the {whole} dancer

but-julie-kent-says-that-her-3-copyOne of the topics I spend a lot of time complaining about discussing here on Setting The Barre is the mental strength required in professional ballet.  Dancers are faced with a bevy of intellectual choices every day, the results of which will effect them physically and emotionally- both long and short term.  As time goes on and ballet evolves, more and more is being expected of young dancers, from seemingly unattainable technique to tear-provoking artistry.  But, with the increasing of the years (I see you, 2016), comes an increase in resources available to us in the ballet world.  Can you imagine a ballet career supported by a community of artists all experiencing a similar lifestyle, led by an informed and caring coach?  Jessica Spinner, creator of The Whole Dancer, can, and today she’s here to share that vision with us…


The Whole Dancer coach and creator, Jessica Spinner, in her dancing days

Kirsten:  Hi Jess! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your exciting new program with us. First could you tell us a bit about yourself and your dance background?

Jess:  I started dancing late, around age 12, at The American Theatre Dance Workshop, the official school of the Eglevsky Ballet. I spent summers at the Kirov Academy, Boston Ballet, NCSA, ABT in New York, and Orlando Ballet on scholarship. I went on to study Dance and Arts Administration at Butler University. Upon graduation, I started dancing with the Louisville Ballet, but after a few years, missed being on the east coast so much I moved to Boston and started freelancing. During my time in Boston, a severe Sesamoid injury ultimately ended my professional dancing career.

K:  So you transitioned.  What inspired you to start this unique community for dancers?

J:  I started Health Coaching in 2013 as a generalist. It was really wonderful helping women of varying backgrounds find health and balance, but something was missing.

There was this inkling in the back of my mind that I should be working with dancers because I so deeply understood what they deal each day. Looking back, my years dancing were profoundly imbalanced and unhealthy and I did not deal well with the pressure I was putting on myself or feeling from artistic directors.

I decided to reach out to friends who are still in the dance world or those who have recently retired just to make absolutely sure I was not alone in struggling with major insecurities as a dancer. The overwhelming response was that my colleagues could have benefitted so greatly from a coaching program. And so, The Whole Dancer was founded.


TWD member Amber Ray, professional level student at the John Cranko Schule in Stuttgart, Germany

K:  What exactly is The Whole Dancer program?

J:  The Whole Dancer is an 8–week group program created to help dancers learn skills outside the studio (that can be applied inside the studio) to help them have healthier, more balanced careers. The information is divided into 6 modules including vision and goal setting, eating well, cross–training, personal assessment, self love/care and career development.

I have found that these are areas where dancers could use more guidance and they don’t often get it in the school or company setting. Unless they have a dedicated mentor or coach with a dance background, dancers must navigate a lot of stress alone.


TWD member Abby Zinsser, professional level student at Richmond Ballet

K:  Being enrolled in the fall session of TWD, I really loved listening to your webinars. The discussions felt so relatable and specific to the needs of a ballet dancer. Which aspect of the program has been the most rewarding in your opinion? 

J:  So much of TWD Program has been so rewarding – I would say my favorite thing has been getting to know each dancer personally. Hearing from them that a worksheet or call opened their eyes to something new and how helpful it was fills my heart with joy.  Staying in touch with TWD Program participants and celebrating their successes together or coaching them through rejections gives me a great sense of purpose.

Teaming up with other dancers and hearing how supportive they are of The Whole Dancer’s objectives is also incredibly inspiring. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Shelby Elsbree of Boston Ballet, former Colorado ballet dancer Casey Dalton, and Lauren King, Soloist with NYCBallet- to name a few.


TWD mentor and Boston Ballet dancer Shelby Elsbree, shot by Kenneth B Edwards

K: I’m such a big Shelby fan.  A lovely person both inside and out, her contributions have been so spot on.  What else can dancers expect to get out of this program?

J: Through The Whole Dancer Program, dancers can expect to find greater confidence and assuredness in their abilities and futures.

They will learn skills that will be valuable throughout their careers and even into life after dance. I hope for participants to feel supported not only by me as their coach and Shelby as a mentor, but also by the strong community of their fellow dancers participating in the program.


