New Dancer Spotlight: Colin McCaslin

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer - Colin McCaslinArtistic Director Terrence S. Orr recruited Colin McCaslin, of Vineland, New Jersey, from PBT School’s full-time high school program, where he trained for two years. Before joining PBT School, McCaslin trained with the Atlantic City Ballet School under Phyllis Papa and in Miami City Ballet School’s summer intensive. He has performed with PBT in The Nutcracker and West Side Story Suite and with Atlantic City Ballet in Carmen and Swan Lake. His repertoire also includes excerpts from Giselle, La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, Don QuixotePaquita and Western Symphony. Get to know Colin here.

 

Fun Facts

Hometown: Vineland, NJ

Family: “I come from a family of 13, two of whom were adopted from China. My parents are pretty much the most selfless people you’d ever meet; they’ve always done their best to make sure I could do what I loved.”

Pre-performance ritual: “I usually just listen to music and prepare myself mentally.”

Hobbies: “I don’t really have too many hobbies, but hanging out with the people I love and a good cup of coffee are two of my favorite things.”

Favorite food: “Salmon (if done well), but I also love pizza, sausage and sushi.”

Favorite musician: Paul McCartney

Ultimate dream role: Basilio in Don Quixote

Favorite role to date: “I had a lot of fun performing the first movement of Western Symphony, but I also loved performing Paquita (in PBT School’s Pre-professional Showcases 2018).

Six-question Q&A

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Dancer - Colin McCaslinHow do you think you’ve grown during your time in the PBT School Pre-professional Division? How has it prepared you for a professional ballet career?

“I feel that I’ve established a strong foundation as well as been given many challenging opportunities from which I can continue to learn and grow. I think in a lot of ways the many rehearsals throughout the day are not unlike that of a company schedule. The dynamic of the Pre-professional Division really does a great job of preparing dancers for a professional career. I feel I’ve become a lot stronger and more confident having been given so many incredible opportunities.”

Describe your Ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this is what you wanted to do professionally.

“I never really had one moment, but every time I go on stage I’m reminded of why and how much I love this art form.”

 

What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?

“Just to keep on working; everything can always be better.”

What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?

“I think the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer is bowing after a good performance, knowing that you gave it your all.”

What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?

“I’m definitely looking forward to The Great Gatsby.”

If I weren’t a ballet dancer…”I think I’d be an attorney.”

Joe Parr’s path from running back to ballet dancer

In  high school, Joseph Parr’s touchdown dance of choice was a tour jeté — An elaborate end zone leap uniting his two athletic passions. Football and classical ballet.

Ballet is art, but it’s also intensely athletic – requiring a level of speed, strength and precision on par with any sport.

Parr during his high school football days

Growing up in Ohio, Parr played football from fifth grade through high school graduation as a member of the Wooster High School Generals. He started on the offensive and defensive lines early on but, with a boost from ballet, had picked up speed and agility by high school.

“As I got faster and more trim, I eventually moved to linebacker and running back,” Parr said.

And he also became more and more serious about ballet, a discipline that has helped pro athletes, like Lynn Swann, better their on-field balance, control and agility.

For Parr, it became his life’s work. He’s been dancing professionally in the PBT Corps de Ballet for nearly 10 years.

Here, he shares how both his career choice and his first love ultimately improved his performance (and his touchdown dance).

 

What motivated you to get involved?

“I’ve always loved watching it on TV and played pickup games whenever I could growing up.”

When did you begin dancing and what motivated you to give it a try? 

“My mom put me in ballet class when I was little, and I did it for a few years, but I didn’t really love it.  After that, I told her I just wanted to play sports.  I started ballet again when I was 15 and basically had to start over from scratch.  I pretty much forgot EVERYTHING.

A friend of mine was a dancer and heard through the grapevine that I had danced when I was younger.  She told me they had no guys at their studio and she convinced me to try a class, adding that I would be in a room full of girls.”

Former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann with a PBT School student in the '80s
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann takes a break from cross training to pose with a PBT School student in the ’80s.

What hooked you about ballet?

“When I started back again, I liked the challenge and felt like, if I kept at it, it would help me improve with football. The old “Lynn Swann played football” that I heard before was reason enough.  But then I came to PBT for the summer and I saw guys like Daisuke Takeuchi and Alan Obuzor do amazing things in the studio and I said, “That’s what I want I do.”

What about with football?

“I just loved everything about it…the sounds from shoulder pads hitting each other, working together with teammates, motivating and pushing each other to be better.  All the grass stains, bumps, bruises, game days, and the physical challenges are memories I will carry with me forever.”

What kind of crossover did you notice between ballet and football?
“Pretty much every exercise we do in ballet helped me for football.  All the balancing at barre kept me upright on the field.  Quick movements at the barre and during petite allegro made me much lighter on my feet, allowing me to be more elusive.  Having to do big jumps (and landing them safely) gave me a better understanding and awareness of body control.

Proper technique is also key in both.  Just as you can hurt yourself if you’re not tackling properly; one can injure themselves if they’re not landing big jumps correctly or even by doing plies the wrong way. The communication between a quarterback and receiver can be similar to a guy and girl partnering in ballet.  If a quarterback expects a receiver to run a post route and the receiver runs a curl route, there could be an interception.  If two dancers aren’t on the same page while doing partnered  turns or lifts, the movements won’t work.”

