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  • Pointe Shoes - A Young Dancer's Rite of Passage

    Pacific Northwest Ballet School student gets fitted for her first pair of pointe shoes. Photo Credit: Dean Opper


    The transition from slippers to pointe shoes is by far the most eagerly anticipated rite of passage in a young dancer’s education. Every year, countless young girls wait with baited breath for their chance to wear their first pair of these beribboned satin wonders.

    Pointe shoes serve as a tangible reward for a dance student's years of dedication and hard work, and helps them declare to the world: "I'm a real ballerina!"

    And while parents silently cringe over the price tags dangling from these stiff pink torturous looking examples of footwear, their daughters are busy squealing with delight over just “how pretty” their feet look to notice anything else. This is a moment they’ve worked so hard for – and dreamed about – for years.

    To appropriately convey the excitement of this magical moment, we asked three moms and their daughters to share their thoughts regarding their very first pair of pointe shoes…

    Andrea Hensen: “I felt excited and overwhelmed that my little girl was old enough to get pointe shoes. I would have liked more information ahead of time; some resources, a book or explanation beforehand, or perhaps a talk with the podiatrist first. Overall though, it was an exciting rite of passage.

    Later when I saw All Wheeldon [Pacific Northwest Ballet], I was looking at all of the dancers and thinking, “Wow, my little girl is doing that, too!” It made me look at things from a different perspective.”

    Ariella says: “It was so exciting and I love them. It was hard to get a real sense of them without the ribbons and elastics and in just the few minutes you get. And if it hurts at the beginning, don't think it's going to hurt forever. You just need to break them in. It's so fun!”

    Catherine Schultze: “I think more meaningful than her words was the expression on her face; I've almost never seen her so happy!”

    Ella says: "My dreams have finally started to come true!”

    Laura Rookstool: Since Grace is my 5th daughter to go "en pointe", I've noticed some similarities in their approach. First and foremost, they all looked at getting those first pointe shoes as a rite of passage; they became one of the "big girls" at dance. Each one was excited to take the next big step in their ballet training. And for all of them, it brought a renewed enthusiasm - fueling their passion for ballet to the next level.

    Emily (17) says this about going en pointe: “It was an accomplishment; something I worked really hard for.”

    Katie Alice (16) says: “I was really excited and it made me feel like I was moving up. But at the same time, I didn't want to wear them and get them all dirty. When the first pair were dead, I felt like I had accomplished something.”

    Grace (11) says: “It means a lot to me because I've always wanted to go en pointe for as long as I can remember. I remember watching my sisters and looking forward to dancing en pointe too.” Laura adds: “Grace got to try out the older girls' shoes. She would stuff the ends with socks, prancing and leaping around the house!

    “Isabelle (7) is looking forward to her turn too,” Laura continues. “She couldn't tell me why, but said she really wanted to do it. Something about those shoes; they’re so irresistible to little starry eyed girls.”

    Are you looking forward to your first pair of pointe shoes? Do you need a little fitting expertise to help guide you along?

    Well, you're in luck! We’ve rounded up a 7-part video series by Russian Pointe’s very own Aleksandra Efimova, explaining everything you need to know about wearing those oh-so-dazzling pointe shoes. {Pretty sweet, right? ;) }

    Here's part one:

    * Part Two - Size
    * Part Three - Width
    * Part Four - Choosing a Vamp
    * Part Five - Choosing Your Shank
    * Part Six - Challenges & Solutions
    * Part Seven - Shoe Care Guidelines

    To those of you who have received your first pair of pointe shoes this year - Congratulations! You're well on your way to becoming one of the next generation's most beloved ballerinas!

  • PNB's Lindsi Dec - Seizing Her Moment

    Photo by Nathan Sayers


    "Lindsi Dec steps out from the “Rubies” corps, lowering her arms slowly, a flash in her eyes. And then she bursts into action, her 5' 9" worth of angular beauty unfurling into head-high extensions. Darting and slinking through Balanchine’s hip-jutting steps, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist is having the time of her life. And so is the audience." - Pointe Magazine

    A huge "congratulations!" to Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist (and Vala Dancewear model), Lindsi Dec, the featured artist in the October/November issue of Pointe Magazine! Read all about Lindsi's rise to fame here.