TWD member Amber Ray

K: That’s pretty exciting!  How can dancers get involved?

J:  Sign up for The Whole Dancer Program!  Or, for dancers who are already at a balanced, established and happy place in their dance careers and would like to share how they got there with a younger generation, reach out. If you would like to share what you’ve learned in a blog post or webinar I would LOVE to collaborate.

K: So, what’s next for The Whole Dancer?

J: On January 5 there will be a no – cost webinar on “Fearless Auditioning”. Whether dancers are going out for summer program auditions or company spots I hope to touch on some important ways to make this a successful and fun audition season!

The next 8-week session of The Whole Dancer Program begins on January 20. Enrollment is ongoing through January 17, 2016. The program can also be purchased as a gift for your dancer friends through December 23!

The second round of The Whole Dancer Program features a couple of new options for additional one–on–one coaching support. The BASIC program includes all community information and group seminar calls. The PRO option includes basic features plus feedback on all worksheets and the ELITE option includes basic and pro features as well as 2 one on one coaching calls. This option is a great way to have additional support in implementing the feedback you receive and finding major success in a short amount of time.

One of the elements of the January 16’ session that I am most jazzed about is the participation of Shelby Elsbree. Miss Elsbree will serve as an additional coach and mentor during the career module. Every time I’ve worked with Shelby, her insights have been profound and I am thrilled to team up with her for this upcoming program.

The Whole Dancer is constantly evolving and my ultimate goal is to serve the needs of dancers to the best of my ability. Future offerings will always reflect the feedback I receive from program participants and one on one coaching clients.

Thanks again, Jess!  If you’d like more information on The Whole Dancer, head on over to the website here.

Register for the January 2016

movement exchange


 When I decided to sign up for my first dance class, at the ripe age of 2, it never occurred to me how much of a privilege this was.  As I galloped across the floor from one bubblegum pink wall to another, my intrinsic love for movement was sprouting into something tangible and my dance education, though mostly heel taps and frog leaps, began to blossom.  During these early years, dance lessons allowed me to express myself and as I matured, I began to identify more and more as a “dancer”.  Somewhere between my early withdrawal from Brownies (pre-Girl Scout status) and my first pair of pointe shoes, dancing evolved from something I did to everything I was. Little did I know, thousands of children possessed this innate urge to move but lacked the resources to explore and expand it.

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Fast forward 20 years to the present, I now dance professionally, and sharing my experiences through this blog has become as much a part of my identity as ballet itself.   Continue reading



A few weeks ago, a student asked for some fashion advice for an upcoming audition photoshoot.  So of course I let my enthusiasm run wild, loading her up with a pile of Yumiko’s and perhaps an overwhelming amount of opinions on wrap skirts and practice tutus…woops.  The following week, however, as I bounced into the studio to rehearse for this, I threw open my locker and was smacked in the eyeballs with the most beautiful watercolored card.  The vibrant bowing ballerina was bested only by an enormously touching note tucked in the fold behind her.  I could hardly believe how much my advice had been appreciated.

Having grown up in the very same school/company setting in which I am now employed, sometimes it’s hard for me to distinguish that line between past and present, disciple and docent.  Sometimes I forget what it felt like to be slightly afraid of the company dressing room, a place now as essential to my morning ritual as my daily cup of English Breakfast tea.  The memories of sitting front row at The Vets, soaking up every second of the company’s performance, fade further away every season.  That aching for the artistic director to select me and my eager feet to deliver flowers to the principles after a show only revisits me when I accept those flowers from a new crop of fervent feet.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself.  Am I really on the other side now?  With my first day of work rapidly approaching (TOMORROW!), it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore how lucky I feel to do something so gratifying.  It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that this opportunity is not afforded to many.

When I received a plea on the STB Facebook page to assist a teenage girl in her path to professionalism with Dutch National Ballet, I felt so compelled.  Her commute to ballet school puts an extreme stress on the family (something any ballet student can relate to) and, like many social media-savvy folks in need, Avah is reaching out to the interwebs for support.  I have donated to her cause, and would like to share the link to her campaign video here, in case you may feel as inclined as I to help a young girl live her dream.