In Our Shoes ⎪ Part 2

A Series: Part 2

We all know that dreaded sound from a mile away. Something had been bothering her, she went to the doctor, and next thing you know there is an associated clunking sound featured in her walking. The boot…dun-dun-dun (stereotypic dramatic noise).  While I had seen many co-workers and peers deal with the boot, I had never actually encountered it myself until this summer. 

As with most things it started as a little ache, a pain that could be easily relieved with two Tylenol and an Epsom salt bath. But as the days went on, I felt my alignment was off. I had this little feeling in my gut that was increasingly hard to ignore. 

We have two wonderful people who constantly support the artists; Maryanne Johnson, Dance Medicine Physical Therapist at New Heights Performance, and Dr. Moser, Sports Medicine Physician through Twin Cities Orthopedics (did I mention that Ballet Co.Laboratory is partnering with them this upcoming season?!). Both amazing professionals worked together and discovered my minor stress injury on my fourth and fifth metatarsals. While I was fortunate enough to avoid a full-blown fracture, I needed recovery time in a boot. I required about 6 weeks of rest before beginning strengthening back into the regular routine. 

The dreaded word injury. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you get injured, there really isn’t any easy way to deal with it. You’re bored, you’re hurt, you can’t do what you love, and you have that extra added clunk to remind you of it everywhere you go. So then, what do you do with your time? Here are a few things that people have shared with me, and some added things that I found helped during the long weeks.

  1. Doing your Physical Therapy exercises. This is number one for me. Because in addition to aiding in the strength and healing of the injury, I also felt like I was being productive and doing something I knew was really going to help me. 

  2. Focus on something else. As dancers, we don’t get a lot of time off to really do much else with our lives. Instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do, I focused on what I could. I signed up for two challenging, time consuming classes at the University of Minnesota and knocked eight credits off of earning that college degree. I focused on my brain power instead of my physical power. 

  3. Give to somebody else. There’s a phrase; “when you want to be sorry for yourself, go help someone else” (or something along those lines). Instead of feeling down that I couldn’t dance, I helped the students of Ballet Co.Laboratory learn the Sleeping Beauty variations for their Mini-Mester showcase (which by the way, was an amazing show). I left feeling refreshed, and excited to have helped them learn about something I loved. 

I am now back on my feet (literally), and ready to perform again. Reflecting on my recovery time, I have realized that there should probably be more of these things in our lives without an injury. In attending to these things, and focusing on getting better, I am back feeling ready; physically and mentally for the upcoming season. Next time you see a colleague or friend accompanied by that friendly little clunk, these few things will help during the tough times. 

A Personal Account on Being a Gentle Human


by Nikita Gill

Remember what you must do
when they undervalue you,
when they think your softness is your weakness,
when they treat your kindness
like it is to their advantage.

 You awaken
every dragon,
every wolf,
every monster
that sleeps inside you
and you remind them what hell looks like
when it wears the skin
of a gentle human.



It is easy to understand why Nikita Gill’s poetry has reached and inspired millions. Her words are dripping with empathy, life lessons, and universal feelings that all of us face but few like to talk about. As such, it is only fitting that the artists of Ballet Co. Laboratory found their seed of inspiration etched into her poem, Fire.

In August of last year, I was focused, prepared, and excited to start a new season. The company had many things planned and it was set to be a great season. Like many other artists, I experienced the floor being ripped out from underneath me and the anxious feeling of uncertainty settled in. Unlike many other artists, this was the second time in my career that I had experienced a company falling apart. The first time was in December of 2017 and it was the reason that I found myself in Minnesota and dancing with the wonderful artists I get to dance with today. To experience it a second time, the fear of it all completely falling apart; the art getting lost, the dancers dispersing, and not having a studio home (again) was petrifying.

As someone who has traveled, danced in many places, and worked in a professional environment, I like to think that I have an idea of how to interact with human beings. However, it was made blatantly clear to me in August of 2018 that I still had much to learn about human dynamics and interaction. The first time I experienced a company falling apart I saw a very nasty side of humanity. There was an abundance of gossiping and ill-feeling among the community as the competitive nature of our industry took over. I learned very quickly to rely on myself and when the company finally folded, the dancers dispersed. I worried I would experience the same thing again. I was so very, very wrong. Instead of the community disbanding, the community of dancers knit closer together. I was called on a daily basis, checked-on, and kept in the loop about the plan moving forward. Four weeks later, Ballet Co. Laboratory was formed.