    {PS: On page 10, Lindsi is modeling one of Class Act Tutu's Layered Romantic Tutus. Don't miss it!}

  • Review: Pacific Northwest Ballet's All Wheeldon

    Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Carla Körbes and Seth Orza in Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance), presented as part of PNB’s season-opener, ALL WHEELDON, September 23 – October 2, 2011.  Photo © Angela Sterling


    Pacific Northwest Ballet opened its 2011-12 season with an outstanding production featuring four works from highly acclaimed dancer/choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon.

    I admit, I had high expectations for this production; first -  because I adore Wheeldon's work and second - I get a huge kick out of his accent. (Yes, I'm that superficial.) As always, the PNB dancers didn't let me down.

    The first piece of the night was Carousel (A Dance). Principal dancers, Seth Orza and Carla Korbes performed the lead pas de deux with stunning emotional intensity. Though not "in your face" passionate, their tender connection was undoubtedly arresting and satisfying.

    Not to be outdone, I also found soloist Benjamin Griffiths and corps de ballet members Kiyon Gaines and Ezra Thomson performances to be strong stand outs as well. Griffiths has such a beautiful quality to him (while his smile just lights up the stage);  Gaines' is big, powerful and yet moves with the grace of a sylph, and Thomson seems to be growing by leaps and bounds in terms of confidence, "voice" and artistic depth.

    After The Rain pas de deux featured soloist, James Moore with newly appointed principal, Rachel Foster, and is one of those pieces that you have to see to understand. It is beauty in its purest form. The fluidity, flexibility and extreme control executed by these two gorgeous dancers was just spectacular.

    While I've seen Moore perform numerous times, I was taken aback by just how "lovely" he is. His port de bras were amazing and the way he partnered the tiny Foster felt so protective, passionate and downright yummy. Foster was absolutely spellbinding as always. She's just one of those dancers I never tire of watching.

    Pacific Northwest Ballet soloists Rachel Foster and James Moore in Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux, presented as part of PNB’s season-opener, ALL WHEELDON, September 23 – October 2, 2011.  Photo © Angela Sterling


    The third piece of the night was Polyphonia which, I must admit, was the most difficult to enjoy. Not because of the dancers - oh no! - but rather because of some of the musical interludes, which were an assault to one's sense of order and balance.  Yet in spite of all this, Wheeldon (who must be part time super hero or something), managed to wrap this chaotic dervish in glittering paper and top it off with a shiny bow.

    Taking center stage again was soloist, Benjamin Griffiths along with principal dancer, Lucien Postlewaite in a dazzling pas de deux which smacked of male competitiveness with a hit of "coquettish" thrown in for spice, and soloist Sarah Ricard Orza and corps de ballet member, Jerome Tisserand in their own breathtaking pas de deux. These two have such a "quietly dynamic" sense of artistry that can, unfortunately, be overshadowed by their more dramatic peers. Therefore, it was great to see them paired together like that. Bravo!

    The final piece of the evening was Variations Serieuses, which is a laugh out loud parody of the dance world. The characters - prima (diva) ballerina, premiere danseur, pianist, stage manager, ballet master, conductor - are all played to the exaggerated, comedic hilt. Carrie Imler shined like a brilliant diamond as the spoiled, entirely-too-full-of-herself prima ballerina who is soon ousted out of the spotlight (due to injury) by the lovely ingénu, Sarah Ricard Orza, waiting sweetly in the wings.

    Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Christopher Wheeldon’s Variations Sérieuses, presented as part of PNB’s season-opener, ALL WHEELDON, September 23 – October 2, 2011. Photo © Angela Sterling


    This piece was the perfect follow up to the previous more intense acts. Again, the PNB dancers surpassed all expectations and bestowed a fantastic treat upon the entire audience. Kiyon Gaines' performance as the Ballet Master was freaking hysterical as was soloist, Lindsi Dec's butt-scratching, soda (beer?) swigging Stage Manager.

