best thing you can do for your body during performance time is establish healthy habits in your daily life and simply maintain them throughout the run of a show.  This means always getting 8 hours of sleep per night, eating clean foods that provide energy, drinking a lot of water, and finding quiet moments to rest your mind.  Find places to rest slightly and breathe during your performance, and conserve energy offstage by taking it easy as much as possible.

I hope this has been helpful for some of you!  Next time, I’ll give some insight into fighting off negativity- a huge struggle of my own.  If you have any more questions or topics you’d like me to cover, or something to add to the discussion, feel free to comment below.



photo by Cemal Ekin.

tips & tricks

Labor day parties have been had and hungover, the first brisk evening of the season greeted us last night here in RI, and like it or not we are more than a week into September.  Do you know what that means?  Back to school ballet!  With the new season fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite tips and tricks for making studio life a bit easier.


1. Bent Bobby Pins.  To create Wendy Darling’s intricate braided hairstyle for Peter Pan last season, mucho de bobby pins were stuck into my head.  The only thing was, the pesky little braids kept slipping out from under those teeny metal mouths.  Thank goodness my dressing room buddy/long time role model, Emily Bromberg of Miami City Ballet, showed me this trick.  We took all of my bobby pins and bent them a bit in the middle, creating a slight arch that tightens the middle of the pin and makes it very difficult for hair to slip through.  If you have straight hair light mine, this trick is especially helpful!  The design also works even better if you use the pins the way they are actually supposed to be used, flat side up, contrary to popular belief that the ridged side sits on top.


2. Rescue Remedy Spray.  I have never been a nervous dancer.  Save for my one experience doing Solo Girl in Agon two seasons ago, stage fright has kept its distance from me throughout my entire dancing career, which I credit mostly to my competition-baby past.  But even though I’m not freaking out, throwing up or losing sleep before a big performance, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t appreciate a little extra relaxation prior to hitting the stage.  A few of my friends swear by Bach’s Rescue Remedy, and last season I finally gave in and decided to try it.  I was amazed by how much more control I felt on stage!  My pirouettes were smoother and my cheeks were much less shaky- a strange side effect to being tense that I never thought I’d get rid of.  A few spritzes on the tongue 20 minutes before a performance, and you’re cool as a cucumber!  Just don’t go overboard- this stuff does contain a small amount of alcohol, and nobody wants to be drunk in a tutu…pick it up at Whole Foods or any health food store.


3. 2nd Skin Squares.  These little puppies save my life when blister or corn disasters strike.  They are technically burn pads, but these rubbery blue squares work wonders for all types of raw ballerina foot ailments.  And they are super cheap on Amazon.  Grab a tub of these and you’ll be the most popular girl in the locker room.


4. The Tights Bra.  There is no way to make this thing look attractive, but boy does it make magic happen.  For bustier bunheads like myself, the average leotard just does not offer adequate support.  Take an old(ish, but not too stretched out) pair of tights and cut off the legs, leaving yourself a bit of length to work with.  Following the shape of your favorite leotard neckline, cut out the top of your bra, using the crotch area as a head hole.   Remember to be careful, those straps will thin out as soon as you put it on, so always go slightly thicker than you’d like.  Pop this guy on underneath your leotard and BOOM.  Sturdier bust.  Those babies are down for the count.  You’re welcome.