Pro Tips for a Successful School Year

School-year pointers for the serious ballet student 

From Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School graduate student to company soloist, dancer Gabrielle Thurlow has discovered that hard work and unwavering passion yield high results. As serious ballet students head back to the studio, Thurlow shares her pro tips for maximizing your school year and staying inspired. 

From a PBT School student to a soloist, what skills have you mastered? How have you grown?
Since becoming a soloist, I have learned the importance of grit. I’ve learned that casting should not affect how hard you work. You may not always get the role you hoped, but that does not mean you should give up. There is always going to be someone better than you. But instead of feeling defeated, use that to fuel you. Hard work does pay off, whether that is sooner or later. I’ve always loved ballet class, and I use it every morning to get my body and mind going in the right direction.”  

Looking back on your time as a full-time ballet student, what advice would you give your younger self…or any serious ballet student?
“I would advise a younger student to watch a lot of different dancers. There’s so much you can learn from watching people. You can decide what you like and what you don’t. Try to discover why you like a certain dancer, but maybe not another as much. Then, try to implement what you like on your own technique, while finding a way to make it your own. Remember what you did not find beautiful and try to make sure you don’t form bad habits.”

As a student, what did you do outside of class to maximize your experience?
“As a student, I would seek out lots of corrections, which I still do today. I like to have different people watch my rehearsals because they give different feedback. Also, even if a different person suggests the same thing, they might say it in a different way. It may then “click” better with me. If no one is available to me, I will sometimes record myself. This can often be difficult to watch, as I am usually my own worst critic, but it does help me see things to try to improve.” 

How do you increase your flexibility and strength now as a professional?
“I do a lot of Pilates and cardio work, which I still find very useful today. Pilates works the deep intrinsic muscles in our bodies, which are so important for ballet. It stretches and strengthens at the same time.  It also works your alignment, which I believe helps avoid injuries. Cardio is good for building and maintaining stamina, which is important for various repertoire.”

What were your goals and challenges as a student? What are they now?
“My goal as a student was to become a professional in a ballet company. I was fortunate enough to get hired at PBT.  Now my goal is to continue to improve my artistry and technique. This is a constant battle, because there is always room to grow.  With new roles come new challenges and different steps to work on. I am less comfortable in adagio, so I often find myself working on stability and control.”

As a student, what motivated or inspired you during the school year?
“As a student, the allure of company life was my motivation. I love the art form so much that the thought of making it my career was so inspiring. Getting to that point was a lot of work. I danced full-time as a student and spent my evenings working as a server in a restaurant. However, I never thought of giving up because I had so much passion for it.”  

When you’ve had a tough day, mentally or physically, how do you bounce back?
“Although I do love ballet, it can often be challenging, both physically and mentally. After a particularly tough day, I try to get out of my head and leave the studio behind. I find it helpful to take a long walk with my dog and talk things out with someone I’m close with. For me, it’s important to have someone that supports me, and I’m grateful to have several of those people in my life.” 

What are your dance bag essentials?
 “Toe spacers (corn prevention!), water bottle, snacks, leg warmers and extra pointe shoes.”