    To sum things up - All Wheeldon is all class and sass! It's a must-see and a glorious beginning to what looks to be an extraordinary new season.

    This is the final weekend to catch All Wheeldon. For tickets, please visit

  • Review: Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear - Inside the Land of Ballet

    jack6.000x9.000.inddOkay, ballet fans - be honest. How awesome would it be to spend an entire year exploring the inner-workings of one of the world's most celebrated ballet companies?

    Just think: You would observe countess rehearsals, exhilarating performances, daily classes, nerve-wracking auditions and necessary board meetings. You would get to know the dancers and their artistic director, the stage hands, lighting directors, costume designers, marketers, fundraisers - even catch a glimpse of a few dance moms and their children.

    Every question would be answered. Every rumor laid to rest. Absolutely no one (and nothing) would be off limits!  It would be a dream come true, right?

    Well, give yourself a good pinch because trust me - you're awake and your wish has been granted! In his newest book, Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear, best-selling author, Stephen Manes pulls back the gilded stage curtain and shares what it was like to spend a year with Seattle's own Pacific Northwest Ballet.

    Four years in the making, Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear isn’t just another textbook-ish tome; it instead reveals just how ballets are produced, marketed, and funded. In short, this beefy book – with all of its juicy gossip and first-hand dancer accounts – boldly goes where no balletomane has gone before!

    Through Manes’ watchful eye, you’ll discover many facets and secrets of the Land of Ballet such as: What it takes to keep the holiday cash-cow known as Nutcracker running year after (endless) year; how the company survived its most tumultuous, injury plagued and downright stressful staging of Roméo et Juliette; the harsh reality of “body is destiny”, and just how much a dancer will (can?) put up with - physically and emotionally - before calling it quits.

    You will be a fly on the wall during artistic director, Peter Boal’s most difficult decisions and discover why he and others in his position must be “willing to be hated”. You’re there as members of the “Who’s Who in Choreography” (Christopher Wheeldon, Twyla Tharp, Jaime Martinez, and Bernice Coppieters), give corrections and guidance for proper staging of their work. You’ll also witness the drama that surrounds a dancer's life - the fiery contentions, the painful jealousies and cherished friendships.

    Also revealed are the accounts from Pacific Northwest Ballet School students, as well as those from the oftentimes unsung "heroes of the pit" - orchestra pit, that is.

    Now although PNB is certainly at the book’s center, Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear is by no means exclusive to the Seattle crowd. In fact, this literary work of art (not exaggerating!) could have just as easily been written about any other top ballet company, from New York to London. Because no matter how you slice it, a dancer’s needs, desires, fears and frustrations are the same.

    Quite honestly, I cannot say enough great things about this book. Its exciting and insanely in-depth coverage of "life on the inside" is exactly what tired, musty-dusty dance library shelves have been craving for years! Stephen Manes has done an excellent job at conveying all the intricacies of a ballet company's success, without sacrificing a single note from the chorus of countless artistic voices behind it. (Bravo!)

    From union mandates to marketing strategies, to painful injuries to exhausting perfectionism, Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear leaves no stone left unturned and is an absolute must for the die-hard ballet fan!

    To read excerpts (Come on, you know you're dying to!) and to purchase a copy of the book in either hardcover or digital format, please visit Where Snowflakes Dance and

  • Newsflash: Edward Villella to Step Down from Position as Artistic Director of MCB

    Photo Credit: Miami City Ballet


    Breaking news from Dance Magazine: Edward Villella, founding artistic director of Miami City Ballet, has announced that he will step down from his position at the end of the 2012–2013 season, in April 2013, to pursue other dance-related projects. Read the rest of this newsflash here.

  • A Russian First; American Dancer to Join the Bolshoi Ballet

    Photo Credit: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times


    In an exciting historical twist, an American dancer will join the ranks of Bolshoi Ballet's finest.

    David Hallberg, principal dancer with American Ballet Theater will become the first American to join the highly esteemed Russian company. Hallberg will dance as a premier, the equivalent of a "principal dancer".

