by Cara Marie Gary
In prepping for the theater today, I was reminded of a beloved teacher and started thinking of the insight she’s given me over the years. My earliest memory of her advice was when I was fourteen years old, competing in the VI Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition. It was the first time I had left the United States and traveled without my parents. I was immersed into a new culture and language while being severely jet-lagged from a lengthy flight to Kiev, Ukraine. But most importantly, this was the first time I learned an important lesson from someone I cherish dearly in the dance world.
It was during the first classical round of the competition that my coach, Vlada Kysselova, taught me a lesson I will never forget. I had finished performing the Aurora/Act III variation from Sleeping Beauty and had to quickly change into a different tutu for my second variation. While transitioning into the Satanella costume, I felt a snag and heard a noise that made me cringe. I lifted the layers of tulle and saw a huge hole and run down the front of my pink tights! Vlada calmly looked at me and told me to go get my other pair. I sheepishly told her that those tights were the only ones I had brought to the theater. In this moment, the look on Vlada’s face taught me to always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. After frantically trying to borrow from other competitors, I now bring multiple pairs of tights.
My coach spent countless hours teaching me ballet technique and fine-tuning variations to help me become a better dancer. She taught me to think about the steps beforehand and then stay calm while performing. She instilled in me how important it was to never give up–and to always make sure that I was finishing confidently. She told me it was okay to be nervous before a show, but reminded me that as soon as you step onto the stage you have to rely on muscle memory and enjoy performing.
In addition to the technical aspects, Vlada taught me lessons beyond the barre. She gave me insight from her experience as a professional dancer. She told me stories of company life, touring, and performances. I learned how to pack essential items for performances and apply proper stage makeup. I also learned to scrape the bottom of my pointe shoes to create a rough surface that will give the shoe more traction to help prevent slipping. I even adopted her good luck superstition of placing a safety pin inside my leotard or costume.
I believe that it’s important to have good training, but it’s also essential to have mentors who will teach you the details that you didn’t realize you needed to know. Ballet class is the time to focus on technique. During this time teachers assess the student’s strengths and weaknesses and encourage them to become better. As dancers we tend to focus on only our physical discipline, but as a professional I’ve come to realize there are so many other aspects of this career beyond the classroom. I’ve found that many things involved with being a professional dancer are learned through experience, and it was helpful to have a coach guide me along so that I was prepared for what’s to come.
I encourage young dancers to ask good questions, and take advantage of their teacher’s knowledge and experiences–outside of merely learning dance steps. I relied on the expertise of my coach as a student, but also find myself referring to her advice now that I’m a professional dancer.
I’ve been blessed to have a coach like Vlada in my life. I find comfort in the moments when I remember the corrections or advice she has given me. And although I miss the individual attention of working with her on a daily basis, I’m so grateful for the lessons she’s taught me throughout the years.
Especially those that went beyond the barre.
The Joffrey Ballet will perform Sylvia at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, October 14th–October 25th. This modernized version of the ballet classic was created by John Neumeier, Artistic Director/Chief Choreographer of Hamburg Ballet.
Contributor Cara Marie Gary is a native of Belton, South Carolina. She joined The Joffrey Ballet in July 2012. Prior to joining The Joffrey Ballet, Ms. Gary danced with American Ballet Theatre’s ABTII and was an apprentice with Orlando Ballet. Ms. Gary began her formal ballet training at International Ballet Academy in Greer, South Carolina, under Hennadii Bespechnyi and Vlada Kvsselova. Ms. Gary received additional training at summer intensives with American Ballet Theatre, Brianskv Saratoga Ballet Center, Ukrainian Academy of Dance South Carolina Governors School, Ballet Spartanburg, and Chautauqua Institution. Ms. Gary graduated with honors from Belton-Honea Path High School and is currently pursuing a Business Administration degree online through North Greenville University.
In 2010, Ms. Gary was a competitor in the IX USA International Ballet Competition held in Jackson, Mississippi. She was a top twelve finalist in the Youth America Grand Prix National Finals in 2008 and 2009. She also received the overall Grand Prix Award in the 2009 YAGP regional semi-finals. In 2006, she was awarded a Diploma of Laureate at the VI Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition held in Kiev, Ukraine.
Ms. Gary has had the opportunity to tour throughout the United States and Europe. Ms. Gary has performed the title role in classical ballets such as The Nutcracker, La Sylphide, Don Quixote, Paquita, Markitanka pas de six, and Coppelia. Her repertoire with ABT II includes roles in the Flame of Paris pas de deux, Jerome Robbins’ Interplay, Antony Tudor’s Continuo, George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante and Stars and Stripes pas de deux, Jessica Lang’s Vivace Motifs, Roger Vanfleteren’s Pavlovsk, Jodi Gate’s A Taste of Sweet Velvet, Aszure Barton’s Barbara, and Edward Liang’s Ballo Per Sei. Ms. Gary has performed roles in new choreography by Robert Hill. Her repertoire with Orlando Ballet also consists of Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Swan Lake.