Perspective: Interview with Emily Reed of Grand Rapids Ballet

Name:  Emily Reed

Hometown: Monee, Illinois

Where do you currently live/dance/work? I’m living in Grand Rapids, Michigan and dancing with the Grand Rapids Ballet.

Favorite role(s) you’ve performed?

Most recently my favorite has been Extremely Close by Alejandro Cerrudo- a dream come true!

Another bucket list ballet I had the joy of checking off was Trey McIntyre’s, Wild Sweet Love. Growing up, I wasn’t the biggest Balanchine lover (Mr. B Fans don’t hate me), but I definitely understand the beauty of his work now that I’ve danced Who Cares?, Tarantella and Allegro Brillante. All three pushed my stamina past what I thought I was capable of and were some of the most memorable moments I’ve had on stage.

I also really love character roles with a range of personality, so both Robert Gardner’s Lucy in Dracula and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream were other highlights.

What kind of pointe shoes do you wear?

I’m currently wearing Bloch Balance European, but I’m still on the hunt for my perfect pointe shoes. I’ll possibly switch to Freed’s next season.

How do you prep them? Any tips?

No matter which brand I’m wearing, I will always darn them. Maybe it’s just become a ritual, but I feel more secure, and I like the look of a neatly stitched box.

I use garden shears to help me cut half the shank out (they’re more efficient than scissors), and dental floss is my choice of thread for sewing on the ribbons and elastic. If I think there’s too much fabric on the sides, I’ll overlap the material and sew it down a bit. I try to get some kind of pointe shoe glue inside the box before I wear them to help prolong them from breaking down. ‘Tis quite a process.

Also, I swear by PerfectFit Pointe Shoe Inserts. I tried them out for the first time this year, and I’m in love.

Favorite snack during a long day of rehearsals?

Raw almonds, dried apricots, clementines, and bananas are my go-to snacks during our quick breaks. I like coconut water or Nuun tablets to help replenish my electrolytes.

How and when did you get your start in dance?

When I was three years old I saw The Nutcracker on PBS. I made my dad get up to partner me around the living room, and shortly after I asked to take ballet classes.

Embarrassingly enough, I still loved my pacifier. I wouldn’t go anywhere without it, so my mom made me a deal... she would sign me up for ballet if I gave up my binky.

To her disbelief, right before my first class, she handed me my ballet shoes and I handed her my pacifier. I never asked for it again.

Where did you receive your dance training?

Dance in the Light, Bradley IL,

Faubourg Theatre, Hanover Park IL

Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Chicago IL

Summer programs at Boston LAB, Kaatsbaan, CPYB, Orlando Ballet, Balletmet, and Milwaukee Ballet.

When did you realize you wanted to dance professionally?

As far back as I can remember it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

How was your transition from student to professional? What were some of the things you learned during that time?

After I graduated from Ruth Page under Larry Long, I was accepted to be one of the first trainees at Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. As a trainee, my interaction with the company was limited, but it was a great way to start seeing how companies functioned.

From there, I went on to be a Milwaukee Ballet II member for two years. That was where I really began to understand how to be a professional. Having a variety of repertoire with the second company on top of performing and understudying with the main company, I learned how to retain more choreography in a quicker manner. I also feel that being exposed to all the wonderful acting took me to the next level. For example, watching Julianne Kepley look straight through me in fear, with tears filling in her eyes as she desperately threw herself across the room as Esmeralda in Michael Pink’s, Hunchback of Notre-Dame is still vivid in my head. There in the studio, with no audience, she went all out. I realized then, that moving beautifully was just part of it, telling the story with full dedication to my role is how I wanted to dance.


"There in the studio, with no audience, she went all out. I realized then, that moving beautifully was just part of it, telling the story with full dedication to my role is how I wanted to dance."


emily reed grand rapids ballet


What were some of the most challenging aspects you have experienced trying to get a job?

The audition circuit is tough.

There are so many factors that go into successfully find a job. Aside from doing your best, timing, connections - straight up luck is involved.

There can also be a lot of discouragement that follows, such as rejection letters, being cut, no responses, or being told, “we like you, we just don’t have a spot for you.” It’s hard.  

You can have your heart set on a certain place, but I have learned how to appreciate the saying, “what’s meant to be, will be.”

Tell us a little bit about your professional experience, thus far.  (Where you’ve danced, choreographers/stagers you’ve loved working with, most memorable moments etc.)

Minnesota Ballet is where I landed after Milwaukee. In my six seasons with the company I performed things I never dreamed of doing thanks to the director, Robert Gardner. Growing up I wasn’t sure if I was a “tutu kind of ballerina”, but dancing parts such as Sugar Plum and Aurora made me think otherwise.

In the Fall of 2018, I was thrilled to join Grand Rapids Ballet under the direction of James Sofranko. We had an amazing group of choreographers and stagers come spend time with us such as (sorry, I’m going to name drop here): Zippora Karz, Ilana Goldman, Trey McIntyre, Nicolas Blanc, Penny Saunders, Val Caniparoli, Maiqui Mañosa, Meredith Dincolo, Alejandro Cerrudo and Brian Enos. Not only did they teach existing choreography or make new creations, but most of them also taught us class in the morning.

As dancers, of course we love to perform, but taking class is a daily occurrence. They all brought in fresh energy and fun combinations, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Our season ended June 8th with an outdoor performance at the Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids.  James Sofranko’s, Mozart Symphony was one of the pieces we performed. I thought it was the perfect way to close the year, and I am excited it will be in our fall program.

Do you have any advice for younger dancers trying to get their first job?

Truly try your best to enjoy every step of the way.

Find the small positives in the unfortunate outcomes. Later on, when I stepped back into the nerve-wracking process of auditioning, my overall approach was much calmer. I’d make it my mission to have a “little gem” that I could remember. For instance, maybe the teacher gave a great petit allegro that I could repeat with my friends at home. Or, maybe I did a killer adagio that I was proud of… even if the director couldn’t see me.

Criticism plays a big part in this career. From the people at the front of the room, the dancers standing next to you, even yourself... remember why you started down this path and the feeling of joy it can bring when you just let go.

"Criticism plays a big part in this career. From the people at the front of the room, the dancers standing next to you, even yourself... remember why you started down this path and the feeling of joy it can bring when you just let go."

What are some of the most important things you’ve learned throughout your career as a dancer and artist?

I’m honestly still working on this one myself, but breathing with the movement is seriously necessary.

With technique in mind, figure out how to make your best line. (Sorry, side view! You may not see the pretty picture... but the front will!)

Karl von Rabenau taught us in Milwaukee Ballet II, “always be doing something.” Meaning, when you’re in the studio (well anywhere really, but especially in there), use every minute to better yourself. He never wanted us standing around, doing nothing, and he reminded us that a director wouldn’t like that either.

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1 comment

  • Your role in Cold Virtues continues to haunt me. Your movements mesmerized me, but even more so, your facial expressions. You were so perfect that night. It was a privilege to witness. Thank you.

    Phoebe Davis

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