This is what sets the Ballet Co. Laboratory company, school, and community apart from many others. The tumultuous time was truly a test of humanity, and I think Ballet Co. Laboratory aced it. Not only does it involve hardworking and passionate dancers, but the organization is run by fiscally responsible and moral people. Of course, being the bold artists that we are, we chose to take it one step forward and speak out about this experience in the best way we know how; through the language of dance.

Creatively speaking, Ballet Co. Laboratory dancers and Nikita Gill are indirect collaborative artists. While each of us speaks in our own language, we are trying to communicate the same message to our audience.  We try to step away from adversity, speak about it, and face it with power and validation. It is important to speak out and step out of our comfort zone. As artists, we challenge ourselves to do it every day, and in this show, we challenge the audience to do so as well.

We invite you to the company’s interpretation of these events through our production, Gentle Human, on April 6th and 7th at the Cowles Center.  A new, chilling, contemporary piece of art that makes you think, reflect about your life, and how you treat yourself and others.

Open Rehearsal of Nutcracker in Wonderland

When you ask an audience member to describe a ballet studio, the first few things that probably come to mind are; mirrors, ballet barres, pink tights, pointe shoes, tutus, music etc. The first thing that I say to describe a ballet studio? A pungent smell of feet, hard work, and sweat – clear evidence of getting performance ready. While we don’t often open our studios to the public for rehearsals, we invited the community to experience what our studios smell, look, and feel like during a full cast open rehearsal this past Saturday. The studio was full of dancers, students and professionals, and interested spectators. Thank you to all those who shared their day with us!

White Rabbit Rehearsal 12/1 by Barbara Edholm

I’m late!

Company Artist Anna Roehr as the White Rabbit during Nutcracker in Wonderland Open Rehearsal of December 1, 2018.

Photo by Barbara Edholm.

Now two weeks away from our first performance, the rehearsals are intense, focused, and long. I am reminded of a number of things I had to learn as I transitioned from a student to a professional, and a number of things I have had to learn since the beginning of Ballet Co.Laboratory. Some of these lessons are quite special.

Zoé, as Artistic Director, does an exceptional job conducting these full day rehearsals in an organized manner. As company dancers, we try our best to stay on top of our game and guide the students to the next learning lesson. I often forget that the “homework” piece - as Zoé refers to it - comes as a habit to me as a professional, but as a student, it did not. After rehearsals, it is imperative to write down my choreography, corrections, and notes; I listen to the music; I review my parts each day; and then I learn what is happening around me so that I am prepared for the next scene, dance, or movement. I have now almost forgotten that I had to learn how to do this as a pre-professional. I vividly remember having trouble remembering choreography, hearing counts in music, and forgetting what comes next. This is one of the biggest differences between student and professional. As a professional, I think it is important to remember how this process developed so that we can help others grow and develop in this skill set. It is also important for those of us who are professionals to remember that this learning does not stop, some are better at this than others, and one that requires continual improvement, as there is always something that we miss.


Tea time!

The Company and upper level students enjoy the Mad Hatter’s tea party during Act II of Nutcracker in Wonderland during Full Cast Rehearsal.

Photo by Barbara Edholm.

The company and school of Ballet Co.Laboratory strive for a close relationship. Relationships are strengthened with work and opportunity and we have done both throughout our first fall. The Ballet Co.Laboratory mentorship program started in October and while we all have put an emphasis on the few mentees we have, I can also say that I have found myself mentoring other students in rehearsals. In Nutcracker in Wonderland, I dance in Party Scene, Snow Scene, and the Caterpillar trio which means I dance

(a) a lot of the performance and

(b) in collaboration with other roles, many of which are students.