Do you think there are cross training benefits for student athletes? Do you think football in any way influenced the way you cross train for dance?
“I think cross training is extremely important.  You can find different ways to push your body and strengthen different muscles that you may not be working during your regular sport or activity.  We lifted weights regularly during the season and off season so football gave me a good foundation and understanding of how to cross train.”

Can you speak to the strength, endurance and overall athleticism necessary to your art form?
“I can definitely recall one time a repetiteur asking me how I was feeling and I casually responded that I was OK but a little sore. After that they jokingly said, ‘Sore?! Of course you’re sore!  You’re a ballet dancer, you’re supposed to be sore every day of your life!’ That about sums it up.  Every day, we are pushing and testing the limits of our bodies to become better technicians and artists.  We have to possess the strength to do big jumps and the endurance to execute them when we’re tired.  All the while doing that with a smile on our face that says, ‘This is a breeze. ‘ I’m so amazed at how strong the ladies are in the corps when they have a long dance, go hold a position on the side of the stage for several minutes, and then break away from the position and go dance some more.  It looks so effortless but there is no way that’s easy!”

How do you cross train now?
“I like to lift weights, do exercises on a therapy ball, different types of push ups and pull ups, planks and hop on an elliptical every now and then.  I try to have my most intense workouts during the off-season so I have more time to recover while preparing my body for the rigors of the season ahead.”

What advice would you give other aspiring male dancers, especially in their early training years?
“The best advice I can give is what I call the three S’s. Show up, suck it up, and shut up. You only get better at ballet by doing more ballet. Ballet can be incredibly rewarding one second and then one second later you feel terrible about yourself. It happens to everyone so you have to suck it up.  For the last S, you have to be respectful and listen to your teachers.  They know what they’re saying and only want to see you be the best you can be.”

With the NFL recently relaxing the rules on touchdown dances, we need to know what yours would be. 
“I didn’t score a touchdown until after I started dancing and I totally did a tour jeté.  I’m pretty sure nobody had any idea what that was, but it felt good for me! Now that I’m a little more experienced, I might have to hit ’em with a double saut de basque.  I’m also a big fan of the classic: spin the ball and then pretend it’s a roaring fire to warm up my hands… Not sure if that’s the exact title.”

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#FacesOfBalletPgh: Adon Quinerly

Adon-Quinerly performing in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School's Spring Performance at the Byham Theater.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School student dancer; recipient of PBT’s Community Youth Scholarship

Adon Quinerly, a scholarship student at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre SchoolAdon Quinerly was six years old when he auditioned for the inaugural class of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Community Youth Scholarship program. In his own words, “I thought it would be fun; I thought PBT would be a cool place to experience.” Now, at age 10, nearly four years into the training program, dance still makes Adon feel “happy.” He says his favorite part is “learning new dance moves” and picking up new choreography. Since joining PBT School’s Children’s Division, Adon has performed in the company’s main-stage production of The Nutcracker at the Benedum Center in addition to PBT School spring performances at the Byham Theater. Here’s why Adon’s pursuit of dance makes his mom, Maximillion Elliott-Quinerly, happy too.

Why do you think ballet is a good opportunity for Adon? Why did you decide to help him pursue or discover it?

“Dance was such a large part of my life during my pregnancy with Adon and directly after. I took him with me wherever I’d dance. When he was a baby, at times I would wear him when I taught or during congregational dances. I would grab a piece of cloth and wrap it around him and wrap him onto me.  As Adon grew, I began to incorporate him into the choreography whenever I could. Dance was very natural for him, as it was for me. Unfortunately for me, as a young person I did not have an opportunity to receive technical training. When I heard about PBT’s scholarship program, I wasn’t sure that Adon would want to pursue ballet in the way that he does.  However, I knew I had to at least put him in a position to have that option.  I wanted Adon to be able to explore his full potential in dance and not be limited by a limited dance vocabulary.  When he was awarded a scholarship with PBT, we were both very excited.  

Ballet is a beautiful language of discipline and grace, a foundational language from which one can build a dance vocabulary. I believe technical training offers the natural dancer an opportunity to expand their abilities and perfect their natural gift. Adon is developing beautifully under the guidance of PBT, and I am looking forward to watching his continued growth as a dancer and as a man.”

Why do you think these classes are an important part of his weekly routine and his life?

“The weekly routine is helping Adon to learn time management and prioritization of tasks. The discipline he is learning in ballet is transferrable to other areas of his life.”

Adon-Quinerly-performing-in-Pittsburgh-Ballet-Theatre's-The-Nutcracker
Adon Quinerly performing in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker

What do you think ballet brings out in Adon?

“Confidence.  Ballet is building Adon’s confidence and self-esteem; this is translating ballet into every area of his life.  Additionally, when he is at PBT and/or participating in PBT activities and performances there is a sense of community. He is a part of something that he loves and a part of a group of people who he is developing long-term relationships with.”

Why do you believe dance in general, and ballet in particular, is universal?

“I’ve spent almost a decade using dance as a platform to communicate with and bring together multi-cultural, multi-generational people from extremely diverse backgrounds. The language of dance transcends geographical, socio-economic, political and other boundaries; it draws people together to create beauty in community. Ballet in particular is a technical language that appears consistent cross-culturally. The issue is the foundational language is not known to all. This language, ballet, should be as accessible as one’s first language. However, even in the absence of audible cues, there is a kinesthetic teaching that takes place in dance. This way of teaching is invaluable particularly when one travels to teach.”

We’re celebrating diverse, inspiring dance stories all month long. Join the dialogue and follow the series at #FacesOfBalletPgh.