    “Personally I feel a sense of responsibility as an American,” Mr. Hallberg said on Tuesday, adding that he was proud to join such a historic company. “I will be bringing something different to the company but I will also be respecting their traditions as well.” He said he was aware of the unique responsibility entailed in being a first. “There will be people watching,” he said. “I have to do it justice.” (The New York Times)

    Read all about this historical event here.

  • Exclusive Interview with Mikhail Baryshnikov

    mikhail-baryshnikovCheck out this great interview with the one...the only...the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov! {Normally this post would be longer, but after the words "Mikhail Baryshnikov" - there's really nothing left to say! :) }

  • Interview with Mara Vinson & Oleg Gorboulev of Olympic Ballet Theatre

    Olympic Ballet Theatre Artistic Directors, Mara Vinson & Oleg Gorboulev. Photo credit: Alante Photography


    For the past 30 years, Olympic Ballet Theatre (OBT) in Edmonds has been synonymous with excellence in classical ballet training. The school maintains a hearty student roster, while their company productions such as “The Nutcracker” and “Coppélia – The Girl with Enamel Eyes”, consistently draw ticket holders in by the thousands.

    Over the past 5 years, former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers, Mara Vinson and husband, Oleg Gorboulev served the local company in various capacities, ranging from guest teachers to members of the Board of Directors. Upon her retirement in June, OBT Founder and Artistic Director, Helen Wilkins generously turned the golden reigns of this beloved institution over to Vinson and Gorboulev, thus heralding the dawn of a new era of dedication, fresh artistry and renewed local pride.

    Class Act Tutu owner, Rebecca Ecklund and company blogger, Denise Opper recently sat down with the Mara and Oleg to discuss their transition from dancers to studio/company owners and their plans for the future…

    What prompted you to go from a career as dancers and teachers to owning your own studio?

    Mara: Well, we were on the faculty here at OBT and have been working with OBT for a good 5 years. In our summers off from PNB, we would teach [here at OBT]. Last year I was on the faculty full time and Helen approached us about her retiring and moving on…it just seemed like a good fit.

    Oleg: I was all over the place these last 5 years, teaching and driving everywhere, physically exhausting myself. And the idea to put so much work into something that was just ours was very rewarding - it was time to just settle down.

    Did you have any mentors or friends that you consulted with before taking on this project? Did they offer any advice besides, “Run! Don’t do it!”

    Oleg: [Laughs] We had talked with the schools in the area and I also spoke with a friend of mine who is running a school in downtown San Diego with his wife and asked what he thought. He said, “Take it, it sounds good. You should do it.” Both he and his wife are enjoying their lives and are enjoying what they do. Of course there were some people who said, “Don’t own your own school! Don’t do it!” I won’t say who but yeah, there were a few. But it’s a lot of work. If we were just by ourselves, we probably wouldn’t do it. It’s good that we have each other.

    Did it feel better to not have a professional company attached to the school?

    Oleg: Well, there are pros and cons. For one thing, it’s harder to teach professional dancers than it is children… [Smiles]

    Mara: It’s more rewarding working with children…

    Oleg: Right, because then you can see the children’s growth as they go along.

    Do you personally teach all the class levels then?

    Oleg: Ummm…not creative! [Laughs]

    Mara: The youngest age we teach is about 9 years old and up. But no, no Creative Movement class. We have a good teacher for that. Besides, we have our own baby at home…

    Mini Pantomime Master & Budding Train Engineer. Photo Credit: Alante Photography


    How old is your son?

    Mara: He just turned three. [Beaming with pride]

    Oh my! He is still a baby. How fun! So does he enjoy having you both close to home now?

    Oleg: Oh definitely. He likes hanging around the studio too.

    Mara: He was watching a pantomime class this summer where Oleg was teaching the girls Carabosse from Sleeping Beauty. He asked, “Papa, where’s my cane? Where’s my cane, Papa? Oh! Maybe it’s backstage!” [Laughs]

    Oleg: He owns this place! [Laughs] He has his own big train set that he takes around and sets up here. It’s really huge! It’s got all these parts to it and he just sets it up in the studio and plays. Yeah, he’s enjoying it.