As a Party mom, I am responsible for my three “daughters,” but I try to take particularly good care of my tiniest party girl and I make a mental note of where she needs to be and when. In the Snow Waltz, the company pairs up with a student who is their ‘opposite’ dancer on stage. The company dancers each work individually with our student dancer on corrections, timing, and steps. In the Caterpillar dance, a trio of professional dancers weave in and out of younger dancers throughout the second act. It is through the side by side dancing and coaching that offers ongoing mentorship of our students and is an integral part of their dance training. It also helps us all make sure we know the choreography and what comes next, and enjoy the experience as a company in the presence of a great school. I remember being a pre-professional student and having trouble in large rehearsals or putting a show together, and the best way to learn how to do it, is to do it. But “doing it” in the presence of more experienced dancers enriches the training and memories and hopefully the final performance.


The fierce Rat Queen

Company Artist Michelle Ludwig as Rat Queen in the battle with Patty and Clara. See her fierce character come to life complete with claws, ears and crown!

Photo by Barbara Edholm.

This past weekend we had a great number of visitors to Ballet Co. Laboratory’s open rehearsal. It was exciting for professionals and students alike, as this was the first view of the premiere of a new show. It was also the first time the entire show was danced in its entirety. It was a reminder to me how many sides there are to being a professional with the company; dancer, role model, teacher, mentor, peer, and many more that I didn’t mention in this post. Thank you again for all your support and excitement surrounding Ballet Co. Laboratory and Nutcracker in Wonderland, see you in a few weeks!

A Nutcrackery Wonderland

What an early and absurd scene this past Sunday to wake up to falling snow in the middle of October. Ironically, the snow fell the week after Ballet Co. Laboratory began Nutcracker rehearsals. The early snow actually heightened my excitement for the premier of Nutcracker in Wonderland. We loved the idea of Nutcracker in Wonderland when Zoe shared it with us, but hearing the audience’s enthusiastic gasps during the On Our Terms season announcement furthered our anticipation for the production.  

Nutcracker, the classic ballet will be expanded upon to incorporate themes and characters from Alice in Wonderland creating an original twist on the story. Tchaikovsky’s music score and the main character, Clara will remain the same although the story will be set during a modern time and in a later point in Clara’s life. The audience will enjoy a few additions and twists to the plot involving Clara’s dear friend, Patty and the Mad Hatter as they are led through a snow scene, a tea party, and the flower fields of Wonderland. These rehearsals have been so exciting for us all as we continue to learn more choreography and delve further into the evolving characters and the unfolding story.

We are happy to announce that we now have confirmed the location and dates for the premier of Nutcracker in Wonderland. The show will be performed on December 14th, 15th, and 16th at the Huss Center for the Performing Arts at St. Paul Academy. The theatre is a state of the art performance facility located at 1712 Randolph Avenue in St. Paul.  Ticket information will be available soon. Make sure to follow our other social media platforms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. We look forward to dancing for you again in December!

Level 3A Pointe Shoe Fitting Day

A long-anticipated day. You and your classmates arrive at the Grand Jeté dance store, where you will finally get your feet into your first pair of pointe shoes. You feel a little in the dark about what this will feel like. Will it hurt? How do I know if it’s the right fit? Can I choose or will my teacher choose for me? Do I get to wear padding? Will I lose a toenail or have blisters all over my feet?

There are so many unknowns when students come to Grand Jeté for their first pair of pointe shoes, but most dancers are buzzing with excitement because they are on the precipice of the next chapter of their dance journey. Going “en pointe” opens doors to new roles in productions, advances your technique, and is a mile marker in your dance journey. As an employee of the Grand Jeté since 2014, I have had the pleasure of being a part of this experience for hundreds of students. But when I get to fit students who I dance with or who I have taught it is a very special experience not just for them but for me.

When the Ballet Co.Laboratory group arrived they were very quiet (unusual for this group) and I could sense that they were listening very closely. I went over with them what a well-fitting shoe should feel like, the sensations to look for, and also signs that a shoe may not be the right fit. Slowly, smiles started to spread across the room. Oh yes, they were very excited.

As we found the right shoe for each student, we could feel their confidence rising and their anxiety melting away. I realized just how proud of them I felt. They all communicated very clearly and were diligent as they compared and contrasted their different options, made conscious choices about their padding, asked for advice and listened to the teachers and GJ staff as we offered opinions and explained the different specifications of the shoes they were trying on. I appreciated the patience and effort they put in to finding their first shoe. If I’ve learned one thing in dance, it’s that patience and effort are key to reaching your goals.

I wrapped up the experience with them by explaining the importance of caring for their shoes and tips to help them last as long as possible. The feeling in the air was different by this point. There was a sense of accomplishment and a realization that they were ready for this next part of their journey. They were itching to get to their next class to get their shoes sewn with Ms. Debbie and the 3Bs.

It struck me that it felt different to fit this group of students. Not just because I’ve known many of them from past productions or because I’ve fit their siblings, but because they are an integral part of the Ballet Co.Laboratory community. The mission of Ballet Co.Laboratory is “to create, develop and inspire artists and communities through collaboration with the art of ballet.” And here they were, collaborating with me, inspired and inspiring, and aspiring to be the best dancer they can be.

They’ve worked hard for this moment, and they know that the pointe shoe is a symbol of the hard work yet to come – and that they are ready to take on the challenge. Community is built on days like these, and I was so honored to be a part of it. Congratulations to our level 3A dancers on this amazing accomplishment!


In Our Shoes, A Series: Part 1

The first day of the new academic calendar is not necessarily more important than the second, third, or 242nd day, but for some reason it is the day we all prepare for the most among the normal work-days.  Our outfits are laid out, bags are backed, and lunches are prepared the night before. The transition for anyone in any workforce or school can be rough at the start, and dancers are no different. For dancers, the first day of season feels exactly the same way; shoes are sewn, tights are clean, and our lunch is prepared in hopes that the start of season begins smoothly and safely. As much as we train during the summer and prepare our open minds with bright attitudes, soreness and exhaustion are normal and expected. So, I didn’t think much of a little pain in my toe during the first rehearsal. However, by the end of day three when the pain in my toe exceeded everything else that was sore, I knew that something was wrong.

For an artist, an injury at the beginning of season is terrible timing. Performance dates are being set, rehearsals are in full swing, and casting is around the corner. This is the time of year that I want to feel and dance my best in order to prepare my mind and body for the rest of season. Whenever I notice the beginning signs of an injury, I immediately imagine the worst, and this is exactly what happened those first few days. My mind went on a rampage asking myself unnecessary questions; why is this hurting so much? What could possibly be wrong? How am I going to be able to rehearse? How am I supposed to dance on October 6th?

I needed to get into a doctor before all the worry and panic set in. This tends to be somewhat of a struggle to find someone with an opening that is not only soon, but also doesn’t cause missing rehearsals. My worrisome injury was efficiently diagnosed as an ingrown toenail and considered easily fixable.  After a few injections and removing the piece of nail causing pain, this condition is expected to heal relatively quickly.  A couple of days out of pointe shoes but dancing in flat shoes, I have eased back to prepare for the first performance.  It is now post procedure day 11 and I am happy to report that I feel mostly healed.  

I hope that you have enjoyed part 1 of the new series, In Our Shoes. In addition to the work and beauty an audience sees at a performance, there are many things that are made invisible to the audience. There are hiccups that we face on a daily basis and it is my goal with this series to expose them in a light that increases the knowledge and appreciation about the art form of ballet.

Photo: Tim Pate

Photo: Tim Pate

The Beginning of Ballet Co.Laboratory

On Wednesday, September 5th, I rode the Twin Cities Metro line for the first time.  Three blocks from Government Plaza and three flights up in The Great Hall of Gethsemane Episcopal Church, was a new beginning for Ballet Co.Laboratory.  

The connections of Ballet Co.Laboratory are so evident that as soon as I entered, the drama fell away. Everywhere I looked, I saw community; from the specially donated mirrors, to the wonderfully crafted barres, to the borrowed floor. But also from the excitement in every person’s face that walked through the door that day, and every day since! The support is overwhelming and it drives each one of us involved to create more, develop more, and inspire more to help reach the full potential of Ballet Co.Laboratory. 

This first week has been filled with classes, rehearsals, company meetings, and lots and lots of new ideas! There are many new things in the works to be announced soon! Save the date for On Our Terms Performance and Fundraiser on October 6th!

Thank you to everyone who has supported, reached out, and added to the strong sense of community we have created! I know that I, and the company, are so excited to reach new heights, test the limits, and progress Ballet Co.Laboratory to the school and company we all want and believe in!