    Is your little boy following in your footsteps? Has he expressed an interest in dance?

    Oleg: Oh, I don’t know about that. [Smiling, shaking his head.] But we’ll probably try him out here – just because it’s here. He has to go through ballet before he decides what he wants to do. [Laughs]

    Were your co-workers supportive of your plans to own your own school?

    Mara: Yep, they all said, “Hey you need someone to come and teach?” [Laughs]

    Oleg: This past summer we had Otto (Neubert) [Ballet Master, Pacific Northwest Ballet] and Benjamin (Griffiths) [Soloist, Pacific Northwest Ballet] here teaching over the summer. The kids really enjoyed that.

    What were some of your own personal fears or anxieties before taking this on?

    Mara: The not knowing…the “what if’s”, the “hugeness” of it all; all the work. But then when you’re here in the studio working you don’t even have time to worry. You just go.

    Oleg: We had maybe some anxiety during the months before we got started but I cannot remember what we were nervous about. It was exciting like, “What do we have to get done before we get started?” That sort of thing.

    Did you have anything to learn – business wise?

    Mara: Accounting! [Laughs and says with a hint of exasperation]

    Oleg: Quickbooks! She does input, I do output. I just hand out the checks. [Laughs]

    {Rebecca} You know, that’s the part I didn’t think I’d like either, but I do! I love the management side of running a business and learning new stuff all the time.

    Oleg: It’s probably not ever going to end. There’s always going to learn something new.

    Will you continue guest teaching?

    Oleg: We’re guest teaching all this week. But I after this – I don’t know.

    Mara: I think we’ll be too focused with everything here.

    Olympic Ballet School students. Photo Credit: Alante Photography


    Any future guesting plans…?

    Oleg: For Mara, maybe. I’ll do Drosselmeyer or Dr. Coppelius somewhere but I don’t want to put tights on. No more tights! [Laughs]

    Do you feel you have more artistic freedom now?

    Mara: Yes (nods) Here we can do what we want and teach what we know. When you’re teaching for other people, you have to teach what they tell you to teach.

    Will you change the school’s curriculum?

    Mara: No, not really.

    What are your plans now for OBT?

    Mara: Just to keep going up and producing nice dancers and…

    Oleg: Create some good quality shows and productions.

    Do you have any productions on the horizon for this next season?
    Mara: Nothing brand new but we want to show highlights from Sleeping Beauty, which is something they haven’t done before.

    In the past, Olympic really seemed to work with the theatrical aspect of dance, which I really like. Are you planning on bringing in any more of that in too?

    Mara: Story ballets? Oh yes. That for me was always very rewarding. We’ll definitely continue that!

    Do you have any advice for those who may be interested in owning their own school one day?

    Mara: I don’t know about advice since we’re just starting out but…

    Oleg: Right now I’d say, “Go for it!”

    Mara: Well, we may have to revise that statement a year from now [laughs] but yes, “Go for it!”

    To learn more about OBT Ballet Theatre or to enroll for fall classes, please visit Olympic

  • Freezing the Fluid Emotions of Dance - Photos From the 20's - 90's

    dancephotocollectionnytimesCheck out this outstanding collection of black and white dance photos from the 1920's through the 90's, courtesy of The New York Times!

  • Elissa Fuchs - 90 Years Old & Still Dancing Strong

    Looking for a little inspiration to keep your momentum going? Check this story out...

    How many people can say they'd like to continue working right into their 90's? Elissa Fuchs already is....It was nearly 90 years ago when Fuchs was only three years-old that she made the decision dancing is what she wanted to do.

    "That was all I wanted to do, go on the stage. And at 16, my dream came true through just a miracle," she said.

    Fuchs landed a job performing the Vaudeville circuit. That kicked off her career on Broadway, then performing with the world class Russian Ballet and then onto the Metropolitan Opera. Fuchs said she was doing what she was born to do.

    "I was someone else on the stage. I loved being on the stage," she said. Read the rest of this amazing story